Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas time for the Uber-Swede

Am I the only one that, upon the holiday season, digs into her little ancestry and therein, finds the most over-the-top, ethnic-loving, tradition-embracing, uber-Swede there ever was?  I'm a staunch supporter of celebrating Christmas during the Christmas season so there are no Christmas carols or ornaments or gift shopping (to be honest) before Thanksgiving.  But man oh man, on Black Friday I awake with a little Swedish flag painted over my heart.  I don the right clothing (Scandinavian sweaters, don't you DARE say they're Norwegian), place little clogs and straw goats under my tree, make the only Swedish foods I know of (which, for the record are all poor man's food made to stick to your ribs and get you through the brutally dark cold winter).  I convince myself that I thoroughly enjoy winters in Chicago because it reminds me of the years of bitter winters and famine up in the dark north.  Where else do you find a saint honored for feeding people with candles on her head?

This year, I maybe went a little over the top.  Now most folks for Christmas like to go to the beach.  Hawaii, Florida, California-- anywhere that's warmer than here.  Who, after all, needs a white Christmas when we've been having a white November, white December, and Lord knows we'll get a white January, white February, white March and goodness knows maybe even white April.  I must seriously be a glutton for punishment because this year, I decided I wanted to spend my Christmas week in Anchorage.  One of my sisters ran away up to Alaska after college and never came back and I hadn't been there in the winter since 2001.  It was time.  I needed more darkness, and more cold.  So I happily spent the shortest day of the year in the darkest state in the US.  For the record, the sun rose at 10:14 AM and set at 3:41 PM.  That's a whopping whole 5 hours, 26 minutes and 57 seconds.

Enter uber-Swede.  I loved it.  We went cross country skiing everyday while I was there.  Normally Katherine and I take little Jack Jack the wonder dog hiking and backpacking with us (he has his own little camping pack that holds doggie treats and his shovel to bury the things he leaves behind) but this time, we took him out to skijor.  He was a little unhappy with the booties but was quite excited to be out with us in the cold snow, skiing past moose seen and unseen.

The sad, or rather, fantastic part of it all is, I loved it.  I loved skiing in dim twilight at 2:30 in the afternoon.  And mostly, I loved cooking my little Swedish heart out with my sister.  Before I even arrived she had made 6 loaves of Swedish coffee bread, so we skipped that one this year.  But we made pepparkakor and Swedish meatballs.  And you know what?  it's lovely being a wanna be Swede over the holidays.  It's incredibly good to point to life-long traditions and know they were there even before little me.  So, uber-Swedes unite!  And I'll see you again in December of 2010.

Alaskan Pepparkakor

3 3/4 c flour
2 t baking soda
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground coves
1 t ground ginger
1 t ground cardamom
1 c butter
1 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar, packed
1 egg, beaten
2 T birch syrup (to be bought at
       the Alaska state fair)

Whisk flour, salt and four spices together in a medium bowl.  In a separate large bowl, beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Mix in egg and syrup.  Slowly add flour mixture until evenly blended.

Divide batter into 4 equal portions, form 2" x 4" x 8" bricks and wrap in clear plastic wrap.  Refrigerate overnight. 

Preheat oven to 375.  Using one "brick" dough at a time, allow the brick to sit on the counter for about 5 minutes or until maleable, just barely. Roll out on well floured space, about 1/4 inch thick (or thinner if you're Cynthia Erickson and have mad pepparkakor skills).  Use as much flour as you need so that the dough does not stick to the pin, the counter, or you.  Cut into cookies using a star or heart shaped cookie cutter.  Using a silpat (I'm a new convert!!) place on cookie sheets and bake for 5 minutes.  Watch closely!!!  you don't want the edges to brown at all, so if you have a hot oven, watch them!

Consume with lots and lots and lots of good coffee.  Preferably Kaladi Brothers.

 Swedish Meatballs

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Florence Nightingale Soup

It must have been a miserable fall for the healthcare community.  Not only have these folks been in the spotlight in terms of new legislation (which let me tell you, as part of the financial community, that's NEVER a fun spotlight to be in) but they've also been swamped with more patients than ever.  My mom aka. Best Public Health Nurse in the State, has been doing double duty helping low-income women find breast and cervical cancer screening and moonlighting as a flu shot provider on the weekends.  Craziness.

I'm officially up to using both hands to count the number of people in my office who have caught H1N1, and while I really want to call this soup by that name, I think I should opt for inciting, rather than funny, no? Flo Night Soup it is.

My Scandinavian genetics have been holding strong and diligent vitamin popping has certainly paid off this fall.  No serious colds or influenza, yet, hand-sanitized-fingers crossed.  I picked up this recipe from Coco Pazzo's chef demo at the Green City market this summer and so far, have made it for 2 under-the-weather loved ones.  I've been reading lately about how fantastic mushrooms are for your immune system and I may say that this soup is proving their point.  It will stick to your ribs, pump you full of vitamins and is much much much better on the second day.  I have used fresh herbs and even the frozen ice cubes I make every summer from abundant herb producers on my windowsill and both are equally flavorful-- quantity of herbs is the key here.  The caramelized butternut squash adds a nice sugary snap to the deep salty flavored mushrooms.

Florence Nightingale Soup
2 cups 1/2 cubed butternut squash, peeled
2 t cinnamon

2-3 T olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 leek, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 c mixed mushrooms
1/2 c dried porcini mushrooms

1/2 c mixed herbs (tarragon, sage, rosemary, basil) chopped
2 cups bulgar
3 quarts chicken stock
salt & pepper
1 bay leaf

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 T oil.  Add butternut squash and cinnamon and sautee until carmalized well, about 5 minutes.

In a large soup pot, saute onion, celery, leek and carrots until the onions turn translucent.  Season with salt and pepper. Add sliced mushrooms and saute, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms release some of their liquid.   Add dried mushrooms and bulgar and caramelized butternut squash.  Add chicken stock and bay leaf and bring to a simmer.  Adjust seasoning and cook until bulgar is tender (probably about 20-30 minutes). 

Starch from bulgar will thicken up this soup A LOT!!  I always buy a whole extra carton of chicken stock to add to each serving as I reheat.  Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup stock to each full cup of soup. 

Again, this soup is much better the next day and promises to be a lovely healthy kick in the butt for your loved ones.  A votre santee!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Harvest Is Nearing Its End

It was a tough summer for gardens.  My little experiment on my back patio was quite a disappointment.  Our grand old ash tree that shades the patio provides a quaint intimacy for dinner parties on a bricked-in, high-walled patio but it shaded my little peppers, cucumber, strawberries and tomatoes a bit too much.  I think at peak summer light, I was getting about an hour and a half of sunlight. 

My Chicago Avenue community garden plot was a whole different story.  Zucchini, beans, peas, peppers, tomatoes, swiss chard, spinach, basil, basil, basil, we had a bit of abundance starting in early July.  But regardless of where your garden was, wasn't it a hard summer?  I heard tragic stories of green tomatoes never turning red with our rainy cold August.  Deer attacked a meticulously tended patch up on the North Shore and those tomatoes definitely never had a chance.  Beef steak grew to the size of plum varieties and quit.  Lost potential.

I've written an awful lot lately about processes, cycles and seasons.  There is something wonderful about having a time for this and then having a time for that.  Last week, I sent all my little plants, those that had given me plenty of flavors and calories to play with and those that withered in the dark, damp patio back into the ground.  There they will rest and contribute to the soil that served them this summer.  Next spring we'll have another chance.  In the meantime, I'll pour over seed catalogs.  Study up on what, if any, fruit bearing plants grow well in the shade.  And I'll tend them better next year.  I've learned lessons about watering, dedication to the ground and trying not to force my silly plants to grow where they want to.  Isn't that just a helpful image for this year?  Yes my friend, we have lots of potential and most of us have the gift to see that potential before us.  But just because you see it, doesn't mean it'll grow there.  Just because you seized that opportunity, doesn't mean that it worked out, just this time.  Never fear my love.  You'll have another chance next spring.  The warm gusts of March will blow those golden leaves right off of your beds and you'll see new potential there that you hadn't seen before.  And it will grow.

 Fall Harvest Bread
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
2 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
2 T white sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 c milk
1/4 c applesauce
1 T canola oil

1/2 can pumpkin puree
1/2 bag of fresh cranberries
1/2 c chopped pecans
1 apple, peeled and chopped

Preheat oven to 350.  In a medium sized bowl, whisk together flour, spices, salt and soda.  Set aside.  In a large bowl blend together sugar, milk, applesauce and canola oil.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Add dry ingredients to wet, 1 cup at a time.  Fold in pumpkin puree, cranberries, pecans and apple.  Pour into a 5x9 pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour.

I like to make two at once to share with friends.

adapted from Good Things Catered

Monday, November 9, 2009

Acorn Squash-stravaganza

This is a tribute to newly found bloggers, food friends and recipes that exalt the lowly squash. It seems to me that there are a few uber-health freaks who are in on the secret of how good squash really is. Carbohydrate, vegetable, vitamin, mineral all packed into deep flavor, squash is my absolute favorite fall vegetable. And normally, I keep eating it until well into March when asparagus comes along and finally tells me that my 5 month winter food favorite has run its course.

A stands for A nod to Heidi: From one swede to another, her stuff rocks.  Dinner inspiration often comes from her incredible photography and natural, fresh, seasonal foods. I made her Roasted Corn Pudding the day after she posted it and loved it. Thanksgiving this year will likely land on Saturday and gracing my table will be this recipe, next to the old faithfuls of green bean casserole and cranberry chutney. I didn't use anise as she suggested but threw in some extra nutmeg, fresh thyme that grows in my windowsill and in my humble cooking opinion, I think you need to bake the squash for upwards of 40-50 minutes. I had plenty of additional pudding to make in a separate rammekin to augment lunch the following day. The proof (that I made it) is in the pudding. Er... photo:

B is for boyfriend's brother's babe.  Chalk it up for another Kevin Bacon-esque connection that just keeps giving.  She's one of the lucky few who gets to do this food thing for a living.  And in the midst of work, keeps up with eating well and graciously encouraging others to do the same.  I love a good foodie who is gracious:  no pretension about what you can and have and will make.  No no.  So thanks TKTC.  You tweeted this recipe some weeks ago and it was fabulous.

Martha Stewart's Moroccan-Style Stuffed Acorn Squash

1 acorn squash, halved
2 T olive oil
3/4 lbs ground chuck
2 T ground cinnamon
2 t ground nutmeg
2 t kosher salt
1/2 medium white onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 c bulgar wheat
1 c water
1/4 c golden raisins
1/4 c flatleaf parsley
2 T toasted almonds

Coat open flesh side of squash with olive oil and bake at 400 for 40 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 T oil.  Add beef and spices and simmer until browned, 6-8 minutes.  Remove from pan and discard all but 1 T drippings from the pan.  Reheat and saute onion and garlic.  Add 1 t salt and bulgar and stir to combine.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until all the water is dissolved.  Fluff with a fork and combine beef, raisins, 1 T almonds and parsley.

Scrape out the flesh of the squash and combine with bulgar/meat mixture.  Divide in half among two shells and sprinkle remaining almonds.  Bake for another 10-12 minutes or until the tops have nicely browned.

And feel free to use as brain power reading market commentary at work during your lunch hour the following day:

originally here

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm long Red Cabbage

Please, forgive the market terminology but sometimes it's annoyingly appropriate.  I made's Tassajara Warm Red Cabbage Salad this evening.

And while my intentions were to make just a few servings enough to tie me over for lunch for the week, I had ubiquitous amounts of cabbage.  Recipe reads: slice into ribbons 1 pound of cabbage and silly Jo, 1 pound does not mean 1 head.  No no no.  After beginning to saute 1/4 of my head of cabbage in my large saute pan, I realize that large isn't an accurate enough description for the size of pan needed. I flip my 1/4 head into my monster wok and still can only fit one more 1/4 head into the pot.  I saute, I sample, I delicious.  But damnit.  Here I am with massive amounts of warm cabbage salad.  Had I the strength to eat this much cabbage for lunch day in and day out this week I would undoubtedly turn a lovely shade of violet. "You're turning violet Violet?!" echoes in my head.  What to do with so much cabbage?!  So much cabbage.  Too much cabbage.  And half of it is still staring me in the face.
I turn to old faithfuls.  There are few ingredients that I consistently keep in my fridge.  My constants have to endure years of screening to become a part of the chosen few.  I live in Chicago with no car and a grocery store 3 blocks away and I still prefer to shop only a meal or two out, buying just what I need.  My little metal grandma cart that bumps noisily down the sidewalk can only hold so much, and often I find I never cook with the things that I bought without framing them around a meal I intend to eat in the near future. I hate the package of french benet mix, Harry & David chicken curry soup mix from last Christmas and minute miso that are in my cabinet taunting me to make something with them but utterly lacking their sister ingredients that would create an entire meal!!

There are a few things that ARE part of the necessary ingredients that live on my shelves.  For me they are eggs, milk and puff pasty sheets.  Whenever I have 1/2 dead vegetables, leftover chicken from two-days-ago's roast, fresh herbs from the grocery store that are about to go, that last 1/3 cup brick of cheese that doesn't seem to go with anything or exorbitant amounts of cabbage, I toss them into a quiche.

80% of the time, it works every time.  This was one of the best 80%'s yet.

Violet Beauregarde Cabbage Salad adapted from
1/2 c pine nuts
1 t brown sugar
kosher salt
2 T olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
3 medium cloves fresh garlic
1/2 large head of cabbage, cut in 1/2 again and chopped into 1/4 inch ribbons
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 T balsamic vinegar
4 oz feta cheese

In a LARGE wok, roast pine nuts and just before roasted, toss in sugar and a pinch of salt.  Swirl until covered and browned and remove from pan.  Set aside.  Heat oil in wok and saute red onion for 5 minutes.  Add garlic and saute another minute.  Add cabbage and 2 pinches of salt.  Saute until the cabbage just barely starts to soften, stirring constantly.  Add raisins and balsamic and cook for another minute.  Remove from heat and gently stir in crumbled feta.  Top with nuts, if eating it as a salad.

for the Quiche:
VB Cabbage Salad
cooking spray
1 defrosted puff pastry sheet
5-6 eggs
1 1/2 cups of milk
vegetable/meat/herb/cheese combination of your choice

Preheat oven to 375.  Spray pie pan with cooking spray and spread out puff pastry.  If you have large corners folding over the sides of your pan, cut those off and patch up your inside rim so that it's mostly covered with pastry.  Spoon 3-4 cups of cabbage salad onto your crust.  Loosely whisk together eggs and milk and a touch of salt and pepper, pour over cabbage mixture.  Depending on the size of your pie pan, you may want to add another cup of cabbage so that you have enough sticking out the top of the egg mixture.  Bake for 40 minutes.  While eggs still haven't quite set, sprinkle roasted pine nuts on top and bake for another 5-7 minutes until eggs are set.  Allow to cool.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Process of Apples

There's something incredible about participating in a process.  I think so much of the current food movement is a direct reaction against the segmentation of our ground to wagons to factories to packages to grocery stores to fridge to stove to tummy fragmentation.  As are most movements, someone has seen that this segmented chain of events leaves a disconnect that is discomforting.  From where and how many hands and how has it scatter across your brain, but because we've been trained to trust the chain as it's the only thing we've known, those thoughts scamper away as quickly as they've come.

Today is a tribute to the process.  I confess that living in the midst of an urban landscape there is little green space for me to process often.  Sometimes I wake early enough to run over to my farmer's market on a Saturday to chat a bit with my chicken farmer about his baby that was born this summer and return emptied egg cartons and pick up steak, chicken and eggs.  And sometimes, I participate in the chain because I don't have the drive to give energy or time to the process.  Today is a string of pictures about a process.  If you haven't been a part of the whole process lately, give it a try.  Apples are in season and just about an hour away from our bricked in world.

Crisp, uber sweet Gala apples piled atop grainy begging to be baked Jonathans from Jollay Orchards in Coloma, MI.  And let's get one thing straight:  I am not so delusional to believe that in this conquest and cooking of fine, shiny, healthy apples that I am participating in even upwards of 10 percent of the process.  I readily admit that I have exchanged money for the right to come and reap the benefits that others have sown.  And the only appropriate response to this is genuine gratefulness for the farmers that have spent seasons amongst those trees.  From their hands to my fridge drawers.

First use:  Smitten Kitchen's breakfast granola apple crisp made extra good by Penzey's spice. If you cook at all and are feeling adventurous (or have a foodie to gift to for Christmas this year), cruise through Penzey's website.  The 4-jar Indian curry gift set given as a maid of honor gift 3 years ago has lead to many a lovely Indian dinner and my cinnamon improves and knock's the socks off of my McCormick shiz...

Confession: it was so delightful, I forgot to snap a final shot. Had it for breakfast for a week solid and never grew tired of it.  In fact, I've run out of oats and probably should run to the store now to make a fresh dish.  After all, tonight is not the night to run to the fields, sow, dry and flatten my oats. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Delightful surprise outta Telluride

And I can’t help but share the irony of this lovely evening on which SMLSSSS was made. An old friend was whisked away to Seattle last year by the evil empire. No not that one. This one. And while I was cleaning up dinner, SBUX noticed a Dunkin Donuts coffee bag in my cabinet.

A gasp went out. 

“Innocent!! Innocent!!” I shrieked. “we were in a bind and the Cap’n (my roommate) was grabbing breakfast so she picked up a bag. I swear we have NEVER had this before.”

In order to make amends, I knew my peace treaty had to be EXTREMELY generous. Such an offense is not easily forgiven.  But!  The evening before, I was given the most aromatic, freshly roasted coffee I’ve had since my trip to Oregon last May. I love the kind of coffee that is so full-smelling that after it sits in the car for an hour you almost have to take a step back before getting in.  As it turns out, the town of Telluride, Colorado isn’t only about skiing. Through a connection of someone who's connected to someone who knows someone, there's someone who trades commodity futures and roasts his own coffee. Now there’s a profession-pairing I can get behind. In honor of a lovely Kevin Bacon-eque connection, I’m shamelessly promoting. If you’ve run out of Christmas present ideas for your crazy over-caffeinated Aunt this is the ticket.
Steaming Bean Coffee Co.

Now SBUX knows a little somethin' somethin' about coffee and is my favorite kind of SBUX employee-- one who will eagerly stop in the little local shops, rather than swear undying loyalty (hopefully his boss is not reading this).  Secondary bonus: SBUX knows a million delightful ways to spice up an ordinary cup of Joe. After sampling some pure espresso and deciding that my little Krups machine had never produced a cup so flavorful, we decided upon SBUX's suggestion to combine our dessert and coffee.  To do so scoop a small, melon baller size scoop of ice-cream into an espresso cup and top with piping hot espresso. You get a nice froth on top of your espresso, a creamy thickener and if you're brilliant enough to have Moose Tracks on hand, a lovely turtlely residue in your cup.

Mick, forgive me for tainting your coffee... but next time you're in Chicago, I will gladly serve you a little cup yourself and you can see if SBUX's combo is worth a hill of your beans.

An Unsung Hero. Vol 1. Spaghetti Squash

I’m beginning a mini series.  Every now and again, we need cohesion and not a random stream of thoughts from my brain to these electronic letters.  I am refraining from promising how many installments you shall receive, since really, this is the first one that I can think of so far.  My intention is to introduce you to some of my old favorites, which are not sprawled across the pages of Bon Appetit every fall.  Here’s to the unsung heroes whose praises we don't hear often enough.  And to the new regulars: for your grocery basket to cabinet/fridge to tummy.

Our first hero: the spaghetti squashI wish I could tell you some wistful story about how I found the spaghetti squash but it landed in my lap during my senior year of college when I had graduated to my second kitchen which was on Kedzie and Foster: still tiny, loud, dusty and had to be serviced with a college budget.  Childhood meals were prepared by my public health nurse mom who made most things she could from scratch to save money and fill our tummies with healthy things.  This all meant that my budget for groceries was carefully crafted, and guilt ensued if I had ramen too many nights in a row, knowing my sodium consumption would be seriously out of control.  Out of desperation rather than a streak of creativity, I turned to cheap root vegetables.  Enter squash.  Wading through memories of Heiddeger and Hobbes from the semester, I can vaguely recall that I found spaghetti squash after getting sick of night after night of plain noodles and sauce.  There had to be something I could do cheaply to spice this up.  My sincerest apologies to whoever was so good to introduce me to this food item.  The glory is yours my friend.  All yours.

While its lovely yellow shell does make a nice contrast against an acorn and butternut squash in one’s fall cornucopia, the nutty, crunchy, stringy squash turns regular spaghetti dinner to a deeper flavored, vitamin-filled pasta dinner.  Go ahead, carb up and don’t feel a hint of shame.

I slice my spaghetti squash hot-dog style, straight in half and lay both halves face down in a 9x13 pan with 1 inch of water in the bottom.  Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes.  Notice the yellow meat of the squash will have turned a little bit darker around the rind, telling you it is fully cooked.  When in doubt, under cook it.  I think it can quickly become a coagulated mass if you overdo it and will release too much protein into your sauce.  Take a large metal spoon and run the spoon as close to the rind as you can, separating the meat of the squash from the rind.  Leave the meat in your rind, and use a fork to break apart the strands.   You should have something that looks like this:

Now look around in your fridge.  Do you have ¼ of a red bell pepper?  ½ an onion that you used for tacos last night?  Maybe some zucchini?  Eggplant? Spinach in a bag that looks like it needs to be eaten by tomorrow otherwise it’s all gone to waste?  Throw all of that in a large sauté pan and brown nicely in some olive oil.  Here were my odds and ends:

When fully cooked, add a jar of your favorite tomato sauce.  I swear by the Vodka Marinara at Trader Joes.  It’s the best bottled-vodka marinara by far and speaks nicely with the nuttiness of the squash.  If you’ve hunted through the whole bin of squashes at the store and you’ve happened upon the loveliest, and largest of all squashes and it suddenly seems like your sauce won’t quite go far enough, throw in a can of tomatoes, whole or diced.

SkyMall lovin’ Starbucks Supporting Spaghetti Squash

1 spaghetti squash
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 zuccini, chopped into ½ inch discs and halved
½ white onion, chopped
½ c Kalamata olives
2 T Olive oil
1 jar of Trader Joe’s vodka marinara sauce
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried basil
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
salt & pepper
3 italian-spiced turkey sausages
1 4 oz package of goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375.  Cut squash in half long ways and place in 9x13 pan side by side in 1 inch of water. (note, if they don’t fit use two different pans, and they can spill over the top… I’ve used a pie pan before!)  Bake for 45 minutes until the inside flesh is stringy when pulled from the edge.  The outside rim of the squash meat will have turned two shades of a darker yellow. 

Meanwhile, heat ½ inch of water in a large sauté pan and cook sausages for 15 minutes, covered.  If you don’t have a tightly fitting lid, keep adding water so you maintain your steam in the pan.  Remove from heat and cut sausages into 1/3 inch discs.  Set aside.  Heat 2 T olive oil in sauté pan and sauté onions for 1 minute.  Then add peppers and zucchini. Sauté until browned. 

Stir in a marinara sauce.  If, by looking at the size of the squash vs. your sauce it looks like you won’t have enough, you can add a can of diced, stewed tomatoes.  When doing so, double your spices.  Heat until warmed thoroughly. 

Scoop out spaghetti squash and stir into sauce.  Serve warm, topped with sausage, goat cheese and olives and lots of good red wine.

Friday, October 16, 2009

PIZZA Art Cafe

Sometimes I miss the neighborhood where I lived 2 blocks away from our local most recently shamed public employee. After moving 2 years ago from Lincoln Square to Old Town I realize now that LS had everything I ever needed:  local music joint, best curry fries in the city, little league baseball and a place to play ultimate Frisbee in the park , the best book rental and lederhosen-clad musicians, slogging German beer.  What I'm really trying to say is, Lincoln Square is one of the absolute best livable neighborhoods in the city, where you can walk to practically anything you want and find folks that have as ironic shoes and glasses as you have.  Yep, you'll like it.  But when a girl finds herself craving a change of pace and shorter commute the answer is: move to Old Town.  At some point it is the right decision at the right time.  But if you haven't figured from older posts, there is still many a day in which I find myself missing this lovely spot in Chicago.  To all of those folks who "don't know life exists north of Wrigley" come on now.  Expand and believe that life is good beyond your microcosm.  In fact, it's really good.

It is especially good when you are living a block or two from an indicted city employee (wait...that doesn't really narrow it down living in Chicago) and just one block beyond the 4 black SUVs is a sleepy little BYO pizza joint.  Enter Pizza Art Cafe on Rockwell.  Take a beanie baby pink flamingo, put it in a clothing-designer manikin, slap that up on the wall with a lovely red beaded necklace.  Add variations on said theme to cover walls.  Toss in a little (well a lotta) garlic and an oven roasted pizza on the side. Then give me a lax-a-daisy sloppy pony-tailed waitress who really wants to sell you that bottled water on the table (I did say it's BYO right) and you've got Pizza Art.

I'm not one to take pictures at a restaurant. Not that I lay any fault against those that do, it's just not something I have the chutzpa to do.  But last night, with a fellow blogger in tow, I did it.  It was the fault of the bruschetta, which I realized I couldn't sell you on without a snapshot.  So, case A: Bruschetta

I honestly I can't say better than my partner in crime @ChefMelissa tweeted: "will dream about tonight's bruschetta @ Pizza Art Cafe w/@GreenSugar1. Holy fresh bread, ricotta salata & local organic tomatoes, Batman!"  Their bread is absolutely incredible.  Baked on the spot on demand: light, fluffy with a good smokey crunchy crust.

Case B: pizza.  Capricciosa is a favorite of mine.  I think it reminds me of those rudimentary moments in flavor recognition when I noticed what green olive did to my palate vs. mushrooms vs. artichoke vs. ham.  That's a whole lot of toppings and PIZZA Art does the "a lot" bits well.  I'm quickly realizing, I'm a toppings girl.  Take me to Piece and somehow I end up with a $35 pie because you need goat cheesewithyoursausagebutohdon'tforgetaboutthered peppersandwhileyou'reatitwhataboutmaybesomeolives grilledonionsgarlicextrasauceTHELISTGOESON.  Whew.  Tonight, since we're both a bit overly local/foodie/seasonal and overly meated this week, grilled seasonal veggie pizza sounds like it will hit the spot.  I'm often one to put zucchini, onions and mushrooms on my homemade pizza, but celery and carrots?  Now that's a lot.  And it's good.

 Here's the truth of it: with 3 people working the whole place (two servers and one chef working the oven in the front of the restaurant) you need time.  Lots of it.  Bruschetta and a pizza to split is plenty for two, even if you've arrived post-workout and it's 2 hours past your normal feasting time.  Plus I don't mean to be crass, and normally don't prefer to market foods based on price (as a member of Slow Food I find this to be a cultural problem worth fighting against) but damn if dinner for two minus a bottle of wine wasn't under 20$.  So this is a gem of Lincoln Square.  Places like this that do what they do well, being homemade, seasonal and local at a ridiculously reasonable rate. And while I want to keep these places secret, we have a recession on and they need to survive.  Forget Marcello's, and God forbid you head out to something else that's ridiculously cheap and terrible and I won't even mention here.  You can do better.  Haul yourself to the Rockwell Brown Line stop. Walk one block south, wave hi to Blago and stroll a half block north of the tracks for some cosy artsy, Neapolitan wood burning flame pizza.

Pizza Art Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 12, 2009

Flavors that are favorites

You all have 'em be honest.

When you've had absolutely the worst week at work and feeling deserving of that extra special dinner, or when pining for the old neighborhood the calmer, quiet life that you lived there, or missing an old friend that now is far away and just a phone conversation won't do-- a flavor comes to mind.  A specific dish that holds a memory for you and is linked to not only to some delightful taste sensation in your mouth but something else goes on in your brain that calms you down, wakes you up and reminds you that you've come from somewhere good and you have a story to tell about it.

It's easy to identify my friends with foods and the restaurants that serve them:  MM would demand crab rangoon and kao soy from Opart Thai House and has been known, on occasion to drag me and my pink-handlebared-bike up to Lincoln Square just to relive the memories.  MV would describe her mood and have delivered a perfectly correlated glass of wine, blue cheese chips and lightly tossed salad at Fiddlehead. AF would swear on her life that pad thai from Yes Thai could do no wrong and out-pad's all other thais in this great city.  Just to name a few.

But as my friends who love a good dish every now and again, I think it's high time I tell you which ones wake me up at night, calm me down in the midst of a stressful week, or are the perfect celebratory foods I run to when I'm really patting myself on the back:

Avec: chorizo-stuffed dates.  Spicy roasted tomato sauce, sweet dates and must-be-PKahan-created meat sit in my mouth for days afterward (in a good way) and months in my head.  This absolutely deserves the number one spot, most addicting foods I've ever had.  If you haven't call me.  I'm free tonight no matter what and we MUST have them.

Schubas: mac and cheese.  I've tried and tried and tried again to recreate my mom's homemade macaroni and cheese.  It is the standard by which all other macs are judged and so, so many have failed.  Until this one.  Maybe it's because it's been consumed pre-Imogen Heap, pre-Dent May and many others but rock and roll never tasted this good.

Opart: I have to defer to MM on this one.  I honestly think this is the best Thai food in Chicago.  Don't even try to get delivery from their downtown location.  It's terrible, doesn't even compare.  Park your car or bike at Welles Park, grab a bottle of wine from the slashie just north of Opart and order a round of (8!!! I swear this is more than standard) crab rangoon.  I haven't had better.

Tre Kroner: salmon dill quiche.  Now this association really has come a long way.  This humble little quiche overcame all memories of 6 am alarms in college to be sure I made my waitressing shift at Tre K on time.  Overcame tired legs from being on my feet in little clogs for 8-9 hours with no break.  Overcame post shift clothes wreaking of Swedish cooked potatoes for days on end.  Congrats salmon dill quiche-- you earned this spot.

Chicago Pizza & Oven GrinderMediterranean flatbread.  Oversized food has always frightened me.  When food is so big it spills out over it's plate and graces the table below, I'm unnerved.  Not so with CP&OG's flatbread.  Normally you've been waiting for a table for at least an hour and a half, you realize that your two glasses of red wine have seriously gone to your head and that just a grinder with mushrooms and sausage just isn't going to cut it.  You have to start somewhere and the very best place to start is with the flatbread.  And go hog-wild with the seasonings.  I think they put about 1/5th the necessary amount on so I normally add my 4/5ths...and then season each bite more.  Season, rip, season again, consume.  Fantastic.

Honorable mentions which need further consumption:
Jerry's Louis M. Sandwich:  chicken salad with steak, avocado, swiss, chipotle chutney
La Scarola's grilled octopus
Piccolo Sogno's straw & hay veal ragu

My favorite part about this list is its dynamism.  Who knows what I may find tomorrow when out with a long, lost foodie friend or next time the Pops rolls into town... so tell me, what are the most fabulous local flavors you've had?  What should I add to my list, in your own humble opinion?

Cooper's Alehouse on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 5, 2009

Accepting and loving autumn

I decided some years ago to surrender to the fight against the seasons and more particularly against Weather. 2 pages into a favorite CS Lewis-under-read-classic, you'll find a lovely dialogue between husband and wife about how fantastic weather is.  And ever since that day, I've aligned myself with the lovely Jane.  She says, perhaps now in my own words than hers: Will your attitude of the rain or wind or clouds or even sun make them fade?  No dear, not even in your most frustrated moments should you wish you had that kind of power.  Plus, there's something absolutely incredible that in our hyper-controlled microcosms we can't do anything about Weather.  And to be quite frank, I think that at the end of a long summer, when we've spent hours outside in the sun, running here and there, seeing lots of music outside, biking, running, partying on rooftops and the like, we're all due for a nice quiet night inside, we need a sometimes gentle, sometimes fierce suggestion from our Weather friends. 

As I shift from the endless vegetannual cornucopia of summer into fall harvest, I again fall in love with Weather and season.  I pine for soup, tights, college football and the color orange all paired with chill crisp air, warm gusts of wind, drizzly grey days and frost on the leaves that lay crushed against the curb.  And when those the dreary, weather-worn friends and colleagues wimper in the face of a 62 degree day and complain that Chicago has only two seasons a little smile forms on the right side of my mouth. I'll take the transition be it 3 months, 2 weeks or 4 days I'll take every last day of fall I can get.

Naturally, as one who organizes seasons in flavors and shapes of produce: the squash, hearty greens, root vegetables and hard fruits that litter my market this time of year, bring smile after smile to my face.  So bring on the houndstooth, the potatoes and the rubber boots.  This summertime party girl is ready for a night of folk, candlelight and soup:

Roasted Masala Butternut Squash Soup

 8 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash (about 2 medium)
3 T canola oil, divided
2 T maple syrup
1 1/2 t garam masala
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
Cooking spray
1/2 c diced shallots
4 cups peeled, chopped apples - I used a variety of 3 different kinds
1 cup white wine
2 cups water
1- 14oz can non-fat, low sodium chicken stock
2 T non-fat half & half

Preheat oven to 400.  In a big bowl, combine squash, 2 T oil, syrup, garam masala, salt & pepper. Grease a jelly roll pan and arrange squash on a single layer.  Bake for 40 minutes or until squash is tender.

Sautee 1 T oil and shallots in a large skillet for 2 minutes, or until golden brown.  Add apples and sautee for another 5  minutes, or until browned, stirring frequently. Add white wine, squash mixture-- be sure to get all of the browned, roasted bits from the pan.  Add water and stock and simmer for 10 minutes.

Using a food processor, taking small batches at a time, blend until smooth.  If you're named Alistair and don't like bits in soup, run your soup through a colander and return to pan, or skip this step and live with a few apple and squash chunks (I like my soup like I like my mashed potatoes-- a little lumpy so you know it's homemade) return the whole mixture to the pan.  Add half & half and simmer for another 2 minutes to reheat.  If while blending, your soup has gotten a little thicker than you like, keep simmering and add water 1/4 cup at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. 

Serve with warm brown bread (or kick ass beer bread if you have someone spicy to make it for you) and Gruyere cheese.  Possibly with a mixed greens salad with light vinaigrette dressing.  Nothing too heavy since this is a pretty substantial sweet/savory soup and you don't want to compete.
inspired by this

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Damn Zingerman's

In my attempt to go more local, eat fresher, more flavorful foods, I'm trying to steer away from lots of processed, pre-jarred foods.  Making my own tomato sauce for pasta was a good start but geeze this asian cooking without help is tricky?!  I'm desperately trying to develop good tasting, low-sodium, low-sugar asian foods that still taste like something but let me tell you, full sodium soy sauce is fantastic.  So today, I'm sorry to disappoint you.  This isn't the blog with the recipe for curry sauce from scratch that doesn't leave your charming apartment wreaking of curry for days.  And it isn't the fool proof rolling method for those spring rolls attempted a few weeks ago. Nope, this is a full confession that Zingerman's has tempted me and I succumbed to temptation. And, truth be told, will probably do it again.

I experienced my first round of the Zingerman's extravaganza back in February.  And yes, it was an extravaganza.  Deli, bakery, food shop, coffee shop and restaurant: just 5 of the 15 establishments that make up the Zingerman's dynasty.  These folks have a lovely story, starting out as a simple mom-and-pop deli and evolving over the past 25 years into this. Makes me proud to be a foodie in the Midwest.  I loaded up on french grey sea salt, cheddar/jalapeno bread, goat cheese that I haven't seen since the Loire Valley, salumi that rivals the gents at Pike's Place, and one damn jar of Thai Green Curry Paste.

So.  This little jar has been sitting in my cabinet taunting me again and again to expand my Thai cuisine repertoire beyond Pad Thai (see pathetically easy but delicious version to your left), which only recently I've begun making without A Taste of Thai's help.  Big steps my friends, big steps.

Coconut milk has been a staple in the cabinet but for some reason, the meal just wasn't coming together in my mind...until last Saturday. Adventuring at the Green Acres stand has been a staple of my Saturday morning routine.  I've found purple carrots to make Vietnamese steak salad...(shredded purple carrots in the top corner)
Three different varieties of kale (Russian, dinosaur, and purple) that have kept me entertained... and then!!!  The very inspiration to pull out that little jar and cheat while cooking.  Thai eggplant:

so the jar says: saute 1 T oil and 1/2 the jar for 2 minutes.  Then saute 3/4 a pound of meat (steak, seafood, chicken--let's be honest, you know it's a Thai dish when you have a choice of these three meats?!) for about 10 minutes, or until tender.  Then add 1 cup of coconut milk, but I also threw in some sauteed red peppers and thai eggplant and a handful of chopped basil leaves.
I realize that this is somewhat cheating when it comes to cooking; yes, I probably should have made my own curry paste.  But once again I submit to my Swedish heritage and admit that I was coded genetically to make meatballs and gravy, not coriander and basil based sauces.  So, this weekend, when the extravaganza at Zingerman's goes for round two, I will buy another of these lovely little jars.  And to all of my dear friends that live far away and just around the corner-- I'll buy you one too.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Whole Foods cookery (ie. homemade Cliff bars)

We all know that John Mackey has done some pretty ridiculous things as of late but when the man emails you personally and says, "Joanna dear, rather than spend 18 dollars on 1-6 pack of granola bars why don't you make these delightful 'cookies' that have even better ingredients and less preservatives,"what's a girl to think?!  Ok, maybe he didn't email me himself but I have become a big fan of Whole Foods spamming me, mid-day with delicious homemade snack ideas.  Bet you didn't know THAT was for sale at Whole Foods. 

Cinnamon-Walnut Oatmeal Cookies

In a food processor chop well:
1c pitted prunes
1c walnuts
1/2 c dark brown sugar

Whisk in a separate bowl:
1 egg
1 t vanilla
1/8 t baking soda
1/4 c unsweetened applesauce (I always buy individual serving containers and just use half, the other half is a nice, mid way recipe snack)
1/4c canola oil

Blend your prune-walnut and wet mixtures together
1 c old fashioned-rolled oats
3/4 c whole wheat flour
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt

Form into 2 inch diameter balls and place on slightly greased cookie sheet.  Moisten your fingers and press the cookies down a bit to form 1/2 inch disks.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

found here originally...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Roasting Tomatoes

I don't think anything has looked so nice on my ancient, apartment rental stove in the early evening light.

Especially post 5 mile run (which these bad boys roast for about 45 minutes) perfect time to squeeze in a run, throw this together and treat yourself for running so hard.  Ohhhhhh yeah.....

to be quite honest, I had never even heard of jumping tomatoes... anyone?  but while roasting their skins didn't break, creating a lovely burst of warm, earthy tomato.

Feeling gingerasian

Have you ever noticed that when you revisit a flavor in different forms over the years, you develop a lovely set of memories surrounding that flavor? Perhaps it is only the silly foodie in me but ginger correlates to some fantastic ones for me... Glazed salmon in the wilderness of Alaska fresh caught that day (and yes, the glaze is very portable, but don't spill it and attract bears); dried ginger chews that taunt you in the Trader Joe's checkout aisle remind me of my Japanese-food-loving bro-in-law; and now my friends, a new one... Tamarind-Glaze Turkey Burgers and the fabulous meal that accompanied them.

CrystalMeth had a mountain of japanese eggplant from her latest delivery and the burgers to tackle. I was assigned the challenge of finding ginger liqueur (only 1 bottle left at Sam's on North Ave) and apps for the evening. Feeling adventurous and realizing I hadn't gone uber-ethnic in a while, I decided to try for handmade Vietnamese Spring Rolls. Hey, if my sister lived in Japan and can make sushi with the best of them, I foolishly assumed that I had spent enough time in Little Vietnam up on Argyle to make it up as I went along. WRONG Joanna. Dead wrong. I now have a new deep, deep respect for the standards of perfection that those folks have, and that are clearly not in my Scandinavian genetics. See my feeble attempts below. Seriously how do they get them to look so perfect?!

Nuoc cham and peanut sauce for dipping were fantastic, easy and delightful. There was no playing around with these recipes. I took 'em straight from here. I filled mine with a bottom layer of red lettuce, bean sprouts, shredded carrots (didn't do the sugar bits), cooked bean thread noodles, julienned cucumber, with lots of mint and cilantro. They're such a biting fresh snack and the only disappointment is, they don't keep very well next day.
Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Eggplant Chips
Tamarind-Glazed Turkey Burgers
Ginger martinis
Lemon Ginger Sorbet with Gingersnap cookies

Tamarind-Glazed Turkey Burgers
Glaze: Whisk together
1 T fresh peeled ginger
2 T red chili paste
½ c tamarind paste
½ c honey
2 T water
2T fresh lime juice

Burgers: blend together with your hands and form into 8- ½ lbs burgers
2 T fresh minced, peeled ginger (or more if you’re as obsessed as I am)
2 t salt
1 red jalapeno chile with seeds, minced
1 t pepper
1 c chopped green onions
2 ½ lbs ground natural turkey
2 t red chili paste

8 4-in diameter rolls
8 large thinly sliced red onions
8 bib lettuce leaves

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Plum Walnut Tart

What a delightful surprise! Biking to Chicago Botanic Gardens along the Green Bay Road path, or rather, traversing to this path, brings you right through Winnetka's charming farmers market. And while their goods were looking warn by 11:30 on that dreary Saturday morning, plums were just the pick me up I needed to get me the remaining 15 miles or so.

But what to do with those darling plums not needed for nourishment along the weary way?

Plum Walnut Tart

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Blend 2c white flour
1c finely chopped walnuts
3/4c brown sugar
piece in 1 1/2 sticks of butter (actually I used margarine and it worked!!)
until you have a nice meal of sorts
Add 1 egg

Press into the bottom of a well greased pie pan (if you want thickly crusted tart) or tart or spring form pan.

Slice about 3 cups of plum onto the top of the crust, making sure the entire top is covered.

Bake for 40 minutes

PS. the varietals make for a really lovely looking tart