The Weight of the Nation: Confronting America’s Obesity Epidemic

Yes, you are what you eat.  Lately, I am a whole lot of lettuce, salmon and brown rice. But what are you? HBO in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute of Health have produced the four-part documentary series about the severity of the obesity crisis. THE WEIGHT OF THE NATION films are part of an unprecedented public health campaign to raise awareness of this epidemic.

Catch the premiere TONIGHT Monday May 14th (Parts 1 and 2) and Tuesday May 15th (Parts 3 and 4) at 8 pm (PT and ET/ 7pm CENTRAL)

They will also be online for free streaming at hbo.com.

THE WEIGHT OF THE NATION FOR KIDS series will also debut its first episode, THE GREAT CAFETERIA TAKEOVER, on Wednesday May 16th at 7 pm (PT and ET).

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Foodie Event: UNICEF Taste of Tap

Who: The Unicef Tap Project is joining forces with Chicago Chefs, Dale Levitski of Sprout, Brandon Baltzley of Crux, Ryan Hutmacher of Centered Chef and the NYC-based culinary performer, Micheal Cirino of A Razor, a Shiny Knife.

What: Cooking demonstrations highlighting the use of water, cocktails, small plates and a silent auction. $50 in advance, $75 at the door.  All donations go to UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene projects in Cameroon, Mauritanea, Togo, and Vietnam.

Where: Centered Chef Studio | 177 N Ada Suite 101, | Chicago, IL 60607 |
312-226-2433 | Purchase tickets here

When: Friday March 23rd, 7-10pm

Why:  Because you want to help the 783 billion people without access to safe drinking water, you want to save the lives of children, or just because you remember the cryptosporidium outbreak of 1993. If you can’t make it Friday, make sure to donate $1 for your water at one of the participating restaurants in the city, March 19th-25th.

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A Quick Bite Review: Pizzeria Bianco

For some reason I imagined Arizona as a scene out of a John Wayne movie, complete with cowboy hats, tumbleweeds and watering holes.  Isn’t Arizona considered a part of the Wild West?  Aren’t there deadly scorpions lingering in your shoes and gun slingers like Doc Holiday sitting at your neighborhood bar? Apparently, things have changed a little.  Today there are new modern concerns such as illegal immigration, and judging by the number of billboards… methamphetamine, oh and don’t forget, potentially poisoned drinking water.

Despite the new urban perils of the wild west, we enjoyed our trip to Arizona. The Grand Canyon, the drive down through Sedona, and all the amazing micro-brews kept us continually amazed. But, hey. Let’s get back to the important stuff.  One of the best wood-oven pizza places in America just happens to be in Phoenix.

Magherita Pizza

The Atmosphere:  

The restaurant is located right off 7th street in Heritage Square in Phoenix, Arizona. A parking lot flanks the rustic spot and a cat sauntered through the arid outdoor seating area on our way in.  The restaurant is small but inviting in an Italian-Cowboyesque kind of way.  The wood burning oven is located on the left and surrounded by a bar. It’s here I would imagine cowboys in their boots and spurs relaxing with a pizza after a hard day’s work… Wooden tables for parties of 4 or less are scattered neatly around the restaurants. They don’t deliver, there is no option for take out and they only take reservations for parties of 6-10.  On a busy day you may have to wait 3 hours, but, for your convenience, you can wait right next door at Bar Bianco.  Luckily there was no wait when we arrived for a post-flight lunch at 2pm.

Caprese Salad – Pizzeria Bianco

The Food:

This is a wood-oven pizza place, with the menu consisting of 2 small plates, 3 salad options, and 6 different pizzas.  This menu has the classic “tell” of a good restaurant it’s one page, no back.  We opted for the classic homemade Mozzarella Salad and Margherita Pizza with a homemade fennel sausage addition from Schreiner’s Fine Sausage.  The “Sonny Boy” also looked tasty, consisting of tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, salami, and gaeta olives.  Honestly… everything on the menu looked good to us.  We paired our pizza with some local Arizona brews, our favorite being the Nimbus A-1 Pilsner.

Our Thoughts:

It was probably one of the best executed wood-oven pizza we have ever had.  The bottom was crispy all the way through and the dough was pretty fantastic.  We loved the fennel sausage addition to our Margherita and would definitely come back the next time we are in town…  Well as long as we don’t have to wait 3 hours that is…

Grand Canyon- Hopi Point

Pizzeria Bianco on Urbanspoon

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Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand 2012

Here are the 2012 Bib Gourmand selections for consistently tasty cuisine at a great value.  These restaurants offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less.  Below you’ll find the 56 restaurants that earned the award…  and on November 15th we’ll find out which restaurants and chefs were awarded 1, 2 or 3 of the coveted Michelin Stars.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Michelin  Guide check out our brief post on its history and our interview with the director.

Ann Sather
Arami
Avec
Belly Shack
Bistronomic
The Bristol
Browntrout
Ceres’ Table
Cumin
De Cero
deca
DeCOLORES
Fogon
Frontera Grill
Gemini Bistro
Gilt Bar
Girl & The Goat
Green Zebra
GT Fish & Oyster
Han 202
Hopleaf
Jaipur
Jin Thai
Kabul House
La Creperie
La Petite Folie
Lao Sze Chuan
Los Nopales
Lula Café
M. Henry
Maude’s Liquor Bar
Mexique
Mixteco Grill
Mundial Cocina Mestiza
Nana
Nightwood
Opart Thai House
Owen & Engine
Paramount Room
Perennial Virant
The Publican
The Purple Pig
Raj Darbar
Riccardo Trattoria
Sen
Smak-Tak
Smoque BBQ
Sol de Mexico
Spacca Napoli
Taste of Peru
Thai Village
Twin Anchors
Urban Belly
West Town Tavern
Xni-Pec de Yucatan
Yolo

 


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Cook County Food Policy Survey

I just wanted to share the information below from the Cook County Food System Survey.  I took the survey(and you should too) because I am personally interested in gardening, composting and how personal gardens may help those families less fortunate put healthy food on their table while also preventing disease.

The Cook County Department of Public Health is proposing the creation of a food policy council for Cook County. The food policy council would be an official committee that explores cross-agency and cross-jurisdictional food issues and makes recommendations to the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

As part of this effort, we are asking people who live or work in Cook County to share their opinions on how government laws, rules, ordinances, regulations and programs affect the way we eat, grow, transport, store, process, distribute, sell, or handle food or food waste.

Who should complete this survey?
If you live or work in Cook County and eat, grow, transport, store, process, distribute, sell, or handle food or food waste, we want to hear from you. The survey will be open until September 29, 2011.

How will the results be used?
The survey results will be used to create recommendations on what issues a proposed Cook County food policy council will focus its efforts.

How can I complete the survey?
You can complete the survey online, or to answer this survey in Spanish, please call 708-633-8314; or email jbloyd@ccdph.net. Para contester esta encuesta en espanol, favor de llamar a 708-633-8314; o escriba a jbloyd@ccdph.net.

So if you have an interest or suggestion, please take the survey!  Better yet….  Attend the meeting to review the survey results and develop recommendations for what the proposed food policy council will do:

Date: October 6, 2011
Time: 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Guest speaker: Mark Winne of the Community Food Security Coalition and author of Closing the Food Gap,Food RebelsGuerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cookin’ Mamas.

Space is limited. Registration is required; due to building security, walk-ins cannot be accommodated. Lunch will be provided.

If you have additional questions, please contact Lara Jaskiewicz at 312-805-8468 or Lara.Jaskiewicz@phimc.org.

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Nana Organic: A Mac & Cheese Obsession

I contend that Nana has the best Mac and Cheese in Chicago.  I think the term love or obsessed could also describe my feelings toward this truffled mac and cheese.  Well… at least for now.  I should remind you that I am quite fickle and therefore reserve the right to change my mind at any point opting out of any previously spoken words of love.  However, more than once I have woken up dreaming about Nana’s Mac & Cheese or for that matter, their sweet potato beignets or homemade chorizo…  And somehow it has become perfectly reasonable to order said mac n cheese at oh… say… 9:30 AM.  Despite the fact that I think the waiters have dubbed me as the weird girl that orders mac n cheese for breakfast, I will continue to do so until they say no, give me a stern look and send me on my way.  But regardless of whether you prefer mac and cheese for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  You can find many other dishes or drinks to satisfy your cravings at this inviting organic restaurant.

Tuffle Mac & Cheese

The Atmosphere:

Nana is a family run establishment located on the corner of Halsted and 33rd Street in the Bridgeport neighborhood with ample metered street parking and a bike valet the last Sunday of the month for those choosing a more eco-friendly ride to brunch. You can choose to sit outdoors under umbrellas admist an array of herbs being pruned for your meal or venture indoors to relax in the comfortable modern interior and admire the local artwork on the walls, while keeping an eye on the chef in the open kitchen.

The Food:

It’s local, sustainable organic American comfort food with a Latin flare that tastes good.  Real good.  Other than my favorite breakfast staple, the mac and cheese,  we’ve tried nearly every dish on the menu and have been completely content with our selections.  A few of our favorites are the perfectly fried chicken and waffles, the huevos rancheros with a fantastic poblano crema, or even the basic chicken sandwich.  We are especially fond of their housemade pork chorizo, which always seems so fresh, perfectly seasoned and just a little bit spicy.  The only disclaimer I will provide is that if you are interested in their biscuits and gravy, let me remind you that the gravy is made from duck fat. DUCK! If it is a traditional biscuits and SAUSAGE gravy taste you are looking for, you may find the flavors unexpected as my grandma, who accompanied us on our first trip to Nana, will tell you.  We’ve tried many specials and have always been pleasantly surprised, especially with their fantastic beignets.  We never pass on their beignets.

Nana Organic Fried Chicken Wings

Our Thoughts:

It’s my preferred brunch spot and the place I take all of our out of town guests. When my friend Leah visits Chicago, her one request is brunch at Nana.  I am a big fan of family run establishments that focus on quality organic ingredients that are affordable and accessible to the community in which they serve.   Nana continues to be one of my favorite spots to chillax over dinner, lunch or brunch with family and friends.

Nana on Urbanspoon

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Next Restaurant: A Tour of Thailand

Man… I have never had such a hard time giving someone my money. Let’s just say I was 1 of the 14,000 people who tried to buy 1 of the 2000 tables offered online for the July-September Tour of Thailand Dining Concept at Next. I fought off repeated log-offs, a slow server, and 30 minutes of page refreshing to finally obtain a late table for Kate’s birthday.

Ok… so let me tell you a little about how this works because if you’re like me, you may not have realized how truly time consuming it may be to obtain a table at Next.  Let’s see… Where to begin…

The Concept:

So what’s Next?  It’s a restaurant concept opened 4 months ago by Chef Grant Achatz of the Michelin 3 starrred restaurant Alinea.  Next creates a menu and atmosphere based on a type of cuisine and then changes it every three months. Their most recent menu: A Tour of Thailand could not have been more different than their last menu, Paris 1906.  Perhaps even more interesting than their revolving menus, or should I say frustrating, is their reservation system.  All reservations are made online through their website and are nonrefundable.  A  person can buy a 2, 4, or 6 person table with or without a wine pairings sold at a certain time slot.  It’s essentially the same idea as buying a concert ticket.  Your online purchase includes meal, drinks, tax and tip and at the end of the dinner you can leave with no expenses left to pay.  It’s quite a revolutionary concept for reservations and dining in general.

The Process:

Tickets for your evening meal are sold in advance for the three month dining concept and are released about a week before the new menu.  The tickets released are an estimate of how many tables they can serve for the next three months and most recently sold out within an hour of the release.  You have to have some patience as the online sale is a lot like ticketmaster and you can get logged off if you’re not quite quick enough.

We missed the initial sale for the first menu Paris, 1906 Escoffier at the Ritz, so I anxiously awaited a facebook status update for same day tables.  The same day tables are announced via facebook midday, when the restaurant believes they have enough ingredients and staff to handle a few more tables.  So how does one balance both Next facebook status updates and kidney function?  I signed up to receive facebook updates for Next via text message. However, each time the text arrived for the Paris concept, I was either in between something at work, in a location with no internet service, or driving.  A couple of times I may have franticly swerved my car to the side of the road to hastily send my prewritten email response in hopes we would be selected.  Unfortunately, someone always beat me to the table and we set our hopes on The Tour of Thailand concept.

The Atmosphere: 

We arrived in the Meat Packing District, found a parking spot and meandered to the old Fulton Lounge site on the corner of Fulton and Sangamon.  We checked in and waited outside on the ample sidewalk to be beckoned in for our meal.  After about 15 minutes, we entered the intimate industrial appearing dining room.  It was bustling with a diverse group of guests, Chicagoans, those from out-of-state, or international travelers, many of which, like Kate, had their SLR in hand.  The large and speedy wait staff added to the high intensity atmosphere.

The Food:

Our first course was Thai street food.  A Thai newspaper was laid out across the table and our first course of drinks were served in plastic cups.  The course was composed of a sweet roasted banana, a prawn cake, sweet shrimp, fermented sausage, and a steamed bun with green curry. The roasted banana was delicious with pickled shallots and cilantro blossoms.  Our favorite item was the steamed bun with green curry.

Tom Yum Soup

Following our street food course, the newspaper table cloth was removed and a blue traditional table cloth was placed.  A white bowl of pork belly, tomato and ginger was placed in front of us followed by a server who poured hot and sour broth into the bowl.  The flavors of the soup were instantly familiar: Tom Yum Soup!  The broth was certainly sour and not overwhelming spicy until Kate bit into a red hot Thai Chili and took the next 15 minutes to recover.  With half of her lips tingling from the capsaicin she declared she would only be operating at 95% the rest of the meal. But given that the meal was nonrefundable… she had no choice but to continue on.

Caramel Catfish

The next two courses were served family style with three classic thai condiments and rice served in bamboo like basket.  First up,  was the catfish in caramel sauce with celery and coriander root served on a metallic dish shaped like a fish over a hot burning coal.  The sauce is essentially made by caramelizing sugar down into a thick sauce, a classic Thai and Vietnamese sauce.  While the sauce was good, it wasn’t as intense as the catfish dishes I’ve had on Argyle Street.  Following the fish, was beef cheek in a panang curry sauce.  It’s basically their take on beef panag, a Thai staple.  The curry was very fresh and the flavors were well developed but didn’t pack the burn your bowels type heat that I’m accostumed to in Thai curries.  The Thai curries I enjoy the most usually leave me sweating profusely as I try to towel off the sweat before anyone notices.

Following the savory courses, we received a juice of watermelon and lemongrass which was quite refreshing.  The dessert was two whole cracked coconuts served over a smoking coconut husk. The coconuts were split in half to reveal a dessert of coconut, corn, egg, and licorice.  The other half of the shell was used as a bowl to serve coconut sorbet.  This was Kate’s favorite dish of the night.  My guess is because it allowed her thai-chili induced injury from earlier in the evening to finally heal.

Dessert

Our Thoughts:

Obviously, this is not your typical Thai neighborhood joint.  But, with that being said the food here carried authentic Thai flavors with a certain elevation of ingredient and presentation.  The flavors were clean and refined, and the ingredients were of the best quality.  As for their service, all of their staff were quite knowledgeable and seemed to really enjoy explaining all aspects of the menu.  Someone even stopped by to ask our opinion of the heat level and actually offered to bring us out a spicy side to add to our table.  Our only suggestion for any of you still trying to snag a same day table is to definitely opt in for the non-alcoholic pairings which are an assortment perfectly mixed juices!

Next Restaurant  | 953 W Fulton Market | Chicago, IL 60608 |

Next on Urbanspoon

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Green City Market Annual Chef’s BBQ Benefit

Whoa… this summer is movin fast and I can barely keep up.  Here’s a photo from our latest dining endeavor The Green City Market Chef’s BBQ Benefit in Lincoln Park.  If you missed it this year, make sure you keep it in mind for next year!

Beef Carpaccio

Beef Carpaccio from Cafe Spiaggia

 

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What We’ve Been Grilling… Kalamata, Caper and Dill Salmon

Every summer we take our recipes to the grill so we can sit out and enjoy the nice weather. Here is a salmon recipe that allowed us to use our fresh dill from the farm!

Kalamata, Caper and Dill Salmon (and meyer lemons)

Ingredients:

Salmon

Kalamata Olives

Capers

Fresh Dill

Olive Oil

Meyer Lemon

Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Place cleaned salmon on aluminum foil, leaving enough room to fully enclose the salmon.

2. Drizzle olive oil over salmon.

3. Add a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper according to your taste.

4. Place a bed of fresh dill from your garden on top of salmon!

5. Next add a few meyer lemon slices, a handful of capers and sliced kalamata olives.

6.  Enclose salmon, dill, meyer lemons, olives and capers in your aluminum packet and place on grill at ~350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.  Remember time varies in regards to the thickness of your fish!

7.  Remove your awesome dish from the packet and enjoy!

 

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A Last Minute Venture: Perennial Virant

Oh no. We made this reservation two months ago and passed up Bulls playoff tickets for our much awaited dinner at Schwa with our good friend who was in town for the weekend.  Four hours before our dinner time, our friend’s plane landed only to find out that the kitchen was out of order at Schwa and all reservations were canceled for the evening.  What to do?  Fortunately, Kate thought of Perennial and its exciting makeover involving the Michelin starred chef from Vie, Paul Virant, and quickly snagged a late reservation to save the night… well not totally… the Bulls still managed to get eliminated from the playoffs during our dinner.

The Atmosphere:

Perennial Virant is located across from The Lincoln Park on Clark Street.   The dining room had a very comfortable and casual feel with two long communal wood tables surrounded by more intimate booths.  While we are not the biggest fans of communal dining, these tables were spaced out well enough to make our dining experience very comfortable.  The modern yet rustic look made us feel like we were in a nice spacious neighborhood lounge rather than a fine dining establishment.

The Food:

There are two basic options:  the 37 dollar 3 course price fixe with 2 options each course or the small plates option similar to the menu at the Girl and the Goat, another restaurant owned by the Boka Restaurant Group.  The small plates get progressively larger but never large enough to constitute an individual portion.  Since there were four of us, we chose a few small plates to share.  Our first plate was the Carnaroli Rice with local Brunkow Cheese Curds.  The dish looked beautiful and had a nice texture to it but could have used a little more salt or pepper for my taste.  This was followed by the Slagel Family Farm Pork Shoulder which was quite tasty but didn’t carry the falling off bone texture you typically expect with pork shoulder as it was compressed into a pork patty of sorts.  The Wisconsin Morrels in Milk Jam were the highlight of the meal.  They were extremely fresh and delicious!

Carnaroli Rice Cake

We also enjoyed the perfectly seared scallops and the flavorful Rabbit Ballotine, although Kate opted out on the bunny.  We tried the Chicken Fried Steak(beef provided by Wisconsin based Dietzler Farms), but we just couldn’t get into it like we had hoped as the crust wasn’t quite sufficient for the amount of meat it covered.

Sea Scallops

Our Thoughts:

Considering that this restaurant had only opened four days before our meal, the kitchen and service did an outstanding job!  The dishes were all very seasonal and composed of  fresh local items, many of which were supplied by the farmers that regularly attend the Green City Market across the street in the park. Paul Virant certainly lives up to his reputation of using fresh, local ingredients.  However, the portions of the shared plates were not much more that tapas size despite carrying a price tag of 8-27 dollars.  Overall, we enjoyed our time a Perennial Virant, but will most likely try the prix-fixe menu on our next visit.

Perennial Virant | 1800 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago IL 60614  | 312.981.7070

Perennial Virant on Urbanspoon

 

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