To Market with Mo: Pick a Peck of Peppers

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It might not have been a stellar tomato season (though for some reason I am still picking tomatoes from the garden, hum) but there are loads of peppers to be had at the Farmers Markets right now. Now, let's be clear as confusion can ensue when referring to 'peppers'. Am I talking pepper as in the black, pink, green and white peppercorns that we grind? Nope, I am talking the nightshades that are capsicums, and here, there is a vast variety that range in shape, color, size (even within the same species) and then there is a big swing in the heat scale.

What is it that makes say a bell pepper sweet and a scotch bonnet pepper mui caliente? The highly variable amount of capsaicin in each species. Contrary to popular belief, the 'heat' (capsaicin) is not in the seeds, but the white pith of the pepper that the seeds cling to. And here's an interesting tidbit, unlike we mammals, birds are completely immune to the capsaicin burn, go figure. Our winged friends are attracted by the bright colors of the peppers and from there get to work spreading the seeds. No wonder peppers are so popular globally.

To avoid any confusion I am talking the heatless varieties that we will call 'peppers' or 'capsicum' (like our Brit & Aussie friends). The hot varieties are referred to as 'chilis'.
Speaking of the bright colors, not only have I seen the immature green, but fully mature red, orange, purple, yellow, ivory and even brown peppers as well at the markets. All are sweet and pack, pack, packed with antioxidants like carotenoids (a natural sunscreen for the peppers themselves), lutien and beta carotene and can you say three times the amount of vitamin C that is required daily in just one medium pepper?!? Move over oranges, all the more reason to eat like a locavore.

Look for firm peppers with tight skins, that seem heavy for their size. Avoid any with wrinkles or cracks on the exterior. Get your peppers home and enjoy raw sans anything, or in a salad or salsa. Or bump up the sweet factor and start cooking: roasted, grilled, sauteed, or stuffed. I, or we collectively, need to bug Joel from Green Acres Farms, to share his recipe for their lovely little Ultra Sweet Gourmet Tulip Bells stuffed with caramelized fennel. I mean, how good does that sound? Meanwhile, one of my favorite things to do with an abundance of peppers is grill or roast them, which once skinned will keep well in a bit of oil in the fridge for use on an antipasto platter, sandwiches, salads, pasta, dips, well you get the idea.

Roasted Peppers
4-5 large peppers (Bells or Poblanos or a combo)
2 Tablespoons of olive oil

Preheat broiler to high. Core and cut peppers lengthwise into quarters. Remove the seeds and pithy membrane. Place peppers, skin side up on a baking sheet under the broiler until the skins blacken. Remove from broiler and place peppers into a brown paper or large plastic ziplock bag, seal and then let stand for at least 15 minutes, letting the steam loosen the skins. When cool enough to handle, remove the skins from the peppers (nb: do not rinse to aid in this process, peppers will loose too much flavor, be patient and use your fingers and a knife if need be). Toss in olive oil and a pinch of salt and then store in the fridge.

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"About Last Night..." Gia says "Oh shoot me...he was in the bathroom!"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Named after the French Dada artist Marcel Duchamp, Duchamp on North Damen is a contemporary yet simple place to enjoy a wonderful meal. Ironically, I don't recall seeing much art by the famous Dada artist, but it was THE most beautiful night to sit outside and take in the September air.  The outside was softly lit like a backyard event that was cozy and intimate, just for two, or twenty, or thirty.   And while I don't recall any music playing it was very romantic, both inside and out.  
That said, the menu was simple, an uncomplicated, unlike some of those places where there are so many pages and choices that it feels like it should come with a library card tucked in the front.  So over a bottle of Chardonnay (yes, missing my dirty martini's for sure), we made selections like the garlic and Romano french fries, roasted roulade of salmon with pair -kholrabi and the Thailand bouillabaisse of Chilean sea bass, mussels, and rock shrimp. Everything was delicious.  The salmon was complemented nicely by the sweetness of the pear and apple cider nage (you know it...I have no clue what a "nage" is).  But...the bouillabaisse was out of this world with flavor and texture.  It was light yet filling, and the sea bass just melted in my mouth.    The menu also had typical "bar food" gone contemporary such as the famous Havarti cheese burger, and the fish and chips, which were not typical sticks of fish but a fillet sliced in sticks - original, but...just...ok.
All in all, the food was good, and the atmosphere was inviting, but the wait staff gets a super big thumbs up for being friendly, charismatic, and  I couldn't help but shovel a wad of gum into my mouth after the garlic fries as our waiter, "E", also known as Wesley Snipes, trotted back and forth with his huge smile and tattooed arms.  Still unsure of the exact date night etiquette, and a person who believes in "carpe diem", I secretly checked on the girlfriend status of Mr. Snipes while said date was taking a restroom break.  

Was that wrong?  

Check out Duchamp at 2118 North Damen 773.235.6434

In this photo: Waiter "E" and Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess

For more adventures with Gia, or if you're interested in joining me on a food blogging experience check me out on Facebook or email me at


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The Great Greek Stuff..."DietBytes by Sandy"

I just realized that I've been eating the same breakfast for 5 years. That kind of devotion deserves some attention!
My beloved nonfat Greek yogurt has seen me through the conclusion of my nutrition degree, a couple of jobs, and 3 different apartments. Plus, it's convenient and nutritious! And, I still get excited for it every day!

Over the past half decade, greek-style yogurt has been growing in popularity and visibility. When it first came out, there was only one brand, and I had to hunt it down in specialty shops or organic markets. Now, it's widely available, and there are a handful of brands to chose from. In fact, Greek yogurt sales have increased 50% in the past year, according to information from the natural, organic and specialty food industry. 

What really makes it "Greek" yogurt?
You may have heard it referred to "strained" yogurt. This is because, although it starts out as regular yogurt, the "whey"(the liquid remaining after milk is curdled) is then removed. This makes it much denser and creamier than typical yogurt. 

What does it taste like?
Its taste and texture are actually similar to sour cream. It is more sour than typical yogurts and much thicker, richer and smoother as well. Unlike a lot of nonfat yogurts, there is no artificial sweet aftertaste either (because there are no added sweeteners or sugar!).

What's different nutritionally?
There is less lactose in Greek yogurt, making it easier to digest for those with lactose intolerance. In addition, it has twice the protein of regular yogurt and less sugar (and carbohydrates). It's also gluten-free and lower in sodium than regular yogurt. The best part is that it is tremendously filling for a small amount of calories.  Also, similar to most yogurts, it contains probiotics!

Probiotics (another word from the Greeks), means "for life." They are actually "live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host." In other words, they are the beneficial bacteria that promote both immunity and digestive health.  
The various benefits of probiotics are significant and unique. They have been shown to: prevent digestive problems, support the immune system against infection, and fight-off unfriendly bacteria that causes food borne illnesses.

Greek yogurt is not limited to breakfast time. It's easy to cook with in sauces and soups, or to use in place of mayonnaise and sour cream.  It's a perfect dip for veggies or fruit, or as a dessert with drizzled honey and chopped nuts. My yogurt concoction usually involves cereal and almonds or fruit and a touch of cinnamon. Try it out yourself and see why I have stayed faithful for all these years.  
My favorite brands are: Fage 0%, Chobani plain (nonfat), Oikos organic plain nonfat, and I just recently discovered Brown Cow's fat-free Greek Yogurt.  
Healthy eating,
Sandy Sfikas, RD, LDN


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To Market with Mo: Acrimonious Rose

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No, no, no, not accepting that Summer is over. Yes, as of yesterday, and confirmed by my favorite weatherman, Tom Skilling, it is now officially Fall. And indications of the season are confirming said season change -- apples, pears, and pumpkins, yeah, pumpkins, have shown up to the party that I am not quite ready for. I love what the Fall harvest has to offer, but I am still trying to hang on desperately to Summer...that first blustery day and I will have to get past the denial stage.

Meanwhile, before I fully accept the season I am going to ease in with something that has been with us since the first days of the markets in the form of tender green and delicate scapes to the now fully developed mature, parchment covered heads. Garlic.

I mean really, what can't you eat garlic with? Pretty hard-pressed to find a culture that does not use the 'stinking rose' culinarily or medicinally. Okay, the Irish and Brits were slow to jump on the band wagon, but I think they are fully engaged now. Pretty sure my Irish grandmother never used a clove of garlic in her cooking. On the other side, my Ukrainian grandfather was big on consuming cloves of raw garlic, and ya wonder why he lived into his 90's.

Rather pungent when raw, garlic mellows and sweetens when cooked. And the finer the chop, the stronger the taste, ie. crushed is way stronger than a whole clove - guess that explains why the infamous "Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic" isn't completely overpowered by the intact 40 cloves.

Look for firm, dry heads that are covered in plenty of the parchment-like skin. Signs of green shoots? Too old. Each head of garlic should yield between 10-20 cloves of garlic depending on the variety. Garlic needs to breath, so store garlic in a cool, dry spot out of direct sunlight. DO NOT store in the fridge or in oil. How long is it going to last? Well that all depends on the age, variety, and how the garlic was handled when harvested. But, being that we only have a bit more than a month of outdoor farmers markets left, start stocking up on heads of garlic.

Tomatoes did not 'get the memo' about the season change, so they are still to be had at the markets. And paired with some fresh chopped garlic, basil, salt and olive oil? No wonder I haven't left summer. But since it will get cooler and ovens all over the city are being turned on, here is an easy and scrumptious way to enjoy all those heads of garlic.

Roasted Garlic
1 head of garlic (contrary to former fads, resist 'elephant' garlic, it is oh so bland)
drizzle of olive oil
sea salt
cracked black pepper
fresh thyme (optional)
lemon zest (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cut the top 1/3 off the garlic head. Place garlic head on a piece of foil. Drizzle olive oil on the garlic. Sprinkle salt, pepper, thyme and lemon zest on the garlic. Wrap foil, leaving some 'breathing' room. Roast in oven for one to 1 1/2 hours, until the garlic is soft and golden, Use to slather on crusty bread (check out Bennison's Bakery at a number of area farmers markets) or mix into mashed potatoes, or spread on grilled chicken, beef or meaty fish.

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"About Last Night..." Gia, Mariah, Denzel, the same sentence.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Good friend of mine in New York, Jimmy Chin, NO...not Jimmy Choo (which would really be an entirely different story), treats me like a Rock Star at his East side "Restaurant Chinois" Chin Chin.  As he greets me with kisses and hugs he assures me that I will get the same service as Mariah, Denzel, and A.Rod...THIS I like.  Having had this beautiful establishment for over twenty-three years Jimmy and his brother Wally run quite a fine place and serve food that, if it were humanly possible, I would order and ship home to's THAT good.  I took a seat in the back, sans date (physician called into surgery...if I had a nickel for every time I heard that one), Jimmy made sure I had wait staff at my beck and call.  
Sam, my waiter, chatted with me about the menu but I had my eye on my absolute favorite dish, which is NOT on the menu...the Grand Marnier Shrimp.  Appetizers included the Lobster Egg Roll and Shredded Jelly Fish.  The shrimp is the most amazing taste that has ever crossed my lips. It's lightly fried, crispy, sweet, and covered in a sauce that clings to it but doesn't weigh it down.  
      Each ginormous piece is magnificent and makes you want to eat the entire plate, which....I did.  The wine selection was broad and I chose a Swanson La Ti Da meritage.  Though this didn't quite blend with the shrimp, it was an OMG moment with each passing sip.  
Followed by the "...aahhhhhh" sound.  EVERY SIP.  

Go to New York - just for Chin Chin - tell Jimmy I sent you and you'll get the Rock Star service, which I suspect, is delivered to all don't stay in business for twenty-three years by accident.  Fabulouuuuuuus.

Shown in picture:  Jimmy Chin and Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess

Chin Chin is located at 216 East 49th St. New York, New York 212.888.4555.  Web:


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Let's Be Models..."DietBytes by Sandy"

The definition of a "model" is "a person of thing regarded as an excellent example of a specific quality." Whether of not you have children, we, as adults, are all models for kids. They look to us for information and guidance. In terms of childhood obesity, we are absolutely responsible for shaping young people's attitudes toward food and nutrition.

We've all heard that childhood obesity is a major problem. Whose fault is it though? It's true that our genes play a role in our size and shape. Studies indicate that 25-40% of the difference between people regarding body weight can be attributed to genetics. In summary, genetics can influence appetite, metabolism, and the amount and location of fat in the body. Chances are, you're shaped similarly to your parents, but this isn't always the case. 

The genes that impact our weight do not directly cause us to be overweight or obese. We all know that it's the combination of our genes and our environment (access to food, cultural beliefs and attitudes regarding food, ability and desire to exercise, etc.) that decides how we look. 

Our upbringing and environment as children influence the relationship we have with food and our attitudes about exercise. Kids who are overweight who have at least one overweight parent, are 79% more likely to become overweight as adults.  

Let's be positive influences for our own children and families in order to help shape their relationships with food and attitudes about exercise. It may seem obvious, but there are basic things that we can do to help. Encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables, in addition to a daily breakfast. Help them get at least one hour of moderate physical activity every day. And, limit their TV/computer exposure to less than 2 hours per day. 

Modeling is the most significant thing we can do to help childhood obesity. While we can't change our genes, we can change our behaviors. It's been said that, in terms of obesity, "Genetics load the gun, while environment pulls the trigger." Put the gun down, and be a healthy example. 

~Sandy Sfikas, RD, LDN


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To Market with Mo: In a Pickle

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

So the other evening my girlfriend Martha calls sounding a bit panicked. The conversation played out something like this....

Martha: 'Mo, my husband, the romantic that he is, just came home with a bushel, yes a bushel of golden beets for me. What do I do with them?!?'

Me: 'Wow, such a romantic.'

Martha: 'Yeah, some women get diamonds and jewelry, I get beets.'

Me: 'Well, you did say they were golden....seriously, why don't you pickle them?'

Martha (with nose scrunched I am sure): 'Hum, not really a fan and seems like a lot of work.'

Me: 'I am not a fan of a store-bought pickled beet myself, but homemade? A completely different animal (or veg as the case may be) and couldn't be easier.'

This time of year I can't get enough of all the fresh fruits and veg at the farmers markets, especially knowing that cooler months will soon be here and there won't be a farm fresh tomato to be had. So how do I prolong my enjoyment? By preserving what the market has to offer now. From berry & peach jams, to green tomato chutney, to freezing kernels of shucked corn, to pickling just about everything, from beans, to brussels sprouts to beets. Might I add that the beans and brussels sprouts are perfect garnishes for a bloody mary. Oh, and let me not forget okra, another terrific bloody mary accoutrement.

And yes, I am not kidding. Easy. To think, years ago this was a way of life....but then again so was beheading and plucking your own chicken. Given those options I am thinking, let's pickle.

Now don't feel you have to buy a whole bushel of produce in order to pickle, start with small batches to test your pickling prowess, say ten cucumbers instead of ten pounds. You will need a pickling solution, typically a vinegar or brine or a combination of both. Any type of vinegar can be used from white or cider to balsamic, and just about any type of spice can be used. You say you want a sweet pickle? Sugar then becomes part of the pickling solution.

Here is an fast and easy recipe for garlicky dill pickles. And to my friend Martha (or any of you) with the beets? Let me know if you need that pickled beet recipe.

Garlicky Dill Pickles
8-10 small pickling cucumbers (not sure? ask yoru farmer whick cuke will work)
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons pickling salt (personally I have found that kosher works)
4 tablespoons dill seeds
4 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon red chili flakes

Sterilize four clean pint size canning jars, and lids, either in a bath of boiling water or in the dishwasher.
Trim the ends of each cucumber. Combine the vinegar, water and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Place one clove of garlic, one teaspoon of dill seed and a pinch of chili flakes in each jar. Pack in cucumbers into each jar. Pour boiling pickling solution over the cucumbers to within a 1/2 inch of the jar rim. Put lids on the jars and then place in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from the bath. When you hear the lid 'pop' you know that the jar is sealed and ready to store.

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"About This Saturday..." Gia needs a date!

Gia invites YOU to LUMEN (839 West Fulton Market St.) this Saturday from 9pm - ?...September 19th as I join some amazing friends to celebrate my Birthday! Crack a bottle and kick it with us all night long!  When you get to the door tell them you're there for the party "Ain't Nuthin but a "G" Thang"... you don't want to miss me!

Now back to the business of food....

So whilst adventuring through the streets of NYC not too long ago I ventured, sans date actually, into a nice little restaurant called the Riingo, Japanese for "Apple" appropriate.  Riingo is actually known as the jewel of Manhattan's east side.  How could I resist riiiight?  I strolled up to an outside table to enjoy the view and the beautiful September weather.  Perusing through the lunch menu at first, I was disappointed with the limited selections.  However, I was quickly won over by a delicious looking grilled chicken and avocado sandwich.  The dinner menu was, of course, more comprehensive and reflective of Chef Marcus Samuelsson's award winning talents, was just lunch so..

This place would be amazing at night I was certain because of the modern vibe and menu boasting Japanese, American cuisine, including a Sushi bar.  

However, I was pleasantly surprised as my selection was a refreshing grilled chicken sandwich with crunchy, seasoned fries and a light garden salad.  When do you see this? a nice little salad on the side? It virtually made eating the fries guilt free! Perfect!  

As in typical New York style, I was enjoying the breeze, the meal, and the sunshine, when a large, honking, beeping, laundry truck pulled up to cover my entire city view.  Gotta love New York!

Riingo is located at 205 E. 45th St. NYC 212.867.4200

See you Saturday!!


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The Mother Seed...DietBytes by Sandy

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What is the "mother seed," that is most commonly considered a whole grain, surprisingly full of protein and fiber, and in the same family as spinach and swiss chard?

If you are unfamiliar with quinoa (pronounced "keenwa"), you are not alone. This ancient grain is somewhat new to this country. However, quinoa has been cultivated in the Andean mountain regions of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile for more than 5,000 years as a staple food of the region. The Incas therefore referred to it as the "mother seed."

During the European conquest of South America, the Spanish conquerors destroyed the quinoa fields and made growing it illegal. Quinoa cultivation essentially died out until the 1980's when two Americans began growing it in Colorado. Thanks to them, quinoa is growing in popularity and is recognized as a nutritional superstar.

Quinoa is impressive because it is a seed that acts like a grain. Quinoa seeds are fluffy yet slightly crunchy. They have a delicate and surprisingly nutty flavor. Most commonly, quinoa is used in the place of rice or pasta, or in light salads like taboulleh or shrimp salad. 

Quinoa is not only high in protein, but is a "complete protein." In other words, it contains all nine essential amino acids. In addition to its generous protein content, quinoa is a good source of calcium, manganese, vitamin B, vitamin E, fiber, and magnesium, a mineral known to relax blood vessels and improve cardiovascular health.

The high fiber content and low ranking on the glycemic index makes quinoa especially diabetic-friendly. Actually, it's a terrific substitute for pasta or rice, since it offers more nutrition and less carbohydrates. 

Unlike other grains like wheat, barley, and rye, quinoa is gluten-free, which makes it safe for those with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity. Still, quinoa flour and quinoa flakes may contain gluten, so check the nutrition label if you are sensitive to gluten.

You can find quinoa in pre-packaged containers and bulk bins in the grocery store. Store it in an air-tight container in the refrigerator or in a cool, dry cupboard. Be sure to rinse it thoroughly before cooking it and then prepare it just like you would prepare rice. It's mild flavor and fluffy texture works great in soups and stir-fries, or in place of pasta or rice in any recipe. 
Get creative, have fun, and enjoy the healthy goodness of quinoa!

Healthy eating,
Sandy Sfikas, RD, LDN



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A List With Amanda Puck

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

To Do This Week:

Superfun Wednesday at JBar 9:00pm
Celebrates Chicago tastemakers, and everyone’s invited to join the fun. Enjoy $6 SVEDKA Vodka cocktails all night while listening to some of Chicago’s top Hip-Hop DJ’s. You may even catch local artists play acoustic guitar sets. Jbar at The James, 312-660-7200. 610 North Rush Street.

Thursday (Two Things)
1. Toque: An Evening with Chicago's Culinary Masters, a benefit for Children’s Oncology Services, Inc. (COSI). The event named after a toque, is emceed by Bill Kurtis with Michael Kornick of MK Restaurant returning as chef coordinator of the event. Guests will enjoy four fine dining courses with wine pairings along with a lively auction, all to send children with cancer to the One Step at A Time programs. A sampling of this year’s line up includes: Graham Elliot Bowles, executive chef/owner of Graham Elliot; Paul Kahan, executive chef of Avec, Blackbird and The Publican; Chris Pandel, executive chef of The Bristol; Art Smith, executive chef/co-owner of Table Fifty-Two and Joe King, executive chef/proprietor, Le Colonial.

6:00 PM Cocktails, Silent Auction and Featured Chef Stations, 7:15 PM Seated Degustation Menu with Wine Pairings & Live Auction at the Harold Washington Library Winter Garden. $250, order tickets at or call 312.924.4220.

2. PARIS IN CHICAGO: From the Champs-Elysees to the Mag Mile
Enjoy the end of summer with Bistro 110’s all new outdoor patio!

Bistro 110 welcomes back Executive Chef Dominique Tougne (pictured) from his summer holiday in France with a celebration of their newly designed patio and French bistro inspired menu. From 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM, Bistro 110 will serve delicious complimentary fare including Chef Dominique’s specialty pizzas and Bistro Baguettes from the all new La Baquette Menu, and I promise you they are NOT to be MISSED! Guests can also enjoy $5 cocktail specials such as the fresh and seasonal French Heaven cocktail – Green City Market pear-infused vodka with St.Germain. 312-266-3110. 110 East Pearson Street.

PS - Ill be wearing a beret ...

Friday LUNCH!
Earn a free ticket to Chicago Gourmet. Guests who purchase five meals during the Dine Around period, Monday, August 24th through Sunday, September 27th, at any participating restaurant must attach a copy of their receipt to their passport in order to redeem a complimentary ticket to Chicago Gourmet. Our picks - NoMI and C-House. (pictured Asian Greens with Crispy Calamari, Miso-Lime Vinaigrette from NoMI).

From 3 to 8 pm, Kappy’s Restaurant & Pancake House is celebrating their 30th anniversary! Kappy's will host an out of this world pig roast and apple pie bake off! Munch on delicious BBQ pulled pork sandwiches prepared by chef and owner, George Alpogianis. Up to 25 contestants can prove their apple pie is the best to a panel of judges including Ken Smith aka Al Roker Jr. of the Mancow Morning Show. The apple pie bake-off is free for entries- please submit entry by calling Kappy's at 847-470-1900. 7200 West Dempster.

I'll be home watching the True Blood Finale ...

See you soon!

Amanda Puck


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To Market with Mo: Plum or Prune?

"Plums that are purple and plums that are plump, so that each bumpy lump is a plum that is plump"...

Whoa, whoa, whoa, not so fast. Plum. The origins of that word literally meant "any dried fruit." Guess that explains why 'plum pudding' made famous in the lyrics above, is devoid of any plums. So that 'Little Jack Horner' fellow, my guess is that he pulled out a big raisin and not a plum. But wait you say, I thought a prune is a dried plum. I don't know where this all got turned around but plums are of the species prunus, so somewhere along the way someone decided that 'plum' sounded better than 'prune', and what was once dried became fresh.

Name aside, we are talking stone fruits that are showing up at the Farmers Markets now thru October. All varieties are nice and juicy, but the taste can range from sweet, sweet, sweet, to mouth puckering tart. And such a beautiful range of skin color, from bright yellow and green to deep inky purple. But inside? Beautiful golden flesh.

This fiber rich fruit also packs in a load of potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin C. And once if becomes a 'prune'? Well, show me the antioxidants baby. And here's an interesting little tidbit, especially for us gals, plums are a huge help to the body in absorbing iron.

Look for plums that have uniform color, are plump and yield to gentle pressure. Steer clear of any with broken, bruised and wrinkled skin. If the plums you picked need a bit more ripening place them in a brown paper bag, left on the kitchen counter, for a couple of days. Once ripe, plums will keep in the fridge for up to three days.

Plums are so yummy as is, but if you want to try your hand at 'cooking' them, there are many ways to go. Sliced in a salad, in a chilled soup, broiled, grilled or roasted, baked in a cake, crumble or tart, frozen in a sorbet, or cooked down into a jam, chutney or compote. I did come across a great use for plums, especially for those that got whonked with the tomato blight this season. Swap out tomatoes for plums in a BLT sandwich. I was skeptical but oh so glad I tried it.

Since the evening temps have been cooler, I have been putting the oven to use as of late. A big thank you to Martha (as in Stewart) for the following recipe for Plum & Port Crostada. I can't thing of a better way to use the Stanley plums I found at the market this week. And paired with some lemon butter milk ice cream? Two words: absolute perfection, if I do say so myself.

Plum & Port Crostada
(adapted from the Aug '09 Martha Stewart Living or at
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt (divided)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pcs.
2 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 cup ruby port
1 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 lbs Stanley (or Italian prune) plums, halved and pitted
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon heavy cream, for brushing (or buttermilk I had from making the ice cream)
sanding sugar for sprinkling (regular sugar does fine here)

1. Pulse flour, 1/2 t. of the salt, and sugar in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. With machine running, slowly add ice water until the dough comes together. Shape into disk, wrap in plastic and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to an 1/8 inch thickness. Fit into an 8" pie dish and leave a 1" overhang. Freeze for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Simmer port and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until reduced to 1/2 cup (approx. 30 minutes). Transfer to a bowl and cool for 10 minutes.
4. Stir together the remaining 3/4 c. brown sugar, 1 t. salt, plums, cornstarch, cinnamon and port syrup. Transfer to the pie shell. Fold over the overhand to form a crust. Brush crust with cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce oven to 375 degrees. Bake until golden and center is bubbling (Martha says for 1 1/2 hours more, I found 45 minutes to 1 additional hour to be plenty). Let cool.

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"About Last Night..." Gia goes to Robert De Niro's place

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Well, not exactly his home, but I did have a most fabulous date at his restaurant Nobu Fifty Seven in Manhattan.  Sushi buffs know that Nobu, known for it's international exclusivity and almost impossible to get reservations, has a new Uptown location on West 57th St.  So, New Yorkers, look out, Chicago is taking over and this is a MUST if you even remotely enjoy Sushi.
Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and one of his partners, Robert De Niro have created a most beautiful Asian hot spot that can only be found peppered throughout the world.  
Sake barrels imported from Japan tower above you and the soft Abalone shell chandeliers lend to the soft lighting and rich hues.  
You can enjoy a delicious cocktail, with of course a wide range of selections on the first floor, and enjoy the people watching on 57th.
But when you hit the top floor get ready to be impressed. The lighting is beautiful, the crowd is high energy and the design is eclectic.  Beautiful people go here, and it's wonderful to watch.
The menu has hot and cold dishes, but our preference was for the Chef's choice of Sushi/Sashimi combination.  After a traditional start of edamame and Sashimi salad with Matsuhisa dressing, the Chef prepared an amazing selection of sushi/sashimi for us that included big eye and blue fin toro, Fluke, Shimagii, Smelt Egg, Aji (Jackfish), and Tasmanian ocean trout.    The Chef also prepared a variety of rolls that I could not truly repeat the ingredients, not because they were classified, but because they were complex, and beautiful, and so very difficult to remember after my second Chardonnay.  Another nice thing about Nobu, and as a Sushi connoisseur, I can tell you that small, bite size pieces are much appreciated.  There is nothing worse than being on a date trying to slurp down an over sized piece of raw fish.  You just end up looking like the cat who ate the canary, while putting up the proverbial finger saying "wait...gimme a minute".  
Get on a plane and GO!

This place is HOT...and Oh so very FRESH (like the earrings say...).  (and since 5th Ave is right around the corner, bring your credit card!)

Nobu Fifty Seven is located on 40 West 57th Street - New York, New York 212.757.3000

In photo:  Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess (stay tuned for more blogs on dating & dining in NYC)


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Dining out myths..."DietBytes by Sandy"

Sunday, September 6, 2009

To follow up on my "restaurant rules" posted last week, I decided to reveal common myths and truths about eating out and restaurant dining. 

1. True or False: There is a reason why I'm hungry two hours after eating Chinese food. 
Most Chinese dishes include white rice, which has a high "glycemic load." This means that it raises (and drops) your blood sugar at a quick rate. The rapid decline in blood sugar can leave you feeling unsatisfied and...hungry! Although the ultimate usefulness of the glycemic load is under consideration, studies report a link between low-glycemic load diets and lower incidences of obesity and type 2 diabetes. While the studies have been challenged, it does help to understand why so many "white" foods like baked potatoes, white rice, and pretzels never seem to fill us up. The next time you are at a Chinese restaurant, consider brown rice instead of white, and don't forget the fiber-filled veggies to help fill you up. 

2. True or False: I don't have to worry about over-eating sushi since it is so low-calorie. 
Oftentimes our cues for fullness are driven more by what we see rather than how we feel. In other words, since sushi is small, we are apt to overeat it quickly, and not realize how much we actually scarfed down. Moreover, sushi "rolls" are usually very compact and include a lot of ingredients in a tiny (tight) roll. There can actually be as much as a 1/2  cup of rice in 1 to 2 sushi rolls. Shocking, right? While fish is low in calories and healthy for your heart, some sushi sauces overshadow fish's nutritious qualities. Stay away from extra oil and greasy sauces. Spicy mayo and words like "crunchy" mean that extra fat and calories are coming your way. Stick with sashimi to really reap the nutritional benefits of sushi without all the extra calories.

3. "Vegetarian" entrees are always healthy.
Even though non-meat eaters have been shown to live longer than the rest of us carnivores, it doesn't mean that a "vegetarian" dish at a restaurant is purely virtuous. Check to see how the meal is prepared and what the ingredients are to know that you're in for. The word "vegetarian" is not synonymous with low-calorie. For instance, a veggie burger with cheese, mayo, and ketchup has more calories than a very lean hamburger with mustard. A 2.5-ounce hamburger is around 170 calories which is the same as some veggie burgers. If you're unsure about toppings and sauces, ask for them on the side.

4. If I skip dessert, I can have 2 or 3 drinks instead. 
TRUE & FALSE (trick question!)
This answer depends on what dessert you are craving and what your drink of choice is. For instance, 2 gin and tonics can set you back 400 calories. Two mojitos are about 320 calories and 2 cosmos are about 300 calories. Your best bet? Light beer or wine will only cost you 100-120 calories per drink. As far as dessert...when in doubt, share! Nothing is too fattening when eaten in very small quantities. Or, you can linger over a couple bites of dessert shared amongst friends while you nurse your glass of wine. Everyone wins!

Healthy eating,
Sandy Sfikas, RD, LDN


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To Market with Mo: Honey Dew Ya?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It hasn't exactly been a typical hot and humid summer here in Chicago. So hot and humid that all I am craving are bowls of cold gazpacho, ice cream, or icy cold, sweet, fleshy melon. Since most melons are about 92% water, I guess this makes sense. Hot? Hydrate. Well, even if we haven't gotten the heat and humidity, the melons are at the farmers markets.

We may not see the thousands of varieties of water and musk melons available, but there are quite a few to choose from at the Chicago area farmers markets: Sweet Baby and Moon & Stars watermelons, to Galia and Sweet Early muskmelons just to name a handful.

Now you say, I know watermelon, but what is a muskmelon? Is a muskmelon a cantaloupe or is a cantaloupe a muskmelon? Cantaloupe, Honeydew, Crenshaw, Persian, Sharlyn, Christmas, Santa Claus, Casaba and the coveted French Charantais, are all considered muskmelons. All of these sweet and aromatic melons, whose flesh range from orange to pale green, are great sources of potassium, beta carotene, vitamin A, and folate. And their cousin the watermelon packs in some vitamin C, and if it is a red-fleshed variety, some lycopene to boot.

So how to find a ripe melon at the market? Your best best is to sweet talk the farmer and have him/her pick out the perfect melon for you,. Trust me, I have yet to be disappointed going this route. You want to test your skills at picking your own? Pick an unblemished melon (if white or pale on one side this is okay, that only indicates the spot where the melon sat on the ground while on the vine) that feels heavy for its size. A couple more steps...For muskmelons do the smell test. If the fragrance is sweet, you have a perfect melon. For watermelons, give a good slap with an open hand. If the watermelon responds with a deep pitched tone, you are good to go.
Melon is perfect all by itself, or with a little salt and lime to really bring out it's sweet juicy goodness, but so many other options: as a salsa, a gazpacho or soup, a sorbet or sherbet, a refreshing aqua fresca or margarita, as a salad with some feta cheese or wrapped in prosciutto (both tasty ways to satisfy the salty-sweet craving). Or in a season that is slow to handover ripe tomatoes, swap tomatoes for watermelon in a tabbouleh or Greek salad.

This past weekend the food world lost an icon. Sheila Lukins, of Silver Palate fame, lost her battle with brain cancer. In her honor, I have been going back to her cookbooks for inspiration. From Sheila's All Around the World cookbook I tried the Chilean Avocado Salad, that though missing form the name, melon has a featured role. Scrumptious. And from my well-worn copy of the The Silver Palate Good Times cookbook, I made the Cantaloupe Gelato and the Pale Almond Gazpacho. Both sublime.

Cantaloupe Gelato
1 ripe cantaloupe, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups milk, scalded
Juice of 1 lemon or lime

Process the melon in a food processor or blender until smooth.
Heat water in the bottom of a double boiler over medium heat. Beat the eggs and sugar together in the top part of the double boiler and whisk in the milk. Cook over the water, whisking constantly to a light custardy consistency (about 7-10 minutes). Cool the custard.
Add the custard and lime/lemon juice to the melon puree and process until smooth.
Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

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"About Last Night..." Gia says "I know this great little Italian place"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Probably NOT the best time to wear my shredded boyfriend jeans and rocker sandals, as Riccardo Trattoria is a very mature, sophisticated place.  No worries, I strolled in like I owned the place and found that I was greeted as if I 
was family and treated as such the entire time.  An almost "drive by" location on North Clark, this delicious retreat is a comfortable place to go, relax, have a good meal, and have an intelligent conversation unencumbered by pulsing music, or loud buzzing conversations; which is exactly what I did.   A robust glass of Cabernet to start the evening and a moment to breathe, relax and enjoy the local crowd.  You get the sense that people stroll by and decide to come here for dinner, because it's almost like being in your own home, ya know, plus or minus thirty other people.  Keep in mind with all this subdued, elegance, that if conversation is not your thing, you might want to skip the date and bring a paper...could be just as nice an evening. There's no random conversations to lose yourself in...this is all one on one.
Named after Chef Riccardo, the acclaim, as boasted all over the advertised entry, was very authentic Italian with a menu that had such variety it was almost impossible to choose.  Given the crisp August air a warm bowl of Pasta e Fagioli seemed appropriate.  The cannellini beans and pasta were almost blended into a creamy, slightly spicy texture...molto buono.  We chose the traditional entree of Fettuccine Bolognese and the Pappardelle "Florentine", with diced beef tender ragout/porcini/Chianti sauce.   Both dishes were outstanding.  The Florentine was less familiar and took some getting used to with the finely shredded beef and Chianti sauce.    A delicious meal followed by what can only be espresso (or in my case a triple, just to keep the tank full), and a variety of sorbets.  
It's amazing what you can learn about someone when you actually have a conversation!  I can't lie to you friends...I WAS tempted to do a little "under the table" texting...but I was good girl.

In this photo:  Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess

Riccardo Trattoria is located at 2119 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 773.549.0038

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"The Balcony" Opens in Hinsdale

Some business people have the ingredients for success. They find something that works and try to duplicate it. Restaurateur Jerry Kleiner is a perfect example of opening several restaurants very similar in style and experiencing a level of success. His restaurants include Red Light, Carnival, Giocco, Marche and most recently 33 Club. Those venues are located in the city, but Kleiner has ventured out to Hinsdale to open Il Poggiolo and is making his mark in the burbs.

Il Poggiolo is located on the site of Hinsdale's first silent movie theater and means "The Balcony". The interior is typcial "Kleineresque", rich in colors including vibrant red upholstery. The atmosphere is warm, classy, casual and elegant. Big picture windows allow for a nice view of the outside. Like a lot Kleiner restaurants the food is solid. Nothing will really blow you away here, but dishes are nice, savory, and satisfying. Favorites to consider are the Arancini (rice balls filled with mushrooms and taleggio) and the Pesce Spada con Caponata (sword fish, vegetables, raisins, pine nuts, capers). The Lamb Shank special was good, but could have been a little more tender and their Risotto del Giorno with corn, leaks and mushrooms met, but didn't exceed expectations. The Pan Roasted Halibut and Pan Roasted Seabass rounded out other solid dishes. The Fig Tart dessert was something special and comes highly recommended by yours truly.

Il Poggiolo is a nice addition to downtown Hinsdale and should continue to provide Kleiner with a string of successful hot spots. The vibe and location could make it a fan favorite for the locals. Il Poggiolo is located at 8 East First Street in the historic Harold R Zook building. Log onto for more information. Check out Fete Select TV for more reviews on the newest and best restaurants in Chicago.

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Restaurant Rules...DietBytes by Sandy

It's fun to dine out. Whether we are alone or joined with others, the experience of having a meal prepared for us is enjoyable and comforting. But, if you are on a diet or just trying to maintain your weight, the anxiety of knowing what to order could overshadow the delight of dining out. 

It's true, I have told clients in the past that dining out is disastrous. However, I've changed my opinion on restaurant eating and put together some rules that apply for anyone watching their weight or just trying to make healthier choices.
While most of these rules seem like common sense to me, I realize that they may be novel to some, and easy to forget for most!

1. Starve not: Don't deprive yourself all day just to show up at the restaurant feeling famished. You'll set yourself up to overeat whatever is in sight...which is usually the bread basket. Eat a small snack like a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit so that you can hear your conversation-instead of the rumbling of your stomach. 

2. Break the rules: You don't have to order from the list of main entrees if something else on the menu looks good. Appetizers and side dishes are usually smaller and are not off-limits as your main dish. If an appetizer or side is calling out your name, order it and ask that it comes out with everyone else's meals. 

3. Splitting is fitting: I love to share! Let's be honest, most portions at restaurants are large enough for 3 or 4 people. Sharing is a way to experience and enjoy your food with someone else. A standard portion of meat is 3-4 ounces and the average piece of meat at a restaurant is 8-10 ounces. A standard portion of pasta is 1/2 cup and the average restaurant serving is usually 4-6 times bigger. If you hate to share, then take the extras home. You get more bang for your buck if you save your food for another meal!

4. Beware of cream: Need I say more? Stay away from creamy sauces, soups, dips, salad dressings, and toppings (including mayonnaise). Try salsa or hot sauce on top of a baked potato or with your eggs. Also, consider mustard since it has no fat, very little calories, and can go a long way as a condiment. 

5. Preparation is key: You may think you are being healthy by replacing french fries with vegetables. However, if the veggies are soaked in oil or butter, you are losing out. Ask how your food is prepared and request that it is made without oil and butter. Stick to steamed or grilled foods and beware of the words "fried" or "battered."

6. Lose the liquor: I wish booze was calorie-free, but unfortunately it is not.  Some drinks, like margaritas can be over 500 calories! When it comes to cocktails, have a mixed drink with calorie-free soda water or a glass of wine for 100-120 calories each. Don't forget that drinking alcohol can actually lower your blood sugar, which in turn makes you hungrier. It also lessens your restraint and ability to make healthy choices! 

These tips will prepare you to make better decisions while eating out. For detailed nutrition information on over 500 restaurants, check out
Enjoy your food, eat smart, and live well.

Healthy eating,
Sandy Sfikas, RD, LDN

Blogger DC Crenshaw said...
Great tips Sandy! True on so many levels. Thanks!
September 1, 2009 5:53 PM  

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