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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lay’s tries (and fails) to make the American potato chip great again

Posted By on 03.09.17 at 03:37 PM

"Like something that had died and begun fermenting under the sink" is how one Reader staffer described the flavor of Lay's new Beer 'n Brats potato chips.
  • "Like something that had died and begun fermenting under the sink" is how one Reader staffer described the flavor of Lay's new Beer 'n Brats potato chips.

It is a sad fact that although potato chips were invented right here in the good ol' U.S. of A., when it comes to flavoring, we Americans now lag far, far behind the rest of the world. Brits enjoy chips with flavors such as Worcestershire sauce, prawn cocktail, and crispy duck and hoisin. The Chinese have them in varieties like hot and spicy fish soup, lemon tea, and blueberry, while in Japan, you can get wasabeef and seaweed-salt. Even the Canadians have creamy garlic Caesar.

Every year Lay's potato chips attempts to make the American potato chip great again by introducing experimental new flavors. In 2014, they brought us cappuccino. In 2015, it was American regional flavors. And last summer, they expanded beyond our national borders with Szechuan Chicken (ugh) and Tikka Masala (pretty good, but not as good as the British version, which, oddly enough, had been manufactured by Walkers, the U.K. cousin to Lay's). This year, Lay's returned to America with Beer 'n Brats, Southwestern Queso, and Garden Tomato & Asiago, plus an invitation to Americans to visit the company's website to invent their own disgusting flavors.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Behold the mother of all cheese cakes

Posted By on 09.24.15 at 01:30 PM

The cake, Great American Cheese Collection - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • The cake, Great American Cheese Collection

Cheese-wheel wedding cakes have been a thing for at least a few years, but for me they've always existed in some photo-filtered Pinterest fairyland. So I was adrenalized when my friends Tim and Pat asked me to help put one together for their nuptials. It couldn't have been easier. The first person I thought of was cheese whiz Giles Schnierle of the Great American Cheese Collection, the 13-year-old wholesale distributor that focuses on small American producers. Schnierle, armed with just a broad outline of the couple's tastes, budget, and number of guests, invited Pat and me to his current HQ, a rented warehouse on the second floor of the Plant, where his massive 3,000-square-foot cooler houses around 300 different cheeses from more than 60 producers. There are 30 cheddars alone, ranging from one to ten years old

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Smashing Pumpkins crank the neutrals on new song 'Being Beige'

Posted By on 10.20.14 at 01:30 PM

Smashing Pumpkins at Primavera 2007
  • Courtesy of matthewf01 via Wikipedia
  • Smashing Pumpkins at Primavera 2007

"The world's on fire, have you heard?" sings Billy Corgan on the first taste from the Smashing Pumpkins' forthcoming album, Monuments to an Elegy. The Highland Park-based songwriter promised last March that two new Smashing Pumpkins albums would see the light of day in 2015, but more recently the first of the pair got bumped up to December 9, just in time for the holidays. Now the 90s alt-rock band has shared "Being Beige" via Rolling Stone.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

American regulators vs. American cheese

Posted By on 08.20.14 at 10:00 AM

Uplands farm, near Dodgeville, Wisconsin

Rush Creek Reserve, one of the most acclaimed artisanal cheeses in America, will not be made this year—and possibly never again. The reason is that new regulations from Washington appear to be poised to destroy much of the existing artisanal cheese movement. Yesterday I ran the first part of an interview with Andy Hatch of Uplands Cheese Co. in Wisconsin, who last week canceled production of Rush Creek Reserve, a soft French-style cheese made from raw milk and aged 60 days. In the second part of our interview, he explains the regulatory environment that led to his decision.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

One of the best cheeses in America came from Wisconsin, until new regulation stepped in

Posted By on 08.19.14 at 12:30 PM

Andy Hatch at Uplands

Four years ago this fall I was on a cheese junket, a tour of Wisconsin cheesemakers arranged by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (being so perishable, milk's only shot at wider markets comes in cheese form). We were at Uplands Cheese Co. near Dodgeville, makers of Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which had just won Best of Show at the American Cheese Society's annual competition for a record third time. We were offered tastes of it, a wonderful nutty aged Alpine cheese a bit like Gruyere. But there was another cheese ripening then which, despite our best and most shameless efforts, we were not able to convince Mike Gingrich, the owner, or his young cheesemaker Andy Hatch to let us try. It was an attempt at a European-style soft cheese, despite FDA rules which required American cheesemakers to age raw milk cheeses twice as long as their European counterparts typically do. A couple of months later that cheese, Rush Creek Reserve, would hit the market and earn acclaim as one of the best soft cheeses America has produced.

And having observed its beginning, I can now record its apparent end.

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Hanging out at the used-car lot that was Rod Stewart and Santana on Saturday night

Posted By on 08.19.14 at 07:46 AM

Do ya think this is sexy?
  • Taylor Mauch
  • Do ya think this is sexy?

There are two reasons I went to see Rod Stewart at Allstate Arena on Saturday. The first is that between 1967 and 1973 Stewart's output rivaled any major pop artist of the last 50 years, including: two acid-blues albums with the earliest incarnation of the Jeff Beck Group; four albums with the Faces, the famous, shambling folk-blues-rock band he was in with Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenney Jones; and four more solo albums that were basically Faces albums released under Stewart's name—one of those albums, 1971's Every Picture Tells a Story, is just about perfect.

The second reason is that my girlfriend is the biggest Rod Stewart fan I've ever met in my life.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Did you read about Google Street View, Van Gogh's ear, and Oderus Ungerus?

Posted By on 06.04.14 at 11:41 AM

Oderus Ungerus, the way we remember him
Reader staffers share stories that fascinate, amuse, or inspire us.

Hey, did you read:

• That the Chicago Sun-Times has withdrawn and apologized for an op-ed piece in which pundit Kevin D. Williamson called transgender actress Laverne Cox an "effigy of a woman"? Tony Adler

• More on Rahm's bright idea—attracting tourists with a "world-class lighting installation"—and conservationists' dim view of it? Steve Bogira

• That one in five restaurant employees work with norovirus symptoms? Brianna Wellen

• About which parts of the country have more bars than grocery stores? Mick Dumke

• About the "murder" caught by Google Street View? Drew Hunt

• That an east-coast grocery store chain is changing the cheese game by bringing the art of affinage (the process of aging cheese) in-house? Jessica Cohn

• About the falling out between Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones of the Hoefler & Frere-Jones type foundry, now Hoefler & Co.? John Dunlevy

• About the confirmed cause of death of Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus? Luca Cimarusti

• About the live model of Van Gogh's ear? Ben Sachs

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Northbrook Public Library revisits Francis Ford Coppola's 80s work

Posted By on 07.02.13 at 11:26 AM

The Cotton Club
  • The Cotton Club
As Drew Hunt noted the other day, the Northbrook Public Library will screen Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club tomorrow at 1 and 7:30 PM. They'll also screen Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream on July 10 and Peggy Sue Got Married on July 17. Could there be more 80s Coppola on the way? (The library has yet to announce any subsequent screenings.) The films he made in that decade are an uneven but fascinating bunch—for better and for worse, they reveal an artist who refuses to rest on his laurels and must continue trying out new ideas. It's possible they look better today than they did on first release. Time tends to be more flattering to the imperfect movie with glorious eccentricities than the modest success that conforms to contemporary standards of good taste.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Drinking Malort at 9 AM

Posted By on 04.30.13 at 01:59 PM

Bitterness in a bottle
That's what I did today, anyway—along with Fat Rice chef Abraham Conlon, Reader editor Mara Shalhoup, and Morning Show host Tony Sarabia; we were on WBEZ talking about the Reader's upcoming Key Ingredient Cook-Off. This Friday, 25 of the chefs who've participated in Key Ingredient will prepare a dish using one of the five assigned ingredients: durian, Malort, millet, celery, or dried shrimp (VIP tickets are sold out but regular tickets are still available).

At least most of them will use one; Conlon, a recent addition to the lineup (he hadn't yet participated when the other chefs were invited), elected to use all five. And he brought his dish—an homage to Epoisses cheese that involved durian, Malort, and dried shrimp, served with millet bread and a celery and grape salad—as well as the makings for a Malort cocktail. Conlon's version of the stinky cheese (which, like durian, is banned on the subway in certain countries because of its odor) echoed the funkiness of Epoisses but was a little sweeter and creamier. The cocktail was a twist on a gin and tonic; instead of tonic water he used plain sparkling water, and the Malort mimicked the quinine flavor. It tasted quite a bit like a gin and tonic. You can listen to the segment here—below is a list of what ingredients the other chefs are using, and a few of the dishes they'll be preparing (some of the other bites are described here).

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Friday, April 26, 2013

The High Noon Saloon wins at churros, fails at everything else

Posted By on 04.26.13 at 10:26 AM

Afternoon at the High Noon Saloon
Locationwise, the High Noon Saloon is extremely close to Big Star: if you walked out the back door of one and there were no barriers in the way, you'd probably end up in the other restaurant. Foodwise, they're worlds apart. The menus are similar, sure—queso fundido, guacamole, chips and salsa, tacos, margaritas—but the High Noon Saloon's Tex-Mex doesn't come even close to measuring up to the (admittedly high) standard that its wildly popular neighbor has set. It may pick up some customers who don't have the patience to wait for a table at Big Star, but taco competition in the neighborhood is getting fierce, with Antique Taco and now Takito Kitchen close by.

The atmosphere is a cross between old-timey saloon and sports bar: wooden rafters, baroque chandeliers, and old-fashioned wallpaper are accented by enormous flat-screen TVs. The menu is built around tacos, tamales, and fajitas—the type of fare useful for soaking up alcohol late at night—and rounded out with a few soups, salads, and appetizers. Those basics fall uniformly flat: A pork tamale managed to be simultaneously dry (the meat) and soggy (the masa); the veggie tamale (goat cheese, poblano pepper, tomato, onion) was distinguishable from the other only by the fact that it was uniformly soggy and had less flavor. Tacos (al pastor, barbacoa chicken, smoked brisket) were more flavorful, but the meat on all of them was a bit tough—though I did like the chipotle-barbecue sauce on the brisket.

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