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.
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