Chicago’s French Market

We ventured over to the West Loop of Chicago to visit Chicago’s French Market one morning a few weeks ago.  The market earned a Zagat spot for markets to visit; along with the Melrose Market in Seattle, the St. Roch Market in New Orleans, and the Krog Street Market in Atlanta–so, it deserved a look see.  As a true foodie, I wanted to investigate what this European market could offer the shopper.

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We found a diverse selection of fresh food to order from 30 booths, along with fresh flowers, classic chocolates, cheese, pastries, macaroons, and grocery items. I would say that late morning to lunch would be the best time to visit, as many of the offerings were best taken at lunch or late afternoon for dinner.

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There was an ample selection of items, including something for everyone. We sampled some breakfast beignets at the table space in the front of the market.  There is additional seating within the market which has a Parisian design, as well as seating within the lobby area of the building.  The striking yellow umbrellas and red awning over the main door can’t be missed. When in town, do visit if in the neighborhood.

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Pizza soup with Pepperoni

With weather reports this past week coming in for our area, I was questioning if Spring was ever really going to take hold in Michigan.  I am still wearing a sweater, and yes, still eating soup.  My husband has learned over the years that I only offer certain foods, menus or dishes during appropriate months of the year.  He knows not to ask for mashed potatoes in July.  But, it took a few years for him to fully understand how I classify foods by season. Mostly, I focus on fresh vegetables of the season and look for the protein that best matches with those offerings.

However, that being said, and heading into May, I am still serving soup. In other years, with warmer temperatures, hot soup would be off the menu in March, and only replaced with a chilled soup offering until September.

I found this recipe for pizza soup prepared in a slow cooker from Taste of Home.  It is another recipe that calls for assembling the ingredients, and walking away for 7 1/2 hours. I modified the recipe to include frozen tortellini, instead of cheese ravioli, and feel that my version is super tasty. Try this recipe year round and  let it become one of your favorites. It freezes well, and makes about 6-8 servings from this recipe.

Assemble these ingredients:  2 cans of stewed tomatoes/14.5 ounces, 3 1/2 cups beef broth, 1 white medium onion, 1 small green pepper, 1 small package sliced mushrooms, 1/2 package sliced pepperoni, dried oregano, 3/4 package of frozen cheese tortellini, shredded Parmesan cheese and sliced black olives

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Add the first seven ingredients to a slow cooker and place on low for 7 1/2 hours. Add the tortellini and increase to high, cooking for another 1/2 hour. Serve with shredded cheese and sliced olives as desired. A great offering with a side salad and crusty bread.

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Gourmet food shopping

On a recent trip through Charlotte, North Carolina, we shopped at our favorite gourmet store — Dean and Deluca. The entire store has expanded into a lovely restaurant, enlarged store from our last trip, and a wine shop. Although I often order from their mail order, actually visiting one of their few shops is really a treat.

If I lived nearby, I am sure you could find me there on a regular basis as the shop includes everything from bakery items, chocolate, gourmet pastas, deli items, cheeses, an amazing selection of chocolate and tea. Those are some of my favorites, but the list goes on.

I love the look of this shop, as well as the attention to keeping the shelves fully stocked. Although we have also visited their Georgetown shop in D.C. and one of their NYC locations, I think this Charlotte store is my favorite.

I stocked up on spices and other products that I usually am not able to find in Michigan. They have both an indoor and outdoor cafe which were busy and added to the great atmosphere of this location. If in Charlotte, don’t miss this one. And plan to spend a bit of time to see everything.

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Herb Potatoes

Try this easy way to make a small serving of red potatoes which are full of flavor and quite tasty.  No one will have to be committed to eating a large potato, and they look very nice side by side in a chafing dish for serving with a buffet.

I used small red potatoes, but any small size fingerling potato would work as well for this recipe.  The key to the recipe is slicing the potatoes in half and roasting for 30-35 minutes cut side down.

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I set my oven to 425 degrees and just sprinkled the potatoes with a dash of sea salt.  After roasting, I mixed 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese with 2 tablespoons softened margarine and a mixture of oregano, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.  Any green herb mixture will do to liven up the potatoes.

Finish the dish by broiling for one minute.

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Cheese fondue

For easy entertaining, I have served a variety of cheese fondue recipes over the years.  Some have been made with classic cheddar cheeses, and others are made with a different flavor profile.

This past Christmas, I served a new recipe that I enjoyed along with my guests.  One of the best features of serving a fondue is that by offering a variety of dippers, everyone can create their own meal.  Guests seem to voice a favorite choice by the end of the evening.

Here is my new recipe for cheese fondue:  Begin with one cup of white wine.  Bring up to a boil in a sauce pan, and then add 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Add one wedge of Fontina and one wedge of Fontinella cheese which have been shredded or cubed to melt evenly.  Then add, one square of white cheddar to incorporate fully.

When the cheese is melted, combine in a measuring cup 1/2 cup of Angry Orchard cider with 1-2 tablespoons of cornstarch.  Then, slowly pour into the fondue while stirring.  Season with grated nutmeg.

Serve in a fondue pot and keep warm.  Offer a variety of dippers for guests. I served celery sticks, carrot sticks, radishes, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, green and black olives, pickles, crusty bread, bread sticks, turkey sausage sticks and roasted white chicken.

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Serving cheese

Pleasing presentation during entertaining has been encouraged for years by entertaining experts.  Presenting food in an appealing way actually encourages the overall interest for the food, including taste and food satisfaction.

I often consider what is the best plate, platter or tray to display appetizers or cheese for guests.  I was thrilled to receive a lovely new cheese plate for Christmas from my son and his wife.  I collect Emma Bridgewater china from England, and this cheese platter was a perfect addition to our home collection for entertaining.

One of the basic concepts for cheese and fruit platter presentation is allowing enough room around the cheeses to allow for complimentary flavors and tastes from other foods. With this in mind, it is very clear that a larger platter is a better choice for cheese tasting. This platter design includes the names of cheese in a lettered design layout. For any cheese platter presentation, use a few simple rules.

To start:  Choose an odd number of wedges for the platter. Add complimentary tastes with fruit, honey, crusty bread, or nuts.

Place the cheese in a circle, with the mildest cheese at the top and continue around the platter.  Choose cheese based on region of the World or just from America.  Too many types is overwhelming.  Stay with two or three types.   And consider the texture and the type of cheese.  Consider a theme.

Invest in a good set of cheese knives.  They make a huge difference. And finally, pair with a delicious choice of wines.

Cheese is a perfect appetizer or light bite for almost any occasion.  And having a cute platter makes it even more fun to share with others.

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Tomato Gruyere frittata

Crispy omelets or frittatas are some of the easiest meals to prepare.  The key to a great frittata is an oven proof pan, preferably one that is non-stick or well protected with oil for easy serving.

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This is a great recipe that was inspired by Cooking Light magazine, July 2015.  I changed up the eggs, cheese and onions, and did not happen to have any fresh thyme, but used dried thyme instead.  Here are the simple directions to make an excellent meal served with some salad greens.

Combine 2 tablespoons half and half, with 2 teaspoons dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper, and 3 eggs, plus the equivalent in egg beaters in a small bowl.  Whisk until well incorporated.

Preheat a 10 inch skillet over medium heat with 2 teaspoons olive oil to coat the pan.  Add egg mixture to the pan. Cook until the eggs are almost set, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the stove top, and sprinkle the top with 1/4 cup of shredded Gruyère cheese and then about 1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes.  Add another 1/4 cup of shredded cheese over the tomatoes.

Broil in the oven for approximately 4 minutes until browned and the eggs are fully cooked.  Garnish with additional thyme or parsley if desired.

This is the perfect recipe to serve on Meatless Mondays.  Any selection of herbs, cheeses, or vegetables can be substituted to your family’s taste profile.