Chicago Sun-Times
Tasty morsels about Chicago's food scene

April 2009 Archives

Had the privilege of attending the James Beard Awards last year as a nominee in a media category. Now, the media shindig is always the night before the chef-saturated restaurant awards ceremony. And for me, a first- and quite possibly only-timer, it was an amazing evening with knockout food, even if it felt a bit like what I imagine the technical awards before the Oscars is like. That's what my sister (and date) and I kept giggling about, anyway.

But what topped the whole night was the after-party (or, if you were a chef, the pre-party), formally called Chef's Night Out. There was food, music, dancing, champagne, more champagne. Look, there's Drew Nieperont swaying to a little Justin Timberlake! Over there, it's Tom Colicchio - and he's smiling! Hey, it's David Chang, looking all I-don't-know-you-but-I-know-you-know-me!

This year, the chef's party will be at At Vermilion, a Chicago export from restaurateur Rohini Dey (the awards are Sunday and Monday). It's a pretty big coup, considering the restaurant just opened in mid-November -- and considering it's not homegrown (to New Yorkers, that is).

"A lot of places vie to host this because of the visibility, so it's very validating to be selected," Dey (below, left) said Thursday.

With the theme of this year's awards being Women in Food, it makes sense. Helming At Vermilion's kitchen are Maneet Chauhan (below, right), who previously headed the original in Chicago, and Ipshita Pall.

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The 16,000-square-foot, bi-level restaurant at 480 Lexington Avenue is ready for its close-up Sunday, Dey says. She's expecting 850 people, plus last-minute hangers-on.

From 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., it will be street food heaven, with kababs and chaats galore and Latin-Indian fare such as duck vindaloo arepas and boar jibarito, plus five signature cocktails and three desserts. Indian sensation DJ Rekha will funk things up.

Me? Well, there's always next year.

We were all feel-good with yesterday's Food cover story on having pie at your wedding. Three delectable recipes, the sweet Paula Haney, a genius cover shot of a cake topper couple, mouths smeared with frosting, a real couple cutting lovingly into their wedding pie...

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But there's always a flip side, isn't there? In this case, it's something called the divorce cake. The Seattle Times reports on a Florida bakery that makes cakes to celebrate a couple's demise. Like, say, a broken, heart-shaped cake with the bride cake topper on one half and the groom topper on the other.

The story even quotes a guy who has ordered a divorce cake to share with his other divorced friends. We can think of worse things in which to drown our sorrows, but still.

All filler, all the time

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File this under the Name Change Needed category.

A new shop serving high-protein smoothies, soups, salads and more is opening next month near the Sears, er, Willis Tower. It will be called Protein Bar.

This, from a press release: "Protein Bar will offer blended drinks anchored in high-quality protein and are customizable based on consumer preferences or dietary restrictions. Guests can choose from whey protein, soy protein or egg protein -- each scoop will contain 22 grams of protein -- to be mixed with the all-natural fruits, add-ins and nutritional boosts of their choice."

Also for sale: "protein bagels, cookies, brownies and bars."

We get it. We feel full already.

Pols and pork producers can debate all they want about what to call the so-called swine flu. We'll keep eating our bacon, thank you very much.

We trust the Centers for Disease Control when they say you can't get swine flu by eating pork or pork products. Just like we trusted them when they said you can't get avian flu by eating chicken. We, and plenty of other Americans, ate our chicken and lived to tell about it.

Thankfully, Chicago's porcine-minded chefs aren't pushing the panic button, either.

"Grilled swine flu with creamy SARS, smoked West Nile virus and bird flu reduction ... mmmmm, tastes like fear!" So quoth the cheeky Graham Elliot Bowles about an hour ago on Twitter.

Go on -- be with bacon. Show some love to the pork chop. After the jump, a recipe to get you in the mood.

Say what, Ruth Reichl?

The editor of Gourmet just posted this on Twitter: "Love that all of Chicago seems terrified by Alice's impending visit. Do they think the food police are about to descend, knives flashing?"

Right below her (on my screen, at least) was this tweet from chef Rick Bayless: "GO! RT GreenCityMarketRT @MPChicago: Blog: Alice Waters Is Coming! Alice Waters Is Coming!"

Just about every local food blogger and media outlet, us included, is putting the Alice word out. There's this and this, to name a few.

How Ms. Reichl mistook our salivating and swooning for shaking in the knees, we can only guess.

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By guest blogger and Swap Shop columnist Sandy Thorn Clark

As I was (once again) purging the refrigerator of leftovers - leftover roast beef and mashed potatoes from Monday night and leftover cranberry salad from ... well, from Easter - I decided it was time to enlist in cookbook author Annette Sym's concept of "Sunday Night - Freezer Night" to spare leftovers an untimely and costly demise in the garbage disposal.

Sym was in Chicago on a whirlwind trip to promote the American version of her "Symply Too Good to be True" cookbook featuring 150 low-fat recipes and the 28-day weight loss program that helped her shed 77 pounds in 1993.

She says her budget-conscious waste-not, want-not solution is to freeze leftovers in individual portions, writing the contents and date on each package.

And then - here's the best part - on Sunday nights, Sym family members go to the freezer and select the leftovers of their choosing. A quick trip to the microwave is all that's needed and, voila, the meal saves time and money.

"It's my fun night. I always volunteer to 'cook' on Sunday nights," kids Sym, 54, who lives in Queensland, Australia.

Sym's favorite uses of leftovers? She makes omelets or frittatas by pouring eggs over leftover cooked or roasted carrots, potatoes and butternut squash ("You've got bliss"); adds salmon or tuna, green onions and a little lemon juice to mashed potatoes for pan-fried rissoles; microwaves veggies and meat in wraps for lunch; uses rotten bananas in cakes, muffins and smoothies; and mounds bolognese sauce, curry or stews over baked potatoes.

A little Friday fun, shall we?

We love the whole "If you could have three people over for dinner" question almost as much as the "What would your last meal on earth be" question. We often pass time (in the car, in bed when we can't sleep, while chopping veg) thinking up answers. You just never know ...

In that spirit, the inimitable restaurant publicist Ellen Malloy polled a bunch of Chicago chefs on this: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one food, what would it be? Their answers are telling.

Ever the savvy Frenchman, Dominique Tougne of Bistro 110 says, "A cow -- I would be able to drink milk every day and keep the meat for the very bad days." Piccolo Sogno's Tony Priolo is all business: "Just ice."

Of course, Sarah Stegner of Prairie Grass Café turns on the locavore radar. "Maybe I could dig up some clams and find some wild garlic to cook them with. Or catch a halibut that I could cook over an open fire whole."

But Province's Randy Zweiban, bless him, clearly needs a crash course in Survival 101. "I guess I would choose a rich decadent triple cream cheese," he says.

Read what the other chefs said here.

What food would be your Wilson?

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Attempting to stem the tide of unopened mail (mostly cookbooks) gathering on my desk, I just cracked open three envelopes, in this order:

The Healthy Truth: How Our Food is Making Us Sick -- and What We Can Do About It

Ani's Raw Food Desserts

Zero-Proof Cocktails: Alcohol-Free Beverages For Every Occasion

Where, oh where, is Fat when you need it?

Somwhere in your house, and probably your mother's, and probably your neighbor's, there is a Joy of Cooking.

The classic cookbook is the most handed down cookbook in American kitchens,
according to AbeBooks.com, a resource for old and out-of-print books. The site surveyed 504 customers who own a hand-me-down cookbook about the origins of their trusty tomes.

Around the holidays, we asked co-workers to reflect on their favorite cookbooks. Turns out, a good handful of our picks were published decades ago; three are on the list below (1, 4 and 5).

The top 10 most handed down cookbooks, from AbeBooks.com:
1. Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer
2. Betty Crocker's Cookbook
3. Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
4. Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.
5. Good Housekeeping
6. Settlement Cookbook by Mrs. Simon (Lizzie) Kander
7. White House Cookbook by F.L. Gillette
8. The Encyclopedia of Cooking by Meta Given
9. America's Cook Book by New York Herald Tribune
10. Five Roses Cookbook by Lake Woods Milling Company

Which are in rotation in your kitchen?

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Are Americans, as a whole, emotional eaters? In a bear market, do we binge? Marketers sure are doing an excellent job of convincing us we should.

On the heels of Food Detective Lisa Donovan's look at the oversized ballpark grub trend comes news that Frito-Lay is pumping up the volume of snacks in its bags. It's true -- you're now getting 20 percent more Doritos and Cheetos, and it's not costing you (well, not dollars, at least). This reverses the company's previous practice of reducing the amount of food in each package.

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Now here's a tax protest that we can get behind.

More than 60 of Chicago's Italian restaurants -- including well-known spots like Spiaggia, The Italian Village and Phil Stefani's 437 Rush -- have signed a petition requesting sanctions against Italian mineral water, scheduled to take effect Thursday, be suspended.

The sanctions comprise a 100 percent import duty on Italian mineral water and, according to a release from the Italian American Chamber of Commerce-Midwest, effectively doubling its price.

U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ronald Kirk modified the list of European products subject to import duties authorized by the World Trade Organization up to a value of $117 million, the release said.

This revision (called Carousel) involves 35 items from 26 countries and is aimed to put pressure on Europe to restart negotiations on U.S. hormone beef which the EU currently prohibits. It is discriminatory, the group says, because it singles out mineral water from Italy alone, while other European mineral waters remain sanction-free.

According to chamber President Robert Allegrini, who stated in the release, "it damages the economy of both Italy and the U.S. at a time when neither country can afford more economic pain. Restaurants will no longer be able to afford to carry Italian mineral water because they won't be able to sell it at the prices they will have to charge."

Italy currently produces 12 percent of the world's mineral water, 40 percent of which is exported to the United States. I hope this group is sucessful in thwarting this unfair tax, but in the meantime I'll be stocking up on the San Pellegrino.

Alinea is the 10th best restaurant in the world, according to S. Pellegrino's annual 50 best list. No surprise there, most foodists would say. But Charlie Trotter's, which ranked 38th last year, doesn't make the cut this year. No surprise there, either, others say.

Taking the top spot: El Bulli in Spain. In second place: Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck (apparently that little norovirus episode didn't hurt much).

Meanwhile, TimeOut Chicago explains why we should all take this list and others like it with a grain of salt.

Pie aromatherapy

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I once interviewed the supervisor of a lamb slaughterhouse. Asked the guy if, at the end of most days, he just hankered for a salad. (Not really, he said. "What did I eat when I got home yesterday? I ate sausage," he said.)

But say you worked at a pie shop. Would you tire of pie? Would you just want to go home and gnaw on a T-bone?

I ask because I'm back from a visit to Paula Haney's Hoosier Mama Pie Company, a slice (pardon the pun) of a storefront on Chicago Avenue in West Town. (Haney is helping us out on a story; look for it next week).

I ask because the aroma inside the shop intoxicates - that magical marriage of butter, sugar and flour, with hints of cinnamon, cloves, sweet cream, apples and general pastry goodness. You want to bathe in it. You want to bottle it up.

I ask, but you already know my answer, don't you?

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Tuesday's dreary weather hardly makes one yearn for a cool drink, but a deal from Dunkin' Donuts may be too good -- in a couple ways -- to pass up in spite of the not-so-summery weather.

Today Dunkin' Donuts will be selling 16-oz. servings of its iced coffee all day for just 50 cents, with 10 percent of the price going to Homes for Our Troops (HFOT), a national, non-profit organization that builds specially adapted homes for injured veterans.

In 2008, Dunkin' Donuts donated $100,000 to support 10 "Build Brigades," three-day construction blitzes to get a house framed with doors, windows, roof and siding. This year, HFOT expects to hold more than 30 "Build Brigades" throughout the country.

MenuPages Chicago alerted us to the new venture by punked out pastry chef Michelle Garcia: Smash Cake, a "party place" for kids.

It's taken over what used to be Garcia's Chaos Theory Cakes, 2961 N. Lincoln, which opened just last summer as the whole funky-flavored, savory cupcake craze was heating up (or overheating, depending on how you see it).

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Garcia tells MenuPages, "the entire purpose is different." The name of the space, of course, is a reference to a 1-year-old's gleeful destruction of his or her very first birthday cake (not that I'd know. My 4-year-old didn't want anything to do with the chocolate-on-chocolate cupcakes I lovingly baked for her Big One. Pushed it aside with her fingertips. There is photographic evidence. Of course, she now has my incurable sweet tooth.)

Time will tell whether the shift to kid-friendly Smash Cake was a smart move. The times I visited Chaos Theory last year, the place was empty; I felt a little sad as I picked at my fancy caprese cupcake. But Garcia -- whose Bleeding Heart Bakery is as popular as can be with schoolkids and kids-at-heart alike -- has the stroller set going for her in Smash Cake's neighborhood. And I can think at least one 4-year-old who'd be in heaven.

By guest blogger and Swap Shop columnist Sandy Thorn Clark

Crooner extraordinaire Frankie Valli loves pasta - especially his own - and admits he would eat it every day if he didn't "have to watch his weight."
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Wow. That's like a size-0 model lamenting about her waist size.

At a Saturday luncheon in his honor (at, appropriately named, Frankie's Scaloppine & 5th Floor Pizzeria in The 900 Shops on the Mag Mile), Valli was astonishingly thin as he made his grand entrance via escalator to his hit "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and the welcoming applause and screams of his loyal fans.

If Valli - who will be 75 on May 3 - always dines with fans whose eyes adore him, it's easy to see how he's been able to avoid the very paunch he fears. Selecting from a family-style spread that included chicken Caesar salad, gnocchi pomodoro, wood-fired pepperoni pizza, and spaghetti, the jeans-clad headliner would take a small bite of pizza, cordially yak with a fan, take another bite, sign an autograph, take another bite, pose for cameras.

The bespectacled Valli rarely had time to exchange words with his tablemates, the current stars of "Jersey Boys," the Broadway in Chicago mega-hit which chronicles his life with The Four Seasons.

"The pizza is pretty good," observed Valli, who loves to cook and rates his spaghetti and meatballs second to none. His secret to fab spaghetti? "Lots of love."

"I use my mom's recipe, and I cook with love just like she did," Valli confided.

And soaking breadcrumbs first in warm milk is the key to great meatballs.

Like other national burger chains, Burger King has beefed up its menu with the Steakhouse and Loaded Steakhouse Burgers, and now McDonald's is poised to produce a new premium sandwich -- the Angus Burger -- Crain's Chicago Business reports.

The Angus Burger, weighing in at one-third of a pound, is McDonald's first new hamburger on its menu in eight years, and it is McDonald's answer to bigger burgers introduced by rivals in recent years, Crain's says. The $3.99 burger, made from a better grade of beef than Big Macs and Quarter Pounders, will be rolled out nationally this summer.

While Americans' appetites certainly aren't subsiding, Crain's notes that the state of the economy could dampen the demand for pricier offerings like the Angus.

Dining Out For Life

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These are tough times for all of us. These days, though you'd like to go out for a nice meal and still give money to a good cause, you can't help but think you could use every penny you can keep in your pockets, so choices have to be made as to where your money will go.

But not on Thursday, April 30, when you can take part in Dining Out For Life, and have some cash go to such a cause just by going out to eat. Now in its 16th year, Dining Out For Life is a charitable event that is held in more than 50 cities across the United States and Canada. On this night, the more than 3,500 restaurants taking part in the event donate a portion of their proceeds to local AIDS service organizations. In Chicago, the beneficiary is AIDSCare Chicago. Last year more than $80,000 was raised in Chicago for AIDSCare. And to think, all you have to do is eat out at one of the participating restaurants. No forms to fill out, no mailing lists to get on, nothing like that.

There are dozens of participating restaurants in Chicago and the suburbs, from Cucina Paradiso in Oak Park to the Signature Room at the 95th in the Hancock building, to Lakeview faves like Cornelia's, Ann Sather's and Angelina, to Andersonville hotspots such as Anteprima, Hamburger Mary's, and La Tache. You can find out more, including the complete lisst of participating restaurants and how you can get involved by volunteering or donating on your own, at Dining Out For Life's Web site.

Oh, cupcake. We love you, even if you are, at this point, overexposed. You are our Facebook profile photo, for crying out loud.

But forgive us for stifling a yawn when first we heard about Phoebe's Cupcakes, opening tomorrow at 3327 N. Broadway.

Pastry chef and founder Phoebe Walters, 29, tells us this'll be different from other cupcake shops around. (And from those that are no longer around. Walters and partner Kate McNamara provided the recipes for Cupcakes, 613 W. Briar, which opened in 2005 and closed in December.)

"We're going for more indulgence," she says. "Higher quality. Instead of extracts, full vanilla beans. Highest quality chocolate. No shortening, preservatives, stabilizers." (Which kinda makes it sound like this place, and this place.)

Still, we like Walters' story. Small-town girl (from Plano) and her best friend from childhood, McNamara (also small-town, from Sandwich), go to culinary school, help open one cupcake shop, strike up a friendship with an investor who walks his dog in the Lakeview neighborhood and, boom -- investor agrees to fund the cupcake shop of their dreams.

Walters says they have 200 flavors up their sleeves; the shop will carry eight flavors weekly. And while their competitors charge upwards of $3.50 a cupcake, Walters' price is a sweet $2.50.

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In the spirit of all those silly Facebook questionnaires (If your life was a movie, what would it be? What Peter Paul and Mary song are you?), here's a burger personality quiz. (Just call me Nurture Burger).

C'mon, it's Friday.

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Reporter/travelin' man Dave Hoekstra is just back from a road trip down to New Orleans. Along the way, he filled a hankering for Waffle House, the restaurant chain that's been dishing out greasy spoon goodness for 50 odd years. It's where Kid Rock famously got into a senseless fistfight (is there any other kind?) some years back -- and to prove it, we found this video of it floating in cyberspace!

We digress. Hoekstra says there now exists a Waffle House museum, and though we've never visited a Waffle House ourselves, that sounds just about right. Check out his colorful, peaceful dispatch here, on his Scratch Crib blog.

In anticipation of swimsuit season, the Chicago-based American Dietetic Association has come out with reviews of 29 diet and lifestyle books.

The registered dietitians who wrote the reviews focused on the newer, best-selling tomes out there -- "The Flat Belly Diet," "The Best Life Diet Cookbook" by Bob Greene (aka Oprah's trainer), Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld (aka Jerry's wife).

There's something for everyone. "The Hot Latin Diet" for those who just have to have their enchiladas; "Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven," for pregnant women who subscribe to US Weekly; "Your Big Fat Boyfriend: How to Stay Thin When Dating a Diet Disaster," for the truly self-absorbed, and "How Not to Look Old," for those in denial.

We love the reviews for laying it out straight. But we were a bit bummed the ADA didn't include "Naturally Thin: Unleash Your SkinnyGirl and Free Yourself from a Lifetime of Dieting," the new book by Bethenny Frankel, aka one of the Real Housewives of New York City. We got a copy of her book in the mail here at the office. Allow us to summarize her approach: Don't eat. Do NOT eat.

Now, if you'll excuse us, we're going to go get a burger.

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There are some things that just warm the hearts of those who love food and drink, such as the mint on your pillow, the olive in your martini and the ... hair in your fried chicken? Unfortunately that last pairing is what one patron an Uptown Popeye's discovered more than a week ago.

According to a release from the Chicago Department of Health, inspectors visited the Popeye's at Broadway and Wilson on April 10 after a customer found a hair in their chicken and called 311. When inspectors got to the restaurant, they found, perhaps not too surprisingly, that none of the establishment's food handlers were wearing hair restraints, as is required. But that wasn't the worst thing they found.

In addition to the unrestrained hair, the city's inspectors found a broken walk-in cooler that, at 49-degrees Fahrenheit, was nine degrees warmer than allowed by the health code, a couple clogged sinks, a clogged toilet that overflowed when flushed, no hot water at any of the sinks and ... rat feces in the basement.

Of course, this brings to mind the classic quote from Mayor Richard M. Daley, that "you'd want to know if there's a rat in your sandwich." In this case, you'd want to know if there are rats in the basement of your Popeye's or hair in your chicken, which, as icky as their work can be, the city's health inspectors have been doing invaluable work uncovering. It's only April, and this is the 72nd time so far this year that Department of Health inspectors have shut down a food establishment because of health code violations. Anyone can search the city Department of Health's Web site to find out if a restaurant has been cited for violations (you can search by exact address or a range of address, such as the 4400 to the 4800 block of a particular street), and this Popeye's has a laundry list of violations.

As of Wednesday night, the Popeye's at Broadway and Wilson remain closed, its license suspended by the city.

Pastry chef Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate will lend her expertise to the pastry operations at the soon-to-open Elysian Hotel, which Charlie Trotter dropped out of in February.

According to a statement issued by the hotel this morning, Segal will be in charge of all things sweet and bread-y, including wedding cakes, at 11 E. Walton. The Elysian opens in July.

Canadian Jason McLeod will replace Trotter as executive chef, heading up the hotel's two restaurants and room service. McLeod's resume includes seven years at Four Seasons hotels. He most recently was executive chef at the Grand Del Mar in San Diego.

Next step: The hotel updating its Web site, which still touts "Charlie Trotter-run restaurants."

Mark Bittman is totally on point in this piece about the charade that is TV cooking.

Bittman argues, and we agree, that a lot more reality needs to be injected into reality cooking shows, celeb chef cooking shows and all others that purport to teach home cooks. That way, when things fall apart in the kitchen -- when the cake literally sinks or the roast burns, as is often the case in life -- people can know that the end of the world is not near and that dinner might still be saved.

It's what Julia Child did best as PBS' The French Chef. She was quirky, she was real, she dropped things (a chicken here, a potato pancake there.)

Even a little more of this might help. Dubbed the Great Giada Disaster of 2006, it shows the Food Network goddess tasting something godawful and looking, well, not quite as lovely as in the photo below. Still makes us giggle. We're only human, after all.

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Rich Zamudio just handed me a bowl of pozole. Dear man.

Rewind about 25 minutes. There we were in the lunchroom, heating up our respective lunches. Mine, spaghetti. His? Well, it looked good, smelled good and I'm nosy like that, so I asked for a peek. Pozole!

Rich, a designer in Features, is, as they say, a good egg. He's one of those who just goes about their business, calmly churning it out amid the daily drama. More importantly, he is a superb cook. For our holiday office potluck, he made chicken fajitas, the tender, pulled chicken so pure in flavor and more satisfying than anything else on that table.

So, back to his pozole. Rich makes it with pork spine and hominy. He drives out of his way to get the meat at a little market called La Altena, 8827 S. Escanaba. He simmers the pork for a couple hours, flavors it with a puree of chiles cooked down. The hominy, rinsed -- he likes the Bush's brand -- goes in last. (Funny -- I'd had a random discussion with my editor about three hours earlier about hominy.)

If I was salivating, I didn't mean to be, honest. But then, two seconds after getting back to our desks, Rich walks over with a bowl of the pozole and two fried corn tortillas. A few moments later, he walks back over with half a tiny lime and a salt packet. Squeeze that and sprinkle this over the pozole, he says. Oh, yeah.

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More than the pozole itself -- which was luscious, as I've come to expect -- I love that this was Rich's lunch. That he shared it. That he takes the time to cook.

What a good Monday.

We know that goat is the It meat for 2009 and we get that many still believe in this whole Cubs curse, but really, people ... This from our wire service.

Of course, police had to get rid of the remains. But we can think of at least one chef who would've loved to work his magic on the meat.

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Do you judge a restaurant by its bathroom?

I do, which puts me solidly in the majority, according to this Detroit Free Press story. I make it a point to visit the loo on my first visit to a restaurant as a scouting mission of sorts a/ to see what degree of cleanliness we're dealing with, b/ to check out all the stylish fixtures that are so much nicer than those in my own home and, of course, c/ to do what nature requires. (Have to add, however, that I never gone so far as to pull a Jimmy Fallon.)

If the restaurant's dining room is the first impression, its bathroom certainly makes the lasting one. You pay money and expect a certain level of excellence; the restaurant's job is to deliver that to you.

That said, one of my most beloved restaurants in Chinatown, Tin Yen (R.I.P.), had a bathroom in its basement that would send shivers down your spine. Cramped. Ripe. Dingy. And yet, I went back to the restaurant again and again and again. (Come to think of it, the one time I went to the bathroom at Tin Yen was the last. I must've just held it all those other times.)

We all have our levels of tolerance. What's yours?

Coffee Caddy of the Future?

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coffeetop02.jpgHere's another item to file under food- and drink-related concepts, but unlike the Cole UV aluminum can cleaner, this is one that makes some sense and could make life easier, at least as far as that daily coffee trip for you and your officemates is concerned.

Like anyone who volunteers to get coffee for their officemates, I don't mind picking up coffee for one or two of my co-workers when I'm going down to our nearby Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts, but what causes me a little bit of stress is remembering how much sugar or cream this or that person wants with their coffee, as well as the thought that I am holding up others by standing and stirring multiple cups of coffee at said coffee shop's tiny condiment stand.

The Coffee Top Caddy by Josh Harris can end such stress for the person picking up the coffee as well as those waiting (and presumably working) for the kind-hearted volunteer to come back with their drinks. Harris's design makes dedicated spaces on the coffee cup cover for as many as two creams and a few sugar packets. So the person who picks up the coffee can just get the coffee from the barista/cashier, insert the creams and sugars atop the cup in their secure spaces, then trot back to the workplace, where everyone will be happy to be able to put precisely as much cream or sugar in their coffees as they wish.

Brilliant.

(More images of Harris's coffee caddy can be found at toxel.com.)

Another Peeps alert

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Naha, 500 N. Clark, is really getting into the Easter spirit.

Through Sunday, pastry chef Craig Harzewski will whip up homemade Peeps as a free treat for diners. The diminutive treats (about the size of a quarter, a press release says) are hand-shaped from fresh marshmallow and sprinkled with yellow sugar. The eyes are dots of coffee extract.

Harzewski made them just for kicks for chef/owner Carrie Nahabedian and her family. The Nahabedians got all excited and before you know it, fluffy little chicks were multiplying like ... bunnies.

The folks over at Serious Eats offer up this snazzy use for leftover Peeps: S'meeps!

You don't necessarily need a recipe but they offer one up anyway. In an egg, er, nutshell: Lay a square of chocolate on a graham cracker square. Top with Peep and bake. Squish.

Considering the rainbow of colors the marshmallow-y treats come in, it'll be as if the Easter Bunny blew up in your kitchen. Imagine that. Or don't.

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We decided to shake up Easter tradition a bit and forego the staid ham for Spam.

Intrepid reporter Paige Wiser makes a good case for it -- Spam sales are up, way up, and people are looking for affordable meal solutions. Oh, and the president eats Spam (Spam musubi, to be exact - see photo).

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So we were heartened to be greeted this morning by this e-mail from a reader:

"My mother used to fry it for us when times were rough - 1950s. But my sweetest memory of it was back in the '80s. My 14-year-old daughter decided that she wanted to cook my wife and I a five- or six-course dinner. We had soup, salad, veggies, dessert and my favorite Spam. She took a whole Spam and pushed whole cloves all into it. Basted it with a sweet sauce and baked it like a ham. Oh, so delicious,I can still taste it. She's 48 this year and she still remembers the dinner."

Thank you, Leonard from Chicago. Happy Easter.

By guest blogger and Swap Shop columnist Sandy Thorn Clark

How is it possible that a visit to Ashkenaz Jewish Style Deli, 12 E. Cedar - where matzo ball soup, corned beef, kosher dills and Russian dressing reign - could bring to mind the perfect use for Easter's leftover gumdrops?

It's because Ashkenaz sells mammoth, irresistibly chewy gumdrops in plastic tubs.

Those gumdrops prompted my friend and co-devourer, Sharon Paino, and me to fondly recall Gumdrop Cookies, a favorite from our childhoods. The colorful cookies are a worthy use of gumdrops, which often can become stale before they are used up.

Before we could bake the spring-like cookies, we had to contact Sharon's mother, Cynthia Carney, for her recipe - and, not surprisingly, buy more gumdrops.

For 5 dozen Gumdrop Cookies: Thoroughly cream 1 cup shortening, 1 cup packed brown sugar and 1 cup granulated sugar; add 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla; beat well.

Sift together 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, œ teaspoon baking soda and œ teaspoon salt; add sifted dry ingredients to creamed mixture.
Add 1˝ cups quick-cooking rolled oats, 1 cup flaked coconut and 1 cup chopped gumdrops (see note).

Drop from a teaspoon onto greased cookie sheets 2 inches apart. Gently flatten cookies using a fork dipped in flour. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before moving to wire rack to cool completely.

Note: Spiced gumdrops can be substituted. To keep gumdrops from sticking together after chopping, place/roll them in a small container with granulated sugar.

So this season's Top Chef was way anticlimactic and wholly disappointing. But Top Chef Masters -- now, this we want to see.

It's Top Chef, the celebrity version -- Rick Bayless, Wylie Dufresne, Hubert Keller, John Besh. Twenty-four chefs in all doing actual cooking!

Guest judges inexplicably include actors Neil Patrick Harris and Zooey Deschanel and the producers of "Lost". The TC triumvirate -- Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons -- will make an obligatory appearance.

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This is guaranteed to be way more entertaining that Celebrity Apprentice.(Not that we've actually watched that ever. Really. We've only heard.)

The first six episodes will pit four chefs against each other; only one chef each week makes the cut. Those six chefs then compete for the next four weeks. Top prize is $100,000, which goes to the charity of the chef's choice.

Chicago is well-represented (and rightly so). Bayless will be joined by Graham Elliot Bowles and Art Smith.

The show premieres at 9 p.m. June 10 on Bravo.

We're skeptical of those 5-dollar, 3-ingredient approaches to cooking that are all the rage these days in the food mags and on blogs. Mostly because, well, the dishes never sound appealing. Stir together a bag of frozen broccoli florets in "cheese" and a can of Ragu ... Mmm, no thank you.

This is not to say that we don't believe in the less-is-more approach. Start with prime ingredients -- a clutch of greens from the farmers market, say, or a fabulous piece of fish -- and let the food speak for itself. We're all for that.

Enter "Five Ingredient Fix," a new Food Network show hosted by one Claire Robinson. Robinson has a background in TV, food (she's a French Culinary Institute grad) and food TV (she was a "culinary producer" for several food shows, including Michael Chiarello's and the PBS Everday Baking show).

The premise: every dish uses five ingredients or less (not including salt and pepper, but including olive oil). The first episode featured roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, shortbread and gingered carrots -- and it all looked pretty tasty.

We're rooting for Robinson. On the annoying FN personality scale, she ranks pretty low. She may never bump the Barefoot Contessa from her top spot on our very short list of FN people we want to be/break bread with. But Robinson has potential, if she can stay true to her premise -- and to the food.

"Five Ingredient Fix" airs on Saturdays at 8:30 a.m.

We're suckers in the supermarket, a new survey says.

Though more of us are shopping with lists in hand, 90 percent still give in to impulse buys, about half of which are decided in the aisles, according to a survey of 1,000 people by Miller Zell, an Atlanta retail consulting firm (which advises supermarkets on how to construct aisles so that we give in to impulse buys).

Surprisingly (or not), it's the Generation Y-ers who are increasingly shopping with lists -- and yet are more likely to grab the chips and salsa from the endcap, the survey says.

As a list shopper myself with an interest in this new frugality movement, I'm finding increased satisfaction in passing up encaps without nary a glance. That stuff usually doesn't catch my eye, anyway (though I do profess to a weakness for the dark chocolate covered almonds with sea salt and turbinado sugar from Trader Joe's, but who wouldn't).

How're you holding up?

Attention Germophobes

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Ah, were but Howard Hughes still alive. He would love this device.

When you take a can of soda from the shelf of your local convenience or grocery store or even from your home or work fridge, do you immediately open it and drink? Do you tap it a couple times to disperse the carbonation? Or do you run a finger or napkin along the top to collect any of the dirt, visible and invisible, before you put your lips on the can?

Do you wonder about what accumulated dirt and unseen things may be lurking on the top and around the rim of your soda can? Do you get creeped out thinking such things? Well, maybe the Cole Cleaner is for you.

The Cole Cleaner, designed by Leon Peng, is just a concept right now, but what an intriguing concept it is. It's a countertop device that uses ultraviolet radiation to disinfect any can, supposedly within 1 to 5 minutes. You stick a can in it, and wait for the LED lights to tell you it's working and that your can is now ultra-clean and much safer to drink from than it was just minutes ago.

As germophobic as I am, I can't imagine ever owning a device like this. I can't imagine who would; perhaps the same people who in addition to having you take off your shoes as you enter their homes also provide you with disposable operating room booties. Maybe this could catch on, though, at high-end/high-concept restaurants, which could charge two or three times the usual cost of a soda or soda-based drink because it's been zapped clean. Stranger things have caught on, though. Cole_Cleaner.jpg


Adam Seger knows he has it good. The Nacional 27 uber-barman is en route today to the 2009 Grand Marnier and Navan Mixology Summit in Vail, Colo. He'll be joined by eight other Chicago bar chefs for the event, which runs Sunday through Tuesday.

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A mixology summit is just that -- cocktails at 8,000 feet. This is Seger's third summit, and he says there is "plenty if imbibing," plus "skiing, hot tubbing in the snow and a cocktail pairing dinner with food prepared by Colorado's only AAA 5 Diamond chef."

But it is also a meeting of the nation's top 100 mixologists, so there is "work" involved in the form of tasting labs and demos of the latest cocktail trends.

Seger is particularly excited to present a master class, "The New Bar: A Liquid, Seasonal Kitchen" with Francesco Lafranconi of Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada. He'll make some of his trademarks, including an heirloom tomato caipirinha.

Like we said, it's "work."

A couple of New York City restaurants have re-named themselves in honor of our 44th president, according to Gothamist. There are officially two Obama Fried Chickens and a food cart called the Meal O'Bama. This after reports that a German food company has dubbed its new frozen chicken fingers "Obama fingers" (yes, go on and cringe).

But should the name change trend catch on in Chicago (which is highly unlikely, of course; restaurants here know they don't need to prove their love to Mr. President), here's one to consider: Topolobama.

Well, darn. Food and Wine magazine's always-anticipated Best New Chefs list is out and, alas, no Chicago chefs make the cut this year.

Speculation as to who would be honored this year was fueled by F&W editor Dana Cowin's own cryptic teasers on Twitter, building up to the shindig last night in New York to fete the honorees.

The Windy City did represent a bit last night -- Top Chef-ee Stephanie Izard was among those cooking for the event.

Well-heeled fashionistas will no doubt descend on 15 E. Oak on April 16 for the opening of the new Barneys New York store. Foodies might also want to drop by (not that the two groups are mutually exclusive but one group tends to be a little more, shall we say, disciplined when it comes to stuffing one's piehole).

But why Barney's, you ask? Because from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., the store will offer champagne and doughnuts to visitors! And not just any doughnuts. Mindy Segal doughnuts -- 3,000 brioche doughnuts, according to Jill Katz, who's handling publicity for the event.

The store initially wanted to go with a local caterer but Katz and her team "quickly guided them in another route" -- namely, in the direction of James Beard Award-nominated pastry chef Segal.

Don't know what the new black is in the fashion world, but in our world, doughnuts are the new cupcake.

The Barneys event is open to the public.

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By guest blogger and Swap Shop columnist Sandy Thorn Clark

The elevator conversation regarding bone-in vs. boneless hams lasted only 43 floors, hardly sufficient time for this advocate of bone-in hams to adequately present their innumerable pros.

"The issue is leftovers," specified my hi-rise neighbor, who favors boneless canned hams.

Exactly, I thought. The issue is leftovers.

At Easter, I care far more about ham leftovers than the first elegant slices.

Flavor is another issue - a real ham tastes far better than a processed ham. Besides, what is that gelatin junk in a canned ham? Or that white "filler" in boneless hams? Scary stuff.


Bon Appetit's May issue includes a guide to the United Plates of America -- that is, the best things to eat and drink in all 50 states.

Such a list was doomed from the start. We can think of about a zillion edible treasures just in our fair city alone. Anyway, the magazine's picks for Illinois: Giordano's stuffed pizza, Alinea's 'scented pillow' and the Dr. Funk of Tahiti drink at Hala Kahiki in River Grove.

And you, dear eaters -- what are your picks?

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About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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