Nov 27 2012

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

Sometimes I just have to post pictures of delicious things I make

(click on the image, you’ll want to see it up close):

May 8 2012

The Obesity Epidemic

A terrifying statistic was released yesterday: by 2030 42% of all Americans will be obese, up from 36% as of 2010, according to researchers at Duke University.

We know that heredity can play a huge role in obesity, but what about refined sugars and grains that drive up insulin levels and can actually increase our appetite? Or too large portions in toxic environments such as fast food joints (“supersize me”) or national chain restaurants.

I’m not saying that indulging in your cravings every once in awhile isn’t okay. Hell, I went to culinary school and lived on bacon and butter and an unlimited lunch buffet for a year. But I paid the price – 10 pounds or 10% of my body weight, in less than a year. I have since lost that excess weight by going back to my healthy eating habits: lean proteins, complex carbs, healthy fats, lots of fruits and veggies and smaller, more frequent meals.

I still indulge on weekends and when I go out for a special meal. I still have have a glass of wine every night with dinner.  For me, life is just not worth living without delicious food and cocktails.  But the phrase “everything in moderation” really rings true.  Portion control plays a huge role in weight, something the Europeans understand and America has not caught up with yet.

If being really fat is not enough to deter you from that second doughnut, what about all of the health issues that are associated with obesity? Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, joint and skeletal issues, etc. The financial implications of these medical conditions  is staggering… $550 billion over the next two decades, according to the study.

A documentary, Weight of the Nation, will be airing on HBO next week and may prove to be a huge shock to Americans who regularly indulge in processed foods, large portions and a nightly snack.

The beautiful thing about this health crisis – it can be averted. If the issue of obesity is to be resolved in America, it will take a tremendous amount of financial, economic and social support. We have to start where the problem lies…educating our children at a very young age and helping them develop healthy eating habits early on.

Mar 31 2012

What’s Next? A trip to El Bulli

For the second time in my life I had the opportunity to dine at Chicago’s very own NEXT Restaurant, a recent James Beard Nominee (and soon to be winner) for Best New Restaurant in America.

If I could, I would tell you to go. Unfortunately, tickets have been sold out since opening night. I am one of the lucky 3,600 people who will have the rare opportunity cross NEXT: El Bulli off their bucket list. This is in thanks to the complete strangers who so kindly invited me to dine at their table. But that’s a story for a different day…let’s get to the food!

For those of you who don’t know, El Bulli, winner of The World’s Best Restaurant and numerous other accolades, closed last summer. As only Grant Achatz can do, he convinced Chef Ferran Adriá to share his recipes for one last El Bulli homage in Chicago (lucky for me)!

To say the evening was magical would be a gross understatement.  This meal, perhaps, the highlight of my culinary adventures, was fun, beautiful and sublime. As each course was delivered to our table, my fellow diners and I were rendered speechless with each new bite.

29 courses and 10 beverage pairings later, I left in awe, giddy, satiated and high. Please allow me to share pictures from each course of this epic night.

PART 1: Tapas:

2004 nitro caipirinha with tarragon concentrate

2000 hot/cold trout roe tempura

2005 spherical (not actually real, just looks like it) olives

1991 coca of avocado pear, anchovies and green onions

2003 ibérico sandwich

2001 golden egg

1997 smoked foam (the only item that I didn't like)

1998 chicken liquid croquettes

2007 black sesame spongecake and miso

Sep 13 2011

The rolling hills of…Wisconsin?

I have traveled all over the world eating global cuisine in some of the most interesting culinary cities:  Hong Kong, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Aspen, Chicago, Florence, Barcelona, Bangkok…and the list goes on.  So when I was recently offered a guest pass on a Wisconsin cheese tour with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, I was skeptical.  I couldn’t help but envision shrink-wrapped blocks of cheddar and Monterey jack down the grocer’s aisle.  I’m a cheese snob. I have fantasies about French triple cream on a crusty baguette or freshly made Humboldt County goat cheese at the San Francisco Farmer’s market. But I am always on board with a new food adventure, so I hopped on the bus with an open mind and an empty stomach.

I visited eight locally owned, family operated Wisconsin cheese producers just outside of Madison. Many of these cheese makers use sustainable farming practices to produce high quality and flavorful cheeses.  I even toured several farmstead operations, and was able to see firsthand the lifecycle of the entire process from the milking of the cows, to packaging the cheese.

First, there was Meister Cheese, a multi-million dollar operation that supplies large chains like Chipotle.  Next, we visited Upland’s, a small farm overlooking the beautiful and scenic hills of Dodgeville, Wisconsin. Just two types of cheese are produced at Upland’s, and I was fortunate enough to sample the Pleasant Ridge Reserve, an award-winning Beaufort style cheese that you can barely find outside Wisconsin due to its limited supply. Andy Hatch, the cheese maker and general manager, has a passion for cheese making that is infectious.  He refuses to make cheese at any other time of the year except summer/early autumn when his cows are grazing on lush grasses and their milk is at “its finest quality.” During this period, he and his wife and their small staff of six work tirelessly seven days a week.  The effort is worth the reward; a deeply intense, harmoniously balanced cheese with an almost nutty flavor.  Was I really in Wisconsin or the Swiss Alps?

Lunch at Crave: Bacon, Pesto & Mozzarella was just one of many delights we sampled

I loved Widmer’s family history, and Crave Brother’s farmstead operation. Not to mention their unreal Les Freres (a favorite of the trip), fresh mozzarella and mascarpone.  And the Alpine Renegade and Bandaged Cheddar from Bleu Mont is award winning for a reason.  Cave aging, as you can see below, helps create some of the most dynamic cheeses I have ever tasted.

The Cave!

Inside the Cave

Can I possibly eat any more cheese? I think I can....

We finished off with salted caramel ice cream from Sassy Cow Creamery that, quite possibly, was the best ice cream I’ve had outside of Italy.

As I left Wisconsin with a whole new appreciation for their cheese (and maybe a small tummy ache), I decided to plan a party and do what I do best – feed and educate my friends and family. I invited about fifteen friends over for a local craft beer and Wisconsin cheese tasting on a lovely summer evening….

Read about that night on my next blog posting!

May 4 2011

You are what you eat…

…and never has a statement been more true!

This is a MUST READ,  especially for all parents out there.  Has anyone  else heard of  rBGH – recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone?   Admittedly, I hadn’t before my sustainability class. And I couldn’t wait another day to share this important information. rBGH is a hormone given to cows which increases their milk production by 10-15%. Sounds like a great idea right? More milk  feeds more people. And we have lot of starving people on this planet. The problem is that when we drink milk from cows given rBGH, we are ingesting this hormone ourselves. While the effects on humans consuming rBGH milk is not clear, it is believed this hormone can lead to an increased risk of certain types of cancer (breast, colon, prostate), as well as an early onset of puberty. Which makes perfect sense when you think of the purpose of a “growth” hormone. Got milk? I hope its rBGH-free…look for it on the label.

For a list of local rBGH-free dairy brands please check out the below link: