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January, 2012

  1. Foodie Fun Day #6: Grand Chef’s Gala Part 2 (The Food)

    January 28, 2012 by Barb

    I still get the giggles when I wear my pass

    I knew it was going to be a spectacular night when I stepped off of the elevator.   My nostrils literally flared with joy as the scent of all different dishes passed my nose.  This was my first (and hopefully not last) Grand Chef’s Gala benefitting The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and I did not know what to expect.  (More on the event in my previous post today.)

    I walked into the International Ballroom and stood still for a moment to take it all in.  It was the Academy Awards of food! There was table after table of some of the best restaurants and culinary artists that Chicago has to offer.

    I had to go for my favorite dishes first….beefcake!  So I went for the familiar faces and tastes at IPO (Trevor Hoyte, supreme braised beef cheeks), The Purple Pig (Jimmy Bannos Jr., pork shoulder and mashed potatoes), and Vie (Nathan Sears, housemade angolotti, ham hock broth and lemon olive oil).  I kept my cougar-side down to a dull puurrrrrr so I wouldn’t scare them off!  (Okay, if they weren’t scared before, they are now!)

    I did get star struck when I met Beverly Clark from aria.  She is on this season’s Top Chef and made sensational pork and kimchi yucca pasteles.  Chef Beverly was such a sweetheart and we will keep cheering her on in the Top Chef Last Chance Kitchen!  (If you are behind on your Tivo, don’t read the previous sentence so I don’t spoil the surprise.)

    When my mouth wasn’t busy talking, I was filling it with food.  There were a bunch of wonderful bites but I have to give double thumbs up to Lockwood’s Celery Root Soup with Warm Salmon, Prasino’s Tuna Tar Tar with avocado, wasabi caviar on a sesame cracker, and Avil’s Cretan beef and eggplant.

    My other favorite’s were not only given a thumb’s up for taste but a gold star for presentation such as Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse (Carpaccio of dry aged beef on little wooden platters), Libertad (tuna coconut mojito ceviche served with sugarcane spoons) and Gaetano’s (bread cannoli stuffed with pheasant and chicken).

    Now if this were the Oscar’s the music would be playing right now and I would be panicking trying to fit in everyone’s name!  So quickly thank you to:

    Bistronomic, Blackbird, Blue 13, Coco Pazzo, Davanti Enoteca, Flemings Prime Steakhouse, Grace, Heaven on Seven, Hugo’s Frog & Chop House at River’s Casino, Inovasi, L2O, Leopold, Markethouse, Marigold, Mercadito, Mercat a la Planxa, Mexique, Nana, Piccolo Sogno, RIA, Rockit Bar & Grill, Sabor Saveur, Salatino’s, Saloon Steakhouse, Technique at Le Cordon Bleu, The Bristol, The Signature Room at the 95th,  and my mom.  (Okay my mom wasn’t there but if I am going to have an Oscar moment, I have to thank her.)

    The honor I accepted this evening was being part of this lavish event.  You all spoiled me with your rich food, warm reception and engaging banter.   And thank you for making my first year as a small town food blogger  a dream.



  2. Foodie Fun Day #6: Grand Chefs Gala Part I (The Event)

    January 28, 2012 by Barb


    Last night I had the honor of attending the 15th Annual Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Grand Chefs Gala and Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence, benefitting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

    The Havana themed night started at 6 p.m with a 2-hour showcase of 40 of Chicago’s finest chefs preparing and presenting their signature hors d’oeuvres.  (More on the detail on the food in my next blog, Grand Chefs Gala Part II.)

    After guests loosened their belts, the party was directed to the Imperial Ballroom for a 3-course dinner and the live program.  Chefs Scott Harris (Mia Francesca, The Purple Pig) and Jimmy Bannos (Heaven on Seven, The Purple Pig) received the prestigious Founders’ Award for their community involvement, extraordinary service and leadership in the Chicago Community.  (Congratulations to two amazing and admirable chefs!)

    The awards didn’t stop there..acclaimed chef Jean Banchet presented the 2011 Jean Banchet (not a coincidence, it was named after him) Awards for Culinary Excellence.

    The evening’s winners were:

    Chef of the Year:  Giuseppe Tentori, GT Fish & Oyster (I saw him early in the evening and wished him luck so I am taking a little credit on this one. Ha ha)

    Pastry Chef of the Year:  Amanda Rockman, The Bristol

    Best Chef-de-Cuisine:  Dave Beran, Next

    Rising Chef of the Year: Chris Macchia, Coco Pazzo

    Rising Pastry Chef of the Year: Sarah Jordan, BOKA

    Best Sommelier: Michael Muser, The Peninsula

    Best Mixologist: Josh Pearson, Sepia

    Best New Restaurant: Next

    Best Neighborhood Dining:  The Bristol

    Eurest Peoples Choice Award: The Purple Pig (In case you were unaware, Jimmy Bannos Jr. is the chef so it is pretty neat that he and his dad won an award on the same night.  I’m sentimental that way.)

    The night was also filled with a live auction AND a silent auction to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis and concluded with an amazing nightcap serving delectable desserts (tuxes were unbuttoned and girdles were in the trash at this point), fun cocktails, live music and dancing.

    The goal this year was to raise over $500,00 and I hope that even if you were unable to attend the event you will take the time to donate now.

    Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease affecting 30,000 children and adults in the United States of America.  Both the respiratory system and digestive tract are compromised so every day activities that we take for granted like breathing and eating cause great difficulties.

    In 1955, a child with CF did not live long enough to attend school.  Now because of research and care supported by the Foundation, CF patients are living to be in their upper 30’s.  (It is an improvement but still too young!)  Breakthroughs are continuing to be made with the hopes controlling and hopefully curing this disease.

    Thank you to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for sharing your evening and your stories with me.  It was a wonderful yet humbling night that I will never forget.


  3. Upcoming Events…

    January 25, 2012 by Barb

    As promised last year, I wanted to give people a head’s up on a few wonderful food and wine events that are taking place in the near future.

    First, the 15th annual Fairmont Hotel and Resorts Grand Chefs Gala/Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence is taking place THIS Friday night, January 27 at the Fairmont Chicago in Millennium Park.  The evening’s events are to support The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  (I’ll write more about the event on Saturday).

    The evening’s events will include a cocktail reception featuring some of Chicago’s finest chefs, a dinner program featuring the Jean Banchet Awards, Founder’s Award, Eurest People’s Choice Award and a silent auction.  The evening will conclude with a wonderful nightcap with delightful pastries and dancing.

    Tickets and more information can be found at

    The next event: Catholic Charities will host the 11th Annual d’Vine Affair, a Tasting of Fine Wines, which supports its Self-Sufficiency Programs in Cook and Lake Counties. The event is scheduled at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 W. Jackson Blvd. on Sunday, January 29, 2012

    To register, log on to or call (312) 655-7912. For more information contact Ashley Owen, event coordinator for Catholic Charities at (312) 655-7912 or email

    And finally for my reader’s who aren’t in Chicagoland, Food and Wine Magazine launched “Chef’s Make Change”  (CMC).  It is a coalition of ten “superstar” chefs. Each chef will be sponsoring their favorite charity with the goal of raising one million dollars for hungry kids, struggling farmers and changing the lives of families in need.

    More information about the chefs, their charities, and some fabulous recipes can be found in the February issue of Food and Wine Magazine on newsstands NOW.  (I just finished my issue and it is GREAT!)

    Please go to Food and Wine’s Facebook page to make a donation.  (It will automatically reroute you if you don’t have a facebook account, so everyone can be a part of this great cause.)

    So that’s all I know about for now.  I’ll keep working on this aspect of the blog.  I kind of feel like Julie the Cruise Director!  : )


  4. Year of the Dragon Pot Stickers

    January 23, 2012 by Barb


    Happy New Year!  Or as they say in China Happy New Year!  (I translated for you since most of my readers don’t speak Chinese).  It is my favorite of all Chinese holidays.  (Okay, I don’t know any of the other holidays.) 

    It is the year of the Dragon, the only legendary animal on the Chinese zodiac calendar.  It signifies that the year will be filled with strength, wealth and good luck.   The year of the dragon is considered the luckiest of all of the Chinese Zodiac Symbols.  (I’m a dog: Loyal and trustworthy)

    There is another celebration taking place today, my sister Cheryl’s birthday!  So as they say in China “Happy Birthday, Cheryl!”  (Still translating.)  I wanted to figure out a way to tie these events together and I could only think of one thing, pot stickers.

    Pot stickers?  What do pot stickers have to do with Chinese New Year and my sister’s birthday? Well, I’ll tell you.  The pot sticker (or dumpling) is made on Chinese New Year because it is believed that luck is packaged inside each bundle.  Once ingested, you have luck inside you all year long.  (I guess they have slower metabolisms.)

    My sister’s connection is that she LOVES pot stickers.  We will order a plate to share, inhale them quickly, and then regret that we didn’t order just appetizers for lunch. (For her birthday celebration this year, we WILL go out and only eat appetizers!)

    Pot stickers are one of those fun foods to make because you can fill them with anything from vegetables (cabbage, carrots, mushrooms) to meat (pork or chicken).  It is considered unlucky to add dragon to your filling so please avoid that ingredient.

    For my version today, I’m going to stick to the basic pork pot sticker with a semi-spicy dipping sauce. (I’ll post my pictures tonight.)  They are easy to make, delicious and hopefully will bring you luck in the following year.

    Year of the Dragon Pot Sticker


    12 ounces ground pork

    3 tsp soy sauce

    1 tsp toasted sesame oil

    1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced

    1 shallot, minced

    4 cloves garlic, minced

    4 green onions, white part only, diced

    24 round dumpling wrappers

    1 egg

    2 TBsp grapeseed oil


    In a medium size bowl, add pork, soy, ginger, garlic and sesame oil.  Mix well and fold in the shallot and green onion.  (Normally, I would suggest seasoning with salt but I think the soy adds enough seasoning.)

    In a separate small bowl, mix egg with 2 Tbsp of water.  Deal out the dumpling wrappers on your counter and place about half a tablespoon in the center.

    DO NOT GET ANY ON THE EDGES!!!!  (Sorry didn’t mean to yell but they won’t seal if you get the filling on the edges.)

    Paint the edges of the wrapper with the egg mixture with a pastry brush.  Fold each wrapper in half so it resembles a half moon.  Make one pleat in the center and three on each side.  Make sure you squish out the air pockets.


    Press gently on the counter to flatten the bottom and set aside until all 24 pot stickers are sealed.

    Over high heat to a medium high heat, heat a NON STICK sauté pan.  Add the grapeseed oil and coat the pan.  Watch your heat so that you don’t burn the pot sticker.

    In batches (don’t overcrowd your pan), add pot stickers and brown them for about 3-4 minutes.  Don’t poke at them, let them brown.

    Add about half a cup of water, cover the pan and steam until the water is almost evaporated.  It usually takes about 8-10 minutes; they will be a bit puffy.  If the water evaporates before they are done, add more in small increments.

    The bottoms will recrisp after the water is gone but be careful not to burn them!  (I will make my batches, steam them and then recrisp as I’m ready to serve them.)

    Serve with dipping sauce.

    I flipped one of them over to show you could see the lighter brown pot stickers.

    Dragon Dipping Sauce

    2-4 teaspoons of sambal (taste to adjust spiciness)

    ¼ cup soy (or ponzu)

    ¼ cup rice wine vinegar

    Dash of toasted sesame oil

    1 Tbsp of green onion tops

    1 tsp sugar

    Mix together and taste.  You can adjust the flavor by adding sugar to cut the tartness, more sambal to make it spicier or garlic and ginger to add some different flavors.

    There are many reasons that I wish my sister and I lived closer together.  We are both food lovers and I know she would get great joy out of eating these little bundles of luck.  Happy Birthday, Sister, may the year of the dragon bring you the luck, strength and wealth that you desire.  Love you!


  5. French Onion Soup Worth Yelling About

    January 16, 2012 by Barb


    It is rich.  It is warm.  It is a little sweet and a little salty.  Its depth of flavor will make you close your eyes in delight.  And it can easily be found on menus but not necessarily what you want.  (Okay, where am I going with this?)

    I am talking about French Onion Soup.  My first memory of this soup was when I was in Canada with my dad.  We went out for dinner and the menu, which was written in French, was very intimidating.  I tried to reach into my brain for some words I may have picked up in my few months of French class but all I could remember was an inquiry about the bathroom.  (Où sont les toilettes?)

    After whimsically asking the waiter three times where the bathroom was located, my dad made me order.  I played it safe and asked for the soup du jour.  I knew those words too and felt pretty safe that it would be something I like to eat.

    My soup arrived and I felt like it was Christmas on a plate.  Not only did I get a cute little crock of soup, it was smothered in bubbly cheese!  I dipped my spoon in and was surprised once again with the crouton on the inside.  (It doesn’t take much to make me smile.)  I pulled back the spoon with my first luscious helping and the cheese just clung on for dear life.  It was beautiful.  (I did get yelled at for twirling the goopy cheese with my finger but it still didn’t ruin the magic of the moment.)

    I placed the spoon in the soup and started slurping (more getting yelled at) and it was unbelievable.  I couldn’t get over the flavor.  It didn’t taste like an onion it was almost sweet.  The only bad part is that it ruined me for every French onion soup I’ve tasted ever since that moment….until now.

    I have been trying for the past 20 years to find a recipe worthy of this first experience but I’ve never been able to recreate it properly.  With some more cooking experience under my belt, I wanted to give it another try. (Plus no on was going to yell at me for playing with my cheese.)

    After years and years of longing for a great version of this soup, I was able to regenerate the memory.  (Or I’m just getting old and my fading memory has told me to get over it.)

    French Onion Soup


    2.5 pounds of onions (I used Vidalia, yellow and a shallot) sliced incredibly thin

    3 Tbsp butter

    1 cup sherry

    4 cups of water

    2 cups of beef broth

    Fresh thyme sprigs (about 3 tied together)

    1 Bay leaf

    1 small baguette cut into thin slices

    About a cup of Provolone or Swiss cheese, shredded (I like them both)

    1 clove of garlic


    In a large, heavy saucepan (cast iron preferred), melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions and reduce heat.

    Let it cook for 1.5-2 hours, stirring occasionally.  (I am serious about the time; you need to caramelize the onions for the depth of flavor.)  This is a slow process, go catch up on my previous blogs while you wait.

    Once your onions are broken down, add the sherry to deglaze the pan.   Scrape up all of those brown bits; you won’t regret the flavor!

    Reduce the sherry by half and then add the water, broth, thyme and bay leaf.

    Simmer over medium heat for at least 30 minutes and taste for seasoning.  I added a dash of worchestire just because I like it instead of adding salt.  Just a personal preference.

    Toast the baguette slices with a little olive oil and rub with garlic when they come out of the oven.

    Dish out the soup into individual OVENPROOF bowls, top with crouton(s) and shredded cheese.  (Do I need to state the obvious of taking out the bay leaf and thyme?)

    Broil until bubbly.  (Warn your guests that the bowls may be hot so no one ruins their experience with a burnt finger.)

    I am so happy that I finally figured this one out.  I will admit that I had tried different methods and could not achieve the depth of rich, oniony goodness.  I tasted my broth numerous times until I was more than satisfied with the result.

    The best part is that my husband actually liked French onion soup for the first time in his life.  (And HE didn’t get yelled at once!)




  6. Dropping the Ball on New Year’s Eve

    January 11, 2012 by Barb


    One of my biggest challenges as a foodie is knowing my audience. I’m not talking about an audience like when I used to line up my stuffed animals and do stand up in front of them.  (Betty Teddy never got my jokes.)  I’m talking about making the right food for the people who will be eating it.

    We were invited to a New Year’s Eve party this year with a newer group of our friends.  Everyone was to bring some food and I was so excited to show off my mad skills.  (Actually my “mad” skills were shown off earlier in the day when I had a tantrum about something and kicked the couch.  Hello, anger management!)

    The first request of our hostess was that we brought finger foods.  Some of the people on the guest list (Mike) had dexterity issues so I knew that silverware was not going to be used.  ( She didn’t want to make him feel out of place.)

    I started looking at my cookbooks and came up with a fun list of miscellaneous tapas, amuse bouches and hors d’oeuvres.  I was really getting excited and started to write down an email to the hostess with my thoughts…and then I saw it…the list of food other people were bringing.

    Now I want to preface this next comment by saying there is NOTHING wrong with what I would call Man-Pub type munchies, I just don’t make it very often.  I had my heart set on making some fancy little bites but I knew they wouldn’t work on the menu.

    So I tried to think of things I’ve heard men talking about in pubs.  Sports?  Nope, that’s not food related.  Women?  Nope, that won’t work.  Bleu balls?  Excellent.  I always hear guys making cracks about bleu balls so they must really be into cheese balls with bleu cheese.  (This is where I may have been a little naïve.)

    We walked into the party and my husband carried the plate.  I announced to the houseful of people “Earl’s got the bleu balls!” A couple of the guy’s faces cringed (I guess they didn’t like bleu cheese) and some giggles were heard but overall they were well received.

    Bleu Balls


    ¼ cup bleu cheese (or gorgonzola but gorg balls just isn’t as funny)

    ¼ cup cream cheese, whipped

    1 Tbsp shallot, FINELY chopped

    2 Tablespoons chopped parsley

    A crank or two of black pepper

    ½ cup honey roasted cashews (Reserve about 16 for the top of the balls)


    In a medium bowl, combine bleu cheese, cream cheese, parsley, shallots and pepper.  Use a pastry blender so you don’t break up the cheese too much.  Set mixture to the side.

    In a small food processor (or plastic baggie that you can wallop with a hammer), add the cashews and turn them into crumbs.

    Separate your cheese and form about 16 little round balls.  Roll each ball into the cashew crumbs and top them with one whole cashew.

    Place in refrigerator for at least an hour.

    You can serve these with crackers or just alone.  Maybe I just invented the next trendy pub food, Bleu Ball Poppers…maybe not.



  7. I’m No Dummy, That Cannoli Is Inside Out

    January 5, 2012 by Barb


    One of my resolutions this year is to entertain more.  No, I’m not talking about entertaining like in song, dance or ventriloquism.  (Because we all know ventriloquism is real craft that only can only be done by seasoned professionals.  Did you see my lips move when I typed that?  I didn’t think so!)

    I’m talking about entertaining as in hosting people in my home with fabulous cooked meals.  (Okay, my husband tries to stick his hand up the back of my shirt to make me talk but the only words this dummy utters is NO!)

    We had company over this week.  They are a couple of my favorite neighborhood guinea pigs that are always being asked to try my kitchen creations.  (They aren’t ACTUAL guinea pigs because we all know guinea pigs aren’t good dinner guests.)

    The biggest problem I have when planning a menu is figuring out the dessert.  As you have noticed in past posts, I’m not a huge baker.  Actually, I am not a big dessert eater but I know that it is the proper way to end a meal…besides a nap.

    So I had to figure out something to make that would be tasty, stay within my theme (Italian) and give everyone just a taste of sweetness.  And then it came to me…cannoli!

    Cannoli (in case you have never had one) are fried tubes of pastry dough filled with a sweet, ricotta cheese.   They are a bit time consuming to make so I had to figure out a way to cut some corners.  (Not because my company wasn’t worth it, I just ran out of time.)

    I decided to cheat on the pastry part of this infamous dessert.  The essential components were to have a crispy element to compliment the smoothness of the ricotta cream.

    The pizzelle cookies I just made would be the perfect vehicles to drive this dinner home!  (Oooo, witty pun!)  If I put the cream on the cookie it would have the same textural effect as a true cannoli.  So I guess I made a….



    1 Cup Ricotta Con Latte (Ricotta Cheese), drained

    ¼ cup powdered sugar (and a little extra)

    ¼ tsp vanilla

    2-3 Tbsp mini Chocolate chips

    6 Pizzelle cookies (waffle cones, sugar cones etc)

    ¼ cup ground up pistachios (shelled obviously)


    Put ricotta cheese and powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Mix until all of the sugar is well incorporated.  Mix in vanilla.  It should be light and airy.

    TASTE it!!  It should be a little bit sweet.  If it is not sweet enough, add a little more sugar.

    Mix in chocolate chips.

    Place heaping tablespoon on cookie of choice and sprinkle with pistachios.

    A thought on ricotta….

    “American” ricotta is a bit saltier and kind of moist compared to Italian ricotta, which is naturally sweeter.  It still can be used in desserts you just need to drain it longer and add a bit more sugar.

    I really enjoyed the lighter side of this dessert.  If I had a ventriloquist dummy with me right now he’d say “Ri-cotta try that recipe again!”  (Did you see my lips move?)