Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ella, Oliver, and Georgia

These warm southern spring winds that blowing into Chicago have been springing crocuses, daffodils and magnolias sooner than normal. Despite a sneaking suspicion that this won't be good for the ground and the garden, these warm days have leant me the opportunity to begin biking to and from work, sending my happy/productive/efficiency juices into overdrive. When biking home last Wednesday, I spotted this smile-inducing bumper sticker in the middle of River West, snugged up near some of the best restaurants spots in our fair city. It's nice to see that I have some kindred spirits in neighborhood.

Truth be told, flowers aren't the only thing these warm spring winds have brought. In a span of eight days, three of Damon's friends added to their family count. In order to help welcome Ella, Oliver and Georgia into this great world of ours, I thought the best and most appropriate way was to feed their exhausted parents. Rounds of cookies from Nightwood via Lottie and Doof were baked and dusted, rounds of mac and cheese were roasted and bubbled, and a little red pepper brie quiche thrown together to help remind the parents of these little ones that they still need to be cared for and well fed.

Just in case you know of more spring babies that are on their way (we still have one more that we're expecting will arrive in early May), I thought I'd share the recipe for this killer mac and cheese. It's warm and sweet and comforting and healthy-ish. And above all, its tasty.

Roasted Butternut Squash Bacon Pasta

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, chopped into large dice (approximately 3 cups)
2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 pound smoked bacon
1 medium shallot, finely diced
8 oz mini penne pasta, uncooked
1/4 t salt
1/2 c flour
2 c milk
3/4 c shredded Provolone cheese
1/2 c shredded Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 425. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread chopped butternut squash in a single layer, lightly toss with olive oil, sprinkle rosemary, salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 20 or so minutes, tossing frequently until the squash is tender and lightly browned. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Set aside

In a large saute pan, cook bacon until crisp, set aside to cool. Pour off most of the bacon fat, reserving about 1/2 teaspoon. Cook shallots in bacon fat until soft and golden, about 4 minutes. Crumble bacon into bite size pieces and combine with shallots and squash mixture. Set aside.

In a large stock pot, begin whisking salt and flour together over medium high heat. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly until the milk just barely starts to simmer. Turn flame to low and add Provolone cheese, continuing to whisk. Once incorporated, remove from heat at add cooked pasta to sauce. Stir to combine.

Coat a 13x9 casserole dish with cooking spray, and pour pasta mixture into dish. Top with squash bacon mixture and finish with Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Gapersblock: Ada Street

In the interest of shameless self promotion, I'd like to draw your attention to a review I wrote that was posted this week on Gapersblock...Check it out!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Swedish Pork

What from your family of origin do you want to bring with you into this marriage? 
    What from your family of origin do you not want to bring with you into this marriage?

These questions have haunted resided with me over the past few weeks. Maybe something magical will happen in four months from today when I leave Ericson behind and become a Kanakis but I find myself watching and waiting to see how these two become one. Can we decide which parts we bring to a marriage and which we don't? The more I learn about this step in my life, the more I realize how much hard work it will be. Of course, there will be easy days when we bike to the south end of the lake and have a picnic and feel like we're trapped in a romantic comedy film where the couple just seems to so naturally love each other that you can't help shrieking at the screen "of COURSE you love each other!! Stop worrying and fussing and messing it up!" Even now, I want to just sit in that kind of warm, happy projection, and not worry so much about him crossing my t's and me dotting his i's.

This period of engagement is a funny one. The New York Times just days before Valentines Day ran a piece entitled "I love you! Now the difficult stuff" which details the hard questions that couples must ask each other before they get married. Create a "relationship vision statement" and that will help you stay the course in this muddy field. The is telling me that I have approximately 122 days until my wedding with 123 to do's left and 5 items overdue. My body is telling me that I need to work out at least four times a week, or my Sunday afternoons will inevitably begin with a big weeping session, followed by a good three hour nap. My sister is telling me that it's ok if you don't figure it all out before you get married, really.

While I continue to reside with those questions above, there is one thing I'm sure of. I like my pork and potatoes and will continue to cook with dill and winter vegetables well into the oncoming spring, knowing that real produce isn't about to show up on my doorstep for a good two months. This is the first recipe I've attempted from "Cooking the Scandinavian Way" by Elna Alderbert. Published in 1961 it opens

The Scandinavians take the pleasures of eating very seriously. There is nothing they enjoy more than the gathering together of friends and family for a festive meal...The food is always excellent and abundant without being heavy-- so you really can enjoy it without worrying too much about your waistline!"

For today, I know that my family of origin can get behind that opener, and that I will bring with me into my new family.

Stuffed Pork Rolls: Swedish

6 butterflied pork chops, bones removed, pounded thinly
1 apple, peeled, sliced
dried prunes, about a handful
1/4 t ground ginger
1 T butter
1 pint water
1 cube bullion, or 1 t Better than Bullion
1 T flour
2 T heavy cream
salt and pepper

Lay out butterflied chops on a cutting board, season with salt and pepper and ginger. Place a slice or two of apple and a prune or two in the middle of the chop. Roll up and secure with a toothpick. Brown butter in a large cast iron baker, sear meat on all sides. Pour in water with boullion. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes on low. Remove pork from remaining broth, remove toothpicks, set aside and cover. Mix flour with a little cold water and add to boiling stock, whisking vigorously to prevent lumps. When the sauce is smooth and thick, add cream and simmer for a minute or so. Pour sauce over meat and serve with pommes anna potatoes and vinegared cucumber.

Vinegared cucumbers
slice 1/2 a cucumber on a mandoline 1/16 inch thick. Place in a small bowl and sprinkle in 2 t grapeseed or other neutral oil, 1/4 c white wine vinegar, a few pinches of salt and a shake or two of dried dill. Allow to rest in the fridge while the pork is cooking.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Deathly Hallows, Part Deux

I am here to draw to an end a fabulous tradition, started back in July, continuing through the sticky months of summer, into dreary wet fall and on through dark February. While it took a 8 whole months to get through all 8 Harry Potter films, our goblets are not the worse for ware and plans are afoot for a Godfather series. If Basilisk Blood can be imbibed from such a glass, can't a good Chianti too?

Rather than drink to specific thematic event or person in HPDH2, we opted for a general celebration of all things British and grown up. Pimms, Bombay Saphhire, and Crispin were on hand with, as always our gigantic block of dry ice. As Harry and Ginny were on their way to making other little Potters, we felt it wasn't quite appropriate to be sipping away at such childish cocktails. We have grown up haven't we?

Unfortunately poor Fea still hasn't learned her lesson and is convinced that an adorable English bulldog stare should elicit some pity. Scraps were tossed her way since she can claim the most British bloodline of us all.

So here we leave you friends. With a table decked with a stout-braised roast, butter smeared red potatoes and more bread. The Brits don't believe in vegetables after all. Underneath that lovely cheatah'ed foil is the largest mother f-ing chocolate trifle you've ever seen. If you ever ask Lorien to make a trifle she doesn't mess around. You've been warned.

Hopefully we'll have tales of horse head and pasta for you next time.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Oscar Night

I've never been one to gawk at celebrities. I try to spend my time in the grocery aisle watching the shoppers ahead of and after me to guess what they are eating for the week. Even at the dentist or doctor, I'd rather check twitter than pick up People. But somehow, the Oscars feel different. It's a graceful event, and unlike other award shows, most aren't there for shock value. I loved the Oscar's reflective tone this year. Doesn't it seem that we've become a little more serious and a little more reflective as a culture? Am I dreaming that or does it seem that public times and spaces like the Oscars are being used to think about what these experiences mean to us?

Maybe I am giving too much meaning to something that is at it's core entertainment to be consumed, enjoyed and forgotten. If so, at least I promise not to follow suit with the foods we ate while being thoroughly entertained.

A dear friend from Kendall and I decided to do a smattering of Epicurious' Best Picture Inspired Menus. No one menu particularly stood out, and really, it seemed like a better idea to do a smattering of dishes, each representing the best film nominees. Here were our selections:

SoCo Punch: I yanked it from Martha but can I awkwardly give homage to the Descendants? It was based in Hawaii right? With plenty of citrus and plenty of booze, these little sippers seem like the perfect accompaniment to large land trust legal battles...We doctored up the recipe by dashing some angostura bitters at the top of each glass to give it a little more depth.

Carmel Corn Clusters: (Moneyball) a lighter, airy take on an old favorite. Perfectly reminiscent of baseball. Forgive the pun but the homemade caramel knocked it right out of the park.

Jamaican Beef Dumplings: (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) Not quite sure how Jamaican dumplings tie back to a little boy in NYC but the dumplings themselves were fantastic. Salty, spicy, crunchy... Homemade fried food is my new favorite.

Deviled Eggs: (The Help) Perfect representation of the film and Epicuriuos didn't mess with the old classic recipe.

Oven-Baked Chicken and Slow Roasted Tomatoes: (Hugo) Despite an over crisped bread base, the sandwiches themselves came together nicely. Yogurt marinade kept the thinly pounded chicken moist and light, roasted tomatoes sweet and arugula for a peppery kick. I think I seriously tweaked out my oven leaving it on for 8 hours for the tomatoes since everything we baked in it afterward came out oddly charred but unevenly cooked.

Pommes Anna: (The Artist) Alright so this wasn't part of the Epicurious menu but I've always wanted to try this method for potatoes and it's an all out stunner. Truffle oil, thyme and salt is about as French as you can get.

Pear and Almond Tart: (Midnight In Paris): Pears, tarts, and almonds all are spot on classique francais.Unfortunately the oven did further damage to this lovely little tart (see note on the chicken above) but the almond filling and crumbly crust stood up well next to simple syrup poached pears.

Damon drank a new gluten-free beer which I'm counting as a nod toward the War Horse (British right?) but Tree of Life missed out entirely. Interestingly enough, not unlike the award recipients themselves. All things considered, I think we focused on the important. And as we decided last night, they should cut back down to 5 selections for Best Film anyway. 10 is just a bit superfluous. As was Angelina's leg. And J Lo's chest. In fact, I'll go back to focusing on my neighbors grocery purchases and leave the star gawking to those who do it best. Cheers!