Chicago Food Bloggers 2013 Holiday Gift Guide

Chicago Food Bloggers 2013 Holiday Gift Guide

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It's here! It's here!

It's our very first Chicago Food Bloggers Holiday Gift Guide!

At nearly 150 pages, it was quite a doozy to put together! But we think the results are worth it -- there are gifts for every foodie in your life, and even a few that go beyond food. These are the gifts that Chicago's passionate food blogging community have at the top of their lists, as well as the cookbooks, kitchen equipment, and tasty treats that our members already enjoy.

Back in November we asked our members to submit their favorite gift suggestions, and these are the gifts they chose. There's something for every taste -- literally, from jams to salts to chocolates to coffee to blood pudding. There are gifts to help you entertain, gadgets to help in the kitchen, and some high-tech gifts that will juice, chop, stir, and more.

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Classic Chocolate Cupcakes

Classic Chocolate Cupcakes

Whatever happened to magic?

When I was growing up magic seemed, if not quite at Houdini levels, popular enough that there were a few television specials every year. At least once a summer CBS would trot out David Copperfield to make corny jokes, inappropriately dance with scantily clad women amongst some silk curtains, and then make something giant disappear.

Where did all the magic go? Was it the Masked Magician? Remember him and how everyone was so mad that he was revealing the tricks? And he was like, "Well now it will force people to make new tricks!" Maybe he was wrong.

Or maybe it was David Blaine and MINDFREEEEAAAKKKK! They didn't really do magic so much as sit in boxes for long periods of time. Maybe everyone thought that's what magic was and gave up.

Or is it CGI? CGI is ruining everything. There is that new movie out where the magicians are bank robbers but all of the tricks are obviously CGI so who cares. The magician might as well turn into that melty liquid guy from Terminator and go through the jail bars. To use one example.

When I was little, I was really into magic for a while. My grandmother bought me Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic, which I used to read, cover to cover, all the time. I bought these little Magic Works toys, which were actually fairly impressive. Like this one, the Crystal Cleaver! My grandfather bought me a magical box that you could put anything in the top, close the box, and when you opened it again whatever you added had disappeared. 

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Homemade Hamburger Buns

Homemade Hamburger Buns

I love any business makeover show. Hotel Impossible, Tabatha Takes Over, Restaurant Impossible, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (and the lesser American equivalent), Bar Rescue. Except for the screaming and yelling; that I could do without. Particularly Restaurant Impossible's Robert and Bar Rescue's Jon, who both shout-talk almost everything they say and then act surprised when the restaurant owner doesn't take an immediate liking to them.

Hotel Impossible's Anthony Melchiori is by far the best host, not just because he knows his shit, but because he seems to genuinely care about each and every hotel owner. And you would be surprised at how interesting it is to learn about standard occupancy rates or how often a hotel should be deep cleaned (although many owners seem to be finding out for the first time that rooms should be cleaned at all).

I have watched hours of these shows and there are more than a couple problems that pop up in almost every epsisode. What might those be, Mike? Glad you asked. Here are eleven:

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Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

I was going to make an introduction about some nonsense that has nothing to do with the recipe and then tie it to the recipe with the thinnest of transitions, like I usually do, but the note about using a scale became so long that I have decided this whole post is going to be about using one.

Look, I know every Tom, Dick, and Mary Baker says to invest in a scale. Every baking book starts off with an introduction about the importance of weighing your ingredients. Bloggers are adding the metric weights to the ingredient list with the hope that you'll make the switch.

Honestly though, I swear, just do it already. (If you have done it already, you don't have to read any of this. You get a "Meets Expectations" for today). If you aren't going to do it, just go buy Entenmann's.

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My Newest Project

Introducing...Chicago Food Bloggers!

This is what I have been working on for the past few weeks. It's based on Boston Food Bloggers, whose founder, Rachel Leah Blumenthal, gave the site her blessing. Cities like Austin, Charleston, Los Angeles, and New York all have their own food blogger groups or directories, why shouldn't Chicago?

It's hasn't officially launched. I'm still working out kinks, trying to get a few blogs on the site, etc. In two weeks I'll send out e-mails and press releases and all that jazz.

If you are a food blogger in Chicago or the suburbs, add your blog! Or, if you know one, spread the word! At its simplest it's a directory of food bloggers, but I'm hoping it becomes much more. I hope it becomes a way for the city's bloggers to learn about each other, meet for brunches and dinners, share information, and learn about new events and conferences.

So that's why posting around here has been a little sporadic. As soon as the site finds its groove I'll be back to posting recipes coupled with crazy introductions that have nothing to do with those recipes. In the meantime, head on over to Chicago Food Bloggers and find a new favorite food blog to follow! 

Clam Juice and Other Things That Are "In" for March According to Lad Mags

Have you heard of Next Issue? It's basically Netflix for magazines: you pay a monthly fee and get access to almost all of the magazines you could want. It's great. You always have all of this reading material on your iPad, they even have weeklies (for an upcharge) like The New Yorker, you get all of the digitized back issues, and you end up discovering magazines you would probably never normally pick up. And many have food and recipes! Elle Decor isn't really for me, but Daniel Boulud has a column and recipe each month I'll check out. Real Simple, New York, and the travel titles all cover food. Infomercial over. No seriously, I'm not getting paid or compensated for this, it's just a cool thing.

Sometimes the men's magazines, in particular, have pretty great food coverage (although the recipes tend to treat guys like kindergarteners) and legit journalism. In between, however, are strangely confident "What's In" features that tell you everything that you should be wearing, eating, watching, reading, etc. that month. And it's all $5,000. And would look silly if you wore it with your normal, not-model body to your regular workplace (unless your job is jumping in the air in an all-white room). But, just for you, I went through all of the month's issues to find out what's in for March. I read (well skimmed through) the March 2013 issues of Details, GQ, Esquire, and Men's Journal. And I'm reporting on my findings here. You are welcome.

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Chicken Salad with Whole Egg Homemade Mayonnaise

Chicken Salad with Whole Egg Homemade Mayonnaise

Did you watch the Academy Awards yesterday? Kind of strange. That's nice how Chicago won everything. Were you offended by Seth MacFarlane or not? He enunciates well, but he also seemed to hate everyone and cover all of his jokes with meta-humor and snark. "Are we still going to do this joke?" "You liked that joke, eh?" He kept saying things like that. Own your material! Good review.

I like the Academy Awards though! I like movies! I like to hope Zero Dark Thirty wins and then be mad when it doesn't. I like a good montage. Although, like everyone, I have some ideas for how to improve the Oscars:

Tell the presenters that they are performing the role of a lifetime. For some reason the presenters are always bad at presenting. They look straight ahead, awkwardly misread the teleprompter in a robot voice, mess up jokes, mispronounce every name, and then complain about how difficult it is to open the envelope. I'm embarrassed for them. When you recall that performing is their job, it's kind of strange. But maybe that's the problem! Maybe they are freaked out because they have to be themselves and not Ace Ventura or Neil Armstrong or a geisha. So give them a character to play! I don't think it even has to be really creative. Just tell them, "You are playing a very interesting, charismatic, and funny actress who needs to build interest and tension in this list of people you are about to read, because in a moment, for one of them, all of their dreams will come true, but for the other four, their every hope and wish will come crashing down all around them. Here is your script and there is the camera."

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Pączki

Pączki

Happy Pączki Day! 

Are you aware it's pączki day? Are you Polish? If so, of course you are. If not, too bad for you, eh? Pączki are Polish pastries eaten on Fat Tuesday, or lent eve.

When I was growing up my whole family would go to my Great Grandma Jenny's house in East Chicago, Indiana, for pączki day. She made giant platters of them that only the kids were allowed to dust with sugar. We would eat too many of them as a last hurrah before we couldn't have soda or gum or whatever we had given up for the next 40 days (when you got older it was all sweets).

Nowadays a lot of bakeries would like you to believe that pączki are just classic yeast donuts without holes, probably so they can use their regular donut dough and call it a day. But Grandma's were different. Her pączki were a bit breadier and eggier, like a cross between a yeast donut and challah. We also did not eat them filled. Here in Chicago I have yet to find them unfilled (and some bakeries are getting a bit crazy with the fillings, like strawberry vodka or mocha), so I had to make them myself. Also, we pronounce them "poonch-key." Not "panch-key."

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Brown Butter Vanilla Rice Crispy Treats

Brown Butter Vanilla Rice Crispy Treats

I'm just going to act like it's been one week since I updated this blog and not over six months.

A lot has happened in that week. I moved back home to Chicago! There just weren't enough shootings in Boston, you know. I already miss the oysters. And the people. Hi Danielle! Hi Daphnie! Especially the ones with "D" names. And the witches in Salem. Hi witches. I'm sad I'm going to miss the blizzard this weekend, to be honest.

But it's great to be back near family again. I spent a weekend cooking with my Aunt where we made two racks of lamb, shrimp, scallops, tuna, two types of aioli, pita salads, roast chicken, and alligator. I had alligator on a stick at a fair years ago and would you believe it was not so delicious? This time it was amazing, like a cross between chicken and catfish and very juicy and tender. Eat it. We made all of that for the two of us. For one dinner. Like I said, it's good to be back.

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Vanilla Blueberry Pie

Vanilla Blueberry Pie

Where to live, where to live.

So, now that I have graduated, I have been searching for jobs. It's finally time to answer that question people have asked so often over the last two years: "So what are you going to do with that degree?" I have been applying like crazy. If you are hiring, let me know!

And when I tell people I have been applying, they always ask, "Where?"

On the one hand, I think anybody can learn to live anywhere. It's surprising how you acclimate to places. A few years back I lived in a small town in Iowa while working on a political campaign. People invited me into their homes, made me dinner, let me sleep in their guest bedrooms. They let me camp on their farms and invited me to parties. They donated chairs, desks, and food to our office, let us pass out candy on Halloween on their front porch, and bought me a pork tenderloin and a beer for breakfast. 

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Little Baby Crème Brûlées

Little Baby Crème Brûlées

Do you sometimes wonder what the plates of the future will look like? What am I talking about, it probably keeps you up at night. I'm not talking about the plate itself, those will be holograms, but the plating style. How a chef puts the food on the plate. Remember when it was weird pointy things rising from the plate? A few years ago The New Yorker described them as "small towers of something wrapped in something--with the tops sliced at an angle; crumbly landscape of some kind; and a reflecting pool running around the edge." You saw it everywhere. Then it got to the point where Applebees was cutting their BBQ egg rolls or whatever at an angle and placing them every which way on a bed of slaw and it was time to move on.

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Vermont Cheesemaking

Vermont Cheesemaking

Before we get into the romantic life of a goat farmer and cheesemaker and look at some pretty pictures of cute animals, just remember, if you want to be a farmer you have to wake up at about 4am, just about every day. And you can't just not milk the goats or not make cheese when you don't feel like it or your nose is a little sniffly. The goats need to be milked, whether you like it or not. You have to turn it into cheese, because that is your livelihood. Michael, from Twig Farm in West Cornwall, Vermont (I think this is an invented town that is really just Cornwall, Vermont, because when you look for West Cornwall on Google Maps it gets confused) said that, because it is kidding season (the season when you make a lot of jokes), he hasn't had a day off since February. We visited the farm as part of a cheese course I took in the spring and those in the class who were leaving from Cambridge had to meet at 4:30am just to get there on time. That sounded so horrible that a few of us went up the night before and stayed in a classmate's cabin just so we wouldn't have to wake up that early. But Michael does it every single day. 

Anyways, now that we are done with the serious business, being a goat farmer is amazing and you should definitely quit your job and become one. I took some photos on my iPhone (my good camera's battery was dead) for you! You're welcome.

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I'm Back! Here's a Lemon Tart.

I'm Back! Here's a Lemon Tart.

Did you miss me? You did.

How do you like the new design? Pretty swank. Black and white and food all over. I'll probably tweak it some more over the next few weeks, so don't freak out.

It's been a while. When was the last time I posted? February? I know! I had to take a little break to finish up my last semester in the gastronomy program. I'm done now! I have my Master's! It's crazy. They'll give them to anyone these days, I guess. Ba-dum-bum. Last week was commencement, where this awesome thing happened.

I also went to Africa in March. I'll write about that in a bit. Put some pictures up. I drank some banana beer, saw some giraffes, you know. I have certificates in cheese and wine now. Oh, cheese. If only every course could be cheese. The ridiculously amazing Ihsan Gurdal, of the ridiculously amazing Formaggio Kitchen, taught the class. It was insane. We went up to Vermont to visit some cheese farms. We ate twelve blue cheeses in one day and my tongue hurt when it was over, but in a good way. We ate some tangerine jam from Anna Tasca Lanza that will make you cry.

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Salt and Pepper Cookies

Salt and Pepper Cookies

The Oscars are coming up this weekend. Is that something you are excited about? It doesn't matter. Let's talk about the Best Picture nominees. They changed the rules a few years back, and then changed them again, and now there are about 40 Best Picture nominees. So now the young people will watch? Who knows. Sadly, I have only seen one of them, so we have a long road ahead of us. Just like War Horse had, probably. That's not the one I saw. I'll just make some stuff up because I need some sort of topic to introduce these cookies (although this has nothing to do with the cookies - I will make some connection between the two that is a wild stretch a the end, like usual).

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Braised Beef Over Orange Zest Pappardelle

Braised Beef Over Orange Zest Pappardelle

How bout them Super Bowl commercials? Pretty great, eh? Almost as great as how much talk there is about them. It must be nice to work for an advertising agency and you just film a dog dancing for 30 seconds and CNN reports it as news. "Wasn't that Pepsi frog funny? You are in the Situation Room."

I think the best thing about the Super Bowl commercials is the many surprises. What will GoDaddy do this year? It could be anything! Will there be at least ten commercials where men look like idiots? It could be more! I wonder if there will be a commercial with that talking baby? You never know! Even though there has been a commercial with the talking baby for the last decade or something, maybe this will be the year they switch it up?

Thankfully it was not the year, because that dumb baby just never gets old, just never ever ever gets old, literally and figuratively. I can only hope that when I'm 90 that baby is still on television being an ass, because how else will I know what company to use for whatever it is that baby is selling, I forget. If only there could be an ad where that snarky baby is riding a Clydesdale to visit the Coca-Cola bears one of whom is voiced by Betty White. Then all of our favorite things that never get old will be in one commercial and it will surely be the best commercial ever made (although Betty White does get old - that's the whole hilarious joke, that she is old and says mildly ribald things; good job advertising companies, just a very good job). 

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