Thursday, July 19, 2007

Westown Tavern BBQ Sparerib Special

Last night was the official kick-off of the West Town Tavern’s BBQ Sparerib Special. Every Wednesday night, Chef Susan Goss serves her Texas-style pork spareribs alongside fried potato salad and black-eyed pea relish – all for $18.75. And last night’s special dinner also included a free piece of Lemon Chess Pie and a bag of Chef’s dry rub spice blend to take home. Plus (as if that wasn’t enough) you could add a glass of Murphy Goode Liar’s Dice Zinfandel 2004 for $10.

The ribs were awesome – really meaty, really tender, fall-off-the-bone, flavorful, plentiful (we each took two home with us) and they tasted just as good, maybe even better, the next day. I never would have thought to fry potato salad, but one taste and I knew why they did. It was reminiscent of Italian fried rice balls and the extra crunch from the breadcrumb coating added a nice texture.

Not only do I highly recommend the Wednesday dinner, West Town Tavern also offers a Monday night Fried Chicken Special and a Tuesday Hamburger Dinner Special. I can’t vouch for the burger (we haven’t tried it yet), but the chicken and the ribs should be on the top of your “must try” list.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Review | Think Like a Chef

A friend was over and spotted Thomas Coliccio’s Think Like a Chef on my bookshelf. He said “This book is the reason I became a chef.” Damn. That’s a bold statement – and it must be one heck of a book. Sheepishly, I had to admit to him that I hadn’t read the book or even looked at it that closely. In my defense, I bought it over five or six years ago when I wasn’t as much of a “foodie”. I appreciate good food, good cooking and good cookbooks much more now than I did then.

So I took that book off the shelf and read it cover to cover. And it is a good book. A really good book. There’s recipes. And pretty pictures. But it’s more than that. Coliccio organizes and paces the book in a way that really does get you into the mindset of a chef. He explains his ideas and approach to food in a way that makes sense and you can begin to see how you can apply them to your own cooking. In fact, I had one “ah ha” moment in particular that I think back to time and again:

“Believe it or not, I rarely begin with the thought Gee, I’ve got some beef. How should I serve it? The proteins – beef, lamb, chicken, fish – are the constants. What do change frequently, bringing the color and excitement of the changing seasons, are the vegetables. So, vegetables make up the building blocks that spark our imagination and let us fly.”

That paragraph changed the way I now think about cooking and creating meals and menus. Not quite as life-altering as going to culinary school, but worth the read.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Green City Market Summer BBQ

Thursday, July 12, 2007 from 6:00 - 8:00 pm

Join over 50 of Chicago’s Top Chefs as they prepare delicious tastings using Green City Market foods at this popular annual culinary event. Musicians will add to the festivities.

Beverages include Goose Island Beer & Root Beer, Ice Mountain Water, Connoisseur Wines Tasting, Glunz Family Winery Sangria, and wines from August Hill Winery.

Tickets ($50 pre-event; $60 at gate) are available at GREEN CITY MARKET each Wednesday & Saturday beginning June 13th through July 11th. Tickets can also be purchased on-line at

Want to make the evening extra special for you and your friends? Reserve a private table for an additional $100. Includes table, linens and 10 chairs. BYOF (Bring Your Own Flowers).

The festival is located at the south end of Lincoln Park, just north of the parking area, between 1750 N. Clark Street and Stockton Drive (the same location as the Market).

All contributions support GREEN CITY MARKET, a 501(c)3 organization, and are tax deductible.

Sam’s Academy Wine Classes

The July-through-September class schedule for Sam’s Academy is ready for viewing. Sam’s Academy is the wine education program for Sam’s Wines & Spirits. The classes are held in Chicago (at CHIC/Le Cordon Bleu campus), Downers Grove and Highland Park and are led by Bill St. John.

I have taken two classes at the Academy and I highly recommend them to anyone seriously interested in learning more about wine and cheese. Bill is a great teacher – very knowledgeable, friendly and full of information. He takes teaching these classes seriously and demands that those who attend do too. He doesn’t tolerate talking while he is presenting, which is great if you’re there to learn (not so great if you planned on giggling with your friends over the stinky cheese). That is not to say that it’s all work and no play. There’s time to socialize and enjoy the wine – and you get plenty of both. I attended a French wine and cheese pairing and a Spanish/Italian wine and cheese pairing class. I left both classes tipsy, full and with more knowledge about wine and cheese than I came with.

The classes fill up quick, so if you’re interested, check out the schedule and book a session or two soon:
Sam’s Academy July – September, 2007

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Walking Tour of La Villita

This past Saturday, I went on a walking tour of La Villita (or Little Village) as part of a larger group organized by Slow Food Chicago. We met at the famous clock arch that is the entrance to La Villita at 26th Street and Kedzie Avenue. Our tour guide gave us some background information and history on the neighborhood; here is an excerpt from the Little Village Chamber of Commerce website that describes the vitality and importance of this area:

A Driving Force in Chicago’s Economy
Little Village is a thriving commercial area in Chicago’s West Side with more than 1,000 businesses that offer a vast array of goods and services. It is also home to the largest Mexican community in the Midwest, a fact reflected by the many unique Mexican specialty products available from merchants in the area. Little Village residents and business owners are amply recognized for their entrepreneurial spirit, strong work ethic, and commitment to family and community. Businesses in Little Village create jobs for thousands of residents.

Th Little Village commercial area generated nearly $900 million in sales in 2001, a year that saw the nation endure a severe economic downturn. This fact reflects the perseverance and creativity of the area’s business owners and residents and serves as testament to the community’s vitality.

Our first stop was La Baguette, a locally-owned chain bakery with twelve locations in Chicago – this location being one of the largest. We sampled wide variety of pastries and cookies.

Next, we went to El Milagro to sample some freshly made tortillas made from masa ground on-site at 26th Street location. The business was started in 1950 by Raul Lopez and the tiny, homegrown tortilla operation grew into a well-established brand that you can find in grocery stores big and small across the Midwest.

We headed to a Western wear shop and briefly spoke with the owner and then headed back out into the heat to try out a street drink called “champurrado”. It’s a warm, thick, chocolate beverage made with milk, masa harina, chocolate and spices. It’s definitely a drink better suited to cold, winter days, but I’m glad that I had the opportunity to try it.

Moving on to a corner grocery store, we stopped in for a sample of some Mexican cheese. It was similar in texture to string cheese, but it had more flavor and depth. The owners of this small store travel to Mexico every two weeks to buy authentic ingredients and products. They started their business by bringing back Mexican cheeses from the markets. The wheels of cheese are coated in chili powder to keep insects away at the open-air farmers markets.

Next up, a candy and pinata store. It was so bright and colorful and alive. We sampled two different types of candy – a caramel wafer and a tamarind chili pepper candy. The tamarind chili pepper candy was a little sweet, sour and spicy – a great combination.

Our last stop was Carniceria Aguascalientes. It’s a grocery store with a restaurant inside. They’re famous for their gorditas or “little fat ones”. We chose from a variety of fillings and it was a good end to an informative and fun day.

Slow Food Chicago periodically offers walking tours of Little Village, Argyle Street and Devon Avenue. For more information on upcoming events or to learn more about Slow Food, visit their website at

And for some really great photos of the Little Village walking tour, check out nibblekibble’s flickr album.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Recommendation | The Wine Diva & Kim Crawford

On Saturday night, my fiancĂ© and I attended an outdoor patio dinner in Bucktown. We arrived early and sat down at a table with none other than the Wine Diva – Christine Blumer. We attended one of Chris’s wine and cheese pairing classes at the Calphalon Culinary Center where she introduced me to what has become my favorite white wine – Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. Just the smell of it makes me happy and drinking a glass washes away any care in the world. She, of course had no idea that she had such an impact on my wine life, but I mentioned to her that I was serving this wine at our upcoming wedding in August. I jokingly said “She (i.e. Kim) is going to be our special guest!”. And wouldn’t you know, Chris says “Kim Crawford is actually a guy!”. So there you have it. Now, Kim will be our official Best Man at the wedding and we’re still looking for the perfect red to be our Maid of Honor – then we’ll have the perfect marriage.

I highly recommend picking up a bottle of Kim Crawford’s Sauvignon Blanc and enjoying it outside on a warm summer night. And if you love it as much as I do, then you also owe it all to the Wine Diva, so make sure to visit Chris’s website for information about classes and private wine parties.

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2006 is available at Sam’s Wines & Spirits for $14.99.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Review | City Olive

Located on the bustling commercial strip of Clark Street in Andersonville, City Olive is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. It’s a mix of olive oils from around the world and gourmet grocery items including mustards, vinegars, tapenades and sea salt. On my first visit, I purchased a package of Spanish chorizo and a bag of dried Italian pasta (in an interesting shape that I’ve never seen anywhere else). I went back the second time and bought four ramekins for serving olive oil and an olive plate that has a compartment for the pits and one for toothpicks (it’s an ingenious little thing). The owners are very knowledgeable and helpful on all things olive oil and they hold daily tastings so that you can try before you buy. I highly recommend a visit to City Olive – and while you’re there, make sure to visit their neighbors, In Fine Spirits, for a bottle of wine to go with your purchase.

For location, hours of operation and general information, visit their website at