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Out and about in Chi Town

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

The 2016 National Restaurant Association Show: What are the hottest food trends?

If there were one word to describe the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show, that would be: amazing. Every year in May, tens of thousands of restaurant professionals from around the world meet in Chicago to learn about the latest industry trends, to showcase their products, to negotiate business deals, and ultimately to network and share stories and experiences with their peers. It is a high caliber event which has a little bit of everything for everyone. Aspiring chefs, Michelin star restaurateurs, grocery store buyers, food bloggers, niche business owners – there is a panel, pavilion or education session to suit everyone’s tastes, interests or expectations.

Still, what has the NRA Show got to do with the ice cream pictured above? And can ice cream represent a food trend? According to a survey of almost 1,600 professional chefs recently conducted by the National Restaurant Association, the answer to the second question is yes. Keep Reading

My review of the Truly Italian food expo: Italian flavors and culinary traditions at their best

I can still remember the first time I came across Italian food: it was a few years after the fall of communism, when my cousin made pizza and cannelloni. She has always been very adventurous in the kitchen, and she took my family by surprise when she made these two dishes, for the first time ever. We didn’t even know how to pronounce their names – I remember we called them “piza” and “chameleon,” lol

As I ventured out of my parents’ home and into the big wide world, my appreciation of Italian cuisine has gone stronger, and I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since that first pizza I tried in my cousin’s kitchen. To me, Italian cuisine is very much a work in progress. I constantly try to find out more information about its history and phenomenal worldwide impact, and I’m always after new and exciting recipes to try. My husband and I are big fans of Italian food – in fact, as I’m writing this, I have cannelloni and pizza baking in the oven, both of which will be ready just in time for dinner. 🙂

Since I am so passionate about Italian cuisine, I was very happy to be invited to the opening of the Truly Italian food expo, held in Chicago earlier this week. What does true Italian food mean? What does it taste like? These are some of the challenging questions I wanted to explore at the event. Keep Reading

Celebrating Chicago Craft Beer Week at Gino’s East: from Witte Chicks to Killarney Connection… and back!

I just love spring in Chicago! Now that the school semester is finally over and the days are longer and warmer, I want to put all the stress behind me and to enjoy life, as we all should. I want to get out of the house and be gone for hours, to wander the streets downtown in search for the next big culinary discovery, and to enjoy the refreshing beauty of Chicago, the city of my heart. What a great city, what a blessed life 🙂

Of course, no culinary adventure is complete without an appropriate drink pairing – which brings me to the trendiest subject to write about these days: Chicago Craft Beer Week, which started today. A must-do for anyone who loves quality beer and late spring in Chicago, Craft Beer Week is celebrated in hundreds of restaurants across Chicagoland, which mark the occasion by offering quality pints at promotional prices. Gino’s East is one of the Craft Beer Week participating restaurants, and last week I was invited along with other local food bloggers to get a taste of some of their signature beers which are on offer during Craft Beer Week.

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My review of the 2016 Healthy & Natural Show: I came, I sampled, I learned

What’s in the picture above? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a bunch of mangosteens 🙂 This is one of the fruits I tried, for the first time ever, at the Healthy and Natural Show, which recently took place at Chicago’s Navy Pier. After weeks and weeks of eating poorly and drinking way too much coffee, I was looking forward to this event, which coincided with the end of the spring school term. I really need help to get back on the healthy eating track. I need wholesome fruits and veggies, inspiration, and new discoveries – so when I heard about this new show held in Chicago, I knew this was the place for me to be. 🙂 Keep Reading

My review of Nando’s PERi-PERi restaurant in Naperville: back in the land of tender chicken, grilled to perfection

We used to love going to Nando’s when we lived in the UK 🙂 Back in those days we would get in the car and drive downtown to have lunch every weekend. There were many good restaurants in our area, and picking one was always tough. Still, every 4 weeks or so, we would choose Nando’s for one obvious reason: their PERi-PERi chicken! Marinated for 24 hours and basted to our preferred flavor and spice, Nando’s chicken was out of this world. We also enjoyed their “appeteasers,” such as the hummus with warm pitta bread (one of my husband’s favorites) and the spicy mixed olives. The casual feel of the restaurant added to the overall dining experience: The servers were “cool” and attentive to our needs, and the atmosphere was relaxed.

When I left the UK I assumed I left Nando’s behind for good. So glad I was wrong! Nando’s PERi-PERi made its US debut in 2008 and has been expanding constantly ever since. At the moment, it operates 29 restaurants in and around Chicago, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC. Last weekend I was invited to the opening of the latest addition to the Nando’s US family, in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. Keep Reading