Tomatoes!

5 August 2012 · 2 comments

Leaning Shed Farm’s sign at Green City Market

Indigo Rose tomato

From last week’s market to this week’s, tomatoes came in like gangbusters. Does it get any better than this?

Twenty-three varieties of cherry and 35 heirloom tomatoes from Leaning Shed Farm, where owners Dave and Denise Dyrek go crazy in planting all sorts of varieties with names you’ve never heard of.

A new one this year: Indigo Rose. Has anyone tried it? I got so caught up in photographing and talking and buying tomatoes on the other side of the stand that I forgot to pick up this new beauty. It’s on my list for next week.

 

 

Heirloom tomatoes

Leaning Shed Farm
1750 N. Clark Street|
(Lincoln Park at Clark and LaSalle)
Saturday 7:00 am – 1:00 pm
www.greencitymarket.org

[ 2 comments ]

Kouign-amann

29 July 2012 · 4 comments

Kouign-amann by Alliance Bakery at Nordstrom Coffee Bar

I like a good chocolate chip cookie or brownie, but if given a choice, I am way more interested in trying new kinds of pastry. That’s why I’ve been thrilled recently to have come across kouign-amann not only once, but twice, in Chicago. More about where in a minute.

George Larnicol kouignettes in Paris

The first time I tried this pastry was in Paris, but it originates from the region of Brittany in northwestern France that produces outstanding butter. The unusual name comes from the Breton words kouign for cake and amann for butter. Butter and sugar are baked between layers of pastry, resulting in the most wonderful caramelized creation—as you can see in the ones at Georges Larnicol in Paris, where they are displayed in abundance in the front window. It is impossible to walk buy or buy just one. Thankfully they are small (called “kouignettes”), which makes it easier to justify popping a few other non-traditional flavored versions, like chocolate or caramel, into your bag.

Floriole Café’s version

Kouign-amann is a sort of a cross between a cake and a croissant. A lighter, flakier version is what you’ll find at Pierre Hermé in Paris, and what I came across in Chicago at Floriole Café and, much to my surprise, at Nordstrom Café on Michigan Avenue (shown at top) one Saturday afternoon. When I asked the staff if what I saw were indeed kouign-amann, they were surprised that someone knew the name and what they were. These beauties were topped with fruit flavoring, and are made by Alliance Bakery.

If you come across kouign-amann, forget your diet, and try one.

Alliance Bakery & Café
1736 West Division Street
Chicago 60622
Tel 773.278.0366

http://www.alliance-bakery.com/

Floriole Café & Bakery
1220 West Webster Avenue
Chicago 60614
Tel 773.883.1313

http://www.floriole.com/

Nordstrom Coffee Bar
55 East Grand Avenue
Chicago 60611
Tel 312.464.1515

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Gemini Bistro

30 June 2012 · 0 comments

Gemini Bistro’s halibut with summer vegetables

Come summer and warm nights, everyone in the city of Chicago wants to eat outside making it nearly impossible to snag a dinner reservation on short notice. But after calling a half a dozen restaurants mid-week, my friend A.  landed a prime-time 8:00 pm reservation this past Saturday at Gemini Bistro. Open more than two years now, this contemporary American-style bistro has probably fallen off most foodies’ radar as they flock to Randolph Street instead. Fine with me. There is definitely a crowd on Saturday night at GB, but the vibe is conversation friendly, especially outside on the quiet, wide sidewalk shaded by big trees and framed by flower boxes. We couldn’t have asked for a better table.

Having done stints at several restaurants, Jason Paskewitz seems firmly at home at GB and does a fine job with seasonal fare. The menu caters to both light and hearty eaters by offering items in “small,” “medium” and “large” categories. We started our dinner with a crisp Caesar salad with brioche croutons and generous grated Parmesan. Moving to the “medium” section, we took advantage of what may be the tail end of the soft-shell crab season, Paskewitz’s rendition done in southwestern flavors accompanied with small triangles of corn bread and a crunchy purple cabbage slaw. And, from the “large” menu section, an excellent halibut with thinly layered summer vegetables nestled in a lovely sauce. And, oh, be sure to order those truffle-Parmesan fries, their irresistible aroma wafting everywhere on their way to almost every table.

By the time the dessert menu came around, we simply couldn’t order another thing. But we did have fun thinking about what we would order if we had room—peach crisp with vanilla gelato or the caramelized crème brûlée. The chance to try dessert will definitely bring me back to Gemini Bistro. Actually, anything on Paskewitz’s menu is a draw and the ambiance—outdoor and in—are even more reasons to make GB a regular fave of mine.

Gemini Bistro
2075 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago 60614
Tel. 773.525.2522
http://www.geminibistrochicago.com/

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Salade Exotica at Cafecito

I’m part of a group of Joffrey ballet ticket holders that has come together and grown through one friend we all know in common. One of the best parts of our outings is meeting up for a quick dinner at Cafecito, about a block away from the Auditorium Theatre, which we did recently for the third (and final) performance of the Joffrey’s season. This Cuban coffeehouse is a gem―most offerings are under $10 and beyond ordinary. It’s known for its pressed sandwiches, especially an excellent Cubano. More recently its Gallego soup, a hearty mix of white beans, chorizo, ham, and potatoes, has won raves in the major food pubs (and enthusiastically confirmed by a member in our group).

But given that the temps were hitting a rare 85 in the first week of May, the Salade Exotica in my opinion was the obvious choice. I must confess that I’ve had this salad on a previous visit, and was hoping it was still on the menu so that I could order it again. Owner Philip Ghantous said he ran it initially as a special, but he had so many customers ask for it, he has been keeping it as an ongoing item for the time being. A heap of baby spinach houses plump grilled shrimp, ripe avocado slices, hearts of palm, chopped tomato, sweet corn, and thinly sliced purple onion. With colors—and flavors—as alluring as these, it’s good to know you won’t have to venture far for a tropical treat.

Cafecito
26 East Congress Parkway
Chicago 60605
Tel 312.922.2223
http://www.cafecitochicago.com/

Monday-Friday, 7:00am – 9:00pm
Saturday & Sunday, 10:00am – 6:00pm

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Suzanne Goin's toasted farro with kale, currants, and pine nuts

Wishing everyone a great 2012!

I know I plan on making more changes in my life over the coming year. One change is to incorporate more interesting and good-tasting grain and vegetables dishes into my everyday eating. I have a huge stack of fabulous recipes I’m always hoping to make, and this past week I tried out this farro dish based on a recipe by Suzanne Goin. It’s delicious. Toasting the farro in a sautée pan is the secret to bringing out the great nutty flavor of this Italian grain. The toasted pine nuts, currants, and kale along with the other ingredients create a wonderful mix of flavors. As with any dish of this type, you can easily modify the recipe to your taste. In my version, I chiffonaded the kale and sautéed it instead of blanching it. The red onions at the store were too big, so I used shallots. It all works. If you end up making it, let me know how your version turned out. The leftovers refrigerate well to enjoy as a salad or side the next day.

Here’s to a healthy start to the year:

Savor more …

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Jam ‘n Honey

27 November 2011 · 1 comment

Italian Benedict at Jam 'n Honey

More eating is one of the last things one wants to do after Thanksgiving feasting. But as the weekend winds down and mornings in Chicago turn cold, I find myself ready for a hearty start on Sunday mornings. Jam ‘n Honey, a new breakfast and lunch eatery in the DePaul area, is becoming one of my sister Martha’s favorite places for breakfast, and we are steadily working our way through the various dishes on the menu. My current fave is the Italian Benedict, an indulgent combination of two poached eggs served on creamy bacon and cheddar risotto cakes topped with spinach, hollandaise, and housemade tomato jam. Kudos to the owners for taking the extra step of using fresh spinach and their own tomato jam, touches that make this dish stand above many other “florentine” creations.

Chorizo Potato Hash

On an earlier visit the Chorizo Potato Hash I ordered was a well-executed combination of two fried eggs over a scramble of chunks of roasted potatoes, chorizo, zucchini, roasted peppers, topped with cheddar cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. Not a dish for dieters, but one that can easily feed two people. Martha has been ordering the Stuffed French Toast, a super-thick slice of bread filled with strawberry jam and cream cheese, drizzled with a nice balsamic syrup. We have yet to try the gargantuan South of the Border Burrito, one of the most popular items, filled with scrambled eggs, chorizo, black beans, sour cream, guacamole, pepper jack, and pico de gallo.  

Portions here are large and service is brisk, especially on weekends when the place is packed (crowds include plenty of students from nearby DePaul). Space is on the small side, so waits on the weekends can run 30–45 minutes, and spill onto the sidewalk. The interior is breakfast-place basic, but large windows on the front and side are a big plus. Jars of jam and Nutella on every table lend a homey touch. The one downside is the standard bland institutional coffee. With so many excellent coffee purveyors in the city, I’d like to see a better selection served.   

Menu

Jam ‘n Honey
958 West Webster Avenue
(Webster and Sheffield)
Chicago 60614
Tel 773.327.5266

Hours: 8:00am–4:00pm daily
Cash only

 

[ 1 comment ]

Succotash

26 November 2011 · 0 comments

My version of succotash for Thanksgiving

So many people rely on their favorite Thanksgiving recipes it almost seems pointless to put out any new ones. But sometimes you need to shake up the same ol’, same ol’ and work in some new dishes. A couple of years ago, I starting bringing succotash to my family’s gathering, and it has unexpectedly become a hit. I had so many requests for this recipe that I decided to post it on Savoring Chicago.

Succotash (from the Naragansett word msíckquatash) is traditionally made with corn, lima beans, and other shell beans. Since lima beans aren’t popular with many people, I’ve crafted a recipe that uses edamame instead. I’ve also incorporated thin, fresh French green beans (haricots verts), but if they aren’t available, then regular green beans will do. Chopped red and/or green peppers are an option, but for my version, I’ve chosen to omit them. I use frozen corn and edamame since fresh is not readily available. This is a recipe than easily lends itself to your own adjusting. Whatever combination of corn and vegetables you ultimately combine, the creamy bacon sauce is what takes this dish over the top.

Succotash
Feeds a crowd (Approximately 12–15 servings)

4-6 slices of bacon, cut crosswise into ¼-inch-wide strips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups of fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 cups fresh or frozen edamame
1 large bag of French (or regular) green beans (haricots verts)
2 bunches scallions, sliced thin, keeping white and pale green parts separate
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper

If using frozen vegetables, defrost in a colander 1–2 hours before starting.

Trim green beans, and cook in boiling water until fork tender. Drain, and transfer beans to bowl of ice water to stop cooking. After 5 minutes, remove the beans from the bowl and place on paper towels in a single layer to dry out. Blot with more paper towel to dry off further. Cut beans in 2-inch pieces, or bite-size portions. Set aside.

Cook bacon in a heavy, 10-inch or larger skillet over moderate heat. Stir occasionally, until crisp, about 7 minutes. Transfer bacon with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Drain off bacon fat except for about 1-2 tablespoons.

Return skillet to stovetop and add butter to the skillet. Melt over moderate heat. Next add the sliced, white scallions, and cook about 2–3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add 1 cup of heavy cream, and stir for 1 minute, so as to blend the browned bits from the skillet and scallions.

Add corn, edamame, and green beans. Add remaining heavy cream, salt, and pepper (to taste). Stir, then simmer uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until cream has thickened to about half its original volume.

When almost done, stir in remaining sliced pale green scallions.

Can be served immediately or at cooled to room temperature.

Note: Green beans can be prepared the day before and refrigerated.

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Café Spiaggia

6 November 2011 · 0 comments

Pappardelle with pork cheeks at Café Spiaggia

“Oh, it has been ages since I’ve been,” said two different friends on two different occasions about dining at Café Spiaggia. It has been eons for me, too. Seems like the restaurant has fallen off the radar for many people, and having an above-street-level presence doesn’t make it easily come to mind, either. But in the last month I have had dinner at Café Spiaggia twice, and am not going to let years pass before I visit again.

Tony Mantuano, who I and my friend spotted dining at one of the tables while on my second visit, has clearly not skipped a beat over the years, and continues to deftly create dishes that pull from traditional Italian roots while incorporating local flavors. His chef de cuisine and staff expertly exhibit their skills in coaxing maximum flavor from a minimal number of superb ingredients while also turning out some of the city’s best handmade pasta. An assortment of snacks (cicchetti), small plates (piattini), and main course paste dominate the café’s menu. A small, carefully edited list of wines by the glass (in the $14 to $20 range) draws from a variety of Italian regions.  

A baby arugula salad with Capriole Farm goat cheese tossed with balsamic and a generous sprinkling of sea salt made for an agreeable starter. On my earlier visit with my other friend, we liked the meaty house-cured sardines with caper almond pesto on crunchy raisin fennel bread.

Boar ragu gnocchi

The impossibly light gnocchi paired with a perfectly tomato-y boar ragù topped with Parmigiano Reggiano was as good as what I’ve eaten in Italy, and is often found on the menu. On both occasions, each of my friends happened to order this dish, and each time, not one morsel was left on the plate. Chunks of pork cheek tossed with thin ribbons of pappardelle (shown above) and a rich yet restrained meaty sauce yielded bites so tender that I ordered this dish both times. If it’s not already, it should be regularly on the menu. If you are inclined to try a pasta with truffles, then rush over while it is in season. But be prepared to shell out $95 for the experience. It would be an experience I’d like to have some day, but for now, I’m happy with a great glass of wine and any of the other creative dishes put in front of me. 

Café Spiaggia
980 North Michigan Avenue
2nd Floor
Chicago 60611
Tel 312.280.2750
www.spiaggiarestaurant.com

 

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Fall colors at the market: orange beets

Saturday marked the last outdoor market of the season for Green City Market, which always seems to come too soon and means winter is not too far off, especially as major snowfalls hit the East coast this past weekend. But it still officially is fall. And we were grateful to have sun in Chicago and farm stands overflowing with apples, pears, concord grapes, peppers, squashes, pumpkins, and greens. Lots of options for autumnal dishes and lots of color.

Cameo apples

I came primarily to buy apples this visit. Although I admit to getting caught up in the Honey Crisp craze and still love Golden Russets, I’ve discovered another less-popular variety of apple that I’ve come to like (and are cheaper than Honey Crisps): the Cameo. “It’s one of the best kept secrets,” says one of the staff at Mick Klug’s stand. Whereas Honey Crisps can be watery, I find the Cameo to be dense, just as crisp, and pleasantly sweet. 

Tat soi

As usual, though, my two shopping bags filled up with more, including sweet potatoes, broccoli, and spinach. As I was leaving, I came across this dark green tat soi. It also goes by the name of spoon mustard, spinach mustard, or rosette bok choy. I have never tried it, but was told it has a taste between mustard greens and spinach. You can add the spoon-shaped leaves to salads, sautée them, or add them to stir-fry dishes. The stalks can be used as you would use celery. Like many greens, it is high in minerals and vitamins.

I was shopped out by the time I came across this huge cabbage. Knowing that the Midwest’s frost-free nights are numbered, I just had to take a photograph to preserve the end of the season’s beauty.

Green cabbage

Green City Market
1750 N. Clark Street
(Lincoln Park at Clark and LaSalle)
7:00 am – 1:00 pm
www.greencitymarket.org

[ 2 comments ]

Fall French Market

16 October 2011 · 0 comments

White chalcedony bracelet by Margaret Gillman

Ooh, là, là. Every October a bit of French flair makes a showing in Chicago. This past weekend the Lycée Français de Chicago held its Fall French Market within the hallways, classrooms, and gymnasium of the school. I like this market because you can shop and taste the wares of more than 50 vendors, including Figaro Parisian Antiques, Careful Peach, Bijoux Fantasia, and Provenance Food & Wine, and find unusual and one-of-a kind items with a French theme or produced by local artisans.

It is at markets and fairs like this one that I discover solopreneurs, like Margaret Gillman, a jewelry designer. Although she always had a love for gemstones, a corporate layoff 14 years ago ultimately propelled her to into jewelry making (and a different day job). This bracelet of yellow chalcedony caught my eye for its pale color and a design that incorporates a quirky mix of a pearl and sterling silver beads. Maybe the leaf was a fitting motif for the crisp autumn day that it was. Any lame excuse sufficed, and home it went with me. Margaret specializes in necklaces made with unusual stones, but also designs earrings, bracelets, rings, and pendants for pearl necklaces. Her operation is pretty low tech – no website – but you can call her for information on where she shows.

Yarra Valley Fetta

Of course, no French market would be complete without croissants, crêpes, and baguettes, the last item of which also came home with me. The crusty loaf, from Awake Café, finally gave me the reason to open the can of Yarra Valley Persian Fetta that had been sitting in my refrigerator for months. A product of Australia, this “fetta” is like no other I’ve tasted. Made from cow’s milk by Yarra Valley Dairy, this handmade, farmhouse, uber-creamy cheese is packed in an olive oil infused with fresh thyme, bay leaf, black peppercorns, and garlic. It can be added to a salad or pasta dish, but the best way to enjoy it in my opinion is with a loaf of crusty bread that is the perfect vehicle for dipping in the oil along with a robust glass of red wine. À votre santé!  

 Margaret Gillman
Jewlery Maker
Tel 773.281.6284

Lycée Français de Chicago
613 West Bittersweet
Chicago, IL  60613
www.lyceechicago.org 

Yarra Valley tin

Yarra Valley Dairy
Persian Fetta
Available at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, Chicago
About $13

 

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