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Another heaping helping of dessert awaits TV viewers
By Deborah Pankey | Daily Herald Editor

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Published: 9/15/2010 12:00 AM

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If you've watched in empathetic agony as talented chefs - chefs who can create a Michelen star-worthy lunch from a vending machine or turn turnips into a delectable dinner - flub their way through the dessert course on Bravo's "Top Chef," the network has a new show for you.

"Top Chef: Just Desserts" premiers at 10 p.m. tonight (Sept 15), with a dozen pastry chefs competing for the sweet title. (It moves to its regular 9 p.m. Wednesday slot Sept. 22.)

The format mirrors the Emmy-winning "Top Chef" with the cheftestants put through a series of quick-fire and elimination challenges and world-renown judges selecting the creme de la creme of the pastry crowd. Gail Simmons, a "Top Chef" judge, hosts the series. Challenges will include chocolate show pieces, time-trial wedding cakes, flaming desserts and edible fashion.

We have just one Chicago chef in the challenge, Malika Ameen who worked at the beloved (but shuttered) Aigre Doux and now consults for ByM Desserts. Here's wishing her luck.

Consider yourself warned: Do not watch this show on an empty stomach.

Life of lunch: I've talked often with my boys about the life cycle of insects and animals, but the life cycle of lunch? I can't say that's been a topic of conversation. A new exhibit at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago sets out to change the way we all think about our food choices and their impact on our health and the health of the environment.

The permanent exhibit, "Nature's LunchBox," sponsored by Dominick's, illustrates the life cycle of food - from the farm, to the market, to the compost bin - with educational displays and interactive components.

Visitors will learn why locally grown, seasonal food is good for their bodies and the environment. Then, it's off to the supermarket, where children can win a "jackpot" by selecting the right combination of fruits and vegetables. They can also visit the deli counter and sniff out foods that are nutritious and tasty. The exhibit demonstrates urban gardening and closes with a guide to beautifying urban nature by recycling, reusing and composting waste.

For homework, so to speak, the museum is issuing a challenge to parents and guardians: banish unhealthy, uninspired lunches by taking part in its Fresh Start Monday campaign. The campaign challenges people to make a fresh, healthy and creative lunch each Monday. Recipes are available at the museum or under the Discussions tab on its page.

The museum is at 2430 N. Cannon Drive. Admission costs $9 for adults; $6 for children 3-12 and $7 for seniors and students. See or (773) 755-5100.

Perfect 10: Urban Harvest, an indulgent food store in Arlington Heights, celebrates its 10th anniversary with specials through the end of the month.

The shop, 15 S. Dunton Ave., hosts a Cabernet Sauvignon blind tasting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16. Participants will be guided through tastings and evaluations of seven different Cabernets by owner Mary Ellen Hogan, who recently earned her sommelier diploma.

From 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, stop by for the Grand Wine Tasting and sale, the shop's largest wine event featuring samples of more than 50 wines.

While you're there, browse through the array of homemade meals, gourmet sauces, fresh baked goods, chocolates, cheeses, pates, condiments, dressings, fine wines and party supplies. The Tuscan bean salad was a recent favorite at my house.

Urban Harvest is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. More at

Abundance of apples: After the apple-picking guide ran earlier this month two orchards popped onto my radar. Here's the 411:

Meadowmoor Orchard, 1517 N. Route 47 (north of 120), Woodstock. 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Sunday through mid October. This 132-acre orchard on a former duck-hunting club welcomes pickers for its second year. There are 600 some trees with classic and newer varieties (Honeycrisp and Sweet 16). $2.25 a pound Honeycrisp; $1.25 a pound for other varieties (cash or check). (847) 219-7597,

Heinz Orchard, 1050 Crest Road (east of Route 41), Green Oaks. 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday to Sunday (also open Columbus Day). Billing itself as a small, no-frills orchard, Heinz offers McIntosh, Empire, Jonathan, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, as well as raw, natural honey. Half peck costs $8; full peck costs $15. (847) 770-3449;

- Deborah Pankey

• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at or (847) 427-4524. Listen to her discuss food and restaurant trends on Restaurant Radio Chicago, 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on WIND 560 AM. Be her friend at; Deb Pankey Daily Herald.