Friday, June 25, 2010

Alice's Restaurant

With all the Farmer's Markets across the country starting to overflow with fresh and healthy seasonal produce right now, I can't help but think of Alice Waters.

Alice Waters, often referred to as the "California Food Activist" is a legend. Alice has done so much to change how Americans eat, cook and think about food in the past almost 4 decades, than anyone since Julia Child. I have had the great pleasure of dining at Chez Panisse in the upstairs cafe on several occasions- and to me, it is always an adventure!

She started a food revolution, one which prides itself on local fresh ingredients, grown without pesticides. Often referred to as "slow food", she believes it's the healthy alternative to "fast-food" She opened the doors of her restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley California over 37 years ago, with little money and little experience. Her passion for food has made the restaurant famous throughout the world. It remains a "one of a kind" as she as never even given thought to franchising or expanding.

She still shows up almost every day, to oversee the cooking with her exquisite, expert taste buds. She buys only from local ranchers, fishermen and farmers. The word "frozen" is not in her vocabulary! Waters has been heavily involved in a program called "The Edible Schoolyard" where children get to learn about gardening and where their food comes from. She is a steamroller when it comes to educating future generations about food, a relentless radical that has never stopped following her passion.

Here are some quotes taken from an interview she did with 60 Minutes:

"I am convinced that food can again be, as it once was, the everyday vehicle for learning mutual responsibility."

"People have become aware that the way that we've been eating is making us sick."

"I feel that good food should be a right and not a privilege and it needs to be without pesticides and herbicides. And everybody deserves this food. And that's not elitist."

"We make decisions everyday about what we're going to eat," Waters said. "And some people want to buy Nike shoes - two pairs, and other people want to eat Bronx grapes, and nourish themselves. I pay a little extra, but this is what I want to do."

"I have been talking nonstop about the symbolism of an edible landscape at the White House. I think it says everything about stewardship of the land and about the nourishment of a nation."

So if you haven't already, take a trip to your local farmer's market this weekend and support your local farmers. It's good for you, good for them and awesome for the planet!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Best Tapas in Chicago!

I first discovered Nia Mediterranean Tapas when I was down in the West Loop scouting for condos in the fall of 2008. Why I haven't written about it until now could be my selfishness in thinking, "hey this is my secret place!" But, it's time to let the cat out of the bag as they say and share this gem with all of you!

Back to my story.....I wandered in with a friend with the confidence that we would find just what we were looking for-a glass of wine and a "snack" to clear our heads of the wearying task of looking at spaces all day!

The first thing that I noticed beyond the soothing decor and shiny granite-topped bar, was the friendliness and warm welcome from the bartender, Marty, who made us feel right at home instantly by bringing over a small dish of warm and spicy olives. Yumm!

We ordered the Mediterranean Mussels in the spicy diavolo sauce, which were perfectly cooked and very plump! But the one thing that was calling out to me when I looked over the infinite choices of tapas, was the Pumpkin Gnocchi with brown butter, sweet potato and sage-sounded so earthy and perfect fare for a cool autumn evening. This, my friends is truly the most amazing gnocchi I have had in probably ever! I liken them to "little pillows" because that is what they look like. But what flavor when you break into them and the pumpkin filling mixes in with the sage and brown butter!

Fast forward a year and a half later...... Well, in the time that has passed, I actually have met Nia and consider her to be one of my friends! She is one of the sweetest and smartest people I have the pleasure to know. She is warm and cheerful and welcomes you in as if you are in her home and she's sharing her own table with you! She possesses a wealth of knowledge about food and she is a master at mixology too! The cocktails are fun and fresh and always change with the seasons.

I am now what one considers a "regular" at Nia and I have probably tried almost everything on the menu. From the Bacon-Wrapped Dates with red pepper butter sauce to the Lamb and Feta Meatballs, where there is just enough spice in the meatballs to balance the cheesy topping, and the Chickpea Puree which is a usual and staple for me- I think it's the horseradish cream topping that really keeps me coming back for more!

The specials however, are one of the reasons I keep going back (sometimes even 2X a week!) Nia's chef, Tara Pietroniro, has a wonderful and varied palate and really has a great talent with fish cookery- she just runs with it and no matter what I have tried, it has turned out to always be right on! They use local and sustainable goods and produce whenever possible too.

Well, I can't forget that the Sangria is amazing too! Whether you are a white or red sangria fan, they are serving up both- seasonal fruit is the real secret here!

If you are really hungry and there's more than one mouth to feed, you have to try their paella. It's a recipe right from Valencia and you will not be sorry! Choose chicken, pork or seafood.

So when you do get over to Nia, be sure to tell her that I sent you.......

Nia Mediterranean Restaurant
803 W. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60607

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Truffle Squared

I stumbled upon these unbelievable truffles from truffle truffle while surfing the web recently. They are made right here in Chicago too! Bonus for me because I can go to one of 3 locations where these puppies are sold!

The flavors are what really intrigued me the most: Arugula, basil, thyme, mint, lavender and rosemary? I am loving the herbs! There are also flavors like strawberry balsamic, coconut key lime, hazelnut praline and banana walnut. If you are in the mood for something really different try champagne, truffle honey, elderflower or mascarpone!

I am such a fan of the unusually flavored baked goods and confections....check out Dynamo Donuts in San Francisco (with lemon pistachio, saffron chocolate, candied orange blossom and maple glazed bacon apple flavored donuts) and Blue Sky Bakery in Park Slope, Brooklyn (with awesome flavored muffins) to see what I mean!

All of the truffles at truffle truffle are made with the highest quality single source chocolate both light or dark, and they are really meant to mix and match.

This is a true start-up company born out of love of chocolate. Nicole Greene, owner and operator of truffle truffle, decided after trying hard not to to go into the "family business" of food (her dad is in the culinary world) finally decided to go for it and got a degree in the classical pastry arts program at the French Culinary Institute. And shortly thereafter, truffle truffle was born!

Now I know what to bring back east when I come for a visit next time! Or maybe I just keep these for myself.....

truffle truffle can currently be found in the following locations:

Southport Grocery & Café, 3552 N Southport, Chicago, IL 60657

Olivia's Market, 2014 W Wabansia, Chicago, IL 60647

W Grocer, 2060 W North Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Frozen Treats

With the wide variety of molds out there,there's no reason not to make your own frozen popsicles this summer.

One company I can highly recommend, (we sold a ton of these at my store) is Sip-a-Pop by Arrow Plastics. Perfect for the real little ones who can't finish them before they catches the drips and they can "sip" the rest!

But of course there are some more high-end versions of these molds.....Williams-Sonoma has one top of the line popsicle maker by Zoku, that claims to make pops in 7 minutes. Is it worth the 50 bucks? Not sure, but they sure look good!

Tovolo, another company I used sell, has some very cool shaped pop molds that they call Shooting Star, Rocket, & Groovy Pop and are sold at a much more reasonable price of around $10.00.

Tovolo's groovy pop

And check this out: Prairie Fire Restaurant, here in Chicago, is now serving a Lemon-Vodka Booze-sicle starting today and promise to add more flavors throughout the summer like cherries, blueberries and peaches.

image from
Pretty cool.