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October 2009 Archives

If you're not already sick of Halloween candy -- make that, if you're sick of that waxy, pedestrian, drugstore stuff filled with stabilizers and subpar ingredients -- check out today's story and recipes from Anita Chu's Field Guide to Candy. Better yet, check out the book.

I've been toting around the pocket-sized guide for weeks now like my 4-year-old does her nubby, floppy bear. There were only so many recipes I needed to test for the sake of the story, but now that that's in the can (and I'm off my sugar high), I can scratch my itch for Chu's version of Almond Joys, one of the world's greatest candy bars.

Chow's take on the DIY Halloween candy story, meanwhile, also tackles the Almond Joy as well as the three other big guns in the candy world: Twix, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Snickers. At a glance, Chu's recipe appears more doable. But then, Chow gets points for its printable wrappers and super cool cross-sections of the chocolate bars (which reminds us of how much we love looking at cross-sections of food).

Happy homemade Halloween.

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The inimitable Ina Pinkney of Ina's, 1235 W. Randolph, is one of three chefs up for a Golden Bowl Award from the culinary organization Women Chefs and Restaurateurs. The award, to be presented in Washington D.C. this weekend, recognizes excellence in baking and pastry arts.

While the nomination alone makes her giddy, here's what really tickles Pinkney: She and 20 fellow female chefs will get a tour of the White House kitchen Sunday from White House commander-in-chef Cris Comerford, she says.

"I'm going to call David Axelrod," Pinkney says. "He was a regular here [at her restaurant, Ina's], as was Rahm Emanuel and Valeria Jarrett. So I'm going to see if David's working and see if I can get a glimpse of the West Wing!"

She says this with a laugh, but she's serious. And don't think she doesn't have pull.

In 2007, the Wall Street Journal named her West Loop restaurant one of the nation's top power breakfast spots. Pinkney says that's because she never feeds the press tidbits on her powerful dining guests and because "it's very, very quiet and the tables are far apart. The deals get done."

Daley eats there. Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda have eaten there. Judy Baar Topinka just announced her candidacy for state comptroller there Sunday, with a photo in our paper to boot. ("Republicans don't tip as well, but they're still welcome here," Pinkney had to explain to a Democratic friend who groused about this to her.)

Some of you also may remember that Pinkney ran for mayor in 2007.

Ok, so she kind of did it cheekily at the suggestion of a regular customer, after Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez dropped out. In her monthly newsletter mailed out to customers in December of that year, she offered up a list of city departments she would create if elected (our favorite: the Dept. of Snacks and Morale).

It was after a call from one alderman, a visit from another and a call from Daley's chief of staff that she realized, "they had no sense of humor whatsoever" -- and formally threw her toque in the ring as a write-in candidate.

Pinkney got 2,302 votes. "And three unannounced inspections from the city that day."

"Even now, it makes me laugh," she says.

You know, Ina, 2011 is coming up fast.

Oh, she knows. "And I keep saying, 'You never know,' " she says.

"Top Chef" for sweet tooths

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It was bound to happen: Bravo is launching the pastry chef edition of Top Chef!

Auditions for "Top Chef: Just Desserts" are getting underway nationwide this week, with a casting call today in Chicago that runs until 2 p.m. at Wells on Wells, 1617 N. Wells. Producers there also are auditioning for the seventh season of the original "Top Chef" series (which has chefs from at least one uber-high profile Chicago restaurant licking their chops.)

All this on the heels of Bravo's announcement to bring "Top Chef Masters" back for a second season.

We are loving the idea of Top Chef, the dessert edition. Desserts are a universal weakness for most Top Chef contestants. We can only imagine what wacky challenges the Bravo execs have in store for the pastry chef-testants but something tells us it isn't going to be a .... cake walk.

Those of you who couldn't get enough of "Top Chef Masters" can rejoice: Bravo is bringing it back for a second season.

Not surprising, considering the series snagged the highest rating for first season shows for Bravo (also, Rick Bayless, who can forever lay claim to being the first Top Chef Master, told us back in August after the series finale that the chefs for season two had already been lined up.)

Of course, "Masters" was made all the more exciting because of Bayless' big victory. And let's not forget the delightful appearances of Graham Elliot Bowles and Art Smith, who made it to the final six.

Host Kelly Choi will return as will judges Gael Greene, James Oseland and Jay Rayner. They'll be joined by "Top Chef" judge Gail Simmons.

The closing of Gourmet naturally had me considering the relevance of newspaper food sections. Not that I wasn't already. Ads are down, budgets are down, the number of pages are down.

In a conversation I had with Ruth Reichl, the now-defunct magazine's editor-in-chief, I couldn't help but ask for her take on whether what I'm doing (and indeed, what she did at the Los Angeles Times before her restaurant critic years) matters. Here's what she said that didn't make it into today's story:

"One of the things that's incredibly short-sighted on the part of many people who put out newspapers is they feel like if advertising isn't there in the section, it doesn't deserve to live. But if readers are interested, it deserves to live. And there's more indication that readers are more interested now in food than ever before."

Department of Oops

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A production glitch resulted in a major goof in today's cover story by reporter Misha Davenport, who gamely posed with a basket of veggies for our money shot. Read the full version as it should have appeared at suntimes.com/lifestyles/food.

They're at it again. LTHForum, the chat site for food lovers, doled out its awards for Great Neighborhood Restaurants last night to 18 Chicago area eateries and bakeries (see the full list here). For the first time this year, the group also recognized Great Neighborhood Resources, giving the nod to five food-related shops, including Northwestern Cutlery and the Spice House.

Picking up their awards at the dinner at Marie's, 4127 W. Lawrence:

Hoosier Mama Pie Co. owner Paula Haney, with her husband and 21-month-old twins in tow, offal-loving hubby/wife team Rob and Allison Levitt of Mado; Spice House owners Patty and Tom Erd, and Pastoral's Greg O'Neill and Ken Miller.

Dobra Bielinski of Delightful Pastries, another winner, delighted us with the news that she's opening a second bakery at 1710 N. Wells on Nov. 1. She and the Pastoral team also will have a presence at the Chicago French Market inside the Ogilvie Metra station.

This is the fifth year of the GNR awards, which began, as LTH-er David Dickson said, "with the question of, 'Where should I go eat?' " Forum members nominate and vote on places that have that certain culinary je ne sais quoi.

It was the first year I had the pleasure of chowing with LTH members at their awards dinner. Marie's is a pizza joint attached to a liquor store. It has red booths and paneled and mirrored walls. Its pizza is the stuff of dreams.

One might be inclined to judge a book by its cover and pass up Marie's, were it not for the enthusiastic eaters who make it a point to seek out these neighborhood gems. Chicago needs places like Marie's -- but it needs a forum like LTH just as much.

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Rockit Bar & Grill this week is celebrating the bar food of bar foods: chicken wings.

Five different styles of wings (or really, five different sauces) will be on the menu this week for the first annual Wingfest: super spicy buffalo with a blue cheese dressing; sweet chile and lime (pictured above); pomegranate and port wine with a mango sauce; lemon-grilled with wild oregano, garlic and feta fondue, and, brace yourself, truffle butter-tossed with a foie gras gravy. The wings are $10 a dozen. And for dessert, strawberry milkshakes!

Higher wing prices notwithstanding, chef James Gottwald is a big believer in wings -- and in weeklong promotions that, to him, are kind of like their own holiday. The restaurant's early summer Burgerfest is going on five years now.

"To be honest, sometimes I get bored with the menu. We have the favorites we just can't take off ... or I'll be shot," he says. "These food celebrations keep me and my staff excited."

Gottwald talks like a wing aficionado. With their high skin-to-ratio, wings are "kind of like pork belly," he points out. And, mind you, we're not talking piddly 25-cent numbers. "I pay a premium for my wings, the big jumbo ones, no hormones, none of that garbage."

He soaks the wings in a brine for a good hour (1 cup of kosher salt per half gallon of water, for those of you wanting to try this at home) to season them. He then roasts the wings to render off the fat, and crisps them up in the fryer. (The Greek-style ones, by contrast, are grilled).

Mark your calendar: Gottwald already is planning a Mac 'n' Cheese Fest for January.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to make good on its promise to boost local, sustainable agriculture. Last week, as part of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program, it awarded the Illinois Department of Agriculture more than $435,000 to help make locally grown produce more widely available, part of $49 million in grants nationwide.

The dollars will fund 28 projects statewide. Among them: Chicago's Green City Market will get $25,000 to develop its youth project, printed materials, a e-newsletter and a vendor survey; the Illinois Specialty Growers Association will get $20,000 for its annual organic growers conference, and nearly $84,000 will go to CBS Broadcasting to roll out a "Buy Illinois, Choose Illinois" ad campaign.

Mon dieu! Eight years of developing and delays aside, the Chicago French Market continues to surpass our expectations, and it's not even opening until mid-November.

The European-inspired, year-round indoor market, which will encompass 15,000 square feet in the Ogilvie Metra station, has added 16 more local vendors to its roster. They include Delightful Pastries, whose Fat Tuesday paczki are, for lack of better words, the bomb (that's proprietor Dobra Bielinski in the photo below); Fumare, a purveyor of cured and smoked meats; and Saigon Sisters, two sisters (and their mom) cooking up pho, banh mi and other Vietnamese items.

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We admit -- we're not familiar with the bulk of these vendors, who also will offer tacos, Korean food, Belgian fries, freshly squeezed juices, baked goods, popcorn, seasonal produce, vegan food and flowers.

But judging by the previously announced purveyors (the oh-so-French Vanille Patisserie; the adorable nuns of Fraternite Notre Dame; the topnotch Pastoral cheese and wine shop, and South Loop's Canady Le Chocolatier, among them), we also doubt we'll be too disappointed.

Wednesday Wines: Hugel call

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By guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

Watching former Chicagoan Belinda Chang taste wine for the Modern in New York is a little bit like watching a fencing match when you don't know a sword from a shovel - even if you do know a glass from a grape.

Chang processes information and makes decisions while anybody else would still be assimilating the flavor of a wine. It's not a small responsibility. In a major restaurant, we're talking tens of cases: not small change.

This is definitely the Olympics, and not a college fencing team. The houses that court Chang's attention are the top ones in the world. Their wines set the standards for elegance and quality.

To call Hugel a firm that produces some fine wines is to call Barack Obama a politician who makes some tough decisions. Head to Hugel's Web site and you'll note that the timeline starts in 1639. That's job experience.

Jean Frederic Hugel looks like an undergraduate student and speaks of wine with knowledge and fervor, as if 370 years of winemaking were cellared in his brain.

In the course of fifteen minutes, Hugel pours eight glasses for Chang: Pinot Blanc Cuvée les Amours 2006, Gentil 2007, Riesling 2007, Riesling Jubile 2007, Muscat 2005, Gewürztraminer 2007, Pinot Gris Homage a Jean Hugel 1998 and Gewürztraminer Vendage Tardive 2001. Along with the wine come adjectives, suggestions and an occasional note about history or production.

Pouring Pinot Blanc, Hugel remarks, "The wine is never in contact with the wood. Every ten years, we go into the barrels and clean them."

Those are some big barrels.

As hesitant as I am to link to anything from FoxNews, I can't help but share Shephard Smith's horror at this concoction, which came from a bar owner in Georgia who had run out of hamburger buns, so he just started slipping his cheeseburgers (with bacon, no less!) in between the halves of a Krispy Kreme donut. But maybe we can help to fund healthcare reform by slapping a big tax on these, seeing as how they are a one-way ticket to the cardiologist.

There are many restaurants -- besides those that seem like amusement parks -- that are kid and family friendly, and for parents who've instilled an appreciation for the restaurant experience in their kids, just about any restaurant can be welcoming to them.

But an event in Downers Grove this month makes certain that families will not have to spend more time researching the kid-friendliness of a restaurant than they do the restaurant's menu.

The first-ever Kids Rock Too! - Kids Restaurant Weekend will be held in Downers Grove Oct. 16 - 18 and features 17 Downers Grove restaurants that are part of the Downers Grove Hospitality Alliance, which is putting the event together.

Participating restaurants will feature promotions and meals especially for kids. Some of the deals include: Free kids' junior cone with each adult purchase of equal or greater value item, kids pay a penny per pound for a slice of pizza, 99 cent build your own mini-cheeseburgers, create your own pizza for $5 and a special tour of Dunkin' Donuts to design and decorate your own donut, as well as many other deals. Wow, this really sounds fun! (And no, I'm not being facetious -- create your own pizza? a penny a pound for pizza? tour Dunkin' Dounts and design your own donut? What's the cut-off age? Would someone like to loan me their child for the weekend so I can take part?)

A complete list of the participating restaurants, in addition to the deals, can be found here, on Downers Grove's Web site.

Let's drown our sorrows about Gourmet's closing the Chicago way, shall we? With bacon. And get this man (chef John Manion of Goose Island Brewpub) his own TV show, or get him on Conan, or something.

This video was done in anticipation of the VIP Pro Bacon Cook-Off on Oct. 24, which should tide folks over until the main event, Baconfest, in April.

We're speechless. Gourmet magazine, the food magazine of all food magazines, is being killed as parent company Conde Nast trims fat and deals with the diminished advertising market. The November issue is its last.

We're shocked. Gourmet's recipes and photography are evocative, its columnists and writers gems. Under the direction of its brilliant (not to mention influential) editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl, it has never looked or read better.

We're saddened. We're not the hoarding type -- except when it comes to Gourmet. We have boxes, literally, boxes, of the magazine dating back to the early 90s in our attic. When one of our sports columnists wanted to dump a suitcase full of his wife's Gourmet from the 70s and 80s, he asked us if we wanted to take them off his hands and we happily obliged.

Here's the power of Gourmet -- it has been published since December 1940.

Conde Nast says it will continue with Gourmet's book publishing, TV programming and Web content (epicurious.com). This decision may make sense to Conde Nast, but not to us.

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As if we needed another reason to love olive oil. We know already that olive oil can offer protection against heart disease by controlling bad cholesterol levels while raising levels of good cholesterol, it can protect against gallstones and it may guard against colon cancer, but now we also are finding out that it can prevent Alzheimer's disease.

A new study conducted by researchers from Northwestern University and the Monell Chemical Senses Center has found that a naturally occurring compound found in extra virgin olive oil beneficially alters the structure of neurotoxic proteins believed to contribute to the debilitating effects of Alzheimer's.

The structural change impedes the ability of highly toxic proteins known as ADDLs to damage brain nerve cells, according to a release from Northwestern that explained the study's findings. This effect of the compound found in the olive oil, oleocanthal, could be used to advantage in new therapeutics and diagnostics.

ADDLs bind within the neural synapses of the brains of Alzheimer's patients and are believed to directly disrupt nerve cell function, eventually leading to memory loss, cell death and global disruption of brain function. Oleocanthal changes the structure of ADDLs by increasing the protein's size, also making ADDLs into stronger targets for antibodies.

The study will be published in the October 15 issue of the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.

The findings, according to the researchers, may help to identify effective preventative measures and lead to improved therapeutics in the fight against Alzheimer's.

Cool Friday photo du jour, courtesy of John Ross at the Bristol:

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It's an 11-pound hen of the woods mushroom. What's chef Chris Pandel going to do with this beaut? It'll go into a dish of gorgonzola piccante, wheatberries and peaches.

And if you still can't get your fill of the fungus, head down to Courtright's in Willow Springs Sunday for a few hours of hen of the woods foraging fun.

Reminder: Vie's Paul Virant and sous chef Nathan Sears are the latest Chicago entrants to the Iron Chef America fray. They battle Japanese master Masaharu Morimoto on Nov. 1. 6-22_Lachat_can_1.jpg

Join Virant, Sears and the rest of the Vie family to watch the episode (8 p.m., Food Network) at the Tap House Grill, 6010 S. Cass in Westmont. The chef there is Virant's friend.

And keep an eye on Sears, who we first met back in January. He's "ripe and ready" to head the kitchen at Virant's second restaurant, location t.b.d., Virant says.

Virant was thisclose to signing a lease on Vie Part Deux (our nickname, not his), just south of Grand Avenue, near May Street Market, but things just didn't work out.

"We're still looking," Virant says. "We do want to do something downtown.

"Obviously, it'll harbor the same style of food, the same philosophy of food as far as trying to support a lot of local farms, but it'll be more casual."

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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

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