2014 Chicago Food Bloggers Holiday Gift Guide

It's finally here! Our second annual Chicago Food Bloggers Holiday Gift Guide!

Chicago Food Bloggers has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year. In fact, we are now at nearly 300 Chicago-area food blogger members! Which means our annual guide is even bigger -- nearly 200 pages of gift ideas for everyone on your list.

For the second year in a row, a group of Chicago Food Bloggers came together to create a list of our favorite foods, kitchen tools, cookbooks, and beyond. And this year the guide is even bigger, with nearly 200 pages of gift ideas for every friend, family member, colleague, and host or hostess.

In the pages ahead you’ll find the gifts that we already love and the items that are at the top of our holiday lists this year. We have plenty of healthy ideas, more than a few indulgences, quite a few coffee-related suggestions, and the kitchen gadgets that are worth the space and money.

We hope you find a little something for that foodie in your life, and maybe even a new favorite for yourself.

From all of the Chicago Food Bloggers, we wish you a delicious holiday season.

Top 10 Things I Learned from Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home

This is a special guest post from Judy of The Hungry Learner.

James Beard Award winner and owner of Red Rooster in Harlem, Marcus Samuelsson has recently published a new cookbook called Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home, a tribute to home-cooking. His previous publications include The Soul of a New Cuisine, Street Food, and Yes, Chef. He regularly appears on Food Network and has judged on ABC's The Taste. 

1. That man is hella stylish. Marcus works colorful clothes and hats like he’s a full-time model.

2. Marcus is a proponent of embracing and showcasing culture through food—not just Ethiopian, Swedish, or French culture, but every culture. 

“When I think about a pantry shot fifty years—even twenty years ago—I imagine it like an iconic Andy Warhol painting—tomato soup, corn flakes, ketchup, and shortening. An American pantry today reflects where we are now and where we are going. Our tastebuds are changing to reflect a more culturally diverse palate.”

3. The book bleeds Home is where the heart is. 

“Here’s my full circle: I understand that I belong in a kitchen at home. And I have homes in many places.” The pages literally smell like nostalgia. 

4. Basics reign supreme in the kitchen. 

“I’m constantly asked, ‘What’s the most important tool in the kitchen?’ For me, it’s hands. They give us the authority to call any dish ours.” Marcus also writes, “A really good chef’s knife, heavy-duty pots and pans, a high-efficiency blenders, and sturdy wooden spoons are really all you need to create gorgeous dishes in your kitchen.” 

5. Marcus has great taste in music.

Each chapter offers a playlist, ranging from hip hop to classic rock. Grilling music includes Girl on Fire (Alicia Keys), I’m on Fire (Bruce Springsteen), and Beds Are Burning (Midnight Oil). 

6. Marcus is well-traveled. 

“Best empanada I’ve ever had was in East L.A. It was big enough for six—almost like a crepe—and filled with pork stew”. I’m not exaggerating when I state that he’s been literally everywhere. He’s like the black brother Anthony Bourdain wish he had. 

7. Street food is “favorite food in the world.” 

On the street, people are selling their culture, and themselves. These are unplugged sessions, not rehearsed performances. And this is the best kind of food to make at home, because these cooks do all their prep in their little home kitchens, just like you will.” Street food isn’t about décor, service, or pretty plating. It’s about the food, pure and simple.

8. Marcus doesn’t believe in kid-oriented products. 

“I don’t cook down to kids, and I don’t think the idea of making something different for them is a good one.” There’s no kid’s music or food in Africa, Jamaica, India...or really anywhere but the U.S. 

9. The book is strictly food; any major accomplishments are only briefly mentioned. For instance, he’s run the gamut of cooking shows—Chopped, Top Chef, the Taste, Iron Chef—but none of that is heavily emphasized in the book. I suppose he didn’t want to brag. 

10. He loves his wife. 

“With my wife, Maya, I have made a home.” His wife’s lamb lasagna dish is one of the book’s recipes.

Nordic Dinner at Travelle

Chef Tim Graham has been inspired. Travelle's executive chef explored Norway as one of a select group of five American chefs invited by the Norwegian Seafood Council this past July. "I truly underestimated the culinary power of this region – it produces some the best seafood in the world," says Graham. “Between the tour of Stavanger and visits to salmon and halibut farms, it was an honor to take a culinary expedition along with likeminded chefs from across the country.”

Norwegian salmon crudo with Calabrian vinaigrette and heirloom carrots.

Norwegian salmon crudo with Calabrian vinaigrette and heirloom carrots.

And now, with Graham joining the Norwegian Seafood Council Culinary Board, those ingredients and influences are showing up on the Travelle menu. Earlier this month the restaurant, located in the Langham Hotel, combined the team's signature Mediterranean flavors with ingredients and inspiration from Norway with their Nordic Chef's Table Menu, and Chicago Food Bloggers was there to try it all.

Norwegian cod with Portuguese piri-piri, fregola, and brussels sprouts.

Norwegian cod with Portuguese piri-piri, fregola, and brussels sprouts.

And there was certainly a wide range of dishes to try, as the dinner started with a huge variety of meze, from tiny, sweet Norwegian pink shrimp served with melon over almond hummus to brandade with romesco on toast (or huge sheets of light flatbread). A bright Norwegian salmon crudo was spiced with a Calabrian vinaigrette and shavings of colorful heirloom carrots, while a salmon loin was served in the traditional "smorbrod" open-faced style, topped with tender scrambled eggs and dill. Norwegian fjord trout had a simultaneously savory, spicy, and smoky flavor from the triple punch of vadouvan, harissa, and saffron, while Norwegian herring was served simply with bursting cherry tomatoes over bulgur. Topping it all off -- rich envelopes of caramelized gjetost cheese wrapped in flaky baklava and crunchy potatoes spiced with coriander (and don't leave without ordering one of their signature autumn cocktails).

Norwegian halibut with fig leaf, goat crema, and Champagne bouillon.

Norwegian halibut with fig leaf, goat crema, and Champagne bouillon.

And that was just the beginning. The first course opened with Norwegian mackeral "bezerta" flavored with unmistakably elegant rose water, while a second course featured rich chunks of Norwegian king crab over capellacci and broccoli rabe, with a healthy dose of mussel consomme poured over tableside. The third course, and my personal favorite, was Norwegian cod (sadly, there aren't enough cod cheeks in the world to supply Travelle, Chef Graham noted)  laced with the bright heat of Portuguese piri-piri hot sauce, served over Sardinian fregola (similar to pearl couscous) and topped with pungent, whole brussels sprouts leaves. The final savory course: a Greek-inspired Norwegian halibut topped with a crispy fig leaf served with olives and figs over goat crema, over which a Champagne bouillon is poured. For the sweet ending, a beautifully plated Nutella baklava,  a real crowd pleaser (judging by the Chicago Food Bloggers Twitter and Instagram feeds alone).

Nutella baklava.

Nutella baklava.

Think of this food as next-level New Nordic -- the clean flavors and seafood of Nordic cuisine, but taken in new directions with deep, vibrant Mediterranean flavors and spices, dishes that make you look at staples like salmon and cod in a new way. The menu straddles the line between light and rich, clean and complicated. 

While the ever-changing menu at Travelle has moved on to the current "Turkish Spice Market" menu, the inspiration Chef Graham has taken from his Nordic travels will surely influence his cooking well into the future, and that can only mean good things are in store.

Note: Chicago Food Bloggers was invited to attend a complimentary preview of the Travelle's Nordic menu. The opinions in this article are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Chicago Food Bloggers or other members.

NoMI Garden

This is a special guest post from Sapna who blogs at The Vegetarian Tourist.

Hey Chicago, remember the polar vortex???

Yeah, many of us are a little traumatized from the winter of 2014 and are trying hard to forget those bleak, freezing days we endured being cooped up inside. Luckily -35 degree wind chills and inches upon inches of snow are in the past.

Let’s get out and fully enjoy every second of the summer that we have rightfully earned! I, for one, plan on spending every possible moment outdoors soaking in the sun and enjoying our fabulous city. One of my favorite Chicago summertime experiences is to take advantage of the many beautiful rooftop terraces sprinkled throughout the city. And, one of the best places to do that is at NoMI Garden at the Park Hyatt Hotel.

Situated right off Michigan Avenue, NoMI Garden is a picturesque outdoor terrace showcasing stunning city views with a relaxed and chill atmosphere. The charming decor with a very “Miami” feel makes this the perfect place to kick back and enjoy a few cocktails and bites, day or night.

Last week NoMI released a new summer line of hand-crafted cocktails that are both refreshing and delicious. A few of the options include:

  •  Sticks and Stones- Tito’s Vodka, Rothman & Winters Apricot White Peach, Lemon, Lemon Verbena Syrup
  • Part Of One- Cazadores Blanco Tequila, Campari, Lime, Agave Syrup, Habenero Schrub, Ginger Beer
  •  Bardstown Shuffle- Johnny Drum Private Stock Bourbon, Maraschino Pineapple, Cinnamon Syrup, Allspice Dram
  •  Frozen Selection of Drinks- NoMI Garden features a rotating classic cocktail selection frozen to -18 degrees Farenheit for summer enjoyment

I was honored to be invited to a private event at NoMI Garden to try out some of the new summer concoctions. Hands down, my favorite drink of those listed was the Sticks and Stones. It’s a light, refreshing and fruity cocktail but not overly sweet…my kind of summer drink! Pair that with NoMI’s tasty margarita flatbread topped with mozzarella and fresh basil and you are looking at the perfect light combo for a summer evening.

Don’t let the summer of 2014 slip by without getting the chance to check out NoMI Garden. Remember, we only have a few months of prime rooftop weather before we have to bust out our jackets again. Here’s to hoping for many perfect, 80 degree, sunny days…MANY of them!

Check out the full post with even more delicious photos at The Vegetarian Tourist.

Note: Chicago Food Bloggers was invited to attend a complimentary preview of the NoMI Garden. The opinions in this article are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Chicago Food Bloggers or other members.

Five Questions with...Chritiques!

For this edition of Five Questions, we spoke with Christina Solomon, who blogs at Chritiques!

Why I started my blog: After toying with the idea for a couple of years, I decided to finally start Chritiques for a number of reasons. One of my favorite hobbies is dining out and navigating the tremendous Chicago food scene. We are so lucky to live in one of the best food cities in the world, and I am always eager to try both the next new thing, as well as the tried and true restaurants that stand the test of time. I have always enjoyed sharing these experiences with my friends and family and found many people coming to me for recommendations. Therefore, I thought a blog with my restaurant reviews would be a nice one stop shop for those looking for some good places to eat, and also a place where I could express my opinions. After leaving the practice of law and going into law firm business development, I had a little extra time on my hands to finally start writing my Chritiques and utilizing this creative outlet.

Why you should read my blog: My readers include those people who love restaurants as much as I do, that are looking for a great restaurant at which to dine, or are traveling to Chicago and need some restaurant recommendations. I am starting to feature reviews of food products and chef interviews, as well, so anyone that likes to eat or has a culinary curiosity can find something interesting on my blog. 

What I am working on now and in the future: I just started my blog at the beginning of 2014, so I am currently working on a logo and blog design which I hope to roll out soon. I am also evolving the blog into covering more than just restaurant reviews and am expanding into reviews of food products and food-related events, as well. I am new to blogging, so I am just trying to learn as much as possible and let the blog evolve organically. 

We gave Christina our 20 questions, and these are the 5 she chose:

1. I am being banished from Chicago. I have one night left in the city and you can choose where I eat. Where and why? 

Alinea. Why not splurge on your last meal in one of the world's most forward thinking gastronomical cities and restaurants? Alinea was my first real "foodie" experience and taught me how to appreciate the art of food and the purpose of fine dining. You will never look at food the same way again. 

2. Something I would change about Chicago: 

This is too easy: the weather! If we could have our spring and summer weather year round, Chicago would be the most perfect city in the world in which to live. 

3. What is the meaning of life in EXACTLY ten words: 

Happiness, fulfillment, love, great food, great friends. and great wine. 

4. If you had to create a blog about any other topic, what would it be? What would the first post be about?

My husband and I recently bought our first house together, so the topic of a blog I would create would be about house hunting, decorating, and meshing two different styles and preferences into one space. The first post would be about how best to consolidate a couple's respective furnishing and overcoming design dilemmas that couples encounter. 

5. Every parent should do this with his or her child:

Teach them good table manners, respect, appreciation, and how to say "please" and "thank you."

And finally, we asked Christina for one question for you to answer in the comments:

What type(s) of restaurant is Chicago lacking or needs improvement, whether a certain type of cuisine or style?

Thanks, Christina! Be sure to visit Chritiques!