October 22, 2018

Salad greens get an update

Remember the days when Iceberg lettuce was the only game in town for entree and side salads?

Gladly, American cuisine has diversified with leaves of spinach, baby kale, Romaine, Boston or Bibb, red leaf, and mesclun.

Although a little more expensive, I also love using Belgian or curly endive, radicchio for that punch of white and purple color, watercress and escarole.

My current favorites include Organic Girl pea shoots which have an appreciable amount of protein and Organic Girl mache which is also known as Lamb’s lettuce. Other leaves I may experiment with in the future are mustard, beet and collard greens as well as Sorrel.

Salad dressings could be a large separate article, but let me say I no longer buy bottled dressings. High grade olive oil and vinegar along with additions such as garlic, mustard, fresh or dry herbs, pepper and sea salt are all one needs to make a delicious custom-made dressing.

Bring on the salad days, even in autumn and winter. How about a warm bacon dressing?

Farmhouse Culture’s Kraut

The latest buzz words in nutrition are “probiotic” and “kraut.” A nutritionist recommended that I add sauerkraut to my diet. Out I went to purchase a head of cabbage and pink Himalayan salt. After a failed attempt to make my own sauerkraut, I ended up buying a commercial version by Farmhouse Culture which is more expensive, but infinitely easier to add to my meals.

What should I find but Farmhouse Culture’s Garlic Dill Pickle Kraut in the refrigerated area of Mariano’s produce department. The cabbage and brine are packaged in a re-sealable plastic bag that has a Ferment-O-Vent which, according to the company “keeps our live active probiotics happy and this tasting oh-so-amazing.”

Garlic Dill Pickle Kraut tastes like its name and I find myself adding this vegetable condiment to rice or as an accompaniment to meats and other entrees. The company suggests adding this zesty-tasting kraut to eggs, salads, sandwiches or wraps. Yum.

The Farmhouse web site lists a variety of sauerkraut flavors such as Classic Caraway, Golden Turmeric, Smoked Jalapeno, Horseradish Leek or California Style Kimchi. All of these flavors can also be purchased as liquid brine Gut Shots. This is a harder sell for me, but I’m sure my dietician would like me to consider this product, too.

Farmhouse also manufactures bags of live-culture vegetables like Ginger Beet, Orange Ginger Carrots or Taqueria Mix with carrots, daikon radish, jicama, onion and jalapeño. Kraut Krisps are the company’s version of rice crackers using probiotics.

Not all of their products are savory. Farmhouse makes kvass-style sparkling probiotic beverages with names like Cherry Cacao, Cola, Ginger Lemon, Mango Guava or Strawberry Hibiscus sweetened with erythritol. You are still getting the gut-friendly brined cabbage in these juice drinks however. Talk about sweet and sour.

If you want to supercharge your nutrition or wake up your palate to new sensations, Farmhouse has some products worth checking out. Their web site lists places where their food items are for sale which include Whole Foods and Mariano’s in the Chicago area. Your taste buds and your microbiome* will thank you.

*Microbiome: the microorganisms in a particular environment including the body or a part of the body; a microbiome that protects us against germs, breaks down food to release energy and produces vitamins.

Magic Lounge in Chicago’s Andersonville

If you want a most unusual and fun evening, call now for tickets to see a show at the Magic Lounge, in Andersonville’s SoFo neighborhood (south of Foster).
Be forewarned that weekend tickets need to be ordered weeks in advance as the venue has exploded in popularity. And rightfully so.

The exterior has no official signage but there are some poster images of magicians to mark the 5050 N. Clark Street entrance. Upon entering the vestibule, commercial washers and dryers make one question the address. Please persist for one of the machines is actually a door leading to a delightful bar with a magician doing tricks for cocktail patrons. If you are lucky enough to secure a show ticket, you will be ushered through another trick door that leads to a surprisingly spacious cabaret-style theater replete with a red-curtained stage, a theater organist, banquette and bar seating along with a petite balcony for celebratory groups. This venue is a big draw for bachelor, bachelorette and corporate parties, but you will also see local couples, small groups of friends and people of all ages out for a good time.

While waiting for the show to start, one can order nifty cocktails and very tasteful small bites and I mean that in both senses of the word. Imagine prosciutto wrapped dates with gorgonzola cheese, pork belly or beef tenderloin sliders, potato pancakes with apple mustardo and caraway yogurt, or a sausage board with cheese, peppers, caperberries and rye bread. Then again, your sweet tooth might enjoy a Katherine Anne Confection Truffle with flavors like Creme de Menthe, Hazelnut, Sea Salt Caramel, Citrus or Vegan Raspberry Champagne.

During the pre-show, a handful of magicians go from table to table giving up close sleight-of-hand displays. To set the mood, an organist plays tunes that are so square they are hip, and dons the hat of emcee to introduce both an opening act and a featured entertainer. The night we were there, both entertainers were not only adept at magic, but laugh-out-loud funny. Selected patrons are invited to the stage to participate in several of the tricks which adds to the hilarity.

What we saw was the Signature Show, but the Magic Lounge also offers David Parr’s Cabinet of Curiosities on Wednesdays, a Family Show on Sundays, Music and Magic on Mondays and Tuesdays. For an additional charge, after the Signaure Show, you can move to a smaller theater called The 654 Club behind the Blackstone Cabaret for a more intimate magic experience.

What can I say? The Magic Lounge’s offerings would be a perfect evening for anyone who wants an extraordinary experience with comedy, music, food and magic. When can I go back?

https://www.chicagomagiclounge.com/welcome/

Whole Foods, Mariano’s and Trader Joe’s promotions

If you are an Amazon Prime member and a Whole Foods shopper, you owe it to yourself to download the Whole Foods Market app to your phone. Letting the check-out person scan your app gives you an immediate 10% discount on yellow tag sale items. There are also Prime Member Deals throughout the store. At check-out, you can also use your cell phone number if it is listed on your Amazon Prime account. Being a Prime member does seem to make the Whole Foods experience a little less painful on the wallet. https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/amazon/prime


As an equal opportunity shopper, if you apply for a Mariano’s card, you are sent coupons in the mail for free items or discounted products. Their system must keep track of what one buys since the coupons are usually for things bought on a regular basis. I recently received a free 8-ounce container of Sabra Hummus and a coupon to receive $3 back from a $15 purchase of produce.
https://www.marianos.com/topic/mariano-s-rewards-card

Not to be left out is Trader Joe’s with their “Dig In – What’s New” web site page. New and special products are highlighted in this informative company blog.

I just added these products to my TJ’s “to buy” list: Gluten-free Norwegian Crispbread, Caulifower Gnocchi, Blueberry Lavender Almond Beverage and the Smoked Salmon Poke Bowl. How does their staff keep track of all of these new food items? They must regularly read this informative section on the Trader Joe’s web site.

https://www.traderjoes.com/digin/category/What’s%20New

Sugar Rush reality baking competition on Netflix

A while back, I wrote about Zumbo’s Just Desserts, an Australian baking competition reality series that starred famed Aussie baker, Adriano Zumbo. Up he pops into another baking competition called Sugar Rush with co-star, cupcake queen, Candace Nelson.

Numerically, this is a description of the show: 4 teams of two professional bakers, three rounds, two showcase cakes in the final round and one winning team which takes home $10,000.

The rounds are timed so there is strategy involved in how much time the teams spend on cupcakes, confections and spectacular cakes. Additionally, there is always a third guest judge who makes each episode different. Betsy Johnson asked for fashion themes in her rounds; local pastry creator/chef Mindy Segal of Chicago’s Hot Chocolate restaurant used her professional palate to judge the teams.

My only quibble is hyper-active host, Hunter Marsh, who appears to be on his own sugar rush with a dose of caffeine.

Still and all, when “reality” gets to be too much, I like nothing better than to watch reality baking programs like “The Great British Baking Show,” on PBS, plus “Zumbo’s Just Desserts” and now “Sugar Rush” on Netflix. Take that, glum news and bloody crime shows!

https://www.netflix.com/title/80201328

Sweeteners in your meat? Sugar-free bacon and chicken sausage

I decided to get serious about nosing out added sugar in my food. Imagine my surprise when I read the ingredients of most breakfast meats. Almost all bacon and sausage products list “sugar ” or “cane sugar” as part of their recipes. After reading lots of very fine print, I came up with four options that list no form of sugar.

Welllshire makes a Sugar Free Dry Rubbed All Natural Sliced Uncured Bacon which they state is made from pork raised without antibiotics, fed a vegetarian diet, contains no celery powder, is gluten-free and has 25% less sodium. After tasting the bacon, I do not miss the sugar or the lower sodium. Black pepper, fenugreek, nutmeg, white pepper, mace, allspice and sea salt make up the ingredient list. The package has an eye-catching sticker that says “Paleo Friendly – Eat like a caveman!” Count me in.

Wellshire also makes a turkey bacon that also sports the Paleo-friendly label. The package states that the turkey bacon is sliced, uncured turkey thighs that are chopped and formed, 95% fat free, 6 grams of protein and has 0 trans fat and 0 total carbs. Celery powder, paprika, white pepper, onion powder and sea salt make up the list of ingredients. To be honest, regular bacon is still my big treat, but this turkey bacon is pretty darn good while being relatively healthy.

Amylu is one of my favorite chicken sausage brands but after close scrutiny of ingredients, I could find only one version from that company that had no sweeteners. Gourmet Chorizo has chicken, Jalapeño peppers, cilantro, vinegar, rosemary extract, onions, kosher salt, paprika and garlic in a lamb casing. The package states that the product is free of pork or gluten. The Amylu chicken is raised with vegetarian feed, no antibiotics and no hormones. These sausages have a real kick so this might not be a breakfast choice for those who want a gentle first meal. In opposition, I say, “Wake up my taste buds, Amylu with your Gourmet Chorizo Chicken Sausage!”

Applegate Organics, another player in the healthy meat category likewise had very few breakfast meat options that did not contain sugar. The Fire Roasted Red Pepper Chicago Sausage met that requirement with organic chicken, organic red peppers, jalapeño peppers, organic vinegar, baking soda, organic paprika, organic garlic and sea salt listed as ingredients. Not quite as spicy as the Amylu chorizo sausage, this might be an option for more delicate stomaches.

Most people have toast, dry breakfast cereal, bagels, waffles, pancakes or sweet rolls for breakfast, but protein and fat are what keep me going throughout the morning. But that, my friend, is another complicated topic. Pass me the bacon or sausage in the morning, please.