Review: RPM Italian, Chicago

Last Sunday, we had the pleasure to dine at RPM Italian. Danny including.

The restaurant is the brain child of celeb couple Giuliana and Bill Rancic, Lettuce Entertain You's Melmans and chef Doug Psaltis (thus the RPM in the name). The menu features a couple of family recipes from Giuliana's mom, aka Mama DePandi.

First, they have a valet, which is a must for me at a downtown restaurant. If you're lucky enough to drive an exotic pasta rocket, expect it to be parked right in front of the restaurant for the duration of your meal.

How to Tie a Turkish Knot

I have been dying to do "30 in 30" (30 outfits in 30 days), but the weather is only allowing me one outfit: fleece pants, heavy fur boots and coat that covers me head to toe. Basically I have been wearing a sleeping bag for the last 3.5 months. But I just saw a glimmer of hope – the trees are showing tiny little bugs. So with the thought that eventually this white frozen nightmare will be over, here is a tutorial on how to tie your scarf with a Turkish knot. Both men and women can do this, only men should use a solid scarf for understated elegance.

(modeled on a vintage suit butler, since I have no idea how to take a selfie with no head)

Fold in half to make a loop

Hot. Cool. Yours: Salad Olivier

My last food entry for Sochi Opening Ceremonies tonight – the delicious Salad Olivier (pronounced [ oli.vje]). The salad was invented in 1860 by Lucien Olivier, the head chef of Hermitage, one of Moscow’s famous restaurants. The exact recipe for the dressing is still unknown. It was a form of Mayonnaise, however the exact ingredients and proportions died with the chef. The salad is a staple at every New Year’s celebration table, served with Champagne.

The following is my family’s recipe. This is a meatless recipe because I serve it as a side dish to already full table, but you can add ham to it if you like. With ham*, it’s pretty much a whole meal in its self. The original recipe featured smoked dusk as a protein.

The whole recipe is done by touch, no real measurements.

Equal parts of:
Boiled Red Potatoes
Boiled Whole Carrots
Boiled Whole Eggs
Whole Pickles (the good crunchy kind from the deli)
1 can Sweet Peas
¾ C Fresh Dill, chopped (at least)
Mayo (the real fat stuff)
Salt/Pepper to taste

Boil Potatoes (with skins), Carrots, and Eggs. Cool completely. Shell the Eggs. Gently peel the skin off Potatoes (I boil everything the night before and then peel Potatoes right out of the fridge the next morning, that way the skin comes off easy and when you dice the potato it stays nice and firm).
Get a bowl that is at least twice the volume of your ingredients so you're not spilling everything out when mixing. Dice Potatoes into ½” cubes (a dicing tool might be helpful, but make sure it’s ½”). Dice Eggs, Carrots, and Pickles to match the Potatoes. Add Peas, drained thoroughly. Add Dill. Add Pepper. Start mixing, and add Salt a little at a time. Because Pickles are salty already you don’t want to over salt. Add Mayo, enough to coat everything nicely so it stays together but not dripping with Mayo (when you spoon out the salad to serve, it should be silent, not make the slurping noise of an over-dressed potato salad). Taste, add more salt if necessary. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

It will last in the fridge for a couple of days, but not too long.

*If adding ham (or smoked duck): Ham needs to be patted dry, and also diced into ½’’ cubes. Add before peas. Do not use honey ham. 

Priyatnovo Apetita! 

Hot. Cool. Yours: Baklazhannaya Ikra (Eggplant Caviar)

Continuing my Russian food program is my all time favorite: Baklazhannaya Ikra (Eggplant Caviar). My Dad makes it all the time and I can eat the entire thing in one sitting. 

A word of advice: this is a recipe that you need to plan for in advance. The eggplant takes hours to sweat, and Ikra is served cold. This is something you should prepare at least a day ahead, it stores well in the fridge.

2 Large Eggplants*
1 Onion, chopped
3 Cloves of Garlic, minced (or use a garlic press)
12oz Can of Diced Tomatoes** (Italian brand of course)
Salt/Pepper to taste
½ C Fresh Cilantro, chopped
Olive Oil

Get a pan large enough to hold all of your ingredients. Gently sauté the Onion and the Garlic in a bit of Olive Oil. In a separate pan, brown the sweated* Eggplant slices on both sides (you just want a nice color, you’re not cooking it through). Slice into cubes. Add the Eggplant cubes to the Onion and Garlic, turn down the heat. Sauté for several minutes, checking it all the time since Eggplant sucks up moisture like a sponge and you don’t want to burn it. Add Salt/Pepper to taste. Add Canned Tomatoes. Stir. Turn the heat to low or simmer, cover the pan. Cook until the Eggplant is soft and the whole mixture is the color of caramel. Once it’s cooled, add Cilantro.

Serve at room temperature or chilled. If you taste it and it's super sweet (eggplants that are in season tend to get a sweet if prepared properly) add some vinegar – I prefer balsamic. You can serve Ikra with crostini or as a side dish. It is also the perfect rescue side for a dry piece of skinless chicken breast.

* How to prep the Eggplant: Remove all skin and cut into long slices, about ½'' thick. Put a large colander into the sink, line in single layer, sprinkle very generously with salt. After several hours, the eggplant will be sweating (you will see water running off slowly) and have a brownish coloring to it. I usually give it about 2-3 hours. Rinse with hot water and pat dry. The reason you sweat the eggplant is to remove all that bitterness. There is a “bit” faster method of doing it, but it requires a lot more work and a lot more pots and pans.

** You can substitute with fresh tomatoes, but they have to be full of flavor and need to be skinned first. If you have nothing else to do in the summer and your garden is exploding with tomatoes, go right ahead. You’ll need about 2-3 large ones, depending on size.

Priyatnovo Apetita! (Happy Appetites, or Enjoy your food!)

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