Duck is not typically a go-to, everyday food that people eat. In fact, most people don’t even think about duck as an option, except for the holidays. This all changed for me when I attended Duck University for food bloggers, sponsored by Maple Leaf Farms in Indiana. I was excited about this opportunity because I knew very little about duck, and had certainly never cooked it.
Me outside of the Maple Leaf Farms HQ – About to head in for class!
This experience was set up like a real university. The first stop was a tour of the feed mill, where we saw how they make duck feed from scratch. They take incredible care of what goes into the feed, including protein, vitamins and minerals so that the ducks can be healthy and strong. They go through rigorous testing to make sure that the feed is safe for the ducks.
Duck Feed – Full of vitamins and minerals
We then visited a duck farm where the ducks were raised. Biosecurity is a major initiative for food safety and disease prevention, so we were instructed to wear special suits and dip our feet into a foot bath before walking near the ducks.
Dressed in our Biosecurity suits
The conditions are clean, and the ducks have plenty of room to frolic about. Maple Leaf Farms partners with over 150 local farmers to raise their ducks, which is great for the communities. The last stop on the tour was the duck processing plant, where they say it is as clean as a hospital. It was reassuring to see the USDA inspectors right there on the line.
Afterwards, we had a classroom-style session.
Did you know….
- Duck Fat is a good fat – It compares favorably to olive oil in terms of the mono-unsaturated fatty acid oleic, and the poly-unsaturated fatty acids linoleic and linolenic acids
- There are various breeds of duckwith different flavor profiles. Maple Leaf Farms raises the White Pekin duck, which is more mild and less gamey than some of the other duck varieties.
- Maple Leaf Farms is the #1 producer of duck in the U.S. with about a 75% market share, producing 13-15 Million ducks annually? (They are like Tyson Chicken, but for Duck)
- Duck is a red meat - It has a different muscle structure than chicken, and it is cooked more like steak vs. chicken. It’s not prone to salmonella, so it can be cooked to medium/medium rare for the best flavor and texture.
My favorite part of the evening was the 5-course duck dinner, where every course had duck, including the dessert (with Duck Bacon). I told chef Dale Miller that I could die right then and be happy, because the food was so creative and tasted AMAZING!
Roasted Eggplant Tomato Bisque with Duck Confit and Frizzled Leeks
Salad with Smoked Duck, Compressed Watermelon, Heirloom Tomatoes
Grilled Duck Breast with “Ramp Charmoula”, Warm Tuscan Potato Salad, Roasted Sweet Corn Crema and Seasonal Vegetables
Gruyere Popover brushed with Duck Fat
Warm Peach and Blackberry Crisp with Almond Duck Bacon Streusel & Vanilla Gelato
Erica Williams and Chef Dale Miller
A lot of people have had bad experiences with duck in the past, saying that it has tasted oily or gamey, but I did not have this experience at all – the flavor is mild, and I did not have any oily aftertaste from anything I ate. It truly depends on the breed of duck, and how it is prepared.
Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton (from Sara’s Weeknight Meals on PBS) also gave a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast, which was much easier than I had originally thought. It really is as simple as scoring the breast, cooking it with the skin down, flipping it over, and cooking it to the desired temperature. It needs to be a little bit pink for the best dining experience. Sara joined us on our tours, and it was fun to hang out with her – she’s very smart and talented, and we were honored to have her accompany us.
Me and Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton
Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton providing a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast.
In addition to this amazing experience, I was able to network with about 19 amazing food bloggers that were inspiring and a boatload of fun!
Now that you are a little bit more familiar with duck, I would highly encourage you to experiment with it. The easiest way is to try some of the pre-cooked products, like the appetizers (potstickers, spring rolls, quesadillas), or the roast half duck. Then you could move to cooking some of the other items on your own, like the duck breast, and if you are ready for the big leagues, you can roast a whole duck. If you can’t find the products in the store, you can always order online http://mapleleaffarms.com/shop and they will ship it on dry ice to your house, or you can ask the meat department manager to order it in for you.
I’m happy to say that I’m a proud graduate of Duck University, and I have a diploma to prove it!
Attending Duck University has broadened my horizons and I now consider duck to add to my current cooking routine – I hope you will too. Stay tuned for future posts with recipes and ideas.
The face of lunch in the loop is now much more exciting with the opening of Rustle + Roux Cafe, located in the Franklin building at 227 West Monroe Building on the 2nd Floor Mezzanine.
This upscale, quick dining experience features Italian fare from Mercato by Fabio Viviani, and Mexican flavors from Mercadito Taqueria. (Yes, the same Mercadito from River North is now available in a smaller, lunch version!)
Chef Fabio Viviani
Chef Fabio Viviani will be onsite at the grand opening on Monday, June 9th from 11am-1pm for cooking demos, giveaways and more.
Rustle + Roux will offer seven food stations:
- Mercato – Napoli-style pizzas, fresh salads and a variety of gnocchi and pasta made from scratch
- Mercadito Taqueria – delicious salads, tacos, and traditional side dishes
- Grill’d – freshly made sandwiches
- So Deli – a sandwich station complete with a carvery
- Create – a station of daily made to order items
- A salad bar – fresh, seasonal ingredients
- illy coffee bar
As a food blogger, I was invited to visit Rustle + Roux to check out the place and taste some of the food. I had the opportunity to try the Baja Mahi fish tacos, fried plantains, and guacamole and chips from the Mercadito Taquiera, and they were all delicious. The tacos tasted just like they do at the original Mercadito location (which happens to be one of my favorite restaurants), and I was especially excited about the fried plantains, which comes with a fantastic lime sauce and is not something that is offered very often on lunch menus.
Chips & Guac from Mercadito Taqueria
The Mercato station is a mini version of the ever-popular Sienna Tavern restaurant with the homemade gnocchi and pizza options. I tried the Basil and Parmesan pesto gnocchi from the Mercato station, which were soft, fluffy and delicious, with full of flavor, along with the slow braised Bolognaise, which was just perfect.
Delicious Mahi taco at Mercadito Taqueria
Each station will have a specialty menu, in addition to new daily and weekly options featuring fresh ingredients and scratch-made entrees that are sourced locally whenever possible.
The café will serve breakfast and lunch weekdays from 7 a.m. – 2 p.m., with illy coffee and to-go menu items offered until 3 p.m.
Rustle+Roux will also offer catering, so for those of you that have the option to select lunch meeting food, this would be a great option for catering. Wouldn’t it be great to have tacos from Mercadito Taquiera for your office lunch meeting?
The cafe also offers free WiFi, which is a great touch for those that need to multitask during lunch.
Lunch in the loop has definitely taken a step in the right direction. Break out of the monotony and check it out – I will admit that it’s a little tricky to find at first (go up the escalators after entering the lobby to the second floor, and follow the signs), but once you go just once, it’s easy to get to. More information can be found at the Rustle+Roux website http://www.rustleandroux.com. See you there!
I tasted the Sweet Riesling from Love Cork Screw wines at a dessert event and knew that I needed to feature it on my blog. This wine literally tastes like summer in a glass, and instantly transported me to memories of fabulous evenings at Ravinia, fun times with friends on rooftops, and outdoor summer concerts at Millennium Park.
Erica and Chrishon at Love Cork Screw/Taste Bud Diaries video shoot
Not only is the wine tasty, but there is an inspiring story behind it. Love Cork Screw was launched in part by Chrishon Lampley, who previously owned the popular Three Peas Art Lounge, an art and wine boutique in Chicago’s South Loop. The boutique was abruptly closed down due to an unfortunate sewage issue in the building, and after a few years, Chrishon re-emerged, launching Love Cork Screw in December 2013. The wines are now in +30 locations, and the brand is taking off. Chrishon’s marketing strategy positions this wine as not just a brand, but a lifestyle – complete with eye catching labels, a popular radio show and events, all which have helped to propel this brand to success.
Love Cork Screw Riesling and Pinot Grigio – ready for summer sipping!
The “Head Over Heels” Riesling is naturally sweet and crisp with a hint of lemon and grapefruit. This wine is versatile, and would pair well with chicken (i.e. orange chicken, chicken and pear salad) fish, cheeses and desserts.
Click here for an easy-to-make, delicious dip recipe that would travel well for a picnic and would pair quite nicely with the Riesling – it has Feta and Cream Cheese and is filled with flavor.
“Dip for the Stars” recipe from allrecipes.com Photo: allrecipes.com
The “Good Times Good Friends” Pinot Grigio is another wine that is great for Chicago summers. It is medium-bodied with apple and pear flavor notes. This wine is excellent for seafood, and would pair nicely with foods like sushi, oysters, clams, mussels, or pasta.
Chrishon’s story is inspiring, and it’s a story that I want to tell when I share the wine with friends. Check out the video below for my interview with Chrishon to hear more about her story, and after watching it, I think that you will want to tell her story too.
I had the rare opportunity to be an Official Sprinkles Taste Tester at Sprinkles Cupcakes with about 20 other bloggers (shout out to Windy City Blogger Collective) and below are a few things I learned “backstage” that most people don’t know:
I’m an official Sprinkles Taste Tester! Dream come true!
1. The cupcakes are hand frosted with a spatula (not a piping bag), and there is a specific style of frosting the cupcakes so that they all look so elegant and delicious:
o Dollop a big hunk of frosting on the top. Smooth it flat with a spatula, then smooth it out on the sides.
o Create a sprinkles swirl on the top and add the signature candy piece, or dip the cupcake frosting-side down in a bowl of sprinkles.
I learned how to do it, but my cupcakes didn’t look like theirs – it takes a lot of practice to make cupcakes as perfectly beautiful as theirs. In fact, they have a “cupcake graveyard” for cupcakes that don’t make the cut. It’s all about quality control, folks! (My cupcake would have gone to the graveyard).
My attempt at decorating a cupcake sprinkles style…
Still tasted good…
2. They really do use quality ingredients. If you see a strawberry cupcake, they put real strawberries in them. This is why they taste so good. The chocolate that they use is high-quality stuff. Sprinkles doesn’t play…
High Quality Chocolate. Only the best!
3. Sprinkles now offers MINI CUPCAKES! It’s nice to have options. The frosting is piped on these because they are so small.
4. The Sprinkles Cupcakes bakers can frost about 35 cupcakes in about 6-8 minutes. Impressive!
5. There is a Sprinkles cupcake jingle that’s actually kind of hot. It has a rap verse in it & you have to listen. It’s a catchy tune, and you will probably find yourself randomly humming it – or you will sing it while you are eating one of their cupcakes…
I’ve been a fan of Sprinkles after I had my first bite of their vanilla cupcake when they first opened the Chicago location. I always like to judge a good cupcake shop by the vanilla flavor – if they can make a good vanilla, everything else should taste amazing. My other favorites are the Strawberry and the Cinnamon & they are always introducing new seasonal flavors.
Sprinkles put the gourmet cupcake trend on the map and they continue to innovate with their cupcake ATM and amazing flavors. These are just a couple of reasons that there is always a line out the door that I will GLADLY stand in. If you’ve never been, check it out – you’ll be singing that jingle in no time!
This is just a little bit bigger than my KitchenAid mixer at home…
Cupcakes waiting to be frosted
Cupcake box with a special message for mom!
Keeping it real with actual Tequila in the margarita cupcakes
My new t-shirt that I will wear proudly
Our group of Taste Testers from Windy City Bloggers!
Photo Credit: Windy City Blogger Collective
This past weekend, I attended “A Charitable Confection”, which was a dessert-centric fundraiser to benefit a charity called Project Orange Tree. As a food blogger, I received complimentary admission to the event, and I want to share these amazing dessert finds that you absolutely need to know about:
- Brown Sugar Bakery – Brown Sugar is a classic – you really can’t go wrong with Brown Sugar Bakery, especially if you like southern desserts like sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, banana pudding and caramel cake. Stephanie the owner is really sweet, and will work with you on custom orders. This bakery won the Best Bakery award on Steve Harvey in 2013 (you can see the clip on their website at http://www.brownsugarbakerychicago.com, so if that doesn’t tell you anything, then I don’t know what to tell you!) Brown Sugar is truly a Chicago staple.
- Yum Squared Bakery – Yum Squared is a great place for you to go if you need dessert catering for an event. I had a wonderful strawberry champagne cupcake – it was the perfect consistency and the flavor was just the right balance of not being too sweet. I also tried the salted caramel chocolate cake, which tasted just as good as it looked. They offer organic ingredients and also have vegan and dairy-free options, which is a nice touch. http://www.yumsquared.com
- Spin-Spun Gourmet Cotton Candy – Have you ever had salted caramel cotton candy? Probably not, but let me tell you- it’s the best cotton candy I’ve tasted! It’s all-natural, so it doesn’t have the colors that typical cotton candy has (it’s all white), and the flavors were not typical of cotton candy flavors. A couple of other flavors that were on the menu included Coconut and Tabasco-Watermelon. Very creative, and something to keep in mind for a little something different at a party. http://www.spin-spun.com
- BAKE is a bakery in Wicker Park that focuses on classic American desserts, including Whoopie Pies, Pop Tarts, Cookies, Cakes and Pies. I purchased the pretzel cookie, because I love cookies and it looked interesting and I could only imagine the sweet and salty flavor. I could tell that this cookie was made of high-quality ingredients. Check them out at http://www.bakechicago.com.
- This Jam is the JAM! If you like homemade jam and preserves, definitely check out Pear Tree Preserves. I tasted an apple caramel jam that they had, which led me to purchase the strawberry citrus jam. I liked some of the different flavors that they have, including cherry citrus and honey blueberry. I had some of the strawberry citrus jam on my toast for breakfast, and it was delightful. It mainly has a strawberry flavor with a hint of orange, making it taste really fresh, like you just tasted a little bit of summertime. You may find them at a Farmer’s Market in Chicago, and can check out their website at http://www.peartreepreserves.com.
I know that these places will satisfy your sweet tooth because they certainly did for me. Enjoy!
*This blog post is dedicated to Leonore Draper, who was a part of organizing this event and lost her life later that evening. May Project Orange Tree and other anti-violence organizations continue to find & support solutions to stop the violence.
I have received the honor of being invited to Dishcrawl’s Secret Supper on April 1st, and the chef for this Secret Supper has just been announced – Chef Patrick Glatz!
Chef Patrick Glatz is professionally trained and highly travelled. He received his education at The Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder, CO. He honed his skills in France, Italy, and the US Virgin Island of St. Thomas, embracing international cuisines and training with the finest chefs. Chef Glatz leveraged his diverse experiences to become the Executive Chef at several restaurants, including Havana Blue and Mims Limtree in the Caribbean, as well as the Copperworks Restaurant in Peoria, IL. He also has extensive background in catering and has worked as a personal chef for the owner of a Peruvian Airline in Southern California. His motto is “You only live once, why not dine well?” and he attributes his love of flavor melding to camping trips he took with his grandfather as a young boy.
As you can see, Chef Pat has a unique and cultured culinary background, and I expect that this dinner will be innovative and delicious. Join me at this Secret Supper on April 1st. You can purchase tickets at http://dishcrawl.com/chicagoss. Hope to see you there!
Want to add a bit of intrigue and surprise to your dinner plans? Try a secret supper club. They offer a level of mystery with secret locations, surprise menus, and close & personal interactions with their breakout chefs. It is believed that the idea for the underground dining scene first started in Europe, where chefs & amateurs created private, unlicensed speakeasy-operated dinners in obscure locations. This concept has since evolved in the States, and can be still found in various forms. Whether held at the home of a chef, an “underground” venue, or a space transformed such as a museum or church, all secret suppers share the shroud of exclusivity and discretion. Further variations on this theme rest purely with the chef. Formal training and culinary accolades do not make a perfect chef. Often, Secret Suppers feature self proclaimed chefs with an affinity for culinary fusion, creativity, or other specific talent.
Chefs are joining the secret supper movement in increasing numbers – either leaving restaurants to strike out on their own, or starting secret supper clubs on the side. The Secret Supper format is a winning experience for both the chefs and the diners. Chefs get a chance to showcase new recipes & concepts with an intimate group of serious diners, and foodies get a first-row seat on a culinary journey.
In the food-centric city of Chicago, the Secret Supper trend is rebounding in popularity right alongside speakeasies, farmers markets and Malort. There are a number of active Secret Supper clubs in the city, which by their very design, might not be on your radar.
Membership in The Sunday Dinner Club earned diners the privileged first taste of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, a recipe that gained instant popularity following the recent opening of the comfort food restaurant.
Clandestino, and the Stew Supper Club also operate beneath the mainstream radar, hosting such themed dinners as the Feast of the Seven Fishes and a Whole Hog menu. Newest on the list is Dishcrawl’s Chicago contingent, holding a Secret Supper at a classified venue in River North on April 1st. See http://www.dishcrawl.com/chicagoss for more information.
If everyone knew about them, Secret Suppers and Underground Dining wouldn’t be any fun. If you’re a foodie, though, in need of a unique and intriguing culinary experience, a little investigation might lead to a whole new and exiting way of dining.
What’s Good, everyone?
I know it’s been awhile since I’ve done “What’s Good?”, but I’m back!
This week’s episode of “What’s Good?” features The Punch House in Pilsen, and Trader Joe’s brown rice.
The Punch House offers a unique bar/lounge concept in the increasingly popular Pilsen neighborhood. The Punch House is located in the basement of a restaurant called Dusek’s (which is also very good and just started brunch service), and it’s set up to be like your grandfather’s old basement back in the 60′s, with the wood paneling and everything. The retro vibe is different and refreshing. They have a large and beautiful aquarium right behind the bar, and at midnight, they stop everything to feed the fishies. It’s an entire event, and it’s quite entertaining. If you are sitting at the bar during this festive occasion, then you get a free shot.
There are several varieties of punch to choose from, and many of them are on-tap. Whether you like dark liquor or light, there is something for everyone. You can also order a punch bowl if you are seated at one of the tables. They have a punch that tastes like lemonade, and I tasted the punch of a friend of mine, which had more of a dark-liquor profile. Definitely ask the bartender about which would be the best according to your taste. They usually have a DJ with great music, and I enjoyed the crowd – down to earth, casual, unpretentious, cool people. They also have a secret room, which they use for private events. It is literally a regular-looking wall that turns around into another room, like you see on the movies. Just one more thing that makes me like this place.
I would highly recommend the Punch House for something to do, especially on a cold, wintery Chicago evening.
Also on “What’s Good?” is the Trader Joe’s Brown Rice. If you like brown rice, you know that it takes FOREVER to cook. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” This microwaveable brown rice is a very convenient shortcut, if you are trying to get a healthy meal on the table in a short amount of time, like after work during the week. The packets inside only take 3 minutes to microwave for perfectly cooked brown rice. You can’t beat that with a baseball bat!
I just returned from a trip to Panama and I really enjoyed my time there, although I had quite the adventure. We accidentally ended up “glamping” (glamorous camping) because we had made flight arrangements to Bocas del Toro, a Caribbean island off of Panama, not realizing that the hotels were 100% completely sold out. Bocas del Toro is a very popular international tourist destination, especially for New Years, where hotels need to be booked 3-4 months out, as the island is very small. We ended up staying two nights in Bocas and two nights in Panama City, which is much more cosmopolitan than I had anticipated.
For the Bocas portion of the trip, a cancellation opened up at the Palmar Tent Lodge, an eco-friendly tent lodge that is off the grid – using rain water for all water needs, solar power for lights, etc. The only available rooms were in dorm tents with 3 bunk beds. I had never done anything like this so I tried to embrace it, but in actuality, there was not much “glam” to the glamping. We were one with the earth. Monkeys playing in the trees, an abundance of insects, lizards, strange sounds in the night, pimped out outhouses as bathrooms, cold rain showers…it was very basic, and took a lot of getting used to. The plus side was the soothing sound of the ocean waves as I went to sleep, and the beautiful night sky where the stars where plentiful and literally shining like diamonds. We looked at the stars in awe for about 2 hours – a very memorable moment. The temperature was also nice and warm, in the upper 80’s – a welcome change from the winter cold in Chicago.
The food in Panama was delicious all-around, especially the seafood. In Bocas, we visited a restaurant called the Pirate, and I had a delicious whitefish covered with a curry sauce, coconut rice, steamed vegetables and sweet plantains. The fish was perfectly cooked – I will note that the fish was a little on the salty side, and we experienced this at multiple restaurants, so perhaps this is the way they season it – still very tasty, especially with the sweet plantains to balance it out.
Panamanian Curried Fish with Sweet Plantains and Steamed Vegetables
Bocas is also known for the very inexpensive lobster and shellfish options. I did not partake as I am allergic, but definitely good to know if you enjoy shellfish.
Many of the smaller restaurants in Bocas had a very lightly fried whitefish that was incredibly fresh and delicious. On a snorkeling trip, we stopped at an ocean restaurant oasis, where they served this fish and I also had an amazing Cuba Libre drink – Coca-Cola, Rum and fresh lime juice. Perfectly balanced and SO delicious.
During my time in Panama City, we took advantage of the many varieties of baked empanadas (meat pies) that were in various hotels and shops. The empanadas were great as a to-go snack to eat for later (i.e. on a flight). Highly recommended.
In Casco Viejo, (the Old Town section) we visited a restaurant called Casablanca, which was located in an open square. We sat outside in the evening and listened to the sounds of a live harp player. The food was delicious – once again I got seafood – a whitefish in a rich buttery sauce. I also had some plantains, which were served in these cute mini fry baskets.
Plantains in mini fry baskets.
Shrimp served in a pineapple
The Casco Viejo area has a number of cute shops and restaurants, including a French Ice Cream shop called Granclement , which also makes the cones from scratch. I thoroughly enjoyed this ice cream – it was very rich and flavorful, and they had a nice variety of interesting options. I had the vanilla bean ice cream because the vanilla flavor was so strong – a refreshing treat for a warm day.
Granclement Ice Cream in Panama with homemade cone
Granclement Ice Cream Store in Panama
One must get coffee in Panama, because the coffee beans are harvested in the mountains of a region in Panama called Boquette. I was told that the coffee is very good and strong (I am not a coffee enthusiast). There are also tours of the coffee farms in Boquette that are available. I didn’t get a chance to make it to this area, but if I return to Panama, I would put this on my list.
Overall, I enjoyed my trip to Panama, and would encourage anyone to visit, and experience the food and culture. Flights to Panama are relatively inexpensive from the states, and the country offers so much to do – whether you want to stay in the city, visit the mountains or take a day trip to one of the islands, there is something for everyone.
Below is a link to a video summary of my trip. Enjoy!