Food Films, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

Food has been the subject of many films, easily becoming a genre onto itself. From grand documentaries to humble narratives, the subject of food has been explored with infinite detail at the cinema. I know from personal experience that a film can make me laugh, cry, or even leave a theatre feeling the desperate craving for a piece of egg sushi. Food films can do more than just awaken our appetites though, as food is as complex a subject as humanity itself. Filmakers take to food as a subject so often because the craft and intricacy of food is something people take to as a defining passion. This past Memorial day, which also happened to be my birthday, I was treated to the screening of a documentary about a tenacious perfectionist and the food he toils over. David Gelb's new documentary film, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi“, adresses the maxim that the food that we eat and the care we put into making it, makes us who we are.  Continue reading

Seizing Control: A Bread Made By Hand is Worth Two from a Box

Featured in the May 2012 issue of Saveur is a neat piece on artisanal breads and the surging popularity of bread-making in America lately. William Alexander’s “American Bread” is a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in the craft of baking delicious bread or the business of selling it.  The 18-page spread is pretty far-reaching, as it not only introduces some of today’s premier artisan bread bakers and shop owners from coast to coast, but also includes a variety of recipes, tutorials, and enticing photography. All of this is a great source of the necessary know-how, and maybe even some of the motivation, to get you in the kitchen to try your own hand at artisan-style bread baking.

Despite my shortcomings as a baker, I have picked up one bread-making secret, courtesy of a generous customer. Our Ozark Fried Chicken Seasoning makes a great addition to white bread. I use 1/2 tbsp for a one-pound loaf.

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Seasoning Snafus: Salts

Don't get salty about salt.

Reading online recently, I've noticed a lot of culinary blogs listing common kitchen mistakes, mishaps, and misunderstandings. One of my favorites is this growing list of over 40 of the most common kitchen errors at Cooking Light. It got me thinking about a number of the seasoning peccadillos that we hear from customers who come through the Spice House, and without a doubt are guilty of some ourselves from time to time. So what are some of these common seasoning snafus, and how can we avoid them?

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Cooking Restraint: Mushroom Pho, vegan edition

Everyone gets bored in the kitchen now and again, from a Michelin star chef to a teenager

Challenge yourself, you'll be surprised at what you come up with.

just looking for some different leftovers to microwave after school, we have all felt the touch of creative culinary stagnation. Cooking and eating the same things gets boring, but trying to come up with new things to cook can seem daunting, scary even. But it can be done, it just takes a little work and ironically, a little restraint.

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Culinary Space Design and abc kitchen

abc kitchen, New York

At the IACP conference in New York this spring, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion at the Bon Appetit test kitchen. This was held at their newly designed kitchen, which I believe served as more of a showpiece kitchen for hosting functions, than an actual test kitchen. The panel contained designer Adam Farmerie, David Rockwell, author of the book Spectacle, Matt Lightner of the newly opened Altera and restaurant consultant Clark Wolf. Perhaps restaurant design is not a subject I had given much thought to before, so their thoughts about design were quite enlightening to me. Continue reading

Hoosier Mama, we love your pies.

We are so lucky to have wonderful customers. In addition to our mainstream of home cooks, we also number a huge amount of chefs, caterers, bakeries and other food related companies among our clientele. It is a really good feeling when we see chefs in their checked pants browsing the shop,  they often just really like to hang around, absorb and smell and taste. This tells us we are doing something right. Yesterday Paula Haney, owner of Hoosier Mama Pie Shop even brought us a pie! A very delicious Dutch apple pie. Continue reading

The Most Delicious Season

Our Fall Display Table

Fall has always been my favorite season. There are so many wonderful things to appreciate about the fall. I love the colors of autumn, and the way falling leaves paint everything in a seasonal pallet. Fall is the season of corn mazes, hay rides, pumpkin patches and apple picking. My two favorite holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving, are in the fall (three if you count my birthday!). I even enjoy the crisp fall weather, and coming inside to warm up with some hot cider! But perhaps my favorite thing about fall is the food.

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Winter Food Festivals

Spice House managers Paige and Tracy recently traveled to the Icewine Festival in Ontario, an annual celebration of a rare vintage. This wine, produced exclusively in cold wine-growing regions, is made from grapes that are left on the vine past the

usual harvest time. They have plenty of time to dry and shrivel slightly, concentrating the juice, before winter freezes them. Picked only at night when the temperature drops below -10C, each grape produces one drop of thick, intensely flavored juice. This is fermented into a marvelously sweet and complex wine worth celebrating. The Niagara region, which is covered in small, often German-style vineyards, goes all-out for three weeks in January, with a street fair of food and wine, ice sculptures, and a cocktail competition. Many of the 60+ vineyards in the area participate in the fun, with tastings and food pairings of their own vintages of icewine (including an icewine paired with homemade marshmallows and another served with spit-roasted pig and icewine applesauce). Despite being outdoors in Canada in January, it’s a cheerful if well-coated and -scarfed crowd that moseys from vineyard to vineyard in the fresh frigid air.

Manager Tracy at the Icewine Festival

This is by no means the only winter-specific culinary fun. Most food festivals are held in more clement weather, and correspond with more conventional harvest times, but there are plenty of activities for those who don’t mind a little chill. With the Chicago blizzard behind us and a tang of spring at least temporarily in the air, let’s not write off the last few weeks of winter delicacies.

For those who can travel, there are dozens of festivals held in the winter, usually to showcase foods or beverages that are pushed to the background during the produce-laden summer and fall. The International Pizza Expo will be in Las Vegas March 1-3, while the 23rd Annual Fiery Foods and BBQ Show will be in Albuquerque from March 4-6. Wine and beer are often celebrated in the winter. Cities from Charleston to Portland have Food and Wine Festivals in late February and March; San Francisco is in the midst of its annual Beer Week, running through February 20, in which the San Francisco Brewer’s Guild shows off the incredible variety of beer made in and around the Bay Area; Michigan and Minnesota also hold winter beer fests. In many areas shellfish are at their peak at the end of winter. Fulton Texas has it’s 32nd Annual Oysterfest in March, and Penn Cove Washington will be munching though their 25th Annual Musselfest.

More locally to us, the 17th Annual Twin Cities Food and Wine Festival is held from March 5-6 in Minneapolis, and the 21st Annual Cincinnatti Wine Festival on March 10-12. In our hometown Chicago, Restaurant Week starts today (Feb 18), when 200 of the city’s best restaurants will offer special prix-fixed menus.

Here in the Great Lakes, and across the Northern US, late winter is also Maple Sugar Season. When the first hints of warmth draw the maples out of hibernation, it’s time to tap the trees. In Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana small local festivals spring up, where the public can help out with the sugaring, taste the sap and the fresh-made syrup, and enjoy a range of maple-flavored delights. Medora Indiana hosts the National Maple Syrup Festival on the first and second weekends or March, while smaller events like the Parke County Indiana Maple Syrup Fair run nearly every weekend between now and April all over the region.

Of course, if you’d rather stay snugly at home and hold your own celebration of food, we fully support that. A nice cozy kitchen full of wafting aromas and warming dishes is often the very best way to appreciate the flavors of winter: preserved, slow roasted, long-simmered, seasoned to perfection.Rich Text AreaToolbarBold (Ctrl + B)Italic (Ctrl + I)Strikethrough (Alt + Shift + D)Unordered list (Alt + Shift + U)Ordered list (Alt + Shift + O)Blockquote (Alt + Shift + Q)Align Left (Alt + Shift + L)Align Center (Alt + Shift + C)Align Right (Alt + Shift + R)Insert/edit link (Alt + Shift + A)Unlink (Alt + Shift + S)Insert More Tag (Alt + Shift + T)Toggle spellchecker (Alt + Shift + N)▼
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Spice House managers Paige and Tracy recently traveled to the Icewine Festival in Ontario, an annual celebration of a rare vintage. This wine, produced exclusively in cold wine-growing regions, is made from grapes that are left on the vine past the usual harvest time. They have plenty of time to dry and shrivel slightly, concentrating the juice, before winter freezes them. Picked only at night when the temperature drops below -10C, each grape produces one drop of thick, intensely flavored juice. This is fermented into a marvelously sweet and complex wine worth celebrating. The Niagara region, which is covered in small, often German-style vineyards, goes all-out for three weeks in January, with a street fair of food and wine, ice sculptures, and a cocktail competition. Many of the 60+ vineyards in the area participate in the fun, with tastings and food pairings of their own vintages of icewine (including an icewine paired with homemade marshmallows and another served with spit-roasted pig and icewine applesauce). Despite being outdoors in Canada in January, it’s a cheerful if well-coated and -scarfed crowd that moseys from vineyard to vineyard in the fresh frigid air.

This is by no means the only winter-specific culinary fun. Most food festivals are held in more clement weather, and correspond with more conventional harvest times, but there are plenty of activities for those who don’t mind a little chill. With the Chicago blizzard behind us and a tang of spring at least temporarily in the air, let’s not write off the last few weeks of winter delicacies.
For those who can travel, there are dozens of festivals held in the winter, usually to showcase foods or beverages that are pushed to the background during the produce-laden summer and fall. The International Pizza Expo will be in Las Vegas March 1-3, while the 23rd Annual Fiery Foods and BBQ Show will be in Albuquerque from March 4-6. Wine and beer are often celebrated in the winter. Cities from Charleston to Portland have Food and Wine Festivals in late February and March; San Francisco is in the midst of its annual Beer Week, running through February 20, in which the San Francisco Brewer’s Guild shows off the incredible variety of beer made in and around the Bay Area; Michigan and Minnesota also hold winter beer fests. In many areas shellfish are at their peak at the end of winter. Fulton Texas has it’s 32nd Annual Oysterfest in March, and Penn Cove Washington will be munching though their 25th Annual Musselfest.
More locally to us, the 17th Annual Twin Cities Food and Wine Festival is held from March 5-6 in Minneapolis, and the 21st Annual Cincinnatti Wine Festival on March 10-12. In our hometown Chicago, Restaurant Week starts today (Feb 18), when 200 of the city’s best restaurants will offer special prix-fixed menus.
Here in the Great Lakes, and across the Northern US, late winter is also Maple Sugar Season. When the first hints of warmth draw the maples out of hibernation, it’s time to tap the trees. In Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana small local festivals spring up, where the public can help out with the sugaring, taste the sap and the fresh-made syrup, and enjoy a range of maple-flavored delights. Medora Indiana hosts the National Maple Syrup Festival on the first and second weekends or March, while smaller events like the Parke County Indiana Maple Syrup Fair run nearly every weekend between now and April all over the region.
Of course, if you’d rather stay snugly at home and hold your own celebration of food, we fully support that. A nice cozy kitchen full of wafting aromas and warming dishes is often the very best way to appreciate the flavors of winter: preserved, slow roasted, long-simmered, seasoned to perfection.
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Celtic Seasoning

A story in yesterday's Chicago Tribune listed some bests of the Taste of Chicago. “Best vegetable: O'Brien's Celtic corn on the cob. Whatever spices are hiding in O'Brien's “Celtic Seasoning” shaker sure do bring out the flavor of those juicy corn kernals.” Guess who makes that blend for our neighbors in Old Town? I have wished on more than one occaison that we had a patented system for each blend we seek to create, but each seasoning seems to come with it own formulation of trial and error. We might want to create a new blend because it is the hot trend of the year, or people are doing more ethnic cooking from this country, this year, there are a whole variety of reasons we might choose from for making new blends. Rarely is it to honor the request of our landlord! “So, you guys are masters of spice, why don't you come up with a Celtic blend that we can shake on O'Brien's Irish corn that we grill during all of our summer festivals. We will buy it, the lable will have your name on it, and it will be a great way to drum up business.” We have a very savy landlord in Peter O'brien and he has always been good to us about giving us business. So off we went to create our Celtic seasoning. I did my diligent research, knowing already that spices do not actually grown in Ireland, the climate needs to be very tropical. Continue reading

Return of the Farmers' Markets

The Evanston Farmers’ Market opened this Saturday, and the Green City Market will have it’s fist day Wednesday.  All over the region farmers’ markets are starting up for the season.  This is exciting to those of us who love cooking with fresh, local ingredients; who look forward to the one (or more if you’re lucky) morning a week of prowling through stalls filled with just-picked fruits, dirt-streaked vegetables, and radiant greens, who know our favorite farmers by name and have a preferred vendor for different each type of produce.

Wholemarket_brockman

I find that no matter how much of the summer’s fruit I freeze, can, or preserve, by February I’m out of last summer’s produce.  By March, when the weather starts hinting at spring, I start perusing harvest schedules, dreaming of ripe strawberries and pea shoots.  By April, when morels are sprouting in the woods and good asparagus is available even at chain supermarkets, I’m writing down recipes and getting my reusable bags ready.  So when the Evanston market opened for the first time on Saturday, I was there early (before the some of the vendors were even finished setting up), ready to stock up on whatever produce was ripe and ready so early in the spring.

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