Chicago Living ... Kristine's Picks

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Once In A Blue Moon !

Do you ever wonder where the phrase : " Once in blue moon " comes from ?  Well, you are about to witness it, as this New Year's Eve will mark not only the last blog of the year, but also the beginning of a New Year, the beginning of a new decade, a full moon, a lunar eclipse and the ever-so-rare Blue Moon. When there are 2 moons in one month, the second is called a blue moon. With the next blue moon occurring August 2012, enjoy this quintuple-occassion to celebrate knowing you have experienced somehing truly rare. 

Best wishes for a New Year filled with health, happiness and prosperity ( it certainly looks like our decade is off to a great start :-)) !! See you next year !



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"About Last Night..." Cover me...I'm going in!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Once home to "speakeasies" and other prohibition era establishments, including Al Capone's headquarters, I had the pleasure of dining at Gioco in the South Loop, where all this excitement and mystery took place many years ago. Surrounded by two adjacent buildings from the 1890's Gioco is quaintly tucked in between and if you stand on the street long enough and close your eyes you can almost picture all the action around you, but then again, I watch too many movies and have a very wild imagination! (I was recalling the movie with Robert DeNiro where he whacks the guy with a baseball bat)...but I digress....
Nothing about Gioco says 1890 though, it's a very hip, rustic Italian eatery with a storefront for alfresco dining, weather permitting. I love the lights, reflecting orange and red, very warm and romantic. The Dirty Martini's were dirty and delicious and the smell of the place was of the wood fire grill and the garlic and olive oil were in the air. This place was named the Best New Restaurant and Bon Apetit's favorite new places in 2000. So, clearly, I'm a little late in promoting this as new, but there's no shortage of words to describe the delicious, and subtly romantic experience. Seated by the window in a private corner (and close to the door in case I needed my getaway car), we began our meal with the Carpaccio alla Harry's Bar with Arugula, Radicchio, and Parmigiano. The beef was so thin you could see through it, and it blended nicely on the plate with the other flavors. This was followed by another Dirty Martini, oh and the Entrees, Spaghetti con Polipo Speziato, which was pasta with tomato, and red chili braised octopus with fresh basil - another OMG moment. I don't usually venture into Octopus as my main course, but how could I resist? and thankfully, I didn't! My date, who thankfully, did not require me to exercise my "back up", had the Bucatini con Gambero, which was rock shrimp braised in tomato and garlic sauce with capers and Gaeta olives (truly, I had never heard of these before). Outstaaaaaanding is all I can say. It's really a very private place, and I'm always looking for that perfect "snuggle up to your date" restaurant to turn up the heat a bit (if that's your thing!).

I recommend this place for any night of the week to sneak away and enjoy great food, and hopefully great company. I can guarantee the food, but you're on your own as far as the company!

Muah! Godere il mio amore!

In photo: Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess

Gioco is located at 1312 S. Wabash 312.939.3870

Search for me on Facebook and Twitter under "Gia Claire"....come check out more adventures of Gia!


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To Market with Mo: I wanna thank you....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Even in a trying year, as 2009 has been, there are so many things to be thankful for. And, related to the farmers markets I have alot to be thankful for.

I am thankful.... live in a city that supports and gives us access to produce that has been grown/raised within a few hours drive, via the farmers markets. the staff and volunteers, at all of the farmer's markets, who because of their passion for the markets, give their time to make sure each market day goes smoothly and is an enjoyable experience. all the farmers (and food purveyors) who work tirelessly to grow, harvest, and get their crops (food products) to market, at the peak of flavor and in pristine condition. Not too mention that they rose in the middle of the nite to get their produce to market. Yes, we market 'early birds' REALLY appreciate their effort. That includes you Todd Nichols ;) the Bensidoun family for bringing Chicago it's first year round indoor market: The Chicago French Market. all of the city neighborhoods who feel strongly about bringing a farmers market to their neighbors. A special shout out here to the Andersonville Farmer's Market's first season, and an extremely successful one at that. be able to experience produce and artisan-crafted food products at their peak, and in season.

...for midwestern weather. Seriously. With all it's extreme ups and downs, it plays a huge roll in making the tastiest tomatoes and peaches on the planet. all the markets that are working to make their markets accessible to everyone, not just the few. A special recognition to the 61st Street Market for being one of the first markets to accept food stamps. all of the area chefs that are making a point of supporting the local markets and farmers, and letting their customers know where their meal is coming from.

...for the diversity of the people of this city, and their insistence that their own foods (culturally speaking) are represented at the markets.

...for Terra Brockman and her beautiful book, "The Season's on Henry's Farm", that chronicles a year on her brothers farm. Not only showing us all that sustainable farming is good for us and our planet, but giving us an even greater appreciation for those that grow our food.

...for all of you that share my enthusiasm for the markets, the farmers, the food purveyors and artisans, and to those of you that tolerate said enthusiasm, even if you don't share the same enthusiasm. Don't worry, I'll convert you in 2010.

...and for you my readers, for reading and following my market wanders.

A very happy holiday to all of you and here's to the coming year at the markets.


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"About Last Night..." Still MIA - tearing up South Beach!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

As a newly titled, and self appointed "Professional Global Bloggess" it is my responsibility to tell you where to go and what to eat right? Check...I'm on it. As you know, I was catching some rays on a tiny little beach with a tiny little bikini (at least half of it), in a place you may have heard of?...SOUTH BEACH? Right? well, if there's one place you HAVE to go, to wander, meander, eat, drink and be very, very merry, its the Delano Hotel. As soon as you walk into this place you gasp. The mile high ceilings and beautiful white drapery sweep you into a most modern and fascinating place. Artwork from Salvador Dali, Man Ray, and Antonio Gaudi (to name a few) were peppered throughout, and there were mirrors on every wall giving the illusion of space, time, and utter beauty. Delano, located in the heart of South Beach is the ultimate resort hotel. One would think that the dining experience would also be exceedingly delicious and I can tell you first was. But first, a word from the collective inspirations at the bar...otherwise known as the finest drink, from the sexiest place on earth...Brazil. The Cappirinia is my signature drink, when Brazilian Rum can be found (a seemingly difficult thing in Chicago). Brazilian Rum, juice from one lime and sugar....that's it. The most perfect blend of sweet and sour - but a drink that slips down so smoothly, you find yourself moving through them like water ... sippers beware.
As always, I digress....
The Blue Door, is the amazing dining experience that boasts French cuisine with Brazilian and global influences. The dishes were like nothing I have ever tasted. The richness of the French and the freshness and exotics blends of the Brazilian gave everything a unique and wonderful flavor. So get your pencil out cause here were some of my favorites...Crabovocat, Thon-Thon (Seared Yellow Fin Tuna), Homard Banana, and Mango Porco. Muah! But the menu was endless!
If you have room for a coffee I suggest the Cordadito, which is a Cuban espresso served with just the right amount of milk and sugar all pre-blended to perfection!
If you have time, take a tour of the hotel, and a walk on the beach. Ladies throw your tops away - you're in South Beach!!! wooo hoooooo -

Live once and make every second count!

Going South next week...but South Loop? Baby it's cold outside!

In these Photos: Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess, Abby Gilmore, and Triple G, Bartender at Delano

In this photo: Gia Claire, scaling the wall in the lobby, probably too many Cappirinia's!


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Downsize Your Diet..."DietBytes by Sandy"

In the midst of holiday fun, many people find that their clothes are fitting tighter and their hips are growing wider. "I'm just too busy to workout right now," they explain, or "It's too hard to eat right when there's temptation everywhere!" It's actually not that hard at all! Try some of these pain-free ways to cut calories this season so you can get back on track in 2010.

In order to lose 1 pound, you must burn 3,500 calories. If that seems overwhelming to you, let me put it this way: Just slashing 50 calories a day can cause you to lose 5 pounds in a year! Here are some tactics to help:

1.) Measure (and reduce) spreads & condiments:
Instead of mindlessly smearing peanut butter on your bread, take out a spoon and measure one spoonful. You can cut up to 200 calories this way!
Switch from regular mayo to light or fat-free mayo (you'll save 40 calories per tablespoon).
Instead of regular cream cheese, switch to The Laughing Cow Light spreadable cheese (you'll save about 30 calories).

2.) Ditch the regular soda already!
Switch to diet soda and save 150 calories per 12 ounce can.
Or switch to seltzer or soda water and save the same amount.

3.) Swap out regular chips for baked chips and you'll save 70 calories per 2 ounce bag.

4.) Replace regular beer with light beer and you'll save 30 calories per 12 ounce beer.

5.) Enlighten your morning cup of joe by replacing cream with half and half...or go with skim... and save 50-100 calories.

6.) Banish the butter: One "pat" of butter has 35 really won't miss it, I promise.

7.) Scoop-a-fy your bagel: Hollowing out the insides of your bagel will cut 100 calories.

8.) Cut the Cheese: Not literally! Skip the cheese from your sandwich or salad at lunch and you'll save up to 200 calories.

9.) Make it baked (potato) instead of mashed: Whether you're at a restaurant or at home...mashed potatoes often include fatty additives like milk, cream, and butter. Ask for your tuber plain and you'll save up to 300 calories!

10.) Don't clean your plate: My personal favorite tip -- There's no one holding a gun to your head telling you to finish every morsel at meal time. If you leave some food left over at every meal, you can cut 100-200 calories every day.

Healthy Eating!

Sandy Sfikas, RD, LDN


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David Burke's Primehouse - By The Burger Fiend

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sans any anecdotal commentary in this upfront section, this is how a burger should strive to taste.

The fiend has probably eaten hundreds – if not thousands – of burgers over the years, many of which touted as gourmet by flashy marketing but actually tasting very elementary by my standards. While I always cross my fingers, and can’t help but to continue to order in spite of my inklings, I still suspect these mediocre sandwiches to be oversized boxed “pub” burgers…or there is simply a lack of TLC masked by a dash of garlic salt and a glob of wholesale mayo.

And this is a point I’ve never really understood.

The burger is an American icon; a staple of nearly every menu from your local roadside diner, neighborhood sports bar or the most high-end establishment anywhere coast-to-coast. So if a restaurant does Americana, or any semblance of this cuisine, then they should invest a little more time and resources into making its burgers undeniably craved staples.

Though I might obviously be slightly bias, I feel I’m not alone in this notion – a view obviously shared by restaurateur David Burke and executive chef Rick Gresh.

Already a critically acclaimed venue by local and national media outlets, and a top 10 selection by Chicago Magazine, it was only a matter of time until I had a chance to get my hands on one of the legendary 40 day dry aged “burkers” from Burke’s Primehouse.

The burger comes topped with an exquisite array of toppings unique to Gresh’s vision of a traditional burger: garlic spinach, crispy shallots, bacon mayonnaise and a toasted potato bun.

Although I’m a purist with my burgers, as all fiendsters know, I decided to dive into this as prepared without any alterations…if anything an attempt to crawl inside the chef’s mind and try to explore his culinary terrain.

The garlic spinach in lieu of lettuce added a creamy and earthy dimension to the flavor and texture, though there were a little too many leaves and it started to overpower the meat. The fried shallots were a wonderful replacement for traditional onions and added that sweet and familiar zest.

In addition, the bacon mayo was an ingenious touch that presents the best combination of both worlds. Although I typically forgo mayo of any kind, the idea of the two together was too much to pass, and luckily wasn’t spread too heavily on the bun. Typically my second favorite part of the puzzle, the potato bun was probably the most easily forgettable item of the mix – not as toasty as I would have liked, still good but more of an afterthought than anything.

Not surprisingly, by far the greatest element of the sandwich was the beef, which includes the trimmings from the dry aged steaks ground within the chuck and sirloin. The dry aged taste is extremely distinguishable from most other burgers you’ll typically taste at a local burger joint, and for those that have never sampled a dry aged piece of beef it is well worth the investment.

As always, I like to sample the meat by itself without no other distractions. This presents the true quality of the meat and allows you to discover every taste and flavor, completely uninfluenced. As expected, you could taste the depth of the dry aging, which gave the beef a velvety, rich and juicy profile with a hint of smokiness that was probably picked up from the grill.

The fiend spoke briefly to the congenial general manager, who likewise offered to give a tour of the dry aging room – a fantastic experience to hold. Very few establishments go the extra mile to serve dry aged steaks, let alone dedicate time and space to producing their own. Likewise, though industry standard for serving dry aged meat is 21 days, Burke’s goes one step farther and only offers their cuts at 28 days or more – again a touch of the aforementioned TLC I believe other restaurants tend to forget.

This burker is only offered on the lunch menu and upon special occasions, but I highly recommend you do yourself a favor and make this a destination (within the James Hotel) to visit soon.
616 North Rush Street
Chicago, IL 60611-2712
(312) 660-6000

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
Yumm ... I shall be there tomorrow !
December 22, 2009 9:57 PM  

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Chicago Living ... Kristine's Picks

Friday, December 18, 2009


What do you get when you combine a top restauranteur and furniture-design grand dame ?
The ultimate sleek, sexxy and stylish dining / movie experience.

Located in the new South Loop Roosevelt Collection, Jerry Kleiner ( of Carnivale, L'Opera, Marche, 33 Club ... fame ) and Judy Niedermaier ( ) have teamed up to bring you a whole new level of sophistication to movie-watching.

Step-in to contemporary luxury, 150-seat Lobby Lounge, 16-screen movie theatre and state-of-the-art technology. Enjoy stunning skyline views from glass curtain wall windows as you immerse yourself in plush leather loungers while enjoying some bubbly, Ghirardelli Chocolate, not to forget the not-so-traditional popcorn while you wait for your movie experience to begin. Looking to impress your date ? Reserve the VIP balcony section, featuring large memory-foam chairs, a table in between every two seats and drink holders that can hold both martini and wine glasses !

Be the first to experience Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON, open this weekend, reserve online or phone : 312-564-2104



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Chicago Living ... Kristine Is Making a List ...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Checking It Twice ... 

1. Snow Ball : Style. Shop. Socialize. Done. 2. Buche De Noel : Chicago French Market : Features phenominal desserts, food and a multitude of vendors. Year-round, indoor and convenient to transportation ! Or hurry and you can order online at Payard. 3. Experience Christmas Around The World at the Museum of Science and Industry 4. Ice Skating with a view at Millennium Park. 5. Nutcracker Ballet : with world-renowned Joffrey Ballet 6. A Christmas Carol : Goodman Theatre 7. Winter Wonderfest - indoor family fun at for the entire family. 8. ZooLights : Even the animals are merry this time of year 9. ICON : be the first to check out the newest Jerry Kleiner / Judy Niedermaier creation - the ulitmate sleek, sexy and stylish dining / movie experience. 10. Going to Find Out Who's Naughty or Nice ==> Ask Santa 11. Post Holiday Vacation : Pack Your Sombrero ! 

Kristine Farra - +312-953-9567



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To Market with Mo: Baby it's cold outside....

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

...but offer me a grapefruit inside, and suddenly I am transported to a warm, sunny, tropical locale. Yeah, the temps in Chicago are hovering in the teens of late, and all I can think of is how can I be somewhere much, much warmer. With the airlines not giving anything away, an inexpensive way to whisk off to the tropics is to pick-up some sweet-tart, juicy grapefruits.

Not exactly a local fruit that will be found at one of the farmers markets, but head to a local produce market, or cross your fingers that a vendor, family member, or friend might be sending you box of citrus paradisi. Wrapped inside the dimpled peel is the taste of pure summer.

Last nite I watched master mixologist, Daniel Love,* of Mercadito, concoct fresh grapefruit margaritas with muddled bits of grapefruit sections. Oh yes, the margaritas were sublime (and I won't even talk about the citrus filled ceviche, OMG!). But, oddly enough, I woke up just hankering for more grapefruit. Off to the market to load up on some gorgeous Ruby Reds (be sure to pick out fruits that are heavy for their size, and omit a fragrant slightly sweet aroma) and then back home to conjure up summer in my kitchen, oh and get a bit of healthy and delicious to boot. Loaded with vitamin C, A, B5, potassium, folate, fiber and pectin, which helps regulate the blood sugar, which I would imagine could use a bit of regulating during the sugar high holiday season, grapefruits feel like a pretty guilt-free indulgence.

I just love grapefruits as is, peeled and sections popped right into my mouth. But why stop there? Juiced (plain, or back in the afore mentioned margarita), sectioned into a spinach salad with nothing more than some avocado, fennel, pomegranate seeds, and a citrus vinaigrette, or transformed into a relish, or salsa, to top some grilled scallops or fish. Now, since I like to use the entire grapefruit, I opt for the two-for-one during the holidays: Candied Grapefruit Peel (I figure for each one of those I consume, it cancels out the calories of each cookie I gobble down), and now what to do with the flesh? A grown-up palate cleanser for your holiday meals in the form of a Grapefruit Vodka Granita. Yes, both so, so, so good.

Candied Grapefruit Peel
(If you can boil water, you can make candied grapefruit peel)
2 large grapefruits
3 cups sugar (plus more for rolling & coating)
3 cups water
Using a paring knife remove peel from the fruit. Without cutting into the flesh of the fruit, make six slits, from top to bottom, in the fruit. Gently remove peel with your fingers. Put fruit aside for that granita.
Slice the peel, lengthwise, into 1/4 inch strips. Then, using paring knife remove excess pith (the white part) from each strip.
Place strips in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then drain. Repeat this step.
Bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add grapefruit strips to the boiling syrup, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about an hour until the strips are translucent. Remove from heat and let strips cool completely in the syrup.
Using a slotted spoon, or tongs, transfer strips to a wire rack that is sitting atop a rimmed baking sheet. Wipe any excess syrup from the strips and then roll strips in sugar. Place back on the wire rack, in a single layer, and let dry for at least 30 minutes. Will keep covered, at room temperature, for up to two weeks.

*Award winning mixologist Daniel Love will be leaving Chicago for sunny Miami in two weeks, so if you want to try one of his grapefruit margaritas get yourself over to Mercadito ASAP.

Do you want a copy of my Grapefruit Vodka Granita? Email me at

Happy Holidays!

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Tis the Drink!..."DietBytes by Sandy"

Monday, December 14, 2009

Beer, cocktails, wine, and champagne...all types of liquor flow generously around the holidays. Obviously, there are pros and cons associated with boozing, but let's focus on the (health) benefits of your favorite drinks!

Firstly, all studies on alcohol attribute its benefits to moderate consumption. However, there is no clear-cut definition of what moderate drinking is. Let's consider moderate drinking to be the amount at which the health benefits of alcohol outweigh the negative consequences.

The USDA and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that men consume no more than 2 drinks per day and women consume about 1 drink per day (in order to reap the health benefits).  One drink is considered to be 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. 

Over 100 studies have linked moderate drinking to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, which includes stroke, heart attack, peripheral vascular disease, and sudden cardiac death. This is because all types of alcohol act as an anti-inflammatory agent in your body, thinning your blood and raising your HDL (good) cholesterol which helps to destroy the LDL (bad) cholesterol that clogs the arteries. 

Are certain types of alcohol better than others? Let's find out...

Wine: The benefits of red wine are tied to the high concentration of 2 antioxidants, resveratrol and flavonoids, which are known to increase HDL cholesterol and to prevent blood clots and plaque build-up in the arteries. The resveratrol in wine comes from the skin of the grapes. Since red wine is made by fermenting the skins longer than white wine, some say that red wine contains more resveratrol. But, the grape's pulp, which is used to make white wine, actually provides different antioxidants that are also heart-healthy. In addition, studies have linked components in white wine with improved lung function. A single glass (5 ounces) of wine is around 100-130 calories. 

Beer: Did you know that beer actually provides similar health benefits as wine? In addition to helping lower LDL levels, the folate in beer helps to lower homocysteine levels in the blood. High levels of homocysteine are linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart disease. Beer also has been shown to improve bone density. Beer contains silicone, which allows for deposition of calcium and other minerals into bone tissue. Since none of the health benefits of beer (and other drinks) are actually attributed to alcohol, light beer offers similar benefits. 

One of my personal favorite beers is Guinness, which is known for its deep, rich color and foamy top layer -- and is sometimes blamed for being too heavy and filling. The truth is, Guinness is actually lower in alcohol, calories, and carbohydrates than most regular (not light) beers. Guinness also has more antioxidants than most beers, along with a higher concentration of folate as well. 
A typical 12-ounce regular beer has around 140 calories and a light beer has around 100 calories. 

Champagne: THIS just in: The latest research implies that champagne has similar health benefits as wine! The breaking news will be published this week in the British Journal of Nutrition. Just like beer and wine, the bubbly contains antioxidants that help lower blood pressure and lessen the effects of free radicals in the body. One glass (4.1 ounces) of champagne has around 100 calories. 

Hard Alcohol: You guessed it...The "hard" stuff has the same heart-healthy components as other alcohol. But the mixers tend to mess up a good thing. Sugary juices and syrups add unnecessary calories that dilute the health benefits. Also, consider that beer and wine drinkers usually drink with food, which slows the absorption of alcohol -- whereas hard alcohol drinkers tend to drink outside of meals, which can quickly become excessive. A 1.5-ounce shot of hard alcohol has about 100-120 calories. 

Remember that the benefits of booze go hand-in-hand with moderate drinking. In other words, you can't "save up" all your drinks during the week, consume 10 drinks on Saturday night, then congratulate yourself for being healthy. The weekly total may be the same, but the health benefits definitely aren't. Cheers!

Healthy drinking,
Sandy Sfikas, RD, LDN


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"About Last Night..." Gia is M.I.A.!!!!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Down in Miami getting some sun and sand (and hours and hours of laughs, and...well...other stories for another time). I spent the night twirling around in my pretty dress while Salsa dancing with some very lovely Latin men. But before I made my way to the dance floor I enjoyed the food at Mia at Biscayne. Located in the heart of downtown Miami this place had it all. Open since the Summer of 2009, led by Executive Chef Gerdy Rodriguez, it was a fresh, eclectic atmosphere. It was a blend of sexy lounge complete with deep couches and areas for "nesting", restaurant (which I'll get to in a second), sidewalk cafe, and club (which is where my story started). If you find yourself in Miami, go to Mia for the beautiful people, the culinary flavor that is true Miami, and the sexy pumping music that picks you up off your chair and moves you right onto the floor; it's levitational genius.
There was no main course here, it was one delicious perfectly portioned plate of yum after another that came around and landed before I could even look up. Aceitunas Alinadas (3 olive blend), Croquetas (ham, manchengo cheese, chives), Crab Fritters, Patatos Bravas, Ahi Tuna Cebiche, and Skirt Steak Pinchos. Wheww....I'm spent.
Grab your gloss and head on over to the club scene where beautiful Latin men will twirl you around to the sexy Salsa music all night long (Ummm, if you're a guy, then maybe that's not your thing), but let your lady have some fun and you can keep your two left feet on the sidelines~!

Bienvenidos a Miami!!!

Check out (also great for weddings, meetings, parties, etc)

More from South Beach next week! Muah
In these photos, yours truly: Gia Claire, Professional (and now World Traveler!) Bloggess


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To Market with Mo: Oui, oui, oui, all the way to...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

...the Chicago French Market! Je ne sais pas, really? Oui, really. As of last Thursday (12/3) Chicago is officially the proud host of it's first, okay at least in the last four decades or so, indoor year-round market. Seattle has it's Pike's Place Market, Philadelphia has the Reading Terminal Market, New York City has the Grand Central Terminal Market, even Cleveland, Ohio can boast having an indoor year-round market. And now finally, instead of whining, 'why can't Chicago have an indoor market', we can now toot our horns and say that we too have an indoor market. Thank you thank you to the Bensidoun family who has been running markets here and in Europe for four generations. With that kind of experience, I am guessing we are in good hands.

As you have all guessed by now (if you have been reading my posts, you are reading aren't you?) I have a real thing for the markets, indoor and out. Whenever I travel, whether an hour away, or a 14 hour international flight away, the first thing I like to do, once at my destination, is check out the local market(s). Be it a small roadside stand or ginormous indoor market like La Boueria Market in Barcelona, I think there is no better place to get your finger on the pulse of a place and it's people. And based on the streams of folks coming into the Chicago French Market since last Thursday, I would say visitors to our fine city will get a sense of us real quick.

No big box here baby, but real local food purveyors and artisans. Some with established presence at other markets and brick & mortar locales, and others for whom this is their first location. At the Chicago French Market we will have the opportunity to develop relationships with these folks, just like our parents and grandparents had relationships with the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker...okay maybe not the candlestick-maker but for sure the egg & milk guy. They are all extremely knowledgeable and tremendously passionate about their products, and getting them directly to you, their customer.

Located in a 15,000 square foot piece of the Ogilvie Center (ya know, the old Northwestern train station for those of you still kickin' the 'old school' terms). This part of the city (the west loop hood) has been booming with an influx of new residents, but retail, entertainment and food options not so much. Well no more, with 25 purveyors in the market, residents and commuters (remember, major train station right above the market) will have a 'one-stop shop' option. Everything from beautiful fresh and organic produce, fresh seafood, meats and poultry, beautiful artisan cheeses, and wine to go with said cheese, freshly baked breads, pastries and baked goods, gorgeous handmade chocolates, and stunning fresh flowers all to help ready you for holiday entertaining. Feeling a bit peckish after all the sensory overload? So many yummy options to sit down and enjoy right there, or pack up to take home, or to the office: from a yummy green curry, to Bi Bim Bap, to tacos, to crepes, to fresh juices, to raw food options, to sandwiches, to fresh roasted nuts (which always smell so good), to OMG Belgian fries, wait are we in a market in Europe or in Chicago?

Now if you are like me and don't reside or work in the area, but are close to a Metra train, this is such a stress-free way to get to the market. Or if you are planning to really load up, there is free parking available for up to an hour, with a $20 purchase at the market, and in a city that likes to charge a lot for parking, this is a MAJOR plus.

So being that I did go into sensory overload at the market and too full to make dinner (yes, you can say Belgian fries) no recipe to share this week. So get your self to the Chicago French Market and find inspiration. And let me know what your favorites are at the market and what you were inspired to cook. Email me at

For more information and hours go to
photo credits: Steven Johnson Photography

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Seasonal Sweets..."DietBytes by Sandy"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"How can I make better choices with holiday desserts this season? Are there any sweets that aren't so bad?"

We all have our favorite holiday treats, from egg nog to sugar cookies - and there are some that we should avoid more than others. In my opinion, it's about selecting moderate portions of what you really want to enjoy. If portion control is an issue for you, then this guide will help you make better choices this holiday season. Here are some of my favorite diet-friendly desserts, along with valuable nutrition TIPS to help you from TIPPING the scales this winter.

Meringues: All meringues are made with egg whites and sugar (or sugar substitute), and are usually fat-free, depending on what else is added to flavor. My top picks include unsweetened cocoa powder and peppermint candies. You can add just about anything to meringues since they're completely neutral in flavor. Try some instant coffee granules, cinnamon, or even orange zest and ginger. They're definitely a guilt-free festive treat.

Pumpkin...anything! Canned pumpkin (100% pumpkin) is not only low in calories and virtually fat-free, but it's packed with fiber, vitamin A, iron, and potassium. Most canned pumpkin products are sodium-free and have no added sugars, so the taste is very... "concentrated." Mix it with non-fat plain (Greek) yogurt and sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and cinnamon and you'll be amazed at the simple holiday dessert you've created. One cup of canned pumpkin has only 83 calories and 1 gram of fat.

Candy Canes: Who doesn't love candy canes? They're cheap, take a long time to eat, and don't break the calorie-bank. One (standard size) candy cane has 45 calories and can instantly transform a boring dessert into a merry delight. Try these:
Peppermint Sundae: Crush up and add to low-fat vanilla ice cream and top with reduced sugar chocolate syrup.
Peppermint Mocha: Add to hot chocolate for a quick and easy pick-me-up.
Choco-mint Cane: Dip in melted chocolate and let stand to harden...impressive!

Try these substitutions to lighten up your favorite dessert this holiday:
  • Use baby food prunes (for chocolate and darker colored recipes) or apple sauce (for lighter recipes) in place of oil & butter.
  • Use fat-free Greek yogurt in place of sour cream.
  • Use evaporated skim milk in place of heavy cream.
  • Choose angel food cake instead of devil's food cake (Devil's food has twice as many calories!)
  • Instead of traditional egg nog, have soy egg nog which will save you as much as 16 grams of total fat (and 10 grams of saturated fat).
  • Bake pies with less crust and use less frosting on cakes & cupcakes.

    Use this list to keep yourself in check at parties all season long!
You'd better watch out:
1 slice pumpkin pie with whipped cream (500 calories)
1 slice pecan pie (500 calories)
1 cup egg nog: (400 calories)
1 serving (3.5 ounces) peanut brittle (485 calories)
1 chocolate chip cookie (150-200 calories)

Be good for goodness sake (better choices):
Lindt chocolate truffle ball (80-90 calories)
1 shot (3 oz) liqueur (150 calories)
2 small pieces fudge (140 calories)
1-2 gingerbread cookies (100-200 calories)

Healthy eating & happy holidays,

Sandy Sfikas, RD, LDN


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To Market with Mo: the incredible edible

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

In this season of gift giving, hens, okay other birds as well but let's stick with chickens for the sake of this conversation, have come up with the perfect gift, and the perfect way to package it: the egg. Truly a perfect food for both the novice and the seasoned cook alike. You can boil water? You can hard boil an egg. Or prefer to stretch your culinary wings? Go for mastering a beautiful meringue or Bearnaise sauce.

I don't recall being a huge fan of the egg until I had my first farm fresh egg. I finally so so got 'the incredible edible egg' slogan. If you have only had grocery store eggs (that can have the potential of sitting on the store shelf for up to 180 days, and have been hatched by debeaked, molted, declawed and caged hens, oh but don't get me going on this one) then let me tell you, get to the Farmers Market soon and buy yourself some farm fresh eggs, that are maybe a day or two old and most likely only hours old, get home and fry up a couple of the eggs and yes, you will thank me, and your egg farmer. What a difference! You're an egg fan now right?

Now I know eggs used to get a really bad rap, raising cholesterol and increasing risk of heart disease....yeah yeah yeah. Well unless you have high cholesterol and are already at risk for heart disease, there is no reason not to be able to consume a egg daily if you so like. The human body does not easily absorb the cholesterol in the egg (which is housed in the yolk), so you are pretty much good to get all the nutritional bennies of the egg which is a fantastic source of protein, omega 3 fatty acids, lutein, choline, iron, calcium, potassium, vitamins A, all the B's, and D. And in case you were going to opt for the 'egg white only' omelet? Sure you will get protein and water (plain and simple, that's what's in the white) but you will miss out on all of the other vitamins and minerals.

Speaking of nutrition levels. I want to clear up something, there is no nutritional difference between a white shelled or brown shelled egg. Only difference? The breed of hen that laid the egg. Another question, why is one yolk pale yellow, and another almost orange? That you will need to ask your farmer what he/she is feeding their hens, as it is their diet that determines yolk color.
I can't think of a time of year that I go through more eggs what with all the cookie & cake baking, sauce making, and dishes to pass making (think a retro deviled egg or a brunchy egg casserole). Oh, which reminds me, your freshest eggs (think less than 10 days old and the ones you just got at the market) are best for poaching and frying. And for hard boiling and making meringues and souffles? Hold off on using your eggs right away. an 'older' egg, say older than 10 days, is best for these endeavors. Here is a favorite brunch dish which is not only easy to make, but a crowd pleaser.

Nutty Baked French Toast
One loaf sliced white bread (I actually prefer a challah bread for this one but mix it up)
8 eggs
2 cups each: milk, 1/2 & 1/2
2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t each: cinnamon, ground nutmeg
3/4 c butter, softened
1 1/3 c brown sugar, packed
3 T dark corn syrup
1 1/3 c nuts, coarsely chopped (walnuts or pecans or a combo work well)

Fill a greased 13" x 9" pan with bread slices to within 1" of the top of the pan.
Blend together eggs, milk, 1/2&1/2, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon in a large bowl. Pour over bread slices. Cover and refrigerate overnite.
Combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and nuts in a medium bowl and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Remove pan of 'toast' from the fridge, spread the topping all over the top. Bake until puffed and golden brown, approximately 50 minutes. If starts to brown too quickly cover with foil and continue to cook.
Serve with real maple syrup (try Burton's Maplewood Farm's, you can find them at Green City Market on Saturdays)

The following vendors have eggs at the Saturday Green City Winter Market...
Eliss Farm
Liberty Family Farm
Mint Creek Farm
TJ's Free Range Poultry

Share your favorite ways to cook with eggs at

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"About Last Night..." Baby It's Cold Outside

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

As the cold weather kicks up, and the gloves and hats make their first appearance, I don't know about you, but this girl likes to get under the blanket and snuggle up to someone warm. Accompanied by a cozy good meal and a nice bottle of red! This weekend, it was all about finding the perfect take out, the perfect movie, and the perfect spot on the couch. The movie, was The Descent (I don't recommend). The couch was plush, the company was....indescribeably yummy, and the meal was off the charts. A perfect night. So here's the thing. If you live South of 83rd and East of Cicero, take this number down: 708-636-8180
Chi Tung. Make the call, and forty minutes later, almost without leaving your couch you will be in Take Out Heaven. EVERY man and woman should have on speed dial the perfect take out for these cold Chicago nights where the only thing you want to start is a fire. Chi Tung has been voted one of America's Top 10 Restaurants so even if you have to get in your car and get it I can assure you it's worth the gas. The menu has hundreds of options focusing on Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Hibatchi and of course, Sushi. There are three separate kitchens and Master Chefs that make this place run like a well oiled machine. Having sampled many of the entres on this menu I often resort to my favorite Chi Tung Fried Rice, Pot Stickers, Pork Egg Foo Young, and Chicken with Pan Fried Noodles. But you could seriously eat there every day of the year and never have the same thing. I have also tried several Sushi rolls and my favorite's are the Snow Mountain Crab Roll, and the Pink Lady - also works well for take out.

While I do love a night out with my little black dress, there are nights when trotting around in my favorite sweatshirt, and snuggling up with the perfect man trump everything. Make it a date night to remember...Fellas here's my marching orders: 1. clean up your place (bathroom included) 2. Get 6 Glade Vanilla candles (tear off labels) 3. Get a bottle of Red : Swanson La Ti Da (don't be cheap...spend some dime) 4. Rent a scary movie (snuggling is almost mandatory) 5. Find the perfect take out 6. Don't be clumsy...make a move :)

Enjoy. Life is short. Next Week: COMING TO YOU FROM MIAMI, FL!!!

Chi Tung is located at 9560 S. Kedzie, Evergreen Park, IL 60805 708.636.8180
In this photo: Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess


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Trendy Eats..."DietBytes by Sandy"

As 2009 draws to a close, there's a great deal of coverage on approaching food trends. From retro marketing tactics to "recessionary" at-home dining, there's plenty to anticipate. After doing some research, I've compiled my own list of upcoming "health food" trends so that you're in-the-know come 2010!

1. Simple & "clean" foods: 
With all the hype surrounding Celiac Disease (a digestive disorder caused by the consumption of gluten), different types of food allergies, and foodborne illnesses like E.coli, it's no surprise that consumers are attracted to products that are supposedly "stripped down" to simple ingredients. However, these products seem a bit contradictory to me. For example, "Pillsbury Simply...Cookies" isn't a product that you should be rushing to buy. It may be free of hydrogenated oils, but does soy lecithin and sodium aluminum phosphate sound clean to you? In other words, just because a product has fewer ingredients, doesn't mean it's healthy. The only way to ensure "clean eating" is to stay away from processed and packaged foods!

2. Immunity foods
Just as the number of antibacterial lotions and wipes are popping up everywhere, so are the foods promising to ward off infections and keep your immune system healthy. Even my 4-year old nephew fears the imminent "N-one-N-one" virus, and the food marketing companies are jumping on board. According to Mintel (a global supplier of consumer, media, and market research), the number of foods and beverages claiming to strengthen the immune system has tripled since last year. Most of these foods are enhanced with probiotics and added vitamin C (along with other antioxidants). While research has proven that certain vitamins and nutrients can enhance our immunity -- once these nutrients are taken out of their natural context, no one knows if they function in the same way. Your best bet for staying healthy is to load up on fruits and veggies, plain yogurt, water, and tea -- and get your rest. 

3. Stress-relieving & relaxation foods: 
Perhaps the unsteady condition of our economy has left you stressed and sleepless. Rest assured that you'll find more and more products claiming to calm and "de-energize" you. Nearly 30 foods and beverages were launched last year as relaxation and natural sleep remedies, according to Mintel's new product database, including "VIB" and "iChill." VIB ("vacation in a bottle") is a "happy relaxation drink" that's also low in calories and sodium and caffeine-free. I'm not sure how a (alcohol-free) beverage will help me to "kick back," "chill," and "be happy," as the advertisement indicates -- but I probably won't spend the money to find out. The makers of iChill relaxation shots say, "The world is intense enough, why add to it?" They claim that the natural ingredients including melatonin, valerian root, rose hips, and B vitamins are proven to ease tension, curb stress, and elevate your mood. Though these new products are healthier than sugar-laden and caffeine-packed energy drinks, I'm still cynical. What works for me is a nightly dose of hot tea! 
Healthy eating,
Sandy Sfikas, RD, LDN


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