Sunday, November 29, 2009

My new Sweet Treat

I do love figs- no denying it! So imagine how intrigued and curious I was when I came across this little jar of Ficoco spread in the cheese department at Whole Foods. I thought the jar was kinda cute, so I picked it up to have a look and to my great delight, it's an all natural spread made with figs, cocoa and sugar. That's it. No more no less. Can decadence and healthy co-exist in this tiny little package?? Why yes it can and so I urge you to give it a try! There are many ways of serving it but I have found that just spread on a cracker gives you it's true essence! Or use it to top ice cream, grilled fruit, pancakes or waffles or even fondue! Hard to believe it's fat-free and dairy-free. Why didn't I think of this??

I did try one of the recipes posted on their website and this one is a keeper! It will be fantastic for a holiday party nosh or making up a batch and giving it as gifts this season.

Ficoco Glazed Nuts
2 tbsp butter
¼ cup Ficoco
2 cups mixed nuts, raw, unsalted
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt

Melt butter in a non-stick pan over medium heat.
Stir in Ficoco and when mixture bubbles, add nuts and remaining ingredients.
Toss to coat evenly, spread on a sheet of wax paper and separate nuts with a fork.
Let cool until glaze hardens.
Serve in salads or atop crostini with goat cheese

State and Lake

Suffice to say, I don't think it's such a great idea after all, to go to a new place and judge them on a Turkey Dinner.....The restaurant itself is very, very charming and warm. I loved the rustic yet urban atmosphere, the plush leather bar stools, the really beautiful cocktail glasses our martinis came in. But when the "pre-fixe" turkey dinner arrived, it was a bit of a disappointment! I think there must have been a special on butternut squash...I do love it but didn't see the need for Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Roasted Butternut Squash as a side as well!

I asked our server if I could subsitute just a green salad for the soup. Turns out that was the right way to go as the butternut squash side was the tastiest thing on the plate! The turkey, sadly, was not even close to Mom's. They rolled and stuffed the breast with sausage, but even so, it was very dry. The leg was better, very tender, although a bit bland on flavor. There were collard greens which were, a bit lifeless.....the other bummer was that Metromix had listed the price of the special dinner as $25 per person, but not the case when the bill arrived. They decided to change it to $28...too bad they never told Metromix to change it on their listing!

I hate to admit that the real highlight was the wine we had with the dinner! It was a 2006 ANDREW RICH, TABULA RASA, SYRAH-GRENACHE- MOURVEDRE, from COLUMBIA VALLEY and it was very delicious!

All in all, I will go back and order off the regular menu and I am so very sure it will be a whole new experience. I was just having a hankering for turkey. Can you blame me??

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Stay tuned for my review on Chicago's restaurant, "State and Lake" which is where I am going for this year's turkey day. It is located, aptly, at the corner of State and Lake Streets inside the WIT Hotel.

Straight from their website, they describe themselves as...

"...... warm and welcoming atmosphere, created by The Johnson Studio, an acclaimed architecture firm, is filled with a color palette of chocolate browns, ambers and neutral tones. Texture plays an important role from the cork flooring to the antique wooden tables and walls upholstered in faux leather. Central to the dining room is a large, curved bar; overhead, an amber glass shelf lined with antique seltzer bottles creates a beautiful glow throughout the space. Built-in glass patina cabinets outline the large windows overlooking the historic intersection of State and Lake Streets, and period photographs showcase the neighborhood as it once was nearly one hundred years ago.

Offering breakfast, lunch and dinner and emphasizing local and regional ingredients, Chef Bradley Manchester’s menu is composed of small plates and larger entrees. Artisanal beer selections – many from the Midwest – pair gracefully with the fare as does STATE AND LAKE’s all-American wine list and handcrafted, classic cocktails."

I for one am excited to check it out! This seems like the perfect place to go for a true American experience of this holiday since I won't be cooking this year! They will be serving a special Thanksgiving menu of autumn squash soup, and sausage stuffed braised turkey leg, to name a few. But you will have to wait for the real scoop when I return on Friday!

I love this vintage table arrangement I found on the internet....

Monday, November 23, 2009

Is it really November in Chicago??

I took these pics this morning on a walk around my West Loop neighborhood (yes Oprah's studio is 2 blocks from me!) here in Chicago and can't believe how nature is still hanging on. So beautiful! It will be sad when it leaves for winter, but for now I am totally enjoying the scenery!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dinner for One: Surprise Mashed Potatoes

I may be jumping the gun here, but with the holidays fast approaching, I thought I would get a head start on my New Year's resolution of losing that stubborn 10 pounds I seem to have put on by all this good food and wine I have been indulging in this past year. Between checking out all these new places I blog about, and experimenting with new recipes, the weight has been slowly creeping up! So I set to the task of the "Back to Basics" approach and consulted my go-to diets of the past.

First up is the book, Eat Right for your Blood Type by Peter J. D'Adamo. I won't bore you with all the statistics and science that this approach takes, but I will say that as a Type O, I am supposed to be on a very high protien, low-to-no-carb way of life! As hard as that sounds, I did do it 10 years ago with great success and a 15 pound weight loss! But as the temptations always seem to get the best of me (and you guys know this story all to well for yourselves), the carb craving are hard if not impossible to ignore.

Somewhere around 2003-2004, I got my hands on the craze of the moment which then was the South Beach Diet by Arthur Agatston, M.D. . All my friends were doing it, so why not try it? I lasted about 2 weeks, and fell right off it again. It's basically like the blood type diet, high protein low carb, but I just couldn't get into the fact that they pushed a lot of "sugar-free" crap on it. I mean, if real sugar is so bad, then the fake stuff must be worse right? At least that is what I think, and so I would rather just give up real sugar and not worry about substituting the fake stuff (which many studies have shown are just as bad- i.e., Sweet-n-low, Splenda etc). So the thought of going back to "South Beach" just didn't appeal to me.

On a recent trip to Whole Foods, I happened upon their book section and there on the shelf was my answer. This book practically jumped off the shelf at me: The Stubborn Fat Fix by Keith Berkowitz MD and Valerie Berkowitz, MS, RD. This book just came out this year and was co-written by the Berkowitz's, a husband-wife team that have a practice in NYC, the Center for Balanced Health. Anything with the word "balanced" in it is all right in my book. That word has become my mantra over this past year of my life.

They take a "metabolic" approach to weight loss by really honing in on blood sugar levels and how carbs spike these (and with diabetes in my family history this really spoke volumes to me). Most of us live on a roller coaster of highs and lows with our blood sugar levels- which explains that mid-afternoon need for caffeine and/or sugar to make it til the next meal! They also do something that none of these other diets have done and that is they really push you to rest! Yes, if that's possible they are big fanatics on making sure your body gets the sleep and rest that it needs. This all ties to the adrenals and other things like hormone levels etc.. I know it's nothing new for a doctor to say "get some rest" .....but, I always have ignored that! After all, someone has to work and worry right??

Anyway, they come from the Atkins world ( I never did try that diet). Actually, he was the medical director for the Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine. Their approach is kind of a combination of my previously mentioned diets: they all have the common thread of low or no carbs for everyone who wants to lose weight and keep it off. It's a life long plan. But the big difference is that on the Stubborn Fat Fix, they go in depth on good fiber, high fiber, and have a very detailed chart of what foods are high on the list, making it a no brainer to what choices you should go for in making your carbs count.

For example, did you know that dark chocolate packs a huge fiber ratio? (that's when you divide the grams of fiber in a food by the grams of carbs and multiply by 100-they call it a "fiber score"). So when choosing a dark chocolate, (which you are allowed to have on this plan, not a whole bar of course, but a 2 square serving) look for at least a 70% cacao content. They recommend the brand Vivani 85% cacao, but I have yet to find this at any of the stores here.

But I digress! You may be asking, "but what about the potatoes you mentioned earlier?? Aren't those carbs and on the do not eat list??".

Well, I am glad you are paying attention! Yes they are not good if you want to lose weight, but what I found that tastes even better, believe it or not, is a recipe for cauliflower puree, that I swear, satisfies that comfort food feeling that a bowl of mashed potatoes is so famous for.

I made this recipe for "Surprise South Beach Mashed Potatoes" which actually came from the South Beach Diet book but I did not use the "I can't believe it's Not Butter" spray (yuck) or the half and half. So here is my version:

4 cups cauliflower florets, steamed
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced

olive oil

cayenne pepper, to taste

1 tbsp unsalted butter

Steam the cauliflower until tender but not mushy. Meanwhile, saute the shallots and garlic in a little olive oil until golden brown (do not burn the garlic). Transfer the cauliflower and shallot-garlic mixture to a food processor, add cayenne pepper and either a little water, cream, or broth and pulse until you get a nice puree. Add butter if desired for extra flavor. This makes enough to serve 2.

I was never a big fan of cauliflower until I tried roasting it, but now I have a new favorite! I served it with some sauteed shrimp and oven roasted tomatoes (I made the tomatoes the night before) and finally after all this dinner for one:

According to the Stubborn Fat Fix, 1 cup of raw cauliflower packs 2 grams of fiber,with a fiber score of 47! That's decent! By the way, that Vivani 85% dark chocolate? That's got 5.3 grams of fiber in a 2.5 oz serving, and a fiber score of 90! I really gotta find that chocolate!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fashion has gone to the dogs

Design Within Reach

Here are some pics of my recent trip to the DWR store in downtown Chicago. It is located at 1o E Ohio St (at State St) and is housed in one of Chicago's landmark buildings, designed by Hill and Woltersdorf in 1912. It was originally used as artists' residences, and was called the "Tree Studio". I can see why artists would be inspired here! The building has such great light and energy and would offer up such inspiration for creativity in my opinion! To think it was going to be demolished at one point! Thank goodness the city came to it's senses......

Anyway, walking through is almost like touring a museum...the floor plan is set up to have you walk through a maze of rooms, all the while feeling like you are in someone's home. And the modern decor and furnishings that DWR sells fit so perfectly in this backdrop! I wanted to buy everything! (of course that's not the case, unfortunately!) So when you find yourself in Chicago, be sure to check out this gem.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Functional and Stylish!

Nobis, Latin for “us” is a very cool company out of Canada that makes great funky headwear, outerwear and other "accessories" especially for cold weather. Well, they should know....ever been to Canada in the winter??? Brrrr! Below zero is status quo for the temps in the dead of winter there......

Think style meets function. And if you know me by now, I am a big fan of companies who incorporate environmentally-friendly elements like recycled PE materials and quality natural materials like alpaca wool and hemp fibers. One of my favorite little clothing boutiques, P+L, in Lakeview, has a great selection. Nobis does great hats for all seasons, but in the spirit of this current one we are in, I thought I would show you some of my favorites for now!

I think this is the one I am going to get! Brown and orange is my favorite combo!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Plummy Goodness

I know that my female counterparts will perk up when I mention the words "beauty products"....After all, isn't it in our genes to be magnetically attracted to anything that will give us the promise of softer skin, fewer wrinkles, eternal youth and the radiant glow of the healthy girl next door?? The amount of money we spend on products that make promises (that I really am skeptical they actually can keep), is staggering! There are lotions and creams with price tags that well exceed $200.00 an ounce. But, we are not all fortunate enough to have the paychecks of Gates or Buffett or for that matter, Martha!

I have found my extravagance and it's not going to break the bank by a long shot, and to add to it's appeal, the company is big into environmentally- conscious products. Korres is a company I discovered a few years back, quite by accident. A good friend of mine with a major penchant for all things cool in the beauty products world, turned me on to this shower gel. My favorite now is the Vanilla Plum which is rich and sweet, and leaves not only me smelling great but my bathroom turns into a day at the spa just by popping the cap! Ahh, the simple things in life! The packaging is so great too.....simple, clean and great graphics.

So, what does this post have to do with food you might be thinking?? Clearly I have gone off my path. But once you try this luxuriously sensual shower gel from Korres, you will hopefully agree with me, that the fine line between the senses is more than just about food, but equally about they way a scent can take you to a happy place as much as a meal can. Try the Lemon Basil too. Vanilla, plum, basil and lemon.....hmmm all derived from nature. So nurture your nature and get back to me......

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dinner for One: Pork Chops

pork chops with apples and sage

I really don't eat a lot of pork...but the truth is, I really like it! Don't get me started on bacon! Everything tastes better with bacon. But in this age of watching fat and calories, I feel a little guilty when I do enjoy this supposed indulgence! In French, it's called Cochon, which sounds way better than "pig" or "pork"......

Did you know that when you google "pork" there are over 32 million results?? I am not surprised! And a lot of that is for recipes.

I got some great looking boneless pork chops the other day and was in the market for making them with fall's no accident that I went to one of my favorite chefs for a recipe. That adorable Brit, Jamie Oliver. I have been a big fan and follower of Jamie since first seeing him on the Food Network over 8 years ago.

He has a casual approach to cooking that I can really relate to. He has authored many cookbooks since and has been on and off the airwaves with different cooking shows. I really admire what he is doing with food in the U.K., especially his passion for educating young people on food and food preparation and the importance of having a relationship with where your food comes from. Where was he when I was a kid? Boy have we come a long way in the educating of people and food! I just found out that Martha Stewart is a big fan as well and has him on her show a lot....Darn that Martha, she is always copying my faves! Well, I saw him first Martha so don't you forget it!

Photo from Jamie Oliver's website

In his recipe, Jamie uses bone-in pork chops~I used boneless so either way, it's still amazingly tender and juicy! Find the recipe here. You can serve this with steamed spinach, or roasted potatoes or both!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Art of Brooklyn

I recently found this great limited edition poster on this very cool website, Three Potato Four.

It's a collaboration between Three Potato Four and designer Jim Datz, this poster of Brooklyn combines several of their loves - Brooklyn, typography, color, 50's inspired illustrations, and urban signage. But because it was mentioned on Daily Candy, alas it is sold out. They only ran 200 prints! Imagine that...I am sure there are more than 200 of us that would be proud to hang this in our homes no matter if you are from the borough or not! Please note the shout out for Park Slope!! Yeah! They are hand screen-printed with six colors (including gold metallic) on thick 100% Recycled acid-free 100# soft white paper stock.

I put myself on the wait list and if anyone else feels the way I do, you'll hop on over to their website and do the same!

Not to forget they also did a Manhattan poster but guess what?? Sold out too! Here's what you are missing. Love the colors!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rootstock Wine and Beer Bar

So when I invited a friend to go with me to check out this new-ish wine bar in the Humboldt Park section of Chicago, I really had to convince her! She was actually conjuring up visions of Woodstock and hippies just from the name! Guess she's not groovy enough to hang with hippies (hee-hee). Anyway, she finally gave in and met me there last evening.

It turns out that it's a very cool spot for sipping great wine, beer and munching on great noshes. The place is tiny (only 50 seats) and I really love that because for me, it reminded me of my hometown, Brooklyn, NY, where every space is tiny but cozy nonetheless. We decided to sit at the bar. This is where I like to sit so I can get a good look at the action!

They offer about 15-20 wines by the glass and a reserve list of around 65 bottles, which are global, affordable and from small producers. Some are bio-dynamic, some organic. Well you get the picture. There are craft beers as well (mostly of Belgian and American craft -Malheur, Great Lakes Grassroots Ale, Coney Island Albino Python, etc).

We were fortunate enough to have one of the owners tending the bar. He guided us with his expert knowledge to an excellent wine from Greece- 2005 Domaine Mercouri Refosco/Mavrodaphne Vin des Letinon Greece~it had a nice fully body and was oh- so-smooth (and very reasonably priced too!). I have had several wines from Greece lately that have been outstanding. He told us that it is very hard to find this wine so lucky for us, we were in the right place at the right time for once!

And now for my favorite part: the food! First, we sampled the Citrus and Garlic Marinated Olives. They are made in house and were yummy too! We ordered the Charcuterie and Cheese Plate that had a selection of 3 cheeses and 3 meats (above is a very fuzzy picture taken with my I Phone). There was House made chicken liver pate w/ pink peppercorns, La Quercia “green label” dry cured Proscuitto and La Quercia “Italian style” copa with paprika & cocoa rind. There were two goat cheeses and one sheep's milk cheese, and an assortment of housemade jams, (cherries in port wine for one) and grainy mustard. Have to have mustard for the pate which by the way, was amazing!! The couple that sat next to us, actually ordered the same thing we had! Guess we have good taste?? Food that is great for sharing is what I am all about!

We then decided to be bad and get what they call "Crusts" which are Naan Bread topped with either Braised fennel & buttered leeks, oven dried grape tomato, pesto cheddar & citronette mezclun greens, La Quercia Proscuitto, orange blossom honeyed melon, arugula, shiso & house ricotta, or Bourbon glazed market mushrooms, Vivace cheese, purple market beans. We settled on the braised fennel and buttered leek. A very generous portion and only $8.00. Can't beat it. Really can't.

I believe this will be my new favorite place to go for when I am in the mood for comforting food, good wine and great conversation! There is a lot more on the food list that I will have to try so I really do need to return again and again~ they are always changing the menu to reflect what is seasonal. Oh, and by the way....not a hippie in sight!

Rootstock Wine and Beer Bar
954 North California Avenue • Chicago, Illinois 60622