October 21, 2017

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!


Family Hub: Samsung’s new smart refrigerator

The door panel on Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator can keep track of how old your food is, play Pandora, mirror your television, tell you the weather, check  your daily schedule, remind you when to buy certain food items and can display your favorite recipes. Inside cameras let you peruse what’s in your frig when you are away from home. Can you program the refrigerator to tell you NOT to eat that carton of Haagen Daz ice cream in your freezer?

Here is a video clip shot during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas:


Amazing Items Made By 3D Printers

Curious about what things can be printed on a 3D printer, like food, body parts and guns? Check out this brief video.



You can even print a life-size statue of yourself!

Tutti Frutti for spring and summer

Mariano’s Grocery has been feeding my fruit tooth year-round, but the produce department is bursting with delicious varieties now that spring is here and summer fast approaches. Here are some of my current citrus favorites with apples and rhubarb thrown in for good measure.

Minneola Tangelos: The Minneola tangelo is a cross between a grapefruit and a variety of tangerine with juicy flesh and a sweet/sour flavor. The orange-colored citrus has a characteristic nipple or bell-like shape.

Meyer Lemons: This citrus variety is native to China and is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin or an orange. The Meyer lemon is generally sweeter, rounder, lower acidity and thinner skinned than common lemons. The California cuisine revolution in the 1990’s and Martha Stewart have further popularized this variety of lemon.

Key Limes: This lime variety is smaller, seedier, sweeter, has a higher acidity and a rind that is thinner than the usual Persian limes found in grocery stores. If you are making a Key Lime pie, this is the variety to purchase, but I prefer Key Limes whenever they are available. This citrus fruit is green when picked and turns yellow when ripe.

Blood Oranges: A natural mutation of the orange which has a crimson interior and raspberry notes in the orange citrus flesh with a tougher skin than most oranges. The exterior may or may not have a red tinge to the orange color. The orange itself is a hybrid between pomelos and tangerines.

Pomelos: Out of curiosity, I bought a pomelo, native to South and Southeast Asia. Larger than the common grapefruit, the flesh is sweet but the tough, inedible interior membranes drove me back to my preferred Ruby Red grapefruit variety.

Grapples: A man behind me in the check-out line at Mariano’s had a plastic bag of apples. I kept smelling grapes which puzzled me since there were none in sight. He patiently explained to me that the variety of fruit he had purchased crunches like a crisp apple, but the taste and aroma are that of grapes and are named “grapples.” I promptly bought some myself. As much as I liked them, Honey Crisp apples continue to be my favorite variety. Still, you might get a kick out of trying this amusing hybrid.


Honeycrisp Apples: Speaking of Honeycrisp apples which have recently exploded in popularity, the University of Minnesota developed this variety which boasts sweetness, firmness and tartness. The Honeycrisp is generally more expensive than other apples and has larger cells which burst in the mouth when we bite into them. If you are eating dairy, try a wedge of gouda cheese with this beauty. Yum!

Rhubarb: While technically a low carb, high fiber vegetable, most American cuisine treats rhubarb as a fruit for pies, compotes, jams and cobblers. Those not wanting to spike their blood sugar can dice rhubarb and cook it in lemon juice with a low glycemic sweetener like xylitol or stevia. I prefer xylitol which can be ordered on-line or purchased at the Vitamin Shoppe locally. Mariano’s and Treasure Island usually carry fresh rhubarb in their produce departments. I hope to plant some in my garden this summer with the hopes that the resident rabbit will nibble elsewhere.

Here’s to the bounty of warmer weather at your own favorite produce vendor!

Harissa, a Tunisian condiment for the adventuresome palate


If you want to add an exotic taste to your poultry or fish, vegetables or sandwiches, check out harissa, a sauce or paste containing roasted red peppers, hot chili peppers, and spices that may include garlic, coriander seed or caraway mixed into an olive oil base. Other versions may contain lemon juice or cumin.  In Tunisia, harissa is used as a flavoring for couscous or in a chickpea soup served for breakfast.

When I want a variation on huevos rancheros, I use harissa instead of salsa to flavor my eggs. Harissa can also save chicken from being bland. Another recipe suggested mixing a dollop of harissa into butter before you mix it into steamed veggies and couscous.

Mina is the brand that I can recommend, labeled Moroccan Red Pepper Sauce Mild, produced by Casablanca Foods. Mina makes green pepper and spicy versions as well. I found my jar at Whole Foods.


These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Kayaks on the Chicago Riverwalk

Some of you have been reading my Culture Beat blurbs since my tenure at the Fairmont Hotel and Convito Italiano many moons ago.

Here are some recent Culture Beat blog posts and their links:

The cell phone headset that has improved my connectivity:

LG Tone Pro Wireless Stereo Headset


The little speaker that makes my phone or iPad a portable stereo:

Jambox speaker by Jawbone


My favorite site for foreign tv streaming:

MHZ Choice launches on Oct. 20 (updated blog post forthcoming)


The show you may want to watch to see women in political power (in Sweden):

Those In Power: a Swedish political tv drama on MHZ


If you want to delve into charming French literature, check out:

The President’s Hat and The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain (in English)


A book I’m recommending if you like science and business:

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance


Need some food items to add a little zing to your healthy diet?

My current favorite taste sensations (triple cherry blend, rice tortillas, dill relish, sauerkraut)


If you are trying to cut down coffee jitters and acidity, try this ayurvedic tea:

Raja’s Cup: the anti-oxidant coffee substitute


When your sweet tooth hits, candy from a home-grown company:

Terry’s Toffee and Wackerpop


Stores that both amateur and professional chefs adore:

The Spice House: Seasoning the World


Balsa Mela and Italian Herbed Salt at The City Olive


My favorite chain restaurant:

Lyfe Kitchen


The delightful Chicago attraction that not everyone has visited:

Chicago Riverwalk from LaSalle to Lake Michigan (updated photos soon as construction continues further west)


Chicago’s classy classical record label:

Cedille Records Celebrates 25 Years as Chicago’s classical record company


One of the best apps for listening to customized radio:

AccuRadio: Hand-crafted by music lovers-not by a computer


My favorite app for news on your iPad or tablet:

Flipboard, a new way to get your news fix


The best app for checking out other opinions on movies and tv:

Metacritic, when you want to know what the critics think


Some of my favorite apps for finding sheet music, paid or free:

Printed Music in the Digital Age


Best app for electronic music storage:

Sheet Music at Your Fingertips: ForScore


The best fake book for song standards on your tablet or desktop:

iRealPro app for your portable device or desktop


More apps for the musically inclined:

Music App Happy


LG Tone Pro Wireless Stereo Headset

My cousin surprised me with a very early birthday present, the LG Electronics Tone Pro HBS-750 Bluetooth Wireless Stereo Headset that you wear around your neck. This has been a godsend on dog walks when I need the use of my hands.

The device easily pairs with your smart phone allowing you to roam several feet away from your phone. When I’m not talking to someone, the earbuds tuck neatly into the ends of the Tone Pro “collar.” When I receive a phone call, the device vibrates, I touch a button on the side and the call is activated. I touch that same button to end a call. When I want to place a call, I tell Siri who I want to reach and she connects me using the LG Headset.

The LG Tone Pro can also be used to listen to music or other recorded material from your phone. Today I listened to Italian lessons on youtube via my phone and headset. The device easily recharges using a USB cable and has lit colors indicating low battery, full charge and currently charging.

I must admit I’m a sucker for gadgets, but this is one little gizmo that has improved my life. My large dog has ruined three sets of wired earbuds stretched from my phone to my ears. Now, unless he aims for my throat, my headset is out of his reach. Thanks, cuz.

Here is the headset on Amazon for $42.49.

Raja’s Cup: the anti-oxidant coffee substitute

The jittery feeling I get from real coffee necessitated finding some beverage substitutes. Decaf and herbal teas are acceptable, but I still craved that bitter coffee taste.

I discovered Raja’s Cup, a coffee substitute that can be brewed like coffee grounds or with individual tea bags. The resulting beverage can be served plain or with milk and sweetener. I love it “black,” but for a richer, creamier hot drink, I add unsweetened vanilla almond milk. Not only does the beverage taste good, but it contains anti-oxidant ayurvedic herbs and is absolutely caffeine-free. The box states that the ingredients are all natural and non-irradiated, contain no artificial coloring or additives and the company uses non-chlorinated paper. Manufactured by the Maharishi Ayurvedic company, the box has the letters VPK in the logo, standing for the ayurvedic terms vata, pitta and kapha.

I have not found a store that carries the products, so ordering it on-line or by telephone are the only options I can suggest. Check out the Maharishi Ayurvedic web site for other supplements, foods and products. My tea kettle is whistling so excuse me while I make some Raja’s Cup.

The Maharishi Ayurvedic site:           


The page for Raja’s Cup:


Girlie World: Bras Galore

This post is decidedly not aimed at the male readership unless they want to buy their significant females a really thoughtful gift certificate.

I’d rather walk on glass than go bra-shopping, but a new dress necessitated finding an undergarment that didn’t show in the shoulder area.  I had driven by a new storefront on Lincoln Avenue that proclaimed Bras Galore. I tittered at the title, pun intended.  With high hopes for a positive experience, I entered the door and was met with hundreds of bras on racks. Where would I possibly start?

Not to worry, the clerks have you fill out a questionnaire so they can better suit your needs in terms of style, price, color and size. There are bras with or without underwires; bras with foam cups or lacy fabrics; strapless bras or ones that accommodate a low-backed dress, black, white or flesh colored bras and ones that have other colors or patterns. Unless, you know exactly what brand you wear, you really do need the services of a store employee because the selection can be overwhelming. The clerks also check for fit while respecting the customers modesty in the dressing rooms.

The prices at Bras Galore, although not cheap, are on par with department store lingerie, but the selection is wider and the clerks more helpful and knowledgeable. They also carry other intimate apparel such as panties, swim suits, night wear and exercise clothing.

If you want to feel “uplifted” in your next bra shopping experience, I recommend Bras Galore, although the name of the store still makes me giggle, just a bit.


My current favorite taste sensations

I have been cutting out sugar, dairy and wheat as of late, so I share with you some of the little treats that have kept me from raiding the cookie jar, polishing off that pint of ice cream in the freezer or ordering carry-out deep dish pizza.

If you need a chocolate fix but don’t want the added sugar, thaw out and heat a cup of frozen cherries (Costco has a large bag containing three kinds of frozen cherries), add a teaspoon or two of really good plain cocoa powder, stir and enjoy a chocolate sauce that has no added sugar but derives its sweetness from the juice of the melted cherries. Frozen mangos or raspberries can work also but they don’t have as much juice when thawed.

Need something crunchy but don’t want to do chips? Buy Food For Life rice tortillas, toast them lightly in a toaster oven, sprinkle with cinnamon, enjoy.

For both a sweet and tart flavor, broil a grapefruit half and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Dying for something resembling custard or ice cream without dairy or added sugar? Try Trader Joe’s coconut cream, add chia seeds and fresh fruit. One hour in the fridge will turn the ingredients into a dairy-free pudding. If you want a sweeter taste, add stevia, or if you must, real maple syrup.

And on the savory side:

Instead of butter, squeeze fresh lime juice on your freshly cooked ear of corn.

Trader Joe’s has a nitrite-free peppered turkey bacon that pairs well with raw red pepper strips for that crunchy and salty craving.

Go ahead and have that ground sirloin you may crave, but instead of cheese, have it with Whole Foods Dill Relish, Paul Newman’s Salsa or Kuhne’s German Barrel Sauerkraut. No, really!

Trader Joe’s has several condiments, pickles, olives and relishes that add interest to any meal and my two favorites are the jars of cornichons (miniature pickles) or the hearts of palm. One or two little additions to your lunch or dinner can take the boredom factor away.

If you want to have a healthy brunch at home, try One Degree Veganic Flax and Spelt bread with a thin layer of ripe avocado, topped with a fried egg and salsa. It’s a cross between huevos rancheros and eggs Benedict but without the sauce or cheese.