September 25, 2017

Three Arts Club Cafe in the Restoration Hardware store

I fondly remember giving a concert in the old Three Arts Club in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Built in 1914 to house women involved in music, painting and theater, the brick building was the architectural work of the storied Holabird & Roche firm. With sadness, I heard that the club had been sold to developers in 2007.

Much to my relief, Restoration Hardware has created a five-story emporium that has left many of the architectural details intact. The courtyard houses a delightful restaurant called the Three Arts Cafe which kept the old fountain and features an all-weather glass ceiling that allows diners to be bathed in sunlight.

The food is as impressive as the setting with a curated menu including “seasonal ingredient-driven” recipes. The shaved vegetable salad was beautiful to look at and to eat with brightly colored root vegetables and baby greens dressed with finely chopped pecans and cider vinaigrette. For sheer gluttony, I ordered a side of bacon which was the thick-cut kind found in British cuisine. My luncheon partner ordered a bacon club sandwich which she endorsed by eating every morsel.

The menu is small but there are several items that entice me to make return visits such as the Truffled Grilled Cheese sandwich, the slow roasted chicken with garlic confit and the house-made chocolate chip cookies served warm out of the oven.

After lunch, we strolled the five floors of rooms decorated with Restoration Hardware furniture, lighting fixtures, accessories, bedding and even some articles of clothing. The top floor has two outdoor terraces which must be divine in the warmer months. The main floor has a Three Arts Club Pantry that sells scrumptious looking donuts and hot beverages.

A visit to this historic building is like a mini-vacation with excellent food and drink sampled before or after one peruses the five floors of tastefully decorated display rooms. I’m wondering if they would let me move in?

3artsclubcafe.com

La Quercia Prosciutto Americano

If you like Prosciutto di Parma, you may want to try La Quercia, a cured pork meat product handcrafted in Iowa and billed as Prosciutto Americano.
The packaging proclaims that no nitrates or nitrites have been added, only those that occur naturally with sea salt. The pigs were raised without hormones or antibiotics on the Norwalk, Iowa farm of Herb and Kathy Eckhouse.

I found my 3 ounce package of the thinly sliced aged ham at the local Mariano’s in the deli case with salami and other refrigerated meat. Try wrapping a prosciutto slice around a Persian pickle or a wedge of ripe cantaloupe. Yum!

Consult La Quercia’s web site to find out if their Prosciutto Americano is sold at a grocery store near you. Iowa gives Parma a run for its money.

www.laquercia.us

Orange food binge

Imagine my surprise when unloading my grocery bag recently, I discovered that I had purchased only foods that were orange. And it wasn’t even Halloween.

First out of my bag were the bunches of carrots with long, slender shapes that oven-roast particularly well with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

My sack also contained organic yams and red garnet sweet potatoes which still looked orange when cooked. Instead of butter or sour cream, try hummus or salsa as the filling. Mariano’s has also started carrying thinly sliced sweet potatoes so you can easily make your own baked chips. 

Moving to my citrus selection, I had one mandarin satsuma orange, a blood orange, a Murcott mandarin, a couple of clementines, a Cara Cara navel orange and my favorite orange, the Mineola. Oh, yes, I also had a small bag of kumquats with edible peels. For some reason, I find toasted cashews to be the perfect accompaniment for all of these citrus beauties.

And then there were my two Ataulfo (or Manila) mangos which are much easier to eat now that I have my very own mango-slicer.

There had been a sale on orange peppers at Mariano’s so they were also there in my produce array.

I ended with a can of organic pumpkin puree which is always welcome in my cupboard. Whip a half cup into whole eggs or egg whites, plus sweetener and cinnamon, scramble them and you have dish that could be either breakfast or dessert.

Was I filling a vitamin deficiency or merely attracted to the vibrant color orange? Perhaps I will intentionally select all red or purple foods next shopping expedition. Eat the rainbow, indeed.

The Great British Baking Show on Netflix

Did you notice that many American home and food shows disappeared from Netflix at the end of 2016? Scripps Networks Interactive which owns HGTV, the Food Network, the Travel channel and DIY decided they could make more money elsewhere. Search the word “house” on Netflix and not much concerning design comes up.

Food and home reality show bingers, fear not. Netflix has countered by adding a few shows produced by British TV producers such as, Escape To the Country, Grand Designs, Hidden Homes and my surprising favorite, The Great British Baking Show.

It’s no secret that I am neither a baker or a cook, but there is something very compelling about this food reality show. Much like Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, thirteen amateur bakers compete weekly to avoid being the one sent home that episode. The one left standing at the end of the season is the winner and dubbed Star Baker.

Each show, the contestants are asked to bake everything from breadsticks, petits fours and baklava, to displays using multiple baking skills that must be artistic and highly edible. Two judges critique the culinary results: Mary, a very proper English matron who has impeccable manners and wicked baking skills along with Paul, a grey-haired, blue-eyed demon who can spot any baking flaws and points them out with acerbic precision. The proceedings are narrated by two goofy British ladies who throw in puns, foreign phrases, quips and an ever-varying pronunciation of the word “bake.”

Small wonder that I must have a snack handy while watching this show. Like my big dog drooling at our steak dinner table, the sight of all of these beautiful baked wonders gets the salivary glands pumping. Carrots and celery just will not do!

Three seasons of this show are currently available on Netflix. Paraphrasing Oliver Twist, “More, please.”

Kumquats, Persimmons, Golden Kiwis & Dragonfruit

Kumquat tree

Kumquat tree

Three cheers for the availability of new fruit varieties in your local grocery stores. I just discovered kumquats, tiny orange-like citrus fruit native to Asia, which can be eaten like grapes or sliced in half for salads and desserts. Watch out for the seeds as you munch on these snacks packed with Vitamin C.  gold-kiwi-9708645
As much as I like regular Kiwis with green fruit interiors, Golden Kiwis with sweet yellow flesh are even better. The egg-shaped fruit is originally from China, but New Zealand adopted the kiwifruit as their own and started to export it to the U. S. and the world.
Keep your eye peeled for the occasional shipment of Golden Kiwis. dragon-fruit-cut

One of the oddest-looking items in the produce department is dragon fruit, technically a cactus of indeterminate origin, but generally found in tropical climates. It goes by other names such as pitahaya or Hylocereus undatus, but the curly leaves are reminiscent of dragon scales, hence the name. Cut the fruit in half and you will find an unusual white fruit interior with black edible dots that look like poppy seeds. It does not taste like anything comparable but
the slight sweetness and pudding-like consistency is perfect for a snack or dessert. hachiyapersimmon

Persimmons have been a personal favorite of mine for a few years now, but the grocery stores seem to be stocking this fruit with more regularity in the fall. The heart-shaped version is called Hachiya and can be chalky tasting before it ripens. It is best to eat them when they resemble a water balloon. Fuyus, which look like a flat tomato, are less astringent and can be eaten before they are fully ripe. I’m still looking for an Asian type called “cinnamon or chocolate persimmon” which has sweet dark brown flesh. Perhaps a visit to Argyle Street or Chinatown is in order. Who knows what other fruit delicacies I might find in an Asian grocery?

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

The culinary theme of Kitchens of the Great Midwest by author J. Ryan Stradal drew me to it first, but the structure is what made me sit up and realize that this was not your standard novel.

Each section is a food item and takes place in a different area of the Midwest. We loosely follow celebrity chef, Eva Thorvald from birth to mid-career with visits to her childhood, teen years and her twenties.  We also view her life from the vantage point of the mother who abandoned her to pursue her own career in the wine industry.

Stradal’s writing is charming but like a sophisticated meal, the different “courses” in the book are by turns bittersweet, painful, comedic and heart-warming.

The culinarily-inclined will chuckle at the descriptions of recipes and the mention of curated food stuffs.

I was hooked when the book kicked off with a chapter called Lutefisk, the dreaded Scandinavian fish entree that is foisted on many Midwesterners. Particularly funny is a section called Bars where a woman who bakes “church lady” recipes tries to compete with chefs who turn their noses up at gluten, dairy or ingredients that are not organic.

I listened to this in audio form and the narrator even got the infamous Minnesota accent down to perfection. The locales, the food and the chef heroine all conspire to entertain. Let me state that I ate no lutefisk while reading this.

Sausages by AmyLu

I just found delicious chicken sausages that use no nitrates, nitrites, MSG, preservatives or artificial ingredients and are pork-free,  gluten-free, low in fat, high in protein and low in carbs. I even found a flavor, Gourmet Chorizo that contains no sugar or dairy which can be challenging to find.

ATK Foods, the parent company features other sausage flavors such as Apple & Gouda Cheese, Sun Dried Tomato & Basil, Cranberry & Cognac and Chipotle Pepper. They also sell burgers, meatballs and old-world sausage products such as Polish sausage, Wieners, Bratwurst and Specialty Ethnic Sausages viagra rezeptfrei bestellen.

Did I mention that the company is based in Chicago? Joseph Slotkowski opened his Chicago sausage company in 1918 and it’s still going strong under third generation member, Amylu Kurzawski. You can shop for the products on-line or find the sausage and meat products in selected grocery stores. I found my Amylu edibles at Mariano’s in Chicago. Delicious!

http://www.atkfoods.com/our-brands/sausages-by-amylu

Canstruction: a charity sculpture event at the Mart using non-perishable food

Currently on view until September 6 is Canstruction,  a design/build event that benefits the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Using non-perishable food items, teams from the trade organization, AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) construct installations in the lobby of the Merchandise Mart.

My favorites in this year’s event are The Mona Lisa (above),  an amusing take on Vincent Van Gogh’s bedroom (right) and an Olympic runner about to sprint made out of tuna cans (below).

This marks Canstruction’s tenth anniversary. If you miss the exhibit this year, put this amusing and worthy cultural event on your list for next August.


http://chicago.canstruction.org

San Marzano Tomatoes and Terlato Pomodoro Sauce

How did it take me so long to discover what some chefs consider to be the best variety of plum tomato?
San Marzano tomatoes were originally grown near Naples, Italy in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius. Going back in history, these particular tomato seeds were purportedly a gift from the Viceroy of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples.

If the new world had not been discovered, there would be no tomatoes in Italian cuisine. Can you imagine? I found a bag of these small red, oblong beauties at Whole Foods.

While trying to find a tomato sauce for pasta at Mariano’s that did not contain sugar or any creepy additives, I selected Terlato Pomodoro Sauce for its excellent ingredients: vine-ripened San Marzano tomatoes, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, garlic and spices. When the check-out girl said the 24-ounce bottle was 12 dollars, I almost asked her to remove it from my purchases. Mind you, the regular grocery types were under 4 and 5 dollars. I was hungry and the thought of looking at more ingredient lists on other sauces impelled me to take the expensive product home.

Wow! When I first opened this “small batch” recipe, I couldn’t believe how fresh and flavorful it tasted. Yes, this tomato sauce is expensive, but it is definitely worth the price. It elevated my Italian meal way above the normal grocery store brand level. The Terlato Kitchen web site lists Arrabbiata and Vodka Sauces along with the Pomodoro. I just may need to purchase those as well as the Organic Dark Amber Maple Syrup. Grazie bene, John Terlato!

http://www.terlatokitchen.com

Dandy Blend, Instant Herbal Beverage with Dandelion

Friends shake their heads at some of the foods and beverages I serve them, but let me stretch your patience with mention of Dandy Blend, an instant herbal beverage with dandelion root. While I don’t like dandelions in my yard, I love them in my cup.

The product can be used like instant coffee, one teaspoon per eight ounces of water, hot or cold. You can use it in dairy milk or nut milk, as well. The package states that one gets a rich coffee-like taste but with no caffeine, no acidity and no bitterness. The powder does have barley and rye but the extraction process eliminates the gluten.
The other ingredients listed are chicory root, dandelion root and sugar beet. One teaspoon is only 7 calories and 1 gram of carbohydrate.

I bought my first 7 ounce bag of Dandy Blend at Walsh’s Natural Health Store on Central Avenue in Evanston. I liked it so much that I purchased a larger two pound bag from Amazon. I like it plain, but I occasionally splash in some unsweetened almond milk for a more velvety taste. If you’re trying to limit or avoid coffee, this product might be a decent substitute.

Boy, did I used to love the taste and buzz of a double-espresso but the white nights were a stiff price to pay. Happily, Dandy Blend now lets me sleep like a baby, however late I may drink it. And I view the yellow weeds in my lawn with a little more respect.