Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Next Generation Apples

I have Steve Job's Stay hungry, stay foolish speech saved in my inbox. A work colleague sent it to me upon his death and every now and again, on a slow Wednesday afternoon, I take another stroll along with the 2005 Stanford graduates who received the speech that day. I'm not a huge fan of lifting individual quotes from the text so rather than insert a inspirational one-liner I'm just going to ask you to take 4 minutes and read the whole thing yourself. It's worth it.

I've been thinking about generations a lot lately. #OWS seems simply, and probably unfairly put, a fight between an older generation who played the game while it still worked and a younger generation who was told how to play the game, played it and it hasn't worked. There is a lot of anger out on those streets and it seems that more and more, we're better at finding things that divide us rather than pull us together. But as the entire nation reflecting on Jobs death and the role that Apple products played in my generation's lives, for a brief moment, we came together, across generations.

My mom and I celebrated Thanksgiving last weekend and in accordance with tradition we planned to do a million things, and only accomplished a cherished few. We glitter frosted acorns ala Martha, made a delicious pizza with my favorite crust discovered last summer, and played with apples. To be specific we baked two apple pies for two separate upcoming Thanksgiving celebrations.We scavenged Mer's two old standbys: 1970's editions of Joy of Cooking with hand drawn illustrations and The Complete Betty Crocker replete with orange and brown clad kids enjoying cookies.
Mom made these baked apples for breakfast and I'm not sure where she picked up the recipe but I'm a fan. Simply carved out, stuffed with good things and then left to hang out in the oven while you sip on coffee and discuss the world's problems.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and bet that you just may have a stray apple or two hanging around from the fall that are too old to eat raw but too lovely not to use. Plus I'll bet that Friday morning you'll be a little bit interested in breakfast and if you're not gunning for leftovers, you should be gunning for these.
Side note: Mer wanted me to position this perfectly, "Do you think people will be asking you what those tiles are? I bet everyone will want to know. I just love those."

So here we are, on the cusp of my absolute favorite holiday (as it should be for any home cook) and I just wanted to leave you something here to inspire you. No matter what draws your generations together, whether technology or food or football or any combination therein, here's wishing a warm and happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Mer's Next Generation Apples
Core out as many apples as you need, 1 per person

Stuff with a good mix of chopped nuts and raisins (Mer likes the fancy mixed kind with golden and purple varieties of varying sizes)

Sprinkle with cinnamon and just a pinch of nutmeg

Pour maple syrup into the apples until they overflow, just barely

Place in a cutely photographable oven safe dish and pour 1/2 inch of water into the bottom of the dish

Bake for 1 hour at 350

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A New Cookbook: Eleven Madison Park

I spent a good chunk of last evening sitting on the well-tailored white pleather sofas in the lobby of the Allegro, chatting with a pair that has taken the New York restaurant scene for a spin. Will Guiarda and Chef Daniel Humm are on their first stop of a multi-leg cookbook release tour to talk about their 16 word menu, their come-back kid style turnaround, and what a true New York restaurant really looks like.

Will and Daniel are quite a pair. Brought in separately to steer the 7 year old Eleven Madison Park into a new direction, when these two started working together they felt that something sparked. Five years later, proof of that spark is blazing before us in the form of the holy trinity for New York establishments: four stars in the New York Times, and a Michelin star (three to be exact), and now a cookbook. The book itself mirrors the restaurant's menu: first divided seasonally, as eighty percent of Eleven's produce comes from their local farmers markets. Then, within the season, we essentially peruse the menu which typically looks something like this:
You have your choice between selecting your own prix fixe four course meal (selecting one word under each leaf) or traversing through the chef's choice tasting menu. "We want our guests to be able to fulfill their cravings if they come in hungry for foie gras, but wanted to keep the element of surprise alongside the feeling of control." And in some ways, this delightfully thick cookbook does just the same. We playfully drift through each season, but as we go we are guided with precision that only a well-trained chef can provide. Recipes of this caliber certainly require advanced techniques and equipment but Chef Daniel does want you to cook from it. Recipes have stand in methods, just in case your sous vide is still being shipped from Sky Mall. The result is a book that takes us on a pristine walkabout New York's top restaurants and into the creative minds of a wildly successful pair of restauranteurs.

Nestled amongst the recipes is the story of the restaurant itself. How an unknown chef in small town Switzerland went to San Francisco and then was snagged to turn around an aging bistro in New York. How an entrepreneurial-spirited general manager found himself under the tutelage of Danny Meyer and when asked to do a stint at Eleven, he found a space for collaboration, a place for no "front-back" language but an entirely new philosophy. They slashed the number of seats in the restaurant, found inspiration from Miles Davis, and began shaping the restaurant into an icon in and of itself. This pair is seeking to honor the placehood of New York. Nestled in the MetLife building, in a ceiling soaring, old school type setting, it already sits in an iconic mainstay of New York buildings. Currently they're playing with quintessential New York dishes like the Long Island clambake, smoked fish like at your neighborhood deli, and the cocktails created 80 years ago by a handful of bars within striking distance of Eleven. "Someone needed to create a New York restaurant. So many others want to be somewhere else: Paris, Tokyo, London, but we want to represent the amazing melting pot we have, right here in the city." They're breaking rules by serving parsnip skins, but sticking close to the long established rules that work. And what results? Like Miles Davis a cool stream of soothing dishes, punctuated by the well-earned surprise.

So will I cook from it? I'm going to have to go with Chef Daniel's quote when asked if people could, "Yes-ish." I'll use ingredient lists to be sure; I'll use the images as inspiration to better visually balance my own plates; and perhaps, on days I'm feeling very adventurous think about new methods in cooking. For me at least, that is precisely what any good cookbook should do for the home cook. Cookbooks should inspire, rather than be copied by rote. And inspire, it does.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Autumn in and out of Chicago

It's hard to be a Chicagoan in October and not feel the pull of hazy yellows, irreverent oranges, dusky reds and mushroom cap browns. Admittedly, there are few times of the year when I wouldn't rather be out in the middle of a field somewhere, somehow particularly in autumn I crave the outdoors. I want to be decked with a thick pair of boots, with ruddy cheeks and an opened mouth smile that only eye-tear-jerking, flippant fall winds can bring.

We try our best to bring fall into the city in a variety of ways. We throw an impromptu weekday pumpkin ale tasting party, complete with furry friends, ghosting and pork fennel stew.
 The Contenders!
Chef and her bowls of fall
We have our annual pumpkin carving ladies evening, wherein our inner artist, starved all year long finally has a night to exhibit. Replete with the roasting of seeds and little bowls of roasted squash soup. This year's carvings were Sarah Palin, A Ghoulish Fiend, Animal and Kermit the Frog.Charming aren't they?
We took the last long bike ride of 2011 up to Evanston's Ryan Field, a full 29 miles round trip. Leaves crunched along in the bike lane as we cruised home victorious, sporting maize and blue.

The truth of the matter is though, no matter how hard we try, there's something about autumn that you just can't create here in the city.. You have to go to a farm, pick apples, take a hay ride. You have to find a new little town, drink some local brew, and chat with total strangers because they're wearing the same colored clothes as you. And so we did.

We took our annual trip to Iron Creek, to stand in the soil where our produce is grown, to see the barns that have been raised, in part thanks to our business, and see the new little piggies grow as our farm expands.
Tamera Mark of Iron Creek Farm
Iron Creek bacon
We dropped by Garwood Farm, a massive U-Pick paradise just outside of Michigan City and collected 2 bushels of apples, tomatoes and peppers all for canning and pie-ing and tarting. Yum.
Honey Crisp makes everyone happy
Picks a Pepper
And last weekend, we rented a tiny, no indoor plumbing cabin off Lake Michigan in a charming little Dutch town and drank local brews, watched the sunset and read this thrilling book.
Much too often, fall can last only for a day or two in Chicago as we vacillate between 80 degrees and 20 but this fall, and I always feel hungry still as we slide int November. But this year I've had a full serving of college football, squash, ale and boots.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Potter's Pizzas: Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets

Harry's growing up right before our very eyes. In CoS, Harry's manning up a bit: his voice is lower, albeit cracking frequently (especially when driving ). And well, we're growing up a little bit too. In watching this round, I'm realizing that our first party wasn't quite the well-oiled machine we thought it was. For example, Lucius Malfoy and Moaning Myrtle aren't introduced to us until this second movie, so we probably should have been drinking Unicorns Blood or Gringots Ginger Beer. Oops. Just like Harry (and Neville), things will only improve over time.

I realized also that the most exciting part of this cocktail is not a thing to be captured in still photos. So for your viewing pleasure, this week's Truth Serum bubbling for you:


That weekend we made:
Potter's Petrified Pepperoni Pizza
Basilisk Blood : Hurricanes
Truth Serum: vodka redbull
 *** Since the writing of this post, we have since powered through the remaining 6 films available on DVD in 5 weeks. Driven? Yes. Entertained? Absolutely, though possibly more with our ever-evolving menu than the films themselves. Wait, no I take that back. This is Harry we're talking about after all. We've made:

Potters Perfect Peanut Butter Popcorn (pictured above): equal parts sugar, natural peanut butter, light corn syrup, simmered until consistent and poured over freshly popped corn.

Hippogriff Hamburgers
Maurauder's Map Mojitos

Whomping Willow Whiskey: secretly Imbibe's cover recipe.
And probably some others that I've neglected to write down but will occur to you as flashes of genius when you do your own Harry Potter viewing. Because you will, won't you? My sister told me my last post inspired her and she made some Potter's Purple Potatoes. See friends? This blog does do good in the world.

I do solemnly promise to give you the full report on the finale. There has been talk of prime rib, yorkshire pudding, shephards pie and countless other British delights.
 Either way it will be delightful....

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Media pass for Chicago Gourmet

Woah two posts in one week?! I rarely get to that many in a month. So what's all the flurry over there you may be wondering? This little badge here is by far the coolest thing I've done all year:

Media. Me? Really? I've been writing for Gapers Block for just over a year now and my oh my how we've grown! This year, I got a media pass to cover Chicago Gourmet-- a two day extravaganza of food, wine, spirits and celebrities in Millennium Park last weekend. And, as I'm learning that writing well and writing more often means I have to be shamelessly self-promoting (so as to increase readership and therefore accountability), these are the two pieces up on GB.

Andie, my colleague sketched up "Things we saw and ate at Chicago Gourmet" including a bunch of my photos...

and I wrote up "Shaking and Stirring at Chicago Gourmet."

There you have it. That's what all the flurry is about in these parts. It's exciting!!!!!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Think like a chef, with leftovers

Let's first off clear up any misconceptions. I am not a chef. Yes I went to culinary school and yes I graduated, but that does not qualify me to be called chef. A chef is one who has earned the title by working in a kitchen and was hired to the job. A chef is affirmed by his/her community. Sous chefs, line chefs, prep chefs, dishwashers, managers, servers call the chef, "Chef." It's those people who actually decide who is deserving of that name. And as it happens, I am not one of them. I may make good food, and can probably chop an onion faster and more neatly than you can, without crying, but trust me on this one, I am no chef.

One of the best cookbooks I own is this one. My sister Katherine gave it to me in 2004, before I knew anything about Top Chef, or celebrity chefs, food writing or even had a glimmer of hope that I would go to culinary school. I was a junior in college with one foot of counter space in my tiny Albany Park-college provided apartment who was sick of Thai, burritos and pizza. Confession: I've never cooked any recipes from this cookbook. But I've thought about the techniques, studies and triads for years.

What is it that makes a good chef, or a good home cook for that matter? To me, one of the most important things is being able to work well with ingredients that are given to you. That's the challenge with cooking seasonally, or the challenge of cooking well with the ingredients that are in your fridge. That's why we are fascinated with shows like Iron Chef. It's the whole, "but how did he just know what to do with that???" I promise you, most chefs don't have a catalog of recipes in their head. And if you really want to be able to do what chefs do, Colicchio's book is a great place to start.

Last weekend, I made some a really killer ribs recipe.* A small note at the bottom read, "to allow for further flavor development, cook the ribs 2 days in advance and reheat for service." Tell you what-- something in these chiles and coffee completely mellowed out and seeped into the meat to hit all of the good fibers of muscle. They were GOOD. After devouring all 6 pounds of ribs, I still had about 2 pounds of bones left over. What to do with bones, neatly seasoned with chipotle, adobo, ancho and coffee? Colicchio (and Chef Pierre from Kendall) would say, make soup!

Into the pot went 1 onion largely chopped, a handful of baby carrots chopped, a handful of celery chopped (this proportion should be 2:1:1 for onion:carrot:celery) and my bones. I sauteed them all together until the onions softened, and then squirted in about 2 T tomato paste. Then added enough water to cover the bones, and plus a little extra to get the most out of my bones and lightly simmered my stock for an hour. Add in a bay leaf and any fresh herbs you have on hand that you like (thyme or oregano) You want a foam to form atop the stock that you can scoop enough, so don't boil so hard that you break up that foam, but simmer enough that small bubbles do rise to the top of your pan. After an hour taste your stock, decide if you want to keep going, or turn it off. Once I made a beef stock but left it on during a football game for three hours and I ended up with the most acidic, tart weird stock that I ended up throwing the whole thing out. But other than doing that, you really can't screw up stock. Typically for brown stocks (lamb, beef) you should roast the bones to add a brown color to your stock, but since my bones were already roasted as full ribs, I skipped that step. Remove your stock from the heat, allow it to cool a bit and then pour it through a colander, into a big bowl with a pour spout. Then pour your stock into 1 quart or smaller freezable containers. Voila. You've done it. You've taken your first step to becoming a chef-quality cook. You can do this with chicken bones, beef bones, fish bones ANYTHING!

I plan to make some kind of mexican flavored soup with my stock, sometime mid-winter and I may even tell you about it. Until then, try it out, and after a time or two, you'll be surprised how your thinking patterns change and how chef-like you're becoming. Step by step.

*Seriously if you're looking for gameday fare (it is autumn after all) and wanted a step up from brats on the grill these ribs are SUPER easy with little upfront prep and great results.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Herbs in the Apartment

I'm not one to think that I've truly grown up quite yet. It's not that I don't like where I am or where my life has lead me, but most often, I feel like I still am just playing at this grown up thing. I feel as if I have flung myself in a zillion different directions and haven't decided to commit just to one. My identity, is more a sum of all these things I have running, rather than a solid character base, which interests spring from. Am I getting too philosophic? Probably.

Much of the time, I feel like a mash up of identities: am I a working professional or a farmer? Am I athletic or horridly clumsy? Am I a city girl or do I need the slow pace of the country? I have all of these far flung, often conflicting interests. Is there any unison in them? And then one day, something inconsequential happens and everything seems to come together and make perfect sense.

The other day I was let out of work early, which is a nice treat after working on a holiday, dealing with the repercussions for these guys and otherwise spending my day calming down stressed out folks. I biked out of the loop with bright sunshine over my head and energy pulsing through me. What to do with the extra 2 free hours? Pick herbs and preserve of course; we only have a few more days before the frost hits.

So I popped by the garden and grabbed handfuls of green that has been left wanting. I piled them neatly on my kitchen table: parsley, sage, thyme, oregano with peperoncini and kale awaiting their fate as well.

And then looked up:

On the left is a tea towel, purchased from my favorite heritage shop on the north side. You may not be able to read it from where you are sitting but these are little colorful pots, full of herbs with their names neatly written in Swedish on each jar. On the left is a poster collected from my neighborhood print/civility shop. I popped in two years ago, looking for funny birthday cards and walked out with my favorite piece of home. So you can see these two visuals, but all I could see that afternoon was cohesion. A certain togetherness of who I am. That sum of me isn't just my parts but the ways that they work together and all of the bits in between. Months ago I had decorated my apartment and here I am, living out my decorations. And so I sighed and laughed a little to myself and kept chopping.

Herbs and urban farming. I decorate my house with it and live it. Maybe I've grown up more than I give myself credit for. This winter as I reach into my freezer and pull out little ziplock bags with PARSLEY scratched big with a thick point Sharpe, I'll remember that afternoon and smile.

How to: don't know about you but I NEVER use the entire plastic box or bundle of herbs when I buy them from the store. You can always freeze them and then use the same measurements for frozen herbs as you do for fresh. It's a great way to save money and get the most out of your $4 box of herbs!

- Wash your herbs and spin dry in a salad spinner, or pat between two clean cloth towels.
- If you are preserving finer-leafed herbs like oregano, chives, basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, dill, thyme you can chop your herbs really really really finely and freeze them either in zip lock bags, or make herb ice cubes by cramming your herbs into little compartments and filling your cube tray with water. These days, post culinary school, I like to just use ziplocks since then I don't have added liquid in my cooking and can more accurately measure my frozen herbs for use.
- For larger, thick-leafed herbs like sage, some thyme, bay leaves, rosemary you can freeze them in the same manner but they may turn brown. I still do this for leftover 'boxed' herbs that I buy in the store and use them, even if they're brown. The flavor is the same, but the herb has lost its chlorophyll. If I'm preserving large amounts of there herbs, I bundle up the stems, as shown above with sage and dry them for at least a week in a cool, dry, non-sunny spot. Then crush lightly with your fingers and store in an old jar.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happiness from Onions

I ran across this today and thought you all would like it. I did.


By William Matthews
How easily happiness begins by   
dicing onions. A lump of sweet butter   
slithers and swirls across the floor   
of the sauté pan, especially if its   
errant path crosses a tiny slick
of olive oil. Then a tumble of onions.

This could mean soup or risotto   
or chutney (from the Sanskrit
chatni, to lick). Slowly the onions   
go limp and then nacreous
and then what cookbooks call clear,   
though if they were eyes you could see

clearly the cataracts in them.
It’s true it can make you weep
to peel them, to unfurl and to tease   
from the taut ball first the brittle,   
caramel-colored and decrepit
papery outside layer, the least

recent the reticent onion
wrapped around its growing body,   
for there’s nothing to an onion
but skin, and it’s true you can go on   
weeping as you go on in, through   
the moist middle skins, the sweetest

and thickest, and you can go on   
in to the core, to the bud-like,   
acrid, fibrous skins densely   
clustered there, stalky and in-
complete, and these are the most   
pungent, like the nuggets of nightmare

and rage and murmury animal   
comfort that infant humans secrete.   
This is the best domestic perfume.   
You sit down to eat with a rumor
of onions still on your twice-washed   
hands and lift to your mouth a hint

of a story about loam and usual   
endurance. It’s there when you clean up   
and rinse the wine glasses and make   
a joke, and you leave the minutest   
whiff of it on the light switch,
later, when you climb the stairs.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Magical Goblets: HP & the Socerer's Stone

It was the kind of morning when you wake up, and all of your adult plans start evaporating. Me and two silly friends decided upon the first look of rain streaming down the window that Sunday was not going to be a day for grownups.

Damon and I had been house-sitting stay-cationing at Chad and Lorien's condo while they were in the burbs for the day. Really, it was a good excuse to play with their charming bulldog Fe, spend the afternoon watching the ManU-Fire game on the Soldier Field JumboTron viewable from their sunny pool deck, and catch a couple minutes of Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban. Upon their early arrival back home, we declared that we were not leaving. The stay-cation must continue!

The next morning over coffee, we realized our adult selves had vacated the apartment and 3 silly middle school party planners were left in their stead. (Sadly Damon had grown up duties to attend to so he vacated the premises pronto). Chad, Lorien and I were left with a rainy morning and Peter Pan syndrome. Scratch that. Harry Potter fever. None of us had any serious responsibilities and how better could three adults spend a Sunday afternoon than watching Harry Potter, drinking HP themed cocktails and eating HP themed foods?

Chad immediately jumped onto his iPad and began googling. Not surprisingly, we were not the first thirsty adults looking for some Hogwartian-inspiration. Though the Hermione Granger did seem tempting (mostly in its resemblance to a French 75), we were all smitten with the Moaning Myrtle. Vodka and champagne all bubbling and blubbering just like Myrtle herself. As a backup, we also stirred up a Lucius Malfoy, deceptively sweet lemonade with a kicker of rye whiskey underneath.

For snacks Lorien did her best to make wands: thick pretzel rods, dipped in chocolate-butterscotch chips, rolled in Snickers and Twix, and re-dipped. I always thought that the real wands used in the HP series were a bit thick but now I know why. You've got to have a thick want to get some decent magic out of it. (keep it clean kids). Our wands were decidedly thick but if shaken hard enough little bits of magic would fall off (aka Snickers). We decided the next go around, we would need some more dainty toppings.

The idea for golden snitches sprung from my wizardry wit.. Mashed potatoes, allowed to cool and rolled into palm sized balls, covered in cheddar and mozzarella and baked at 400 for 15 minutes. We also needed something a bit more substantial and Hufflepuff stuffed peppers fit the bill. The food was really just something for me to do. Our fab foursome often have dinner parties and the deal is, Lorien takes the lead on cocktails and I take the lead for food. Damon and Chad eat, drink and do cleanup while Fe curious inspects all that we have made and decides if it is consumable or not.

After one very large and very sweet and very bubbly Myrtle for each of us, Lorien declared, "I'm throwing the rest of this Moaning Myrtle down the drain." And we all fell into fits of laughter. It was a little kiddie day, with grown up accoutrements. By the time we actually turned on the movie, we had shopped at 4 different stores, called 12 in search of dry ice, purchased obnoxiously large goblets, whipped up some magic in the kitchen, wished desperately for costumes (in vein), and successfully located said dry ice. We watched HP Episode 1 and plan next week to continue in the series. Perhaps a Severus Snape may be the ticket and some sort of black roasted Death Eater. And who knows, maybe by the 7th movie we'll have this down to a neat science complete with cloaks and scarves to boot. Cheers to the first of an 8 part series.

Moaning Myrtle
2 oz Champagne
1 oz vodka
2 oz white grape juice
purple food coloring
green sugar (for rim dusting)
dry ice

Lucius Malfoy
4 oz lemonade
1 oz Templeton rye whiskey
slice of lemon for garnish

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sunday Night Detox: Fish Tacos & Agua Fresca

Why is it that every Sunday night, I feel the serious need for hydration and a detox and a light, easily digestible meal? Actually, I know the answer to that question. It's because we are in the full swing of summer which means festivals, barbeques, weddings, birthdays, concerts, parties, parties, parties outside all weekend long. This is what we live for. In the middle of February you ask yourself why you live in Chicago and suddenly an image of yourself on the patio at Sheffield's, El Cid 2, or Gene's Sausage Shop (pictured above and my favorite new rooftop of 2011), pops into your head. We live to dine and imbibe al fresco. Ok, perhaps that's a bit over stated but I don't think I'm alone when I say that when freezing at a bus stop, a little summertime imagining goes a long way.

Needless to say, I've found myself in serious detox mode come Sunday night. Plus, with a plethora of veggies from my CSA, that's usually about the time that I realize that I have 20 pounds of vegetables to contend with and a 60 hour work week ahead of me. Anybody with me?

Fish tacos have been the dish of the summer. If they're on the menu, I'm ordering them, and if the vegetables on hand at home can be finagled into a slaw, it's on. I had always been nervous of making fish at home, maybe because I've always lived in the Midwest and, until culinary school, believe those devious folk who say good seafood can't be made well in Chicago. It's not true! Any white fish (I've used tiilapia and halibut) lightly seasoned, dredged in corn meal and fried in a little vegetable oil is just about the easiest fresh prep there ever was. Plus this slaw is just about the easiest thing you'll ever grate. The recipe below is for 2, but you'll easily have leftovers and can double ingredients to your own taste.

Fish tacos
1 lb white fish (halibut, tilapia), cut into 1 inch chunks
3 limes, juiced
1 t dried oregano, cumin, onion powder, coriander
3/4 t Tabasco, divided
pinch of salt and pepper
8" flour tortillas

1 kohlrabi (or 1/2 head of cabbage), grated
1 red or orange pepper
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 clove garlic, pressed
dash of white wine vinegar
1 T dried oregano
pinch of salt and pepper

Place fish in a medium bowl. Sprinkle herbs, 1/2  t Tabasco, salt and pepper over fish and toss to coat. Pour over juice of 1 lime. Cover and refrigerate for 10-30 minutes.

Set oven to broil. Set whole pepper (red or orange) just below the broiler a top a small piece of foil. Blacken on all sides, then remove from oven. Allow the pepper to cool slightly, and then put it in a ziplock bag, sealed. Set aside. (Click here for help on how to roast and peel your own peppers).

Peel kohlrabi with a paring knife, just under the surface of the skin. Using a large sized grater, grate kohlrabi and zucchini in a medium sized bowl. Add juice of 2 limes. Once cooled, remove pepper from bag and cut out stem and seeds.Peel the skin off and cut into half inch strips. Toss with kohlrabi and zucchini, season with herbs, 1/2 t Tabasco salt and pepper to taste.

Top with cilantro, cheese, and additional Tabasco if desired.

If you are feeling hard pressed for more refreshment going into Monday morning, try your hand at this super easy agua fresca from last year's Bon Appetit. Best enjoyed on a balcony.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Simple Kale Chips

Sometimes the simplest thing is the best thing. I'm finished with culinary school and if my lack of posts about that experience is at all telling, it was a serious time commitment. Culinary school is challenging, exhausting, sometimes monotonous, often times infuriating, and invigorating. So now what? Do I make bechamel and beurre blanc every night? Hell no. Sometimes the simplest thing is best. I introduced these chips to a dear group of friends last summer who kept saying, "Jo, you need to put things like this on your blog." And so here I am, culinary school over with and if I learned anything, it's that you've got to listen to your friends. They were the ones who encouraged me to go to school in the first place and boy oh boy were they right. So here you go Erin, Abbie and Melanie, who first had them last summer. Kale chips, step by step for you.

Preheat oven to 400. Peel the leafy greens from the thickest part of the stem.

Then rip leaves into palm size and spread in one layer over your biggest cookie sheets. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt* and finely grated parmesan or romano cheese.

Bake at 400 for 8 minutes or so. Listen for sizzling, and then watch so that the greens start to turn dark like this, but if they aren't quite crispy yet, keep cooking.

Till they look something more like this. Notably shrunken right?

Stack on a plate and add more cheese if desired. When you take a bite, first you'll get a crunch. Kind of like when you take your first bite of Crispix just after pouring milk in your bowl. Then a mouth full of salt; they are chips after all. Then a nutty sweet bite of cheese. Then the charcoal-ish, sweet, peppery bite of kale.

*A note about your salt. Use real salt. I mean, at least a Kosher coarse grain salt, but the last go round, I used some French grey sea salt and it makes a huge difference. See how big those grains are above? Yum.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

PDX: A Wishlist

I think the first night I met Damon, he told me I would love Portland. Culinary destination, snowy mountains and clean streams nearby, wine country, oceans, and bikers galore, Portland grew over the years to be Damon's dream city. When markets grew frenetic, work became taxing and life just felt overwhelming, Portland was Chicago's perfect anithesis.

I've been long overdue. For the past three years, I've been crossing never-before-visited cities off my list: Ann Arbor, Las Vegas, New Orleans, plus countless little spots in Wisconsin and Michigan that are a short drive away after a weary work week in Chicago. But ultimate getaway town Portland, just hadn't made the cut. Until now. Credit card deals that were too good to be true (as it happened they were true) and the itch to get out of our concrete world were too overwhelming come late March. So we scratched: bought tickets and sealed the deal for four nights at the Ace Hotel in downtown Portland. Food trucks, wineries, music and sleep were on the horizon.

We took off prepared: an excel spreadsheet, 45 lines deep with restaurants, cocktail lounges, breweries and gardens to visit. We had been gathering recommendations from pretty much anyone who would be interested to give them: Bon Appetit, Imbibe, friends like Jessi and her blogger posse (click on each of these, they're gems!), Terri from Schubas' friends, a girl I bought a new chicken from just two weeks prior, anywhere. It was a full wishlist, but treated as just that. "We can't get too crazy Jo," he knows me so well. I inherited the genetic disposition to over schedule and typically find myself planning for too much with too little time to relax and breathe.

A delayed connection in Dallas had us spending our Thursday night dinner plans at TGIFriday's, watching the Bulls clinch game six. As we checked into the Ace at 1 am, the stools along the Clyde Common bar were turned legs up, patrons long gone, shakers cleaned, ovens off. Rats. It's just a wishlist. Just a wishlist.

Friday we hit the ground running. Literally. 7:10 am found us jogging along the Willamette, then we rented bikes and found gardens, breweries, shopping and a good nap. Dinner that night was the one firm reservation of the weekend. Beast is a 26 seat, prix fixe, open kitchen, communal dining gem of a spot. It's a sort of dance to be in such an intimate space and watch Chef Naomi and her team create and present, then create and present as we nod and chew and give thanks. We strolled over to the McMeniman's Kennedy school, a 1920's elementary school turned bar/hotel/restaurant/soaking pool. How is it that every spot thus far can just seem so...Portland? We danced our dinner off to TBT at the Wonder Ballroom, with loudly tapping feet and spins to bluegrass banjo, violin and guitar in overdrive. Thrash grass is one good dance party.

On Saturday we settled into a more manageable pace. Kenny & Zuke's a causal Jewish delicatessen round the corner from the Ace provided the perfect breakfasting spot to meet a dear friend en route from Seattle to San Fran as she was driving her life down just that weekend. Afterward, a long shot from a google search turned out to be one of the highlights of the weekend. Hidden stairways weave throughout Washington Park, scurrying up through and between the graceful old houses precariously perched above the Rose Test Gardens, we toured the back allies of one of the most beautiful bits of Portland. Next time someone asks for foodie recommendations of where to go, I'll give them this. With all the food places I had to visit, stairs were what I craved already on day 2. Phew. After feeling exercised and digested what's next? Pok Pok. Thai street food elevated to James Beard excellence, drinking vinegars (honey and grapefruit), black grilled prawns, huddled over a picnic table with formica pale green roofing loosely juxtaposed to keep the drizzly afternoon cold out.

More naps, more breweries to discover and then another surprise, not on the wishlist. At a friend's wedding last summer, Damon made friends with some folks that are always looking to recruit new transplants to join them in the getaway city. We noshed at Farm Cafe, D and I much too full to give the menu a proper tasting but toasted hazelnuts in rosemary and Tabasco was a true highlight, while cooling my mouth on a GINger fizz, ie gin and tonic splashed with ginger liqueur. They took us around the corner to the Roadhouse where the jukebox is loaded with free plays of Ella Fitzgerald, Slayer, Beach Boys and Cat Stevens and a whiskey with beer back is $3.75. Portlandia hit it right on the head. This is where young people go to retire. Potato Champion's poutine and PB&J fries had been mentioned by two cab drivers and our new hosts as the best food truck food in the city and knowing we would head out of the city early Sunday morning, they had to be sampled post-Roadhouse.

Sunday cracked open with thunder and a constant drizzle that everyone told us would surely inhibit our fun, but we wouldn't hear of it. We hopped in an obnoxiously red rental and whisked out to the Dundee Hills to find the land of Pinot Noirs. Arriving too early for tastings, we cruised along the hillsides, stopping at one of D's favorites, Torii Mor for a breathe of fresh rain in a Japanese garden. I had in my head that I needed local honey, for what better gives one a taste of the land than a combination of all the sweet flowers and fruits that can grow in one place? We found Beverly's roadside stand, in front of her house. "We've been keeping for, gosh 40 years and you've gotta be crazy to do it. Sure all of us have been hit by that disappearance of hives but you just get new ones and move on." Her honey today was raspberry honey, her second favorite to a legume that grows as a purple vine, "but nobody grows that anymore. These wineries have pretty much eaten up all the good farming land out here." Luckily that monoculture hasn't hurt the bees too much. Our one tasting of the day was at Domaine Serene, a suggestion from our Saturday hosts, and judging from the package that's due to arrive at Damon's office by the end of this week, we were quite impressed with their selection. Wine fridges should never be as empty as his has been as of late.

We asked the folks at Domaine for a lunch spot and stumbled upon one of the best meals of the weekend. Surprising find number three not on the wishlist. Red Mills' Market is precisely the kind of place I could see myself owning, loving, running. A small selection of charcuterie and cheeses, wood-fired pizzas and craft sandwiches, local brew and wine for carryout or to be enjoyed with lunch, and shelves full of McClure's pickles, more honey, olive oil (who knew Oregon grew those too), kiddie foodie placemats, and pottery. Kitchen herb pots with six little herbs tucked in a hand-thrown pot line the sidewalk outside. I'm enamored. D & I couldn't leave without dragging those two brew mugs with us, plus a teeshirt or two, a set of 4 breeds of bull coasters, and a little ginger-sea salt chocolate. It was perfect. The kind of perfect where you're so comfortable and so happy you say, "if this is what it means to be with you, I want to be with you forever" and then realize what you've said, blush and look back up to see the biggest smile returning your gaze. It was a good find.

So, we got romantic. And whenever D is feeling romantic he thinks about the Oregon coast. Off we went 2 more hours spent in the car but cruising through thick pine forests didn't for a minute feel like a chore. Radio coverage was too sparse, trees too thick so a quiet, thoughtful ride was had to the shore. There it was still drizzly, still chilly but wide open beaches and huge monolithic rocks in the distance make you just want to run in the cold air like a happy dog does in a big open field. We ran, arms out wide, hoods up to cover our red ears, and grins wide. This is vacation. We called a real estate 800 number to find out about a little cottage on the market and after hearing 1.8 million decided that this item on the wishlist should probably stay there for a few more years.

Clyde Common was waiting for us upon our return. And only after a nap and long shower did I feel ready to enter back into the civilized world. Bon Appetit wrote up Jeremy's Barrel aged negroni and at one sip, I felt like we were just back in Chicago, comfortably perched at L&E. But the reminder of Portland sprung back to my mind at our food's arrival. Spring is much further along in Portland so asparagus, peas and fava beans were a welcome fresh bite.

Sunday morning we opted for a light, healthy breakfast: hiking up on Mount Tabor with Voodoo Doughnuts and Stumptown and a sun-shiny morning to send us on our way.

What a runaway. I hardly cracked my list, and have a whole slew of places to discover for next time but I wouldn't have had it any other way. I'm including my wishlist below, just in case any of you may be inspired to have your own getaway in lovely Portland and need some recommendations. It can sit there, ready for me to pick it up again when the next cheap flight comes my way. But I won't forget that the highlights were the unknowns, the unanticipated conversation with a farmer, the little herd of piglets running away from our car as we cruised up to Torii Mor, running/flying on the beach in the cold, salty air, the moments I found myself just looking at Damon, thinking my own thoughts and smiling. Good life happens in those unexpected things that aren't part of a wishlist.

the Wishlist: (those underlined are the places we actually made it to)
Breweries: Bridgeport, Deschutes, Rogue, Amnesia, Green Dragon, Belmont Station, Hair of the Dog, McTarnahan's, Lucky Lab
Bars: Kennedy Shool, Gilt Club, Teardrop, House Spirits Distillery, The Bye and Bye, Holoscope
Restaurants: Clyde Common, Pok Pok, Ping, Broder, Screen Door, Nostrana, Beast, Kenny & Zukes, Bunk Sandwiches, Le Bistro Montage
Food trucks: any at SE Morrison & 12th, Potato Chamion (PB&J fries), Crown Q, Schnitzelwich,
Wineries: Tori Mor, Domaine Serene, Erath, Anne Arnie, Cristom