Friday, March 29, 2013

50 States Of Wine T-Shirt

When offered to send me a free t-shirt with the 50 States Of Wine logo, I was a bit stumped. Free shirt, but I don't have a logo designed yet. What to do? One of the ideas I've toyed with for a logo involves the 50 states in outline, but I wasn't sure about the specifics. After some thought, I decided to put the logo on the back burner and just think about a t-shirt design.

50 States Of Wine T-Shirt

Above is the first t-shirt design for tracking my 50 States Of Wine project - as we visit and taste in the state, it will be filled on map and crossed off in list using fabric paint. Should be a colorful way to track!

Working with was simple. I created a word doc with the title, image, and list of states, then sent it over as a pdf. Their designers cleaned it up, centered everything, and the design was done. My initial plan was to have the writing and image in black on a light shirt, but they suggested the reverse, and I'm glad they did -- should stay clean looking longer and the colors will pop more as they are filled in.

Disclaimer: This shirt was sent to me free of charge. All opinions are my own.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lao Sze Chuan, Downers Grove

Lao Sze Chuan, Downers Grove

Just down the street from our kids' school sits Lao Sze Chuan, an institution in Downers Grove. Since it's on the edge of our neighborhood, we drive by it pretty much every day and, on occasion, order stuff to go. Surprisingly, we've never eaten there, but it looks clean and has a nice Chinese aesthetic.

For appetizers, we've tried Scallion Pancakes (very tasty but a bit on the greasy side when taken home), String Beans with Spicy Black Beans, and something I'd never seen elsewhere before (though it does show up on other menus after research), Vegetarian Chicken Shanghai Style. Vegetarian Chicken Shanghai Style is thin sheets of tofu rolled around a mushroom filling and then sliced, served with a salty plum sauce (or that's what it tasted like). Interesting texture and taste, I actually preferred it the next day fried up in a pan.

For entrees we've stuck mostly with veggie dishes, usually a safe bet: Szechuan String Beans, Moo Shu Vegetables, Vegetables Chow Mein, Vegetables Chow Mein Cantonese Style, Vegetables Lo Mein, they're all pretty good. One complaint occasionally heard is that they don't add a lot of spices to their dishes and that's sometimes true, along with minimal or no salt sometimes. I don't mind, because our family has a range of tolerances for saltiness, which allows each person to customize to their preference.

Overall, I'd say this is a decent place for dinner, with takeout by phone or GrubHub (not my favorite since you can't request a pickup time) -- the food stays really hot, the menu is varied, and there are plenty of menu items you won't find at a fast food Chinese restaurant. If you're in Downers Grove and are looking for a tasty spot with something for most, this is a good option.

Lao Sze Chuan on Urbanspoon

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Meatless Monday: Roasted Root Vegetables

I reviewed Veggies For Carnivores (by Lora Krulak), and the recipes are so simple, we've used a couple of her recipes. Here's one for Roasted Root Fries.

Veggies For CarnivoresL Roasted Root Vegetables


Root Vegetables (beets, turnips, parsnips, etc.)
Olive Oil
Spices (garlic, parsley, oregano, basil, etc.)


Preheat oven to 375.

Chop root vegetables - we used beets, turnips, parsnips, carrots, then added onions and garlic for good measure. The spice mix included ground pepper and salt, parsley, thyme, oregano, and basil. Everything was placed in a large mixing bowl, combined, then poured out onto a baking sheet.

Bake for 45 minutes or until veggies are to your liking - serve and enjoy!

(This recipe was first shared by Laima over at Women's Endurance Gear.)

Women's Endurance Gear: Follow WomensEndurance on Twitter

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Friday, March 22, 2013

American Beer Classic Coming to Soldier Field

This May 11th, at the iconic Soldier Field, beer drinkers will come together to celebrate good beer at the inaugural American Beer Classic! Not just beer, festival attendees will hear live music, learn about beer, enjoy food, buy merchandise and take tours of Soldier Field. Tickets start at $40 (VIP and Designated Driver options available). The beer sampling starts at noon.  Using the American Beer Classic sampling cup, attendees will have the chance to sample hundreds of beers over the four hour festival.

Featured breweries at American Beer Classic include, but are not limited to luminaries such as Tallgrass, Tommyknocker, Trumer, Braurei, Uinta, Uncommon Brewers, Village Vinter, Virtue Cider, Widmer Brothers Brewing, Hopothesis, Julian Hard Cider, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, Kona Brewing, Lagunitas, Leinenkugel, and more. Dogfish Head Brewery out of Delaware

American Beer Classic's MVP: The American Beer Classic will be holding a People’s Choice competition to determine the favorite beer of the festival. Voting will take place using American Beer Classic’s smartphone app. There will be a winner in each style division, as well as an overall MVP.

Red Frog Events is the company behind American Beer Classic. Based in Chicago, they create fun and extraordinary events through innovation, creativity and top-notch participant service.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Chianti Classico Grand Tasting, Chicago

Chianti Classico Grand Tasting, Chicago

This past week, Laima and I were the lucky recipients, courtesy of Balzac Communications, of an invitation to the Chianti Classico Grand Tasting, Chicago. Held in the Allerton Hotel on the Magnificent Mile, this was our first "open" wine tasting event, where the wineries were arrayed around the edges of the ballroom and we walked with glasses from table to table. It's a neat way of doing it, as you get a chance to visit with each winemaker or winery rep and learn a bit about their philosophy.

Not all the wine produced in the Chianti zone is Chianti Classico. Chianti Classico rules require a minum of 80% Sangiovese, though other red grapes grown there can be used for the remaining 20%. These grapes include natives like Canaiolo and Colorino as well as varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Chianti Classico can be met via the standards or exceeded, as the Riserva -- minimum required maturation for the Riserva is 24 months including three months of bottle fining.

Chianti Classico Grand Tasting, Chicago

18 wineries were represented, of all different sizes, pouring between 2 and 5 wines for tasting, and we were impressed with the high level of winemaking on display. To a bottle, the wines were very well made -- even though not every wine was to our taste, each was crafted with care. No duds present. We tasted Classicos, Riservas, single-vineyard bottlings, even olive oil. The olive oil had an intense "green" flavor, very grassy, not to our taste, but very cool to find out there are different ways of making it. In between several tastings, we repaired to the room's center, where bread, cheese, water, and fruit gave a respite to our tastebuds. After a lap around the ballroom to visit each of the wineries to taste their reds, a return visit was in order for some of the tables to try their Vin Santo, a style of Italian dessert wine. These wines are often made from white grape varieties such as Trebbiano and Malvasia, though Sangiovese may be used as well. Since these wines can be rare, it was a treat to try those as well, and a nice way to end the afternoon.

Though all the wines were quite good, my favorites tended to be the ones utilizing natives like Canaiolo and Colorino, a welcome confirmation that sometimes tradition is the best way.

Being downtown in the late afternoon, we headed over to The Purple Pig, to try their Mediterranean fare, appropriate to the occasion and amazingly tasty to boot. For wine we left Chianti Classico, rather imbibing efforts from Portugal, Sicily, and Crete.

Looking forward to more opportunities like this one!

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Friday, March 15, 2013

The Purple Pig, Chicago

Cheese, Swine, and Wine

Purple Pig Chicago

The Purple Pig is located on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, but sits apart, entry gained by a short walk along the side of a building -- during nice weather an outdoor seating area is available, though the restaurant was not seating people there in the cold, even with a tent and outdoor heaters.

My first impression of the restaurant was one of surprise, as it seemed minuscule, with no room to stand, sit, or barely turn around. However, a mix of communal tables, seating at the bar, and some typical tables got quite a few diners into that small space. With the restaurant a 3-time winner of the Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand (2011-2013), even on a weekday evening the wait can be a while, so be prepared to enjoy some drinks or leave your cell phone number with the hostess -- they'll let you know when your table is ready.

The Purple Pig is a great place to send your taste buds on a trip around the Mediterranean, not just in their food options, but the neverending list of wines from countries rarely seen in a restaurant. Italy, Greece, Crete, Spain and others are joined by the French and more -- gutsy and far reaching, nicely done. For me, to start, the Luis Pato "Casta Baga," an orange sparkler from Portugal, with Laima getting the suggested Di Giovanna Nerello from Sicily. Two wines, two new varietals for my Wine Century Club project, and so many more on their menu, should that be an aim of yours as well.

Purple Pig Appetizers

The Purple Pig's menu is almost overwhelming in its diversity, with so many dishes that sound like must-haves, making it difficult to choose. I can't imagine how many visits it would take to try all the antipasti, cheese, charcuterie, salads, fried items, or smears, but after this meal, I'd be willing to give it a go.

But choose we must, so Laima got the Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs, on the advice of a coworker who had eaten here before. A large serving, this probably could have been a meal on its own and should definitely be shared. I wanted to order one of each of the vegetarian options, but limited myself to the Butternut Squash, Pumpkin Seeds, Brown Butter and Salata, the Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Pecorino Noce and Parmigiano Reggiano, the Salt-Roasted Beets, Whipped Goat Cheese and Pistachio Vinaigrette, and the Eggplant Parmesan Balls. Each tasty to a fault, only the shaved Brussels Sprouts fell flat to me, seeming somewhat lifeless and salty, though perhaps it simply paled in terms of the appetizer competition. Hands down the best combination for me was the Butternut Squash with the Alexakis Vidiano from Crete (how often can you drink a wine from Crete?! And another varietal for the Wine Century Club.). The wine went well with everything though, with a nice balance between acidity and fullness.

Purple Pig Entrees

Entree options were never-ending for Laima, more limited for me. The chef created a vegetarian panini for me, with a plain grilled cheese an option as well. The panini was good, but the garnish/side salad was amazing, with pickled veggies, greens and a tasty vinaigrette -- one of my favorite tastes of the evening. Laima's Pork Osso Bucco with Soft Polenta and Gremolata was tender, perfectly cooked, with enough on the plate to share, especially if ordered with appetizers.

Purple Pig Desserts

The dessert options, like the rest of the menu, are varied and range across the sweetness scale. We opted for the Panino con Nutella {Sweet Sandwich with Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, Marshmallow & Bananas} and the Sicilian Iris {Ricotta & Chocolate Chip Filled Fried Brioche}. Both were quite decadent, with each of us preferring one over the other, but appreciating each for its own merits. Dessert was accompanied by a Smith Woodhouse Vintage 2007 port for Laima and a Alvear ”Pedro Ximenez Solera 1927” sherry for me -- both very good with the desserts (likely able to stand on their own as well), with espresso rounding out the evening for me.

After this meal, it's clear why this restaurant is an award winner and filled with satisfied diners. A fun atmosphere, communal seating that allows you both to spy on and interact with others, a tremendous wine list, full bar, and food to suit many tastes (and to find new favorites), the list goes on and on. If you're on the Mag Mile, either visiting from out of town or simply shopping (window or otherwise), make this a stop on your itinerary and make plans to return, because there are simply too many good choices to do justice in one visit.

Menu, hours, and more information can be found on the Purple Pig website, by liking on Facebook, and by following on Twitter.

The Purple Pig on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer: This meal was comped for review purposes. Some information was taken from the company website; all opinions are my own.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Dearly Beloved "I Thee Red"

Dearly Beloved Wines
"I Thee Red" (2011)

Dearly Beloved 2011 I Thee Red

Dearly Beloved's "I Thee Red" is a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc, from the Central Coast of California, available at Trader Joe's. Cherry aroma, plum and raspberry flavors, good mouthfeel, smooth finish -- good drinking wine for the price.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Meatless Monday: Oven Baked Zucchini Fries

When I saw this recipe shared by Amanda over at Run to the Finish, I knew I had to try it. Zucchini has  lots of health benefits, but it's not always appealing to eat. Some of the benefits from eating zucchini can include lower blood pressure, it's anti-inflammatory, prevents cancer, heart attacks and strokes, lowers cholesterol, aids prostate health, and that it's high in manganese.

Oven Baked Zucchini Fries


¼ cup dry whole wheat breadcrumbs
¼ cup nutritional yeast
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
⅛ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup unsweetened almond milk
zucchini sliced into 1/4 strips
Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl stirring with a whisk.
Place almond milk in a shallow bowl.
Drag zucchini slices through almond milk and coat in breadcrumb mixture.
Place coated slices on a sprayed baking sheet.
Bake for 30 minutes or until browned and crisped - flip once during baking

i used baby zucchini, so the slicing was easy as pie. Turns out we didn't have plain, unsweetened almond milk, so I substituted plain, unsweetened coconut milk. Results? The whole family save one liked them -- I especially thought they were great. Not even like zucchini really, no moist, soft texture -- if I could get better at dredging, these would be even better, but I just haven't gotten the hang of getting more breading onto things.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Taco Joint Urban Taqueria and Cantina, Chicago

Several months ago, Laima and I were lucky enough to try out Zocalo Restaurant and Tequila Bar. With the comped bill came a gift card to the Taco Joint, a restaurant in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. We finally ad the opportunity to take advantage of their generosity and headed into the city for lunch.

Taco Joint Design

"Taco Joint Urban Taqueria and Cantina  brings the different flavors found throughout the streets and marketplaces of Mexico to Chicago. The menu includes a selection of tacos made with braised and grilled meats, homemade salsas and handmade tortillas including; Barbacoa from Central Mexico, Cochinita Pibil from Yucatán and Birria from Jalisco. Other street fare includes flautas, tortas, elotes and huaraches. Taco Joint celebrates Mexico's national spirit with over 50 tequilas made from 100% Blue Agave. The cantina also features a variety of specialty margaritas & cocktails, Mexican beers on tap and Chicago's first tequila lockers."

We opted to order a variety of tastes to try, to get a good feel for the menu.

Taco Joint Food

To start, Laima went with the Guacamole Tradicional (avocado with tomatoes, red onion, cilantro and Serrano), while I tried the Vegetariano Sope (soy "picadillo" or vegetarian hash made with roasted tomatoes, guajillo and cascabel chiles; garnished with traditional "pico" and fresco cheese). Both were quite good, though I wished that the sope had a crispier texture.

For Tacos, Barbacoa (braised beef brisket garnished with cilantro, onion and roasted red jalapeno salsa), Cochinita (Yucatan style pulled pork garnished with pickled red onions and spicy habanero salsa), and Rajas (Strips of Poblano peppers and onions, sauteed with creamy tomatillo salsa; served over a black bean spread) were our choices and all were quite good.

Taquitos Potosinos (four Michoacan style taquitos filled with garlicky mashed potatoes and roasted carrots; topped with red guajillo salsa and fresco cheese) almost worked, but had a bit too much salsa, which overwhelmed the more subtle potato flavor.

Our favorite by far was the Panela Torta (grilled panela cheese, black bean spread, charred avocado, watercress and red jalapeño aioli). Served Panini style, it was the perfect blend of flavor and texture.

Taco Joint Drinks

To wash it down, Laima opted for the TJ Flight , a sampling of three signature cocktails: ZOCALO Margarita, Moi's Sangria, and the Black and Green Margarita – the last was our favorite, with the beer a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the margarita. I tried the Micheladas Zocalo (choice of Mexican beer served over ice with fresh squeezed lime juice, homemade sangrita and chile piquin rim); unfortunately I didn’t like it at all. My assumption was that sangrita was some form of sangria, but instead it was a spicy bloody mary mix – I don’t like tomato juice, so it pretty much ruined the drink for me. Our server brought a fresh glass with lime juice only, which mixed with the beer, was refreshing and much better for my tastes.

While the Rompope Tres Leches on the dessert menu sounded quite good, we instead opted for the Pastel Chocolate. We’re fans of molten chocolate and this one delivered. A mini scoop of hazelnut gelato was good, but almost unnoticeable, overshadowed by chocolaty goodness.

If you’re in Lincoln Park, Taco Joint Urban Taqueria and Cantina is worth a visit. It’s a pretty small place, so you may end up sitting at the bar, not a bad option at all. They hold a few tables in the small dining room for larger groups, which is a nice touch.

Taco Joint on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer: This meal was comped for review purposes. Some information was taken from the company’s website and all opinions are my own.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Meatless Monday: Freekeh

Meatless Monday - Freekeh

Laima and I are always on the lookout for new varieties of food, especially grains, as our kids love them. Recently we discovered Freekeh. Freekeh made from green wheat - it is harvested and sun dried, then burned so that only the chaff burns. The seeds are thrashed and sun dried again. It is the thrashing of the grains that gives this food its name, farīk or “rubbed.” It has a really nice texture, with a chewiness that is a great addition to the softness of cooked vegetables. Most recently we ate it with broccoli, pine nuts, and almonds -- the entire family really enjoyed it.

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Friday, March 1, 2013

Mike Ditka Wines 2010 "The Coach" Cabernet Sauvignon

Mike Ditka Wines
2010 "The Coach" Cabernet Sauvignon

Mike Ditka Wines 2010 The Coach Cabernet Sauvignon

Nice ruby red, tart berries on nose and in mouth, along with pomegranate and plum, underlying cocoa flavor, medium finish.

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