Saturday, May 30, 2009

Carnivale Dinner Tickets Now on Sale!

The colors are brilliant, the mood is festive, and the music is hot. Oh, and I forgot to mention the food. I guess that’s what happens when you’re having so much fun.

Indeed, allergenistas, you can expect a little bit of heaven at the next Safe and Sound Dinner.

Carnivale's Chef Mark Mendez was up for the Safe and Sound challenge and is putting together a sensational, family-style menu free of the 8 major allergens plus gluten. Just one more time, please: the dinner is free of the 8 major allergens and gluten.

While the food alone would satisfy the most demanding allergenista, you’ll also have the opportunity to swap stories, learn how the staff at Carnivale went into overdrive to adapt their kitchen to assure there’s no cross-contamination, and take home a deluxe gift bag bursting with allergen-free treats to sample.

And here’s something to sweeten the deal: Swirlz Cupcakes is doing dessert! I heard a few rumblings about a Mojito cupcake. I can’t wait!

When: Monday, June 29, 2009
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Where: Carnivale
702 W. Fulton Market – Chicago


Guacamole and Chips
Ropa Vieja
Sweet Plantains and Braised Beef

Entrée Served Family Style
Grilled Marinated Skirt Steak, Black Beans and Rice, Sweet Onion Chimichurri

Guatemalan-Style Chicken, Jalapeno-Parsley Mojo, Potatoes, Olives and Green Beans

Rum Glazed Pork Shoulder, Puerto Rican Rice and Beans, Fried Plantains

I really love Carnivale and want nothing more than to share the wonderful allergen-free experience I enjoyed at the restaurant. With that in mind, I’m offering a 10% discount off the cost of dinner. Please use coupon code BLOG0629 when you check out. This discount is valid until June 10, 2009.

Hope to see you on June 29th!


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Oh, breading, how I missed you!

Alerting all allergenistas! As you know, among the first things to go when you’re diagnosed with wheat allergies are pizza, pasta and of course, those fried-battered dishes. If you’re like me, you’ve had more than your fill of soggy breading over the years.

Well, now there’s a solution.

Say hello to Choice Batter, which was developed by Crisp Tek, a Maryland-based company that proudly markets itself as five guys with a fryer.

I nabbed a sample at last month’s Thrive Allergy & Gluten-Free Expo and I can’t say enough good things about it.

It produces a nice, crispy texture. Plus, it’s easier on your waistline, as it absorbs up to 50% less oil and has fewer calories than conventional batter. And most importantly, it’s free of the 8 major allergens and gluten and was produced in a dedicated facility.

You’ll soon learn that you can enjoy Choice Batter in so many recipes, such as deep fried apples and pears, or cream of mushroom soup.

Beginning June 1, Choice Batter can be purchased online at It can also be found locally at stores in the Howard County, Maryland-area.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Authentic Mexican Salsa for the Memorial Day Weekend

It’s almost Summer and we have a 3 day weekend to prove it!
Well I thought for those of you with parties or picnics to go to we should make some authentic salsas to go with your favorite chips! Enjoy!

Authentic Green Salsa – this salsa is hot, so if you can’t take the heat, try the red salsa without adding any seeds or membrane from the jalapeno.

1½ cups water
5 jalapenos
4 lemons, juiced
1 shallot, diced
Kosher salt to taste
ground pepper to taste

Add jalapenos to boiling water and reduce water until liquid is almost gone.
Add lemon juice and cook for 2 more minutes.
Cut top off jalapeno and remove skin.
Add jalapenos to blender on high and puree, put in a bowl.
Add shallots to bowl while still hot.
Season with Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste.

Authentic Red Salsa

5 tomatoes, roasted
1 jalapeno, roasted
½ onion, cut in quarters
2 cloves garlic whole
½ cup cilantro
Kosher salt to taste
ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 300°F.
Place tomatoes and jalapeno on a sheet pan and roast until soft. Make sure you turn items every 10 minutes on the pan.
Remove pan from oven, peel skins off tomatoes, cut stem off jalapeno (remove seeds and membrane if you don’t want extra heat)
Add tomato and jalapeno to blender with remaining ingredients and blend until liquid.
Season with Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

East Meets Midwest!

I got to share with Chef Ming our Vision for making Chicago Restaurants "Safe and Sound" one bite at a time!
I attended the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Show over the weekend and have so much to share with my favorite allergenistas!

Alas, I thought there weren’t enough products that specifically targeted the food-allergen community. However, there were several booths with a food-allergen focus and all reported good traffic. Bottom line: we’re getting there!

The show also featured a panel on food allergies and food service with Ming Tsai, the Emmy-award winning host of the PBS cooking show Simply Ming and chef/owner of Blue Ginger, a Wellesley, Massachusetts-based restaurant that was honored by the James Beard Foundation as best new restaurant in 1998 and winner of the IMFA’s Silver Plate Award in 2009.
In addition to his kitchen and television duties, Tsai has been a long-time advocate for the country’s food allergy community. Collaborating with State Senator Cynthia Stone Creem, Tsai helped draft a food allergy bill that passed this February.

The law, which will take effect on January 1, 2010, mandates that restaurants in Massachusetts inform their staff about food allergies and requires them to include a statement on their menus urging customers to notify servers of any food-allergen needs, as well as other safety precautions.

"I'm so proud that Massachusetts is the first state to pass such comprehensive legislation," said Tsai, whose son suffers from severe food allergies. "I've always said if you are in the restaurant industry, it's your duty to serve everyone safe food."

A favorite on Moto's menu, this Cuban pork sandwich that resembles a cigar is smoking!
Graduates from Chicago’s Cordon Bleu also presented at the show. I assisted one of the contestants from Top Chef -- Radhika Desai, Chef at Between Boutique Cafe & Lounge -- as well as the world-renowned Homaro Cantu, who has helped import molecular gastronomy, which applies art and science to food, to the Windy City. Cantu is the heart and soul of Moto, which serves a Cuban pork sandwich served in an ashtray and other whimsical delights. At Moto, one can even eat the menu!

Cantu was accompanied by his pastry chef, Ben Roche, whose reconfigured marshmallow s’more resembled a cherry bomb with its birthday candle and authentic campfire flavor. I am eagerly anticipating my first visit to Moto, though Chef Roche recommends those with food allergies call two weeks in advance since the menu is set each night.

Aaron McCargo cooks with love and sizzle!
Last, but certainly not least, I had the pleasure of introducing Aaron McCargo, whose Big Daddy’s Place airs Sundays at 1:30pm/12:30c on the Food Network. He generates so much excitement and energy and believe me, the dish he prepared was out of this world! I am buying the ingredients this weekend and I’ll let you know how the allergen-free version turns out.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

When you need a shoulder to lean on, there’s MOCHA … when you need a meal, there’s grilled chicken with caramelized onions and peppers!

On Monday, I attended a support group meeting hosted by MOCHA, or Mothers of Children Having Allergies.

Denise Bunning, who co-founded the organization, offers compassion, understanding, and a wealth of knowledge. Indeed, members can be sure to leave each meeting with an armful of useful, interesting information.

Monday’s keynote speaker was Ruchi Gupta, a pediatric physician at the Children’s Memorial Hospital of Chicago. Dr. Gupta discussed results from her study that was designed to compare the general public’s food allergy knowledge with that of physicians and parents of children with food allergies.

There were a number of astonishing findings from Dr. Gupta’s research, including:

  • Over 50% of the general public thinks there’s a cure for food allergies;
  • Although virtually all (99%) the physicians who participated in the survey cared for children with food allergies, just three in ten (28%) indicates they are comfortable interpreting lab tests to diagnose food allergies;
  • Meanwhile, only one in five (22%) physicians believes their medical training has adequately prepared them to care for children with food allergies.

You can read the full report online at

Initially, many of us may feel discouraged or even fearful at these findings. But on the contrary, this research offers us hope that there’s change ahead.

Identifying specific problems in a system is the first step to finding a solution. We can use this information when we talk to our doctors, as well as parents of kids who don’t have allergen concerns. Now, we better understand how each of these groups thinks about food allergies and this knowledge will ultimately contribute to our efforts to ensure everyone stays Safe and Sound.

Looking ahead, Dr. Gupta will next survey 50,000 households with family members who suffer from food allergies. In addition to helping us more accurately quantify the occurrences of food allergies in the U.S. population, the study will also offer insight into the different ways families are coping with their allergy challenges.

MOCHA meetings are held quarterly at the Highland Park Hospital. For more information about joining MOCHA, visit

Now, let’s eat!

Grilled Chicken with Caramelized Onions and Peppers
Serves 8

Canola oil
8 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced onion
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced in strips
1 red pepper, thinly sliced in strips
1 yellow pepper, thinly sliced in strips
¼ cup honey
1¼ cup chicken broth (keep separate 2 tablespoons)
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon corn starch or arrowroot starch
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Heat grill to medium and coat lightly with Canola oil.
Pound chicken breasts to even thickness.
Season both sides of chicken with salt and black pepper; rub garlic into breasts.
Cook 3 to 5 minutes per side (or until cooked through); set aside.
Heat large skillet over medium-high heat with extra virgin olive oil.
Add onion, jalapeno and red and yellow pepper.
Add honey and cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring until sugar is thoroughly incorporated.
Add chicken broth (don’t forget to reserve 2 tablespoons), bay leaves and parsley and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.
Pour remaining chicken broth into a separate bowl. Mix in cornstarch until it’s completely dissolved, and add to the pan.
Bring onion mixture to a full boil and then reduce heat and simmer until the sauce thickens.
Remove bay leaves and serve over chicken breast; garnish with parsley.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Stuffed Pork Chops for my Very Special Mother

Everyone has a special story to share on Mother’s Day. But my story needs a little more explaining than most others. Let me preface this anecdote: I’m not asking for sympathy. My past made me who I am today and I don’t regret how things unfolded the way they did. So please, put away your handkerchiefs!

I’ve told you about how my great grandmother raised my two older brothers and me and how her cooking planted a seed that later inspired me to become a chef.

But how did I get there?

My biological mother was M.I.A. most of the time and when she was there, things were even worse. My mother’s husband at the time had a gambling problem and a streak of bad luck to boot. With winter approaching and no money, my two older brothers and I went to live with my great grandmother while my two younger brothers went to live with my mother and her in-laws when the bank repossessed our home.

Now that you’ve been briefed, it’s time to move on to Chapter Two: How I Met My Very Special Mother.

My great grandmother died when I was 15 and I was left to live with my older brothers Jeff and Jesse, who were just 19 and 20 at the time. Can you imagine what it was like living in a house run by two teenage boys?

Me and my Mom the last New Years Eve we all worked at the Willowbrook Ballroom - Dec 1997Around this time, I started working at a local family business, the Willowbrook Ballroom. The owners, Pat and Dick Williams, had a one-year-old baby, Claire, and they thought I’d be a good babysitter for their daughter on nights I wasn’t working. As we got to know one another, a relationship blossomed. After a summer of babysitting, the Williams invited me to move in with them.

I was stunned. Who on earth would take in a teenager? I could have had any number of problems and they had a young child. Yet they still asked me to move in and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Even though I wasn’t Pat’s biological child, she held me to the highest standards, teaching me accountability and most importantly, to believe in myself and my dreams. As a result, I was now living a life where nothing was impossible!

My Mom and sisters, Claire and Alivia getting ready for my big day - Oct 2004
When I was 27, the Williams took me out to dinner and officially asked me to be a part of their family, which then included my youngest sister Alivia. Consequently, I changed my name from Lisa Sistos to Lisa Williams. Although I still love my biological brothers every bit as much and will never forget how much my great grandmother loved and cared for me, I knew I had found my family.

My Mom and I at the 1st Safe and Sound Dinner - March 2009

So on this Mother’s Day, in a very public web forum, I want to thank my mom, Pat Williams. She’s my only mom and without her, my real life would have never begun.

Ok, let’s eat!

Stuffed Pork Chops
Serves 4

4 bone-in pork chops, about 1" thick
Kosher salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup celery, minced
1/2 cup onion, minced
1 clove garlic, creamed

Heat saute pan over medium-high heat and add canola oil.
Add celery, onion and garlic and sweat, do not brown. Set aside to cool.
Take the pork chops and cut through midway through the thickness to form a pocket.
Take cooled celery mixture and stuff in pork chops.
Salt both sides and add to saute pan over medium heat.
Cook pork chops for about 5 minutes on each side or until meat is cooked through.
I was able to pull back the flap to see how the inside cooked, by not overstuffing the pork chops, I didn’t need to seal the cut shut.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Gourmet, Gluten-Free Galaxy

On May 6th, 27 Chicagoland restaurants gathered at the Chicago Hilton & Towers to showcase their gluten-free dishes and did they deliver!

Here’s what made Lisa’s Top Five:

  • Fresh pita bread and hummus from Rose’s Wheat Free Bakery that achieved the perfect texture.

  • A braised short rib with spring garlic and Fresno peppers on a polenta cake, prepared by Pinstripes. Such a harmonious combination of flavors!

  • Kickin’ it old school, Da Luciano’s cheese ravioli, garlic bread, and tiramisu produced the complete Italian experience. You’d never know the gluten was missing!

  • The sweetest delight, RL’s Chef Ryan Pitts executed a bananas foster with a dazzling flambé.

  • And of course, I couldn’t leave out my favorite cupcake artists, Swirlz. The red, velvet cupcake was moist and flavorful, and captured the perfect amount of sweetness.

All proceeds for the event went to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. My contribution was to make dinner for 6, which went to the top bidder for $400.

Celiac disease is often hard to diagnose because the symptoms can be so subtle. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), as many as three million Americans are affected by the disease.

The Center is leading the fight on celiac disease in two critical ways:

Research – Led by Dr. Jabri, the Disease Center Research Program’s efforts are dedicated to the “treatment, follow-up and diagnosis of celiac disease.” Dr. Jabri and his team are committed to learning more about the origination and development of the disease as well as ways to prevent it.

Professional Education - The Celiac Disease Center remains the only U.S, institute “to offer in-depth training for doctors and other medical professionals regarding celiac disease.” Its unique Preceptorship Program recruits candidates from around the country on an annual basis. In the future, the Center hopes to make its on-site opportunity available as an online CME course that will offer health care professionals training in the screening, diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease.

To learn more about the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center’s programs, please visit

Friday, May 1, 2009

Staying Safe and Sound at Six Flags

It’s almost time to get the shorts out and head on up to Six Flags in Gurnee, Illinois. Of course, you’ll want to fasten your seat belts and scream your head off when you ride the Demon and American Eagle.
But before you hit the road, you’ll want to learn how you and your family can stay safe and sound with food allergies at the park.
I spoke with Stephanie from the Six Flags public relations department and she offered several, great tips.

  • Pack a lunch. Customer service will issue a “Food Approval Sticker” after they determine your food is indeed allergen free.
  • At the Customer Services desk, you can obtain a list of all the allergen-free foods available throughout the park.
  • If all else fails, ask for a supervisor at any food stand and he or she will assist you with any questions or provide clarifications about a particular menu item.
A special tip from Lisa: Bring a few extra Handi Wipes to clean the rides. You just never know what the rider before you was eating.
Summer is finally here!