Tammy has been eating for years, but didn’t discover her professional fascination with food until she started talking about it every week. As a result of Chicago Bites, she has expanded her interest in food policy, gardening, composting, organic issues, slow food, local producers and how these impact the Chicago dining experience. She’s found her restaurant knowledge to be the ultimate ice breaker.

Jun 082014

Local coffee subscription service Modest Coffee recently started roasting for the Chicago and internet market. I spoke with co-owner Marcus Contaldo about his obsession with fresh roasted coffee and other coffee-related topics during a #VirtualCoffee Twitter conversation* on Saturday.

Modest Coffee

Starting the morning, and the conversation, with a cup of The Collector.

Chicago Bites: Good morning! What are you drinking for our #VirtualCoffee chat?

Marcus Contaldo: The Enthusiast this morning. I am sampling a roast from last night. What about you?

CB: I’m drinking The Collector — black. Speaking of which, how do you normally take your coffee?

MC: Black and super fresh! How about you? This is the quintessential question for all coffee drinkers.

CB: I tend to drink it black if it’s good. Otherwise lots of cream, lots of sugar. You don’t always get a choice.

MC: I know what you mean, I know a place that starts out with fantastic beans from intelligentsia and ruins them. BTW, I recently asked our drinkers the same question and found that a large number added Baileys.

CB: Baileys in coffee is indeed a joy, though that may cause problems during the 10am budget meeting. I know you sell awesome beans. Any advice on the best way to grind and brew them?

MC: We recommend grinding them right before you brew them. Believe it or not, our goal was to get better coffee out of a Mr. Coffee drip pot. I have some tricks that will vastly improve any coffee coming out of a drip pot.

CB: And did you do that? Have you made a perfect cup using a Mr. Coffee?

MC: Yes. The first tip is with a newer drip pot with the adjustable spout — twist it so it recycles and reheats the water. Once the water is good and HOT (you will see steam) add your favorite fresh beans to the hopper. The next step is important: twist the spout back to the beans, but DO NOT put the coffee pot under the hopper. Let the beans steep and stir them with a spoon. After they are saturated, put your pot down and let the goodness flow.

Modest Coffee

Freshly ground beans awaiting their turn at coffee greatness.

CB: One and half cups is usually the most I can drink before I get jittery. What’s your coffee limit per day?

MC: I usually do 3 cups in the morning and another cup or two around 2pm. Coffee after 4pm is my limit.

CB: Changing gears a bit…why is your coffee roaster named Precious?

MC: The previous owner named it Precious because of its sleek gold paint job and he was a fan of Lord of the Rings. I’m a fan of LOTR, too so it stuck.

CB: Do you talk to your roaster in a golem voice?

MC: I actually do a ridiculously accurate impression of Golem.

Modest Coffee

The bags are lined with a wax that is compostable.

CB: I’m lobbying hard for a video of that. Please tell us, what’s your selection process for coffee beans?

MC: It is really extensive, I sample 10-20 beans and select the best 3 that meet our requirements. We look for beans that make a great cup of coffee. You may have noticed that all of our beans were distinctly non-bitter.

CB: I did. I find that I prefer that in a cup of coffee.

MC: To make sure it’s ethically sourced, we only source coffee that’s traceable back to the producers. That traceability allows us to pay the premium for beans produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way.

CB: How do you deal with coffee breath?

MC: Great question, I carry minty gum in my man purse just for coffee breath.

CB: And finally, have you ever made a perfect cup of coffee? Do tell.

MC: That first perfect cup is what got me hooked on roasting. The flavor, the aroma, the vibrancy in the cup. There is really nothing better than fresh roasted coffee. That’s why we started Modest Coffee.

Modest Coffee

Your next favorite cup of coffee is here.

Thanks to Marcus from Modest Coffee for sharing a cup and his thoughts on coffee!

Want to try Modest Coffee yourself? Use promo code CBBAG for $2 off any selection, good through June 30. If you’re ready to commit to the cup, use promo code CBSUB for 10% off for lifetime orders; limit first 100 customers through July 31st.

I was not financially compensated for this post. Modest Coffee samples were provided to me as a member of the media. The opinions are completely my own, based on my experience.


*some light editing was done for readability.

Jun 052014

My barbecue routine is pretty comfortable. I prep a few skewers of fish, peppers, and corn-on-the-cob and then throw everything on the grill. Boom. Dinner’s ready in 15 minutes. My philosophy: keep things simple and make certain nothing gets burned.

The BF, on the other hand, is completely in his element when he’s grilling. He uses a variety of marinades and rubs made from scratch. He staggers cooking and “resting meat” so that everything is served in one glorious platter of culinary perfection. If I want real barbecue, I usually leave everything up to him.

Every now and then, it’s good to shake things up. That’s why I was so excited to try Urban Accents. They gave me a turn to shine at the grill.

Urban Accents

A variety of flavors work with different meats.

Made locally in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, Urban Accents uses all-natural, gluten free, and MSG-free ingredients to create a lengthly selection of dry rubs and seasoned salts in addition to popcorn salts, brines, & breakfast mixes. Each package includes recommendations for a protein match-up, a QR code for recipe ideas in case you get stuck, and cooking recommendations. Just what I needed to take my grilling from blah to gourmet!

For my first attempt, I used the Cayman Citrus Heat dry rub. I threw it in a bag with a pound of shrimp, shook it around to coat everything, and let the mixture marinate for about 30 minutes before grilling. This mix was a “hurts so good” spicy with a nice balance of savory salts that I loved. For my corn, the shaker of Chili Lime seasoning was the perfect mix of sweet & heat and definitely a crowd pleaser. I plan to shake it on top of all my veggies this summer.

I’ve since topped steak with a Vermont Grill, a light maple & sage mix; halibut with Sonoma Pepper — a curious blend of citrus & pepper; and pork loin with a Kansas City Rub made zesty with ancho chilies. Everything tastes great and expectations for dinner are growing with each new addition to the grill. Fortunately, I know where to find more mixes when I run out.

If you want to up your grilling game or pick up a perfect gift for Father’s Day, pop in to Urban Accents to order online.

I’ll be grilling more with Urban Accents this summer. Follow along on my grilling adventures on Twitter & Instagram. Who knows? I may have a favorite by the time I need to put my grill away.

I was not financially compensated for this post. Urban Accent products were provided to me as a member of the media. The opinions are completely my own, based on my experience.


Jun 032014

The dream of a repeat Stanley Cup victory came to end Sunday night when the Blackhawks lost in overtime to the L.A. Kings. While I didn’t enjoy the outcome, I did enjoy a highly entertaining series and seven additional brews.

On to the drink:

Urban Legend | Elizabeth Game 1: 3-1 W

Things began well at the United Center. The Blackhawks obviously were the more rested team, and were able to grind out an ugly victory. There was some drama with a disallowed goal by Toews — namely that the refs weren’t allowed to review the goalie interference once the goal was called. Though it didn’t change the outcome, it was still frustrating.

I started this series with Elizabeth Red Ale from Urban Legend, in part, because of cup on the label. A superstitious choice? Yes, a little. This ale proved to be an earthy, malty brew that revealed more citrus notes as it warmed up. Though the bites of hops was present, it was far more mellow compared to an IPA. I think my hop-fearing friends would like it. I know I’ll get it again.

Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi Game 2: 6-2 L

I watched the game while out-and-about, and unfortunately the bar was low on selections due to Craft Brew Week. Or so they said. That’s how I wound up drinking Modus Hoperandi from Ska Brewing, my fourth attempt from the menu.

I don’t know why it wasn’t more popular. It’s a highly drinkable IPA that rides a nice balance between bready malts and hops. The amount of carbonation was perfect. I’ll definitely order it again.

The Hawks started to slide out of championship form in this game. Too many penalties were taken and capitalized on, and both Bollig and Versteeg were just god awful. I missed the presence of Shaw in front of the net and his power pest factor.

Temperance | Gatecrasher Game 3: 3-4 L

I think I let out a squeal when I spotted Gatecrasher on the shelves. Temperance Brewing has been keg-only until now, and I haven’t been able to make the trek to Evanston. Whoo-hoo!

The hops in Gatecrasher don’t beat you over the head, but they don’t exactly assert themselves, either. I craved a little more bitterness than this English IPA offered. There’s some nice apricot and citrus notes and a touch of sweetness to round out this medium-bodied beer. It would be perfect on a hot summer day.

I love how our Captain makes short-handed goals in clutch situations, don’t you? That was marvelous to see. Too bad the rest of the team didn’t follow his leadership. It may have gone better if human anchor Michael Handzus wasn’t holding back the 2nd line from scoring opportunities.

Revolution | Crystal Hero Game 4: 2-5 L

I love the hero brews from Revolution Brewing. Crystal Hero is the latest installment in this series of IPA’s, and I think it’s my favorite. This beer simply unloads an explosion of fresh, bitter Crystal hops on your tongue. I enjoyed the crisp, juicy citrus, slight sweetness, and amazing drink-ability. I hope they keep it in rotation for a while.

I cringed as the Kings hammered three goals past Crawford in the first period — this was not the championship hockey I expected to see. More penalties and shaky goal-tending had many of my friends on the ledge, too. To be fair, they shook it off and started to invoke last season’s come-back over the Red Wings. Me? I wisely opened another bottle of Crystal Hero. Yeah.

Hop Burn Double IPA Game 5: 4-5 W

I spotted Hop Burn at Gene’s Sausage Shop and picked up it because Mikkeller is known for great collaboration beers (especially the recent one he did with Half Acre). And because Gene’s had a Craft Beer Week discount. Hurrah!

Wow. This double IPA is a hardcore, hoppy ale that will sandpaper your tender tongue without hesitation. The high ABV (10%) holds a balance between bready and bitter, but it’s not a subtle beer. I’m still in recovery.

The Hawks got off the mat when the 2nd line of Shaw, Saad, and Kane started kicking ass and taking names. They were remarkable all night, particularly Saad. Though Handzus got the GWG (and his last bit of hockey glory), it was off the sweet pass from number 20. It was his game.

Destihl Brewery | Hoperation Overload Game 6: 4-3 W

I chose Hoperation Overload from Destihl Brewery for Game 6, which makes two double IPA’s in a row for me. The malts assert themselves more in this brew, taking the edge from the hops a bit. It’s a full bodied beer, but I didn’t quite enjoy it on its own. I have most of the six-pack left and will finish it off when I’m eating something spicy enough to stand up to it.

The mullet line continued to dominate the game, but how about Crawford? The man found his swagger, going so far as to challenge Quick, the King’s goalie. Loved it. The Hawks pull out a victory to take the game back to the U.C.

Two Brothers | Dog Days Game 7: 4-5 OT L

After two double IPA’s and overtimes, I decided I couldn’t handle another hopped up beer. Enter Dog Days from Two Brothers. This was a nice lager with some refreshing, lemony characteristics. While it didn’t exactly excite me, it detract from the game, either. Good enough.

Game 7 was filled with pucks taking crazy bounces into nets and off goal-posts. I laughed, I cried, and I screamed at the reversals of fortune all the way into over time. If you’re going to lose, then leave it all on the ice, I say. And that’s what the Blackhawks did. Man, what a season. Thanks, boys!

After this match-up, my craft beer total for the 2013-2014 season was 101 different brews. I’m excited that I stuck with this project for eight months, and I’m already in training for next season’s line-up.

Go Hawks!


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