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April 2011 Archives

If you haven't yet cast your vote for the home cook you think is most deserving (desperate?) of a six-week culinary makeover, do so here.

And thanks to the dozens of readers who sent in their stories of just how badly they need help in the kitchen. The stories were humorous as well as heartbreaking.

There were more than a few mashed potato anecdotes and at least two meatloaf failures (one woman's dog, who has a habit of eating feces, wouldn't even touch her meatloaf).

A young attorney told of the sheer panic she felt trying to boil water for spaghetti. A police officer husband, nominating his nurse wife, revealed how spaghetti has caught on fire under her watch.

One gentleman was very specific -- he just wanted to know "how to whip up a killer pan of lasagna" -- while a widower accustomed to eating out described his struggle to learn the "basics and tips of everyday cooking."

The goal with this project is obviously to help our one chosen home cook learn those basics and gain the confidence and skills to build on them after the six weeks are up. But my hope is that those of you whose stories didn't get into the paper will still follow along -- this project is for you, too. I think you'll learn a thing or two.

[Get ready for radishes along the riverwalk.]

Farmers market devotees can add another urban location to their shopping list this summer, and a swank one at that.

The newest city-sponsored farmers market will open in June along the riverwalk outside the Trump International Hotel and Tower, 401 N. Wabash.

The Trump Bridges to Bridges Market will be held on the final Thursday of each month, running at least through September and possibly into October, a spokeswoman says.

It will operate from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The later hours are ideal for urbanites who can't get to the markets until on their way home from the work.

The hotel hopes to host about 20 regular vendors, Nichols Farm and Orchard and Slagel Family Farm among them, says chef Frank Brunacci.

This is an extension of a one-day market the hotel held one drizzly morning last summer on its 16th-floor terrace.

Watch for our complete guide to farmers markets in May.

If we stoked your competitive fires with last week's cover story on cooking contests, you might want to take note of a few more contests, big and small, with deadlines approaching.

Rhapsody Mother's Day Contest
The restaurant at 65 E. Adams is putting out a call for your mom's or grandma's best brunch, dinner or dessert recipes. E-mail recipes by noon April 22 to, with your name and contact information.

Chef Dean Zanella will test the recipes and choose as many as six winners, whose dishes will be served at the restaurant on Mother's Day. Those winners also will eat free on May 8. There's no prize money but hey, you're doing this for Mom.

Cook's Country Holiday Cookie Contest
It's never too early to start thinking holiday cookies. The magazine is seeking recipes by April 30 for seven categories: drop; rolled; bar or square; icebox or log; sandwich; chocolate, and "other." cookie08-CST-1208-5.JPG

Include a 250-word essay on why your cookie is so special. For more details or to enter via e-mail, go to; or mail your entry to Holiday Cookie Contest, Cook's Country, Box 470739, Brookline, Mass., 02447.

There's a $1,000 grand prize, six $100 runner-up prizes and the distinction of seeing your recipe in the magazine. Home Cook Challenge: Best Sandwich
No PB&Js here. Contenders thus far in the magazine's online contest (there's a different contest each month) include a Green Goddess grilled cheese and an onion, fig and prosciutto panini.

The deadline to enter is April 25; top prize is a $500 certificate to Sur La Table. Sending in a photo of your sandwich is optional, but probably a good idea.
For details and to enter, go to

Gnarly Head Rippin' Ribs Competition at Ribfest Chicago
The barbecue circuit is pretty hardcore, so be prepared. Submit that pork ribs recipe you've been perfecting by May 15. If your recipe is chosen, you'll compete in the June 11 contest at Ribfest in North Center, which actually is the regional cook-off for the 2012 Memphis in May Barbecue Competition.

There are all sorts of cash and other prizes, but the grand-prize winner gets a spot on a team that will compete in Memphis. For more details and to enter, go to

While diners lucky enough to get on the e-mail list for Grant Achatz's new restaurant obsessively checked their emails and refreshed their Internet browers Wednesday, the first person on that list of 20,000-some people didn't bother.

"I'm not so good at emails, or having to open attachments," said Dr. Elizabeth Blair, a head and neck surgeon at the U. of C. and Achatz's doctor.

There's also that pesky issue of her iPhone's hit-or-miss reception in the hospital. And the fact that she is in the operating room for a good portion of the day.

Indeed, Blair had to be reminded that today was opening day for Next, the much-anticipated restaurant from the Alinea chef, who has survived a bout with tongue cancer.

"Is it supposed to be today?" she asked.

The concept of Next is hardly conventional. Every three months, it will transform into a new restaurant, serving a new, strikingly different menu than what came before (from 1906 Paris to Thai street food, initially). And instead of making reservations, diners are to buy tickets, paying in advance for everything -- food, wine pairings, tax and tip. So a conventional restaurant opening, this was not.

It started last year, with the announcement of an online waiting list. Plug in your email on the restaurant's website, and when the restaurant was ready to sell tickets -- that day is today -- you'd get an email.

The day before Achatz sent out the announcement of the waiting list, he e-mailed Blair and others close to him to give them first crack. So, she opened the link and signed up.

"I guess I was lucky," she said, adding, "I almost can't remember what e-mail address I put in there."

But technical glitches have so far held up the e-mails Blair and others were supposed to receive starting at 10 a.m. letting them know they could buy tickets. [Update: At 2 p.m., the glitch was fixed, and in a matter of two minutes, the first customer had bought his tickets.]

On Saturday, Blair and her husband were at guests at one of several practice run dinners Achatz and co-owner Nick Kokonas have held at Next.

"Spectacular," she said of the food and the nearly three-hour meal and, in particular, the duck course that was brought out family-style with potatoes.

Blair, a mother of two who dines out a few times a month, hopes to go back to Next to compare it to that preview meal. "They're incredibly talented, so it'd be really fun to see how it turns out when they're done with all their rehearsals," she said.

Being first on the list, of course, doesn't guarantee that will happen.

"I didn't get any tickets for the Sox when they were in the playoffs, so I'm not very good at refreshing my e-mail," she said.

tumblr_lih77hIqte1qey8tk.jpg [doughnut porn, courtesy the Doughnut Vault]

The Doughnut Vault, a slip of a shop (in a former bank vault) at 401 1/2 N. Franklin (anyone else have a soft spot for businesses with 1/2 in their addresses?), opened this morning.

It's a cash-only, walkup-window operation from the people behind Gilt Bar (in the same building) and Maude's Liquor Bar. It's been taunting for months.

Dougnnuts on offer daily: buttermilk ($2), a gingerbread "stack," which is as it sounds ($3) and three varieties of glazed -- vanilla, chocolate and chestnut ($3). There will be daily specials. The coffee ($1) is from Metropolis. And I'm told there is talk of a doughnut truck -- which would actually take the form of an armored car.

The girl is on a roll.

Stephanie Izard
of "Top Chef" fame and the instant hit Girl & the Goat on West Randolph is one of Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chefs of 2011.

A super-excited Izard tweeted this morning: "i think the secret is out... off to early morning photo shoot for f&w best new chef!! woooooohooo! super excited!"

Izard joins the likes of Mike Sheerin and Paul Virant in getting the honor. Her restaurant is up for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. The winner will be announced May 9.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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



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