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.