Chicago Living ... Kristine's Picks

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Couldn't resist stopping by the Christkindlemarket. The largest most renowned German winter holiday market in the United States is here in Chicago ! Open from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, there's plenty to eat and drink, ornaments and gift ideas, perfect for the holiday season.

Kicking off the opening, of course, is Chicago's annual Christmas Tree Lighting at The Daley Center, now on it's 96th year. So exciting, The Chicago Children's Choir, Santa Clause and even Keri Russell couldn't stay away !

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To Market with Mo: Single. Plain looks, but intense.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No, not me. I'm talking about the humble onion, whose name derives from the Latin word for single, unio, which also means the union of many layers. Can't be a clearer description for the appearance of this plain-looking, solo bulb. And to clarify, I am talking the dry globe (or round, or bulb) onion, not your scallion or shallot, we can chat about them later....

With all the cooking going on in kitchens all over the States this week, I can't think of a more indispensable ingredient. Come to think of it, at any other day or time of the year, and in kitchens all over the globe, not just the US, are using onions. Seriously, what can't these allium cepas do? Let's just take the Thanksgiving menu. Onions take a solo turn as a creamed side, or pickled for snacking, or in someone's game time Bloody Mary or pre-dinner martini, and then assisting in pretty much every dish (okay, not the pumpkin pie): the stuffing, gravy, cranberry chutney or relish, sauteed in greens, potatoes and other veg, and of course as a topping for that infamous green bean casserole.

Oh, how many sauces, soups, stews and sautes have depended on the onion to add either a sharp pungent bite, or spicy sweet layer or flavor? I mean, what would a bowl of homemade chicken soup be without onions? I'm thinking not so flavorful, and with all the phytonutrients, vitamins and anti-inflammatory properties, not such a great remedy for the common cold. That darn chicken gets all the credit, I actually think it is the onion that gives this soup it's medicinal pow. Then again, I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I'm just a gal who has had a lot of chicken soup when fighting colds and flu. But I digress...

Look for firm onions with dry outer layers of parchment-like skins that protect the inner pungent layers. And store your onions in a cool dark place, not the fridge. Well, let me take that back a little. You want to try and avoid any tears while cutting up the onion? Place your onion in the fridge for about an hour before you intend to cut into it, and you will stifle the allicin which the nasty bugger that brings on the tears. And if chilling thing does not work? Go right for the scuba mask.

Now need a quick and easy way to bring a bit more flavor to your Thanksgiving feast without having to do anymore shopping? Caramelize some onions. Need another appetizer? Caramelized onions as a crostini topper. Sick of that 'green bean casserole'? Go for fresh beans sauteed, and then topped with the caramelized onions. Want something other than cranberry sauce to moisten up that late nite turkey sandwich? Caramelized onions. And so sick of turkey by the end of the weekend and craving a juicy burger or grilled cheese? Slather on some, yep, you guessed it, caramelized onions.

Caramelized Onions
2 lbs onions (go ahead mix 'em up, Vidalia, Troppea, Spanish, Bermuda), sliced thin
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
salt & pepper to taste

In a skillet over low heat, heat oil and butter. Add the onions and cook low and slow, for about 45-60 minutes. Stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper while cooking. Want to change it up a bit? Add about 2 tablespoons of either balsamic or red wine vinegar or some red wine and a bit of thyme while cooking, preferably added just after the onions have softened and gone translucent. The onions are done when they are nicely brown and caramely (please accept my made-up word).

Have a safe and delicious Thanksgiving!

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"About Last Night..." Gia Finds Lucky 15

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Family of Francesca's Restaurants welcomes it's 15th trattoria, Francesca Forno to the city of Chicago. I took it upon myself to greet this restaurant with my own personal welcome whilst strolling along Wicker Park's chic boutique neighborhood. It was a cool and sunny Sunday (before we were plagued with grey skies that spit rain, and temperatures that make your body cringe). I have no exciting purchases to report, though I did find an "infinity scarf" at American Apparel, and a crazy little modern read called "Butts"...but now I've completely digressed.
Ok so, Francesca's Forno is all about small plate dining to encourage sampling and sharing the zesty Northern Italian cuisine. Well honey, I don't share, so this Sunday brunch was all about me. But nothing says brunch (or Sunday post very long Saturday night) like a well done Bloody Mary
Served traditional style (which I recently learned) with a small shot of beer. Ummm, no, not for me, but the Bloody Mary was like a spicy salad of goodness over a rich tomato treat, surrounded by celery salt for the perfect before and after taste. YUM. My date dumped the beer in there when the tank was almost on empty, but whilst in recovery mode, that does not scream appetizing to me.
So this place is a must for brunch, or any other meal that brings you to Wicker Park. It was packed with a blend of couples, families, and what may have been a few "firsts" if you know what I mean. All the menu items had an Italian flair. Italian sausage, pancetta, and prosciutto were the common themes and everything was served with the freshest ingredients. I chose the Chef's special Fritatta Del' Giorno which had spinach, mozzarella and fresh tomatoes. The potatoes were almost french fry crunchy and were heavenly seasoned. And though I realize that when I say the toast was delicious, you might be thinking "'s just toast", but the bread was thicker sliced and had a crazy good density to it that welcomed the trough of butter I slathered all over it.
There is of course a full dinner menu, and carry out as well so I recommend this to be a most perfect place to grab lunch, brunch or whatever mood strikes you.
Lucky 15 indeed - and lucky me, I got the buy one get one over-the-knee stockings at American Apparel!

In the photo: Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess
Francesa's Forno is located at 1576 North Milwaukee Ave. 773.770.0188


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Turkey Tips!..."DietBytes by Sandy"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thanksgiving is a day to come together and be grateful for life's blessings. While food is a part of all holidays, it's the PRIMARY focus of "Turkey day." The upcoming feast day is also the launch to the holiday season. This means plenty of cookies floating around the office, tins of popcorn arriving in the mail, and holiday parties flowing with eggnog and cocktails. With so many treats and temptations lingering, you may end up turning into a stuffed turkey by New Year's! Instead, follow my tips and start the season off right!

Pre-meal pointers
Snack lightly and sip cautiously. When it comes to dips, if they're creamy and oily, you'd best beware! These rich dips are loaded with fat and sodium, plus they'll fill you up before the main event! Instead, nibble on  hummus and veggies or baked chips and salsa. Go easy on the booze, as well. Over-doing the alcohol will stimulate your appetite, which is extra-risky when faced with so many food choices. Dilute white wine with seltzer water or sip on hot apple-cinnamon tea. 

Mealtime commandments: 
Try the "plate method." Divide your plate into 4 quadrants. Fill 2 quadrants with vegetables (and/or fruit). Fill the 3rd quadrant with a starch, like mashed potatoes, pasta, or rice. Fill the final quadrant with turkey (or other protein-rich food). This will give you a balanced meal without going overboard on one thing!

Don't make a casserole catastrophe! Casseroles are often made with cream of mushroom soup, tons of butter, milk, mayonnaise, and sour cream. All these ingredients often overshadow the vegetable that may be hidden inside (green beans, artichokes, spinach, etc). A small portion of broccoli casserole, for example, can have 400 calories and 100 milligrams of cholesterol, which is about half of the recommended daily amount! 

Undress the bird. Before gobbling your turkey, take off the skin. That's where the bird hides all of its saturated fat and cholesterol. Secondly, go easy on the gravy. Gravy is made from the high-fat greasy drippings of the turkey. That can't be healthy, right? 
Is light meat always the right meat? If you ask me, dark turkey meat gets a bad rap. It actually has only about 30 calories more than light meat. While it has a slightly higher fat content, it also has more iron, zinc, riboflavin, and thiamin. If you can't decide which type of meat you prefer, try a little of both. 

Sweet endings
My advise on dessert is simple--pick one thing and enjoy it! Dessert is not a second meal, it's the finishing touch. When it comes to pies, the best option is pumpkin! Canned pumpkin pie filling is low-calorie and has nutrients like vitamin A and fiber! Avoid pies with candied nuts and sugary "fruit" fillings. They'll send you into a sugar coma that could beat any turkey trance!

Speaking of a "turkey trance"...Did you know that there isn't even that much tryptophan (the amino acid in turkey that's rumored to put us to sleep) in turkey? As a matter of fact, there's actually more tryptophan in cheese and chicken breast! In order to avoid a post-meal vegetative state, control your portions and don't plop on the couch when you're done. Help clear plates or play with the kids and use all that food for energy!

Healthy eating and happy Thanksgiving,
Sandy Sfikas, RD, LDN


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To Market with Mo: a morning glory...sort of

I love sweet potatoes any time of the year, but being mid-November and all, seems like it is the most appropriate time to talk about this nutrient-packed, sweet tuber.

First off, let's set the record straight: a sweet potato is not, I repeat not, a yam. This is a total misnomer. Sweet potato: native of South America and related to the morning glory. Yam: native of Africa and related to the lily. Seems the whole 'yam' calling got started early on in the States, most likely by slaves who were reminded of the true yams that they consumed as a staple back in Africa. Even those cans of 'yams'? Yeah, sweet potato.

Now onto the second thing that has bugged me about this starchy root veg. With a pretty descriptive adjective as the first part of your name, why on earth have generations consumed their traditional Thanksgiving sweet potatoes laden with brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey, and of all things, marshmallows? I mean, whose idea was that?!? Great for dessert but as a savory side? Hum. And why, with a first name like 'sweet' did anyone not think, "Wouldn't this tuber be able to stand alone without all the added sugars?" Oh and let's not forget the globs of butter. Cook a 'soft' sweet potato and it is not only sugary sweet, but wonderfully moist as well, really no need for the butter. Just give me an unadorned baked sweet potato and I convince myself that I am having dessert and dinner all rolled into one. Woohoo! Okay, you know I still had to have the piece of dark chocolate post-potato, but that is a another story for another day...

Back to 'soft' sweet potato. Seeing two varieties at the markets: 'soft', which are the orange-fleshed root veg we are most familiar with, and 'firm' which are typically white or yellow-fleshed and remain fairly firm after cooking, but still oh so delectably sweet. I actually prefer the 'firm' sweets when roasting as they hold up better when wanting to achieve that dark, crispy crust.

Both 'soft' and 'firm' versions, of this complex-carb, are nutrient-rich powerhouses, jam-packed with fiber, vitamins C, B6 and A (in the form of beta-carotene). Another plus? Sweet potatoes help stabilize blood sugar and lower insulin resistance. And calories? At approximately 11o calories for a medium sweet spud, this is one serving of 'candy' that one does not have to feel guilty about eating.

At the market look for firm, smooth-skinned tubers, free of any bruises or cracks. Get them home and store in a cool, dark, ventilated place, and NOT the fridge. Okay, once cooked you can store them in the fridge for up to a week. Besides the 'traditional' Thanksgiving side, sweet potatoes play both sides of the sweet and savory fence scrumptiously: baked, roasted, boiled, fried (chips or fries anyone?), or mashed, and as latkes, pie, biscuits, puddings, and brownies (oh trust me on this one). Now, looking for something a bit less traditional to add to your Thanksgiving menu? How about a sweet potato hummus with veggies and pita chips, to tied everyone over until the big feast?

Sweet Potato Hummus
1 lb sweet potato, cooked (baked or boiled)
1 15 oz can of chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh and not that bottled 'excuse for')
1/4 cup tahini
2 T olive oil
2 t cumin
2 cloves garlic
1/4 t chili pepper (ground)
dash of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients, except the olive oil, into a food processor. Begin to process. Slowly stream olive oil in while food processor is running. Continue to process until smooth. Add additional salt and pepper, to taste, if needed.
Serve with crudite and pita chips...not marshmallows.

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Blogger SandyRD said...
What a great idea for a recipe! I can't wait to try it!!!
November 19, 2009 1:11 PM  

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"About Last Night..." The Chef Smelt of Barbecue...So I Bit Him

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Was that wrong? Did I commit a social crime? Well the Chef at Coopers on Belmont should really stay in the kitchen then because it wasn't my fault. When he came over to greet us he was like a walking piece of brisket and proud of it! After all, the Twilight sequel is coming out and I had to get my game face on. But seriously, Coopers is one of those places that has that warm, toasty feeling like it's Christmas all year round. They have sparkly lights swirling around the bar so you just feel like celebrating, and so we did. Vodka on the rocks with a few limes was my choice, but not before I scoured the pages, and pages, and pages of beer. Wheat, Cider, Lager, Pilsner, Ales, you name it. But once again, some nights you have to stick with what works.
All this pre-Christmas celebrating and vampiring sure left me feeling hungry enough to make my way through the left side of the menu. At this point, fellas, I don't really care. I mean, how can you claim to write about food and not realllllly enjoy it?
We started with Con fit Duck Mac & Cheese. I dare Mom to try to make this comfort food taste this amazing. The duck flavor made it creamy and rich and was served bubbling over a little trough, just for me. It's funny how quickly you find your fork clanking around the bottom of the bowl searching for every last morsel when it's THAT good. Served alongside, but certainly not in second place was the Truffle Mushroom Pizza. The crust was buttery and salty with hints of garlic. The whole pie was soft and crispy at the same time, it was like a little halo of YUM. After three days in a row of Bikram Yoga I can't lie to you, I brought my appetite out that night. It was the kinda night where you bat your eyelashes at your date, smile shyly and say "Umm...are you gonna finish that?".
The grand finale of foods here was, NO, not the Chef's neck, but the barbecue goodness that was smoked by the barbecue God's and sent here to Coopers for my eating pleasure. This meat didn't need sauce, a fork, or even my fingers to eat as it slowly levitated from the plate into my mouth as if it needed a soft place to land.
This place was so much fun I MUST go back, and I hardly return to the scene of my dating/eating crimes. Ask for Jimmy, he's the Ray Liotta look alike behind the bar, tell him Gia sent you and you'll get Rock Star service!
Ahhhhh, I'm spent. Good times at Coopers...Goooooood Tiiiiimmmmes.

Oh, crazy and fun place to enjoy your date, or find another, if that's your thang...lotsa cool people!

Coopers is located at 1232 W. Belmont

In this photo: Jimmy Stella, Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess
Photo below: Jeff Stella and yours truly


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Football Fare..."DietBytes by Sandy"

Fall is football season and "Sunday-Funday" means enjoying the games, unwinding, and having fun. Unfortunately, it can also mean fat-filled snacks, shockingly salty meals, and enough beer to drown a fraternity house. Let me provide healthy game day ideas so that Sunday afternoon brings you more fun...than fat!
First consider these rules to avoid making a food fumble: 
#1. Eat from a plate instead of constantly grazing. When we "nosh" all day, crucial signals that indicate fullness never reach our brain. Make a plate and try to sit down while eating.
#2. Stay hydrated. Salty snacks leave us reaching for beverages! Then, beer can lower our inhibitions and our blood sugar, leaving us reaching for...more salty snacks! Also, thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so keep some water on hand at all times.
#3. Fill up on protein: Avoid loading your plate with chips, nuts, pretzels, and pizza, and consider filling up on lean protein like chicken and turkey burgers. You'll stay full and satisfied which will make you less tempted to graze. 

Try these manly makeovers to impress your friends and family.

Chips and dip: Instead of buying a packaged dip, make your own dip by combining any dry dip mix with 1/2 cup nonfat greek yogurt or non-fat sour cream, 1/4 cup chopped green onion, 1/4 cup nonfat mayonnaise, and 1/4 cup chopped ripe olives. Mix and refrigerate before serving. Top with fresh chives or parsley and you have a guilt-free dip for the group. Serve with raw vegetables instead of chips and save up to 400 you get extra fiber and vitamins! 

Nachos: As an alternative to salty and greasy chips topped with salty and greasy cheese--dress up baked nacho chips with melted Laughing Cow Cheese wedges and chunky salsa. Throw in some black beans for fiber or black olives for healthy fat and voila! one will know that it's low-fat!

Sub sandwiches aren't always a bad idea, but when they're swimming in mayonnaise and topped with layers of meat and cheese, they turn into a colossal mistake!  Make over your party sandwiches by using low-fat cheese and lower fat meats like turkey and prosciutto. Save at least 100 calories by kicking out the mayo and making room for mustard, which is almost calorie-free. Always grab whole grain bread since the extra fiber makes it more hearty than any other type! It sounds macho, right?

What is a party without chicken? But, instead of "winging it," try a skewer! Swap out the high-fat chicken wings (that don't even have that much meat) with boneless skinless chicken. Marinade it in some teriyaki or soy sauce and you are in business! Instead of creamy dipping sauce, keep some hot sauce nearby. The extra "kick" makes it football-friendly!

Budget the beer: Wouldn't it be nice if beer was calorie-free? Wake up, it's not! So, spend your calories wisely and drink moderately. If you want a few beers, skip the sweets or extra plate of nachos. Or, have a bloody mary instead. It has the same (or less in some cases) amount of calories but a slightly higher alcohol content, plus cancer-fighting lycopene from the tomato juice. 

Enjoy yourself and stay healthy during football season and all year round.

Healthy eating,
Sandy N. Sfikas, RD, LDN


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"About Last Night..." Who's the Blonde?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Blonde Woman"? Ummmm no. Cafe Bionda might be about a Blonde Woman, but this brunette really kicked it up this past Saturday in this amazing South Loop house of YUM! Romantic, sexy and a little secluded, Cafe Bionda just may be some of the best Italian food I have ever eaten. So many places boast "authentic" flavors from the Old Country, but there is some real magic in the Marinara sauce, to the extent that I wanted to take a gallon home and serve it over everrrrrrything. This place can be casual and intimate, or dressy and formal. Soft lighting, candles, mirrors, beautiful art and walls and walls of wine make it one of THE most perfect date nights. The menu was loaded with wonderful choices but I was compelled to try the house favorites to really get a feel for what this place had to offer. Starting with warm bread and marinara sauce whilst casually sipping my LeMiccine Chianti Classico, followed by the grilled calamari. The grilled flavor had a lemony vinaigrette taste that was smoky and tangy - delicious. I also sampled a house Bloody Mary from Trish, my new best friend behind the bar, and it was a very powerful combination of Clamato, lime juice, horseradish, and a few other secret flavors I'd tell you, but then she'd probably hunt me down, so no go - just ask for me.
We couldn't pass up the traditional spaghetti with famous meatballs and the chicken Parmesan, as these are what people keep rushing back for. I have to admit, the meatballs were the size of softballs and sprinkled with fresh basil, and I think I mentioned the sauce - a slurping frenzy really. The Chicken Parm covered the entire plate and was lightly breaded and covered with bubbly cheese and again....the sauce. I also recommend the thin crispy pizzas and the variety of fish dishes - all outstanding and genuinely "authentic". I can say that because I'm half Italian - or maybe one quarter...but it's all good...this girl knows a good sauce when she tastes one.

I can honestly say that with the impeccable service we received from Trish, the delightfully romantic ambiance, and the outstanding food, this is a place I just might make a regular stop - date or not.
Go this weekend - I insist. Grab a bottle of red, look your date in the eyes and profess your love over a flickering candle.

Oh...and you might see me there, sitting in the corner secretly slurping sauce right out of the bowl, licking my fingers like a two year old.


In this photo: Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess

Cafe Bionda is located t 1924 S. State St. 312.326.9800


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To Market with Mo: tap that root

I cannot believe I have not hailed the nutritious and delicious carrot until now. After all, it is one of the first veg I see at the Farmer's markets in the Spring, in a tiny and tender form just crying to be paired with mint. Then throughout the summer, hinting to be transformed not by cooking but simply shredded into a salad, or added to a crudite platter. And now in the Fall, one of the last veg to find, and so wanting to be part of a mirepoix to start a favorite soup or stew, or as a quick saute with a favorite partner: maple syrup.

Packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, especially beta-carotene and vitamin A. Now, vitamin A and beta-carotene are both great for eyesight, but how good might have been a wee bit exaggerated thanks to some WWII RAF gunners who claimed their nighttime marksmanship skills were due to copious carrot consumption and not new technology (aka radar). Hey, that's one way to fool the enemy. But if it led to more British children (who I am sure recall, "Dr. Carrot, the children's best friend" wartime slogan) and Germans eating more carrots, well, it sure beats the 'Flaming Hot Cheeto' orange food option, right?

And in a flu and cold season that has everyone coughing, I am thinking more doctors should be prescribing this flavorful root veg. Yeah, not only good for the eyes, but fantastic for the lungs, especially those that are inflamed.

I have not quite seen all of the over 100 varieties available, but trust me, you will find more than the standard orange and faux baby carrot (Yeah, you read me right, faux. Grocery store 'baby' carrots are actually mature carrots chiseled down to the uniform 2" 'baby') you find at the supermarket. Beautiful orange, red, purple, yellow, white carrots, and all with their own unique fragrant sweetness, can be found at the Farmer's markets.

Look for smooth, firm carrots with vibrant color. Avoid those that are limp, rubbery, cracked, or have wilted tops. Store, this cousin of the parsley, in a plastic bag or wrapped in paper towel, in the coolest part of the fridge, where they can keep for up to two weeks. Oh, and store away from apples, potatoes, or pears elst you can wind up with rather bitter tasting carrots.

Here is a simple and seasonal way to enjoy carrots now and in a few weeks, as a Thanksgiving side...

Maple Glazed Carrots
1 1/2 lb carrots, scrubbed clean and cut into 3 " long strips (or 1/4" coins if you prefer)
1/2 cup water
3 T butter
2 T maple syrup (try Burton's Maplewood Farm, found at Green City Market, yum)
1 T brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, over medium high heat, bring all ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer for approximately 8 minutes.
Uncover skillet and continue to cook until all liquid is reduced to a glaze consistency, about 5 minutes).
Season with salt and pepper to taste.

FYI - to all you last minute shoppers, Green City Market will be open Wed., Nov. 25th, the day before Thanksgiving. Can't get fresher than that!
Speaking of Thanksgiving, I would love to hear about your favorite Thanksgiving side dishes. Send me your recipies to

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Drinks in Disguise..."DietBytes by Sandy"

Monday, November 9, 2009

Last week I explained the calorie consequences of mindlessly drinking throughout the day. This week is about the deliberate consumption of drinks disguised as healthy. These include, electrolyte replacements like Gatorade, "healthy" drinks like Vitamin Water, and energy drinks like Red Bull. Whether you're drinking these to fuel your workouts, or because they seem like a better alternative to soda or coffee, it's time to reconsider.

Electrolyte Replacement Drinks: They sound so healthy since they've been fueling athletes for decades. But just what do they do? These drinks replace electrolytes (such as sodium, chlorine, calcium, potassium, calcium, potassium, phosphate, and magnesium) that are lost from excessive sweating (and from vomiting, diarrhea, or other medical problems). Maintaining the right balance of electrolytes is essential in regulating your body's muscle actions and other functions. However, there is no need for electrolyte replacement drinks unless you are exercising for 1.5 hours or more (due to the loss of sweat), or unless you sweat very heavily. 
In addition to electrolytes, an 8-ounce serving of Gatorade has 14 grams (31/2 teaspoons) of sugar and 50 calories. While it's less than in juice or soda, it defeats the purpose of exercising to burn calories if you're replacing those calories from a sports drink, right?
Final thought: Unless you are exercising strenuously enough to sweat buckets, skip the Gatorade and stick with water.

Vitamin Water is made of distilled water, vitamins, herbs and flavoring. It sounds perfectly harmless, but there's more to the story. There are 2 groups of vitamins: Fat soluble (Vitamin A, D, E, K) and water soluble (Vitamin B & C). Since there's no fat in Vitamin Water, you won't absorb any of the fat soluble vitamins. So, these vitamins completely go to waste! Also, consider that the drink could be providing too much of a good thing. Excessive amounts of water soluble vitamins can impair the absorption of other nutrients in the body. So, if you're taking a vitamin supplement on top of consuming Vitamin Water, you could be experiencing vitamin overload! 
And what about the claims on the bottle that it will "energize" and "rescue" you? The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) sued the creators of Vitamin Water (Coca-Cola) for making false health claims. CSPI disagrees with the claims that Vitamin Water can reduce the risk of chronic disease and eye disease, as well as promote healthy joints and support the immune system. According to CSPI, the amount of sugar and calories in the drinks actually promotes obesity and diabetes. There's often as much as 32 grams of sugar added to these drinks to disguise the "vitamin" taste! 
Final thought: Since your body processes vitamins from food better than from supplements like Vitamin Water, eat your fruits and veggies and ditch the drink. 

Energy drinks: Thanks to certain celebrities, (I won't name names!) energy drinks make people look just as crazy as they feel after drinking them. And for good reason! The most potent energy drinks have as much caffeine as in 2 cups of coffee. If you aren't a regular coffee drinker, this much caffeine can cause increases in blood pressure, not to mention jitters, dizziness, and sleeplessness. Unless the drink is sugar-free, it can have as much sugar as in a 20-ounce soda and as many calories as in a donut!
One study actually found that consuming an energy drink with 80mg of caffeine and 27 grams of sugar (about the amount in a can of red bull) inhibited people's ability to burn fat. This should make you think twice before chugging an energy drink before the gym...
You're not alone if you're wondering about the common energy drink ingredient, "taurine,"which claims to improve cognitive function. Taurine is an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Some researchers believe that since taurine can't actually pass through the brain membrane, it might act more like a depressant rather than a stimulant. In small doses it's harmless, but there just aren't enough studies on taurine to fully understand its effects. 
Final thought: If you need some caffeine to get through the day, stick to plain coffee or tea, which has no sugar and less chemicals. 

If you find yourself grabbing these quick-fixes to find energy, it's time to address the reasons why you need them. Try getting more sleep, eating more fruits and vegetables, and drinking more water. You may find that water invigorates you even more that these alleged health drinks!

Healthy eating,
Sandy N. Sfikas, RD, LDN


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To Market with Mo: lil' green sprout

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Shake your heads in disbelief but I have always loved Brussels sprouts. Yes, even as a kid, I was a fan of the mini cabbages, guess I was first taken in by their 'cute' factor. I mean, how can you not love a veg in miniature form? And yes, Brussels sprouts are basically a many-headed common cabbage. So why not call the veg Hydra Sprouts? Since it is not a native of Greece but most likely Belgium I suppose, but I digress.

Now for those of you who detest this harmless cruciferous veg, I am guessing you had a bad, bad experience with an over-cooked dish of sprouts. Not hard to believe since some of us grew up when mothers and grandmothers were still cooking the heck out vegetables. Gratefully, I did not have that experience. I imagine that my first bite of sprouts were fresh not frozen, perfectly cooked, and were actually quite sweet and pleasing. Come on, why else would I have stuck with them? And it wasn't until adulthood that I really got a taste of how sweet they could be when I finally tried roasting them. Seriously, yum.

Now for those that want to give Brussels sprouts another go, may I suggest pairing them with one of their favorite partners: Bacon. What is not to love about bacon? And bacon is something I did not like as a kid, clearly that has changed. Vegetarian or not a fan of the bacon? Brussels sprouts also like to hang out with chestnuts (thank the Belgians for this, and they too are popping up at the Farmers Markets), lemon or cream, just to name a few. And lately it's become rather popular to shred the little cabbages. Blanching them slightly, shredding, and turing into a favorite Fall and Winter salad. And if all this isn't reason enough, then perhaps their being absolutely vitamin, antioxidant, and fiber packed, can at least guilt you into trying them again? For your health and all...I'm just saying...

Back to the 'overcooking' thing for a moment. How to avoid overcooking and turning your sprouts into a sulfurous mess? If boiling or steaming do so for no more than 6-7 minutes. Braising or sauteing a bit more forgiving at about 10-12 minutes. And roasting? You can let them go for about 35-40 minutes at 400 degrees.

Look for small, tightly closed, firm, bright green sprouts, either on the stalk or off. Avoid any with yellowing or wilted leaves, or any that seem too soft and puffy. Store your sprouts, unwashed and untrimmed, in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to a week.

Now my absolute favorite way to eat Brussels sprouts is the simplest preparation -- wash and trim your sprouts (cut in half if on the larger side), toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 400 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. But since you are going to begin to think that is all I do with Fall vegetables, here is a salad starring the leafy green buds.

Brussels Sprout Salad
1 lb Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed and cooked (boil or steam whole)
2 strips bacon, diced and cooked until crispy
1/4 cup toasted pecans (or walnuts if you prefer)
1/4 cup sliced red onion (want more? go for it, don't let me stop you)
1 1/2 oz. crumbled blue, goat or feta cheese
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste.

Toss the first five ingredients together. Drizzle on some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Toss again. How easy was that?

p.s. reminder, last outdoor market is this Saturday in Evanston. Green City and the Logan Square Markets have moved indoors. The French Market in the Olglivie Center is slated to open the week of November 16th. Do you know of any other indoor markets this Fall and Winter? Send me an email at so that I can share to scoop.

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"About Last Night..." Somebody Call 911.....

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Shorty fire burnin on the dancefloor...Whoa - oa". OR you could have just eaten the Devil's basket at Sunda. I promised DC I wasn't going to blog about Sunda,'s on the home page of the website.'s become apparent to me that there are still a few Chicagoans who have NOT tried perhaps THE coolest place to eat right now. Therefore, if you are one of those people, you should be cuffed (as in fur cuffs in pic), arrested, and have the right to remain silent, or at least read my blog.
Sunda is so off the charts cool, electric and amazing that you should probably call now and get a reservation STAT. Am I being bossy? This is warranted. Men, if you haven't taken your favorite lady there, I'm personally pulling your man card. That's right, hand it over.
Located on Illinois, about one block from the Chicago Firehouse (in case you decide to eat one of the dried chilis in the Devil's basket...not that I would know or anything).
Beautiful people mingle, exotic drinks are passed, and it's the place to have the perfect, romantic or otherwise meal and not overeat, again, not that I would know. I spoke to Chef Rodelio to make sure we ordered some of his favorite choices so get your pencils out because these were his recommendations. Oxtail Pot stickers, lightly flavored meat, tiny enough to pop in your mouth and enjoy the rich flavors. Buddha's crispy rice (featured on the cover of Chicago Fall 2009 Dining Out Magazine). These little bites are absolutely incredible, with Kobe Beef Tartare, Spicy Tuna or Shrimp - I could have ordered all three. Other "must haves" would be the Devil's Basket, which is Wok tossed Soft Shell Crab sitting in what looks like a thousand dried chilis. This dish was voted one of the best dishes in Chicago and the soft shell crab was the soft, spicy, juicy and it just melted in my mouth. Given my penchant toward Sashimi I am pretty sure we ordered the entire right side of the menu starting with the Atlantic Salmon Bundles, the Yellowtail Jalapeno and a variety of Sashimi (show in picture).
Whew....I'm spent.

If you call now you can probably get in for Saturday. They have a variety of private seating, communal tables in the middle, and of course the Sushi bar.

Oh, and I think I'm free Saturday so if you need help navigating the menu, you know how to reach me. Search Gia Claire on Facebook!

I've been there twice. I'm serious about the arrest...I got my eye on you! HAVE FUN...Life is short.

In photo: Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess (Fur Cuffs from OOTRA - check them out at - where all your fashion wishes are granted)

Sunda is located at 110 W. Illinois 312.644.0500


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Beverage Blunders...DietBytes by Sandy

Are you drinking yourself fat?
Some people continue to drink (and drink and drink and drink) beverages like sugary coffee concoctions, soda, and juice and wonder why they can't get the weight off. 

The fact is-- beverages do not affect our fullness the way that food does. However, some drinks can pack on as many or more calories than a meal! Recent studies show that limiting your calories from beverages can have a more significant impact on weight loss than cutting calories from food. If you're a mindless gulper, you may be sabotaging your diet, without even having to chew! 
But don't worry, you're not sentenced to a lifetime of only drinking boring old water. I'll help to uncover some common beverage blunders and offer healthier alternatives so that you can sip healthfully throughout the day.

Morning: Ahhh coffee. My beloved java sometimes gets a bad wrap, and it's easy to see why. But, a cup of black coffee (instant or brewed) has only about 5-8 calories per 12 ounces. It's time to consider the cream. How bad can it be? One tablespoon is about 50 calories. Since absolutely no one carries around a tablespoon, it's easy to see that things can get dangerous. If you happen to pour in 1/4 cup, that's 200 calories, just for cream!  Better choices are fat-free half-and-half for 20 calories per tablespoon and skim milk for only 5 calories. More importantly-- don't blindly pour! Keep in mind that the half-and-half packets (that look like buckets) in restaurants are around 40 calories and the packets (that look like sugar) are about 10. Aside from cream, the other troublemaker is syrup.  One "pump" of syrup (with sugar) has about 20 calories. Usually, there are 3 pumps in a 12 oz (tall) cup of coffee, 4 pumps in a 16 oz (grande) and 5 in a 20 oz (venti) drink. If you must pump, choose a sugar free syrup -- they are calorie- and carbohydrate-free!

Soda: With all the different diet sodas out there (diet coke, coke zero, diet coke plus, diet coke with splenda), it's actually not surprising that some people just prefer the original. They say that they don't want all the "chemicals" of diet soda. Hmmm, do these ingredients(of Coca-Cola Classic) sound natural to you? High fructose corn syrup, caramel color, and phosphoric acid. I didn't think so. The bottom line is that soda does nothing beneficial for your body. And more likely than not, it's replacing healthier beverages like water and milk. My advise is to go for seltzer (or carbonated) water with a squirt of lemon or lime--it's simple, natural and chemical-free! 

Juice: Did you know that a glass of juice has more calories than a glass of 1% milk? While juice may contain some vitamins, milk has more nutrients like protein, calcium, potassium, and vitamin D! Juice, on the other hand, is mostly sugar and water. While orange juice is your best bet, you are still better off eating an actual orange to get more fiber for less calories. And plus, new studies show that that the acid content in OJ is damaging to the teeth. Grab a glass of milk instead, which has the calcium (plus protein) to actually strengthen your pearly whites!

By being more mindful of what you drink, you will not only improve your health, but you could also shed a few pounds, and feel better too!

Healthy drinking!
Sandy Sfikas, RD, LDN


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"Chicago Living" with Kristine Farra

Monday, November 2, 2009

As we say good-bye to Farmer's Markets and warm weather, we welcome a jamm-packed season of reconnecting with friends, family, Holiday parties, and endless options for entertainment ! One of the many reasons I love Chicago ! Here are a few of my picks for November :

Nostalgic for Halloween already ? We'll be screaming our way straight to the Cadillac Theatre to see Young Frankenstein starting November 3rd.
SOFA Chicago ? Sculpture Objects and Functional Art Fair ( not as in couch potatoe which I may well be after all the Holiday celebrations :-) return to Navy Pier November 5th-8th.

My all-time favorite event to kick-off the Holiday Season, of course, is the Magnificent Mile 18th Annual Festival of Lights ! Saturday, November 21st, Mickey Mouse leads the illumination of more than one million lights on The Magnificent Mile to officially start the nation's Holiday Season ! We're going early to check out performances by Mitchell Musso ( ask your kids ) and Plain White Ts ( those I've heard of ) as well as special events through out the day ! Note the new procession time of : 5:30p-7p.

And here's something new I don't plan to miss ! In the true spirit of the Holiday Season, November 22nd marks the start of the 1st annual The Extra Mile : Acts of Kindness. The Shops at 900 N Michigan Avenue ( ) will be offering donations for Chicago Lights Tutoring. Little Brown Bear Supports the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. With each purchase of a Little Brown Bear, Bloomindales will donate $5 to We have the entire cute, cuddly collection ! "Sweet Acts of Kindess" Cookie Drive will help area families enjoy their own sweet dreams. Doubletree ( ) Signature Chocolate Chip Cookies are $2 and proceeds benefit The Windy City Habitat for Humanity. For complete event detail, please visit :

Enjoying the Thanksgiving Holiday in the city ? Many of the the major hotels on the Avenue : The Drake, The Four Seasons Hotel, Trump International Hotel and Tower and many more ... offer multiple seating times for Thanksgiving Dinner.
I'm personally going the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner at home with a twist ! No fuss. No mess. A custom holiday dinner package from Chef Frank Brunacci ( ) is quite tempting or perhaps Food For Thought ( ). Best yet ? From state-of-the-art Chef's kitchen direct to my table, with zero-stress and elegant style ! This holiday season, it's all about having plenty of options !



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