Friday, August 31, 2012

Average Betty and Above Average Estonia

Estonia Photo (c) Average Betty
Remember that time you won a Taste Award for Best Web Food Program, which included a fabulous trip to Estonia, but you were too afraid to fly over an ocean, so you asked your dear friend and fellow food blogger, Average Betty, to go on the trip for you, and she had an amazing time, and when your friends and family saw the pictures they couldn’t believe what an idiot you were for not going?

That’s right, I didn’t go on what could’ve been the trip of a lifetime because I’m afraid to fly. Actually, I’m not that scared of flying – it’s the crashing that I’m really not into. Anyway, as you’ll see on her blog, Sara went and represented like a boss.

Below you’ll find a wonderful video recipe she did for Karask, a very traditional Estonian barley bread. The bread looks fantastic, and I'm looking forward to trying it. I insist you head over to Average Betty to get the full recipe, as well as see and read more about the trip

By the way, the painfully cute spoon pictured here is a souvenir that Sara brought back for me. I've heard nothing but great things about Estonia, but that they have freakishly small wooden spoons there tells me all I need to know.

Even though I didn’t make it over there myself, I want to thank the Taste Awards for the honor, and the fine people of Estonia for making the trip possible. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Israeli Couscous & Cheese – It Takes a Lot of Balls to Make this Recipe

I’ve always been fascinated with Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous, and have received several food wishes recently for a recipe showing it off. I’ve had it most often in cold salads, but for whatever reason I decided to turn it into a hot side dish.

Since it’s nothing more than tiny balls of lightly toasted pasta dough, I thought it would work well in some type of macaroni-n-cheese application. I decided to skip the traditional béchamel and instead use more of a risotto technique. Short story short, it worked great!

I’ve always been a fan of the southern delicacy “pimento cheese,” so I decided to hedge my bets and toss in some of the bittersweet jewels. All in all, I really liked the dish, and how well it held up. The shot you see at the end, when I dig the fork in for a taste, was actually filmed three days after this was made, and had been reheated in the microwave. Despite sitting in the fridge, and the less then gentle reheating, it was still creamy and delicious.

By the way, the chives may seem like a simple, optional garnish, but they’re not. Put them in. They really finished this recipe off right, adding a fresh counterpoint to the semi-rich mixture. I hope you give this “ballsy” recipe a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 small, side dish sized servings:
2 tsp melted butter
1 cup Israeli couscous
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup diced pimentos
3 oz sharp cheddar cheese
salt, pepper, cayenne to taste
1 tbsp freshly sliced chives

View the complete recipe

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

IFBC and Be Seen

Photo courtesy of Robin Ove, from
the blog, What About the Food
Michele and I just returned from a wonderful long weekend in Portland, where we attended the 2012 International Food Bloggers Conference. It was our first visit to “Stumptown,” and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay (although, I never did see even one stump).

People were very friendly, and the local food scene was as vibrant and interesting as I’d heard it would be, but the highlight was the photography workshop I got to participate in with my friend, and celebrated NY Times food photographer/writer, Andrew Scrivani.

Despite a few minor glitches, we somehow managed to fool the large audience into thinking we’d put on an informative and highly entertaining show. My theory is that they were so hung over from the night before that they weren’t fully aware what was going on, but nevertheless, the reviews on Twitter were embarrassingly positive.

In case you missed it, here’s a video that my friends at Jenn-Air shot, showing some highlights from the session. I’d like to thank them for sponsoring the event, along with Anolon, Wüsthof, OXO, and Ninja. Also, a huge thank you to Sheri, Barnaby, and the rest of the Foodista/Zephyr Adventures’ team for inviting me to participate, and for putting on such a fun event. See you next year in Seattle!

For additional coverage of the event, I invite you to check out Andrew’s IFBC post, as well as my new friend Paola Thomas’ entertaining recap here. Enjoy!

A Few Random Post-IFBC Thoughts:

Saying Goodbye to Social Media
It’s over. The social media bubble is just about to burst, and anyone who is unfortunate enough to be standing underneath it when it does is going to get soaked with scalding hot irony. That’s right, the very food bloggers whose unbridled enthusiasm for social self-promotion helped build this cheesy soufflé, are now tiring of the pungent scent, and openly rooting for its collapse. Shame on us. I’d do a Facebook poll to see what you think, but by the time I figure out how to set it up, the site will probably be down.

Instagram, FTW
One app immune to this social media fatigue is Instagram. It seems as though food bloggers love it just as much as the food in their pictures. It’s no wonder. Thanks to Instagram’s filters, those forgettable cell phone shots we used to post are now brilliant works of art…every one of them…brilliant. What used to be a blurry eggplant is now transformed into a scene so poignant, Joseph Pulitzer would weep. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to set up a shot of my cat sipping on a cappuccino.

Portland Has Great Food
Michele and I had one great meal after another during our stay. We enjoyed the uniquely delicious cuisine of Le Pigeon, got our smoke on at Ox, and dined al fresco at Departure, where we experienced a view as spectacular as Chef Gregory Gourdet’s food. And, don’t even get me started on the amazing local beer and cocktails. I look forward to a return trip soon, so we can check out all the places we missed. Thanks again to everyone to chimed in with recommendations!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Salted Caramel Sauce – Take That, Hot Fudge!

It may be blasphemy to say that hot fudge isn’t the ultimate warm ice cream topping, but after tasting this amazing salted caramel sauce, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting. 

Hot fudge has a lot going for it – namely it’s hot and it’s fudge – but the way this complex, salty, slightly bittersweet caramel marries with the vanilla ice cream is a wonder to behold. Actually, I just had a thought…next time let’s use both!

The procedure couldn’t be easier, but you really should be sure to use a heavy-bottomed pot, and one that’s plenty big enough. As you’ll see, the sugar can really bubble up and over, and will make a sticky mess of biblical proportions.

Also, be extremely careful not to drip, spill, or splash any of the caramelized sugar on your skin. We’re talking instant 3rd degree burns. In fact, if you’re kind of clumsy, maybe it’s best not to take a chance, and just have the kids make it for you.

I know some of you will want an exact temperature for knowing when to turn off the heat and add the butter and cream, but I don’t have one. I’ve always gone by look and feel, and I’m not changing at this late age. Having said that, I'm sure there are a thousand links where you can get that kind of information.

Anyway, I really hope you put this on your culinary bucket list. Homemade salted caramel sauce is one of those things we all need to experience before heading to that big ice cream parlor in the sky. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 1 1/4 cup Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 cup white sugar
5 tbsp butter, cut in slices
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp heavy whipping cream (*Sorry, don’t ask me about substitutions. This needs cream!)
sea salt to taste (any salt works)

View the complete recipe

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hello from Delicious Portland

Just a quick note to let you know we're thoroughly enjoying our first visit to Portland. As we'd heard, they take their food (and apparently everything else) very seriously here. The photos below are from an amazing dinner we had at Le Pigeon (sorry, cell phone shots). By the way, the foie gras profiteroles (yes, you heard me) were topped with a perfectly made caramel sauce, which will be the new video recipe post on Monday. Stay tuned! 

Rabbit and Eel Terrine. Peaches, Avocado, Foie Gras Miso Vinaigrette.
Halibut, Uni, Grapes, Champagne Sauce.
Foie Gras Profiteroles, Caramel, Sea Salt.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Heading to Portland for IFBC!

Michele and I are on our way to Portland for the 2012 InternationalFood Blogger Conference. I’m going to be doing a cooking demo as part of a food photography workshop led by acclaimed New York Times' food photographer, Andrew Scrivani.

As usual, you can follow my exploits on Twitter, where I’ll be posting pictures of all the deliciousness we experience along the way. By the way, this is our first time to The City of Roses, so if you have any hot tips, let me know. Thanks!

The Truth Hurts
Speaking of food bloggers, this iPhone parody video by Adam Sacks is one of the funnier things I’ve seen in a while, and would probably have most IFBC attendees laughing and weeping at the same time. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Potato & Italian Frying Pepper Frittata and How I Learned to Swear in Italian

One of my earliest and fondest food memories is that of my grandfather making frittata. It wasn’t the taste of this hearty, Italian omelet that made such an impression, although that was always wonderful, it was the excitement surrounding “the flip.”

Traditionally, a frittata is cooked about three-quarters of the way, flipped over on to a plate, and slid back into the pan to finish cooking the other side. It’s an hot, slippery exercise fraught with danger, and more than one of his magnificent creations ended up a broken mess. Come to think of it, this is where I first learned how to curse in Italian.

The funny thing is, as long as you have a broiler to finish cooking the top, which he did, you don’t need to flip anything. Just pop it in for a few minutes to firm up the eggs, and brown the cheese, and you’re ready to eat. So, why did he insist on the always risky flip-n-slid?

I’m not exactly sure, but I imagine it was because his father flipped frittatas, and so did his grandfather. That’s just the way they were done, so that’s how he did it. Regardless whether you’re flipping or not, this rustic egg pie was invented for late summer’s vegetable bounty.

If you can fry it in olive oil, it tastes great in a frittata, especially leftover vegetables that would otherwise end up in the trash. It’s also amazing with any kind of summer squash. Just remember that the veggies need to be tender before the eggs go in, since they cook so fast. I hope you give this “memorable” recipe a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 servings:
12 large eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
6 slices of bacon or pancetta
1 1/2 cups sliced peppers
1 1/2 cups cubed, cooked potatoes
OR about 3 cups of any summer veggies
dry or fresh herbs to taste
salt and pepper to taste
hot pepper flakes to taste
2 oz crumbled feta cheese
*Remember to drain oil before adding potatoes and eggs!

Monday, August 20, 2012

We Came, We Saw, We Concassed

As promised, here’s the tomato concasse video I mentioned during the Steak Pizzaiola recipe. The technique is relatively quick and easy, and will allow you enjoy those gorgeous summer tomatoes sans skin and seeds. 

If you're feeling really ambitious, you could do a few quarts, and can them for the winter. Sure, those San Marzano tomatoes are fine, but there's nothing like putting up your own. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hola Granola

I recently heard someone call San Francisco a “granola town.” Not sure what that means exactly, although I assume it has something to do with those damn hippies. Anyway, it reminded me that we did a granola video way back in 2009 (before we were famous), so some of you may not have seen it yet. 

Besides, there’s no better way to enjoy that sweet, juicy, late-summer fruit than with yogurt and crunchy, homemade granola. Click here to read the original post, and get the ingredient amounts. Enjoy!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Steak Pizzaiola – Better Late (Summer) Than Never

I’ve been wanting to post this steak pizzaiola recipe for a while now, but was bidding my time, waiting for those perfectly ripe late-summer tomatoes before trying it. 

Of course, those have been available around here for many weeks, but every time I’d buy some, I’d quickly use them on sandwiches, salads, etc., before getting to make this great dish. Hey, a BTL can be very seductive.

Well, I’m happy to announce I was finally able control my will power, and saved enough for a beautiful bowl of concasse, which is the soul of this superb sauce. Speaking of concasse – which is nothing more than a fancy French culinary term for peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes – I’ll be posting a video for how to do those on Tuesday, so stay tuned.

Like virtually every recipe we post, there are hundreds of ways to make pizzaiola; from versions featuring slowly braised tough cuts, like chuck or rump roast, to quickly seared tenderloin medallions, like I used here. The one thing most people agree on is that you should, if at all possible, use really fresh, very sweet, vine-ripened tomatoes.

Having said that, this would work with some finely chopped, canned San Marzano tomatoes in a pinch. I also encourage the use of both dried and fresh oregano, which I think work great together in this quick sauce. Anyway, I really hope you have access to some beautiful tomatoes, and that you give this steak pizzaiola recipe a try soon. Enjoy!

1 pound beef tenderloin steaks, cut into 4 medallions
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup mushrooms
2 tsp butter
1 cup sliced or diced sweet and/or hot peppers
4 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup finely chopped, peeled and seeded tomato (aka concasse)
pinch of hot chili flakes
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
toasted bread and mozzarella, optional

View the complete recipe

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday Julia!

Today would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday. As I recounted in the post "A Chicken for Julia," she was a great influence on me and my career, so if you haven't read the post or seen the delicious roast chicken recipe I dedicated to her, you can do so here. Enjoy!

Perfectly Puffy Popovers – What Do These Have in Common with Most Chefs?

They’re crusty outside and full of hot air inside. After posting that picture of the perfect popover I had in Chicago, a reader by the name of Elizzaruth left a comment to share her recipe, which she described as “stupid easy and adaptable.” She had me at stupid.

Since it'd been like 15 years since I’d made them, I figured I give her formula a try, and then adapt it as needed. Turns out it didn’t need any adapting. It worked as advertised, and really was ridiculously simple.

I imagine the only major variable would be your oven. If it doesn’t have an accurate thermostat, or takes an extra long time to come up to temperature, then you could have issues, but other than that, not much can go wrong.

One important note: As soon as this went live on YouTube, the Brits were out in force, insisting it was nothing more than a renamed Yorkshire pudding. Well, far be it from me to educate them on their own cuisine, but unless it's cooked in greasy meat drippings, it's not Yorkshire pudding! It's okay. They get confused with recipes that aren't boiled.

I'd like to officially thank to Elizzaruth for her great recipe, and I hope the next time you want something visually impressive in your breadbasket, you give these easy popovers a try. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 8-10 Popovers:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
pinch cayenne
2 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese, optional
*Fill generously greased muffin tins 3/4 with batter. Put in a cold oven, set to 450 and bake 30 minutes exactly.

View the complete recipe

Monday, August 13, 2012

Grilled Lemon & Rosemary Lamb Chops – Classic Inditalian

When it comes to grilling lamb loin chops, I usually go one of two ways. Usually, I take an Italian approach, and marinade the meat with lemon, garlic, and herbs. Or to change things up, sometimes I’ll go with more of an Indian style, and use a yogurt-based marinade along with the associated aromatic spices like cumin, cinnamon, and coriander.

I love both styles, but was having a hard time choosing which one to use this time. Eventually I gave up and decided to combine both into one uber-recipe. As the footage of me slicing through the pink, juicy meat hopefully illustrates, it worked wonderfully, and really did capture the magic of both methods.

By the way, be sure you’re buying “Loin Chops” and not “Rib Chops.” Loin chops look like thick, little t-bone steaks, while the rib chops have a single eye of meat and a long bone. The Loin chops are not only meatier, but work way better on the grill. They cost about the same, so be sure to ask the butcher.

Of course, some people don’t eat/like lamb (poor bastards), so feel free to use this “Inditalian” marinade on any other grillable meat. I’m going to try it on some half chickens next, and I’m predicting it’s going to rock. I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

8-10 lamb loin chops
1/2 cup plain yogurt
zest and juice from 1 large or 2 smaller lemons
1 rounded tablespoon ground hot chili sauce, like Sambal or Calabrian chilies
4 cloves garlic, crushed fine
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
*Marinate for 4 to 10 hours for best results
*Optional: season chops before grilling with salt and pepper to taste

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Time Machine Chefs to Air Thursday, August 16th!

(Left to right): Art Smith, Chris Cosentino, Jill Davie,
Ilan Hall. Photo ABC
As some of you may remember, last year I flew to LA for a month to help produce a television pilot for a show called “Time Machine Chefs.”

Well, I’m thrilled to announce that it’s going to air Thursday night on ABC! I believe it’s on at 9 PM, but as they always say, check your local listings.

Below you’ll see a trailer to get a little taste of this very unique cooking competition. Basically, four star chefs head back in time and are expected to create world class cuisine using only food and equipment available then.

Come on, how are you not going to watch that? You’re going to watch, right? I promised them like half a million viewers, so it’s time to rally, people! Enjoy!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Peach Melba – Let's Toast to a Great Summer Fruit Dessert

You know you have mad opera skills when they name not one, but two recipes after you. This spectacularly colored Peach Melba was created for Victorian era opera star Nellie Melba, by the greatest chef of the time, Auguste Escoffier, who also named some thin, crispy toasts in her honor years later.

This was kind of a big deal, as Escoffier was known at the time as "the king of chefs, and chef of kings." He was arguably the world’s first celebrity chef. His masterwork, Le Guide Culinaire, has over 5,000 recipes in it, and is a fascinating browse the next time you’re in a real bookstore (do we still have those?).

Anyway, Peach Melba is a delicious and simple, summer fruit dessert, which is kind of ironic, since Auguste Escoffier was famous for his elaborate culinary creations. In fairness, his original plating did feature the ice cream and peaches being carried in on swans carved from ice, so things have been streamlined a bit over the years.

Here we have creamy vanilla ice cream, a perfectly poached peach, topped off with fresh raspberry sauce and toasted almonds. This tastes like I’m sure Nellie Melba’s voice sounded. I do hope you give this historic dish a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 6 servings:
3 peaches, halved
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
For the raspberry sauce:
3 cups fresh raspberries (yes frozen will work)
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tbsp water
1/8 tsp balsamic vinegar

View the complete recipe

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Happy National Rice Pudding Day

Can you believe it's already National Rice Pudding Day? Man, time flies. Anyway, someone somewhere decided that August 9th should be Rice Pudding Day, so I thought I'd use that as an excuse to repost this Coconut Milk Rice Pudding with Fresh Mango recipe we ran back in March. Click here for the ingredient amounts and to read the original post. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bacon & Cranberry Bean Ragout and Public Apology to Mr. Bean

During this video, which features a rustic and deeply satisfying bacon and cranberry bean ragout, I make a joke about the great British actor Rowan Atkinson’s appearance at the Olympics. Based on all the thoughtful, politely worded comments I’m getting on YouTube, apparently I’m the only one in the world who’s not a huge Mr. Bean fan.

Based on the response, I’m clearly missing something. While I find Mr. Bean more creepy than comedic, I’ve been told to ignore the movies he did for American theaters (…”Ha! It’s funny ‘cause he fell down!”), and instead check out some of his brilliant work on British television. Well, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. I still haven’t finished catching up on all the Benny Hills.  

Anyway, as usual, I’ll assume I’m wrong and Mr. Bean really is comedy gold. My sincerest apologies to Mr. Rowan Atkinson – not so much for my harmless one-liner, but for him possibly finding out about the slight, and having to read this lame excuse for a pork and beans post.

Oh yeah, the bacon and cranberry bean ragout! It was super tasty, and as I stated in the clip, would make a stellar side dish to pretty much anything coming off your late summer grill. I hope you give it a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 side dish portions:
1 cup shelled cranberry beans
1/4 cup minced shallots
4 or 5 slices of bacon
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups chicken broth, or as needed
2 tsp chopped rosemary
2 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
cayenne to taste
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp hot chilies
1 tbsp fresh herb like Italian parsley, chervil, oregano, etc.

View the complete recipe

Monday, August 6, 2012

San Francisco-Style Bagels – Taking Things to a Hole New Level

Okay, first things first; there’s no such thing as a “San Francisco-Style Bagel.” This gorgeous city has lots of amazing food traditions, but the bagel isn’t one of them. So, when I accidentally stumbled upon a method for making bagels that were structurally and texturally superior, I decided to take advantage of that fact, and the SF-style bagel was born.

Will it catch on nationally? Highly doubtful, but that’s fine. I’ll settle for a simple wikipedia entry. Thanks to a softer, stickier dough, and an alternative boiling method, these unconventional beauties are thinner, crinklier, and toast up like no other bagel I’ve ever had.

How people can eat un-toasted bagels is one of the great mysteries of the universe. To me, a cold bagel is nothing more than a dense, insipid, donut-shaped roll. What makes the bagel such a wonderful thing is the interplay between the pleasantly chewy inside and the crisp, crunchy outside.

Unfortunately, with traditional bagels, there’s often too much of the former, and not enough of the later. With these, that’s not an issue. We’ve maximized crusty surface area, while eliminating about an inch of bready filler. By the way, in addition to being amazing with all the usual shmears, these flatter, sexier bagels also make a world-class sandwich. I hope you give them a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 8 Bagels (*depending on size)
(Please note: if you use different flours, or yeasts, or boiling methods, or pans, or anything else…I’m not sure what will happen, so you’re on your own)
1 pound bread flour, divided in half
1 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
1 1/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
sesame seeds as needed
- Boil in about 2 inches of water, seasoned with a rounded tablespoon of salt, and 2 tsp of honey for 2 minutes per side.
- Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Bake at 400 degrees F. for 25-30 minutes. 

*When the dough is ready to shape, weigh the total batch and divide by 7 or 8, depending on how big you want your bagels. Then weigh each portion out, and you’ll have consistently-sized bagels that will bake evenly.

View the complete recipe

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Blueberry Shortbread Bars – Please Don’t Call These Cookies

I’ve gotten a lot of shortbread requests, but haven’t done a video for it yet, since I’m not a huge fan of that particular cookie in its classic form. However, I love those little bars you see in the pastry case at the coffee shop, which feature a slightly moister shortbread base, topped with some kind of seasonal fruit.

I always wondered how they were made, and then I saw this peach shortbread post on Smitten Kitchen, which looked just like the aforementioned bars. So, I adapted that recipe, losing the egg white and switching out peaches for the very user-friendly blueberries. Besides, by adding fruit and calling them “bars,” we have something that sounds so much healthier than “cookies.”

There are no special skills required here, but you really want to get your hands on a wire pastry cutter, literally. Sure, you can dirty your food processor, but a pastry cutter will do the job quickly and easily, and you can really feel and see what’s happening in the bowl. Of course, if you’re not doing the dishes, go ahead and use the machine.

As I say in the video, any summer fruit will work, as long as you don’t use too much, and it’s not too wet. You need to have room for the crumbs on top to nestle down around the fruit to hold everything together. Also, if you roll with a particularly large entourage, you can easily double this recipe for a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 12 bars:
6 1/2 ounces (by weight) AP flour (about 1 1/2 cups of sifted flour, aka not packed)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp Chinese 5-spice (or a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg)
1 stick (1/2 cup) very cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon ice water, dripped over mixture
about 3/4 cup blueberries, or enough to cover surface

View the complete recipe

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Eating Chicago

If you were following our trip to Chicago via Twitter and/or Instagram, you may have seen these pictures already, but I wanted to do a quick post with links to all the great places we dined at while in the Windy (and very delicious) City. By the way, all these were taken with a cell phone, usually in very poor light, so apologies for the quality. Enjoy!

Our home for the week was the very hip and happening, Public Chicago. The staff was beyond helpful, and the accommodations top notch. How cool was our hotel? World famous DJ Paul Oakenfold dropped by one night to spin tunes in the bar, that’s how cool. 

Still not convinced? Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow were spied walking through the lobby. Also, there were rumors about a celebrity chef from YouTube partying like a rock star on the 14th floor, but that could not be independently confirmed.

When I first get into a new town after traveling a long journey, I don’t necessarily want to run right out for a fancy meal. I’m always hoping there’s a nice, casual restaurant near the hotel where I can get some simple comfort food to help me settle in. 

We found that at PJ Clarke's. A near-perfect BLT was loaded with smoky, crisp bacon; but the star of the plate was the freakishly large baked potato. It was like getting a "welcome to Chicago" bear hug.

Of course we HAD to try a Chicago style hot dog, which we experienced at Five Faces Ice Cream Shop. I basically like any hot dog, and this was no different. 

While I’m more of a plain mustard guy, it did make me feel good knowing that, contrary to what you hear, the people of Chicago were getting some vegetables in their diet.

We also had to get some deep-dish pizza, since that’s a City ordinance for all tourists visiting longer than 3 days. Failing to do so results in a $1500 ticket or having to watch a Cubs game (most people just pay the fine). 

We did a sausage pie from Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta, and enjoyed it very much. By the way, the thin crust vs. deep-dish debate is just about the stupidest thing ever, as these are two completely different foods – both genius in their own way.

For my birthday dinner, Michele took me to Boka. We enjoyed a wonderful tasting menu, which reminded me of Commonwealth in style and attitude. Lots of very interesting food, done very well, served by people that enjoy what they’re doing. 

My favorite was probably this skate wing with huitlacoche purée. They also get bonus points for pairing the chocolate dessert with beer.

Finding a decent breakfast joint near your hotel is always a great joy, but The Original Pancake House was so far beyond decent that we are still talking about it. 

Perfect spinach and feta omelets, amazing potato pancakes, and something called a Dutch Baby. This oven-puffed pancake takes 20 minutes to cook, and is served simply with lemon wedges and powdered sugar, but it alone is worth a trip to Chicago.

I know I already posed a recap of the fabulous rehersal dinner at The Bristol, planned and presented by my cousin Tony Quartaro, but for my money you just can’t look at too many pictures of gnocchi. 

These were made with ricotta cheese and garnished with zucchini and mint. They were pure awesomeness.

What’s better than spicy pork rinds? Free spicy pork rinds! That’s right, when The Publican found out (and by “found out” I mean that I told them) that Chef John from Food Wishes was in the house, these warm, crispy gifts from the Gods suddenly appeared. 

If you’re a fan of Best Thing I Ever Ate you may have seen these, and they were incredible, as was the rest of the meal.

This place is known for its meaty fare, but the most interesting plate we tried was this grilled octopus with barley, fresh garbanzos, and watermelon. It was really, really good. 

After I posted the picture online, someone commented that certain things should never be served together. What an idiot.

Since I’m 25% Polish, I was very much looking forward to trying some of Chicago’s famous Eastern-European cuisine. This isn’t something we have a lot of in San Francisco, and I was not disappointed. 

We found this little hole-in-the-wall called Pierogi Heaven, and it was. Perfect little potato and farmer’s cheese dumplings, topped with bacon and fried onions. Come on, San Francisco restaurant industry; please open a few of these here!

We celebrated Bastille Day where everyone should celebrate Bastille Day, in an authentic Bistro. At Bistrot Zinc, we looked at nude art, ate frisée salads with poached eggs on top, and of course, slurped French onion soup in all its caramelized gruyere glory. 

I poke a lot of fun at the French, mostly because they deserve it, but all kidding aside, they know how to eat.

We finished our eating adventures at David Burke's Primehouse. I’ve been fortunate enough to eat some world-class beef in my day, but this was right up there with anything I’ve ever had. They age the prime meat in the basement, and the back wall is actually made from blocks of pink salt.

It was too dark to get any decent shots of the steaks, but I had the 35-day Kansas City Strip, and Michele went for the even funkier 55-day old Ribeye. The amazing depth of beefy flavor and buttery texture made meat memories that will not soon fade. 

The side dishes were great, the service was excellent (a reoccurring theme during our stay), and all was accompanied by these gorgeous popovers. They’ve been haunting my dreams, and as soon as I figure out how they did them, I will share in a video.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this very brief glimpse into our culinary adventures in “Chi-Town” (I had the good sense to not use that while I was there). Thanks to everyone who so generously offered their personal tips and recommendations. We simply didn’t have enough time to eat everywhere we wanted, but we will be back for sure!  Thank you, Chicago!