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Out and about in Chi Town

CLOSED A review of MOD Sienna Pizza – and a giveaway: They had me at… Brussels sprouts!

In my experience, resistance is futile when it comes to pizza – unless I’m told I am going to get Brussels sprouts on a thin crust! I have yet to find the magic of thin crusts – I like the pie crust to be thick, fluffy and pillow-like, and comforting all-around. As for the Brussels sprouts, I used to eat them when we lived in Britain, and I was not a fan (to put it mildly). We mainly ate Brussels sprouts as a side dish on Christmas Day, when they were boiled, seasoned, and paired with crispy bacon for extra flavor and texture. Disguised by the bacon, the Brussels sprouts failed to make culinary sense to me, and I found them pale, gloomy, and not charming in the slightest.

I had to revisit my opinions on Brussels sprouts and thin pizza crust last week, when I was invited to taste MOD Pizza’s seasonal offering: the Sienna pizza. Before this visit, I was unfamiliar with the MOD Pizza brand, and apprehensive about eating Brussels sprouts on a pizza. However, a quick Internet search made me uncover several positive reviews on the topic, and I became anxious to see what the enthusiastic buzz was all about. 🙂 Keep Reading

My review of The Good Taste Series culinary competition: goetta sausage, shrimp chilpachole – and so much more!

Their hands move restlessly, as if playing the piano. Sweat covers their foreheads and they nervously wipe it out in-between the cooking sessions. “I’m sorry I can’t talk right now, but I promise I’ll cook you the best dish when the judges are gone,” one tells me with visibly shaking hands, while putting the finishing touches on his salmon&goetta sausage dish. One extra garnish here, one hot sizzling pan there – the spectacle is on! They are the nine Hyatt chefs who are performing in The Good Taste Series culinary competition. They are determined, focused, fierce.

I admire professional chefs and I never miss an opportunity to watch them work. This is why I was very excited when I was invited to attend the third edition of The Good Taste Series Midwest regional competition, which was hosted by Hyatt Regency McCormick Place last week. A well-established contest organized by Hyatt as a means to support and recognize its culinary talent, The Good Taste Series gave me the chance to observe nine well-seasoned chefs as they created stunning dishes – and to try them all!

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My review of Devon Seafood Grill’s new Oyster Bar: a feast fit for a queen on National Oyster Day!

Dark-faced and stern-looking, oysters are not the winners of beauty contests. One needs to go behind their grey, sturdy exterior to find the secret to their success. I have wondered about it myself: What makes oysters so luxurious and desirable – and what makes them stand out  on the dinner table? Taste must definitely play a part. A quality oyster stands true to itself. In just one bite, its flavor must remind you of the environment it came from: the shelter of the estuary, the calm depths of the water. Equally important, however, is the freshness. A quality oyster is fresh, and it is this freshness which allows the flavor of the oyster to actually shine through.

Chicago has its fair share of restaurants which serve oysters, and Devon Seafood Grill is among the most famous and well-known. Last week I faced the heat and rain and spent an excellent couple of hours indulging in oysters, scallops and other delicacies at the grand opening of their new Oyster Bar. Perfect timing and a great party to host just before National Oyster Day, which is today, August 5. Keep Reading

My review of Smithfield 2016 Chef’s Table: bringing together flavors from all corners of the world to highlight the beauty of pork

Slaughtering a pig can be a rather gruesome event – and I remember it well. When the days were getting colder and holidays were approaching, families all across my home country would gather together and slaughter pigs to have food to put on the table during the harsh winter ahead. Ambushed by people who would get on top of them and leave them unable to breathe, with screaming noises and terrified eyes, the pigs would give their last breaths under the knife, their blood leaving a trail on the velvety snow, their guts exhaling steam in the icy cold morning. This was way before “humane” slaughter practices gained momentum, before “sustainability” became a buzzword and “social responsibility” turned into a big commitment for companies. Back then, there were no private hog producer companies to speak of, and we didn’t much care about how the animals had died. On an empty stomach, one is only concerned with the meat.

Time has passed and practices have evolved, and these days companies are under intense public scrutiny to ensure that they deliver on their promises of good care for the animals and for the environment, in addition to delivering flavorful products. Such is the case with Smithfield, the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer. Smithfield has its own DURoC breed of pig, and the company has held a series of Chef’s Table events throughout the country to highlight the flavorful versatility of the DURoC pork products and to emphasize its corporate sustainability policies. I was invited to attend the event which was held in Chicago earlier this week – and that was an offer I couldn’t refuse 🙂 Keep Reading

My H. Forman & Son brunch experience: the science – and magic! – behind gourmet smoked salmon

To me, brunch is about taking your time – to enjoy your morning, to savor carefully prepared food, to live life. As for me, I am a “breakfast girl,” who leaves for work early and in a hurry every day, and who cannot “function” properly without eating first thing in the morning. Under these circumstances, brunch has become a luxury to me – yet, I’ve always wished the situation were different.

Thankfully, I recently got an invitation to brunch which stirred my curiosity – and my appetite! The sender was Ethan Forman, the representative for North America of the famous H. Forman & Son London-based smoked salmon family business. With a tradition of artisan fish curing which spans over 110 years and 3 continents, the name of this company has become synonymous with high quality fish products, crafted to perfection. Brunching on salmon and getting out of the daily routine sounded great, so I happily accepted their invitation.

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My Zucchi extra virgin olive oil blending experience: “a kind of magic” and a search for perfection

Close your eyes and imagine a salad ripe with the flavors of summer, fresh and perfect, and ready to be devoured. Then, try to imagine the extra virgin olive oil that would go with it. You know it has to be light and delicate, yet at the same time it has to be strong enough to assert itself among the other flavors on your plate, and to make your salad taste experience complete. You know the basics, but that’s not all. How can you turn this oil – this figment of your imagination – into something real, something which can be enjoyed by many, something authentic, which represents your values and stands the test of time?

You may think these are way too many questions. After all, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is just another kind of oil, right? The makers of Zucchi extra virgin olive oil would definitely disagree with you on this point. I reconsidered my own perception of this oil recently, when I was invited to attend an EVOO Tasting Master Class conducted at Chicago’s Quartino restaurant by Giovanni Zucchi, the blend master behind an Italian company with three centuries of tradition and experience in the field: Oleificio Zucchi.

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My review of this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo: Candy Heaven does exist! :-)

June is National Candy Month – so what better way to celebrate it than to preview the latest and hottest trends in this field at the Sweets & Snacks Expo? Held in Chicago at the end of May, the Expo brought together over 16,000 professionals from the confectionery, cookie and snack industries, who displayed their new creations on over 4 acres of show floor. Whether you’re an industry product developer, a buyer interested in attracting new business partners or a blogger eager to discover the latest manufacturer sweet and snack offerings – this definitely is the place for you to be.

As you know, I have a very sweet tooth, so I was looking forward to attending this Expo. At the same time, due to the focus of my recent academic research, I also wanted to see how sweet and snack companies addressed the complex issue of corporate social responsibility – what they had done to improve the conditions of their workers and the environmental impact of their business, and what issues (if any) still needed to be addressed. Mixing serious business with delicious candy and snacks sounded like a great plan for the day 🙂 Keep Reading