Saturday, December 1, 2007

Book Review: Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

At first glance, Julie & Julia has a pretty simple premise. The author set out to cook every recipe in Julia Child's famous tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking. If that's all the book was about, it would still be worth reading. Powell is an engaging writer, and yhe book reads a lot like the blog it began as. Powell has a way with descriptions that draw the reader into the kitchen as she prepares Child's dishes. The sheer effort involved in many of the complex recipes make for funny reading. Powell's description of the attempts to remove marrow from bones is both grotesque and hilarious (let's just say it involves a hacksaw).

Beyond the simple cooking story, the deeper tale here is of a woman finding herself. Powell begins as a disgruntled secretary who is a temp just because she can't commit to a permanent position. Taking on cooking ever recipe in Mastering pushes her to a commitment that is both unexpectedly stressful and ultimately exactly what she needs. Her journey is funny and inspiring.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Soup Time

It's turned cold in Chicago and I've been making a lot of soups. This one is a favorite. It's hot, garlicky, and cheesy. It's perfect when you're feeling under the weather.

Tortellini and Spinach Soup
2 Tbs. butter
6-8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 box chicken broth
6-8 oz. cheese tortellini (dried or fresh)
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 bag baby spinach
10-12 basil leaves, roughly chopped
Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in large pot over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant--1-2 minutes. Add chicken broth and raise heat to bring to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook for 1/2 of the cooking time listed on the package (about 5-6 minutes for the dried). Add the tomatoes with their juice. Reduce to a simmer and cook until pasta is just tender. Stir in the spinach and basil and cook until wilted. Serve topped with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

This recipe is adapted from my favorite ever Cooking Light issue (November 2001).

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Restaurant Review: Spacca Napoli

Spacca Napoli
1760 W. Sunnyside

I've always loved wood-fired oven pizzas. One of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta was Fritti, which creates delicious wood oven pizzas. Chicago, of course, is known for its own Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Sorry, but I'm not a big fan. It's too much. Too much crust. Too much sauce. Way too much cheese.

Recently, I read in Chicago Magazine about a new wood-oven place called Coalfire. We decided to go there for our anniversary. However, when, the day arrived we had second thoughts about taking half the day to go downtown. After doing some research, we discovered a place called Spacca Napoli, which actually got better reviews than Coalfire and which was more conveniently located in Ravenswood--and promised easy street parking!

We were highly pleased with our choice. Spacca Napoli was divine. We started with the house salad, a lovely mix of fresh greens with cherry tomatoes and pit-in olives. It was drizzled with a nicely sweet/tart balsamic vinaigrette and served with flavorful bread.

For the pizza, I chose the classic margherita and Jon chose the Funghi e Salsiccia. Both came out perfectly crisp with blackened spots around the edges and a slightly wet center. Perfect for this type of pizza.

Because it's such a simple combination, the ingredients for a margherita--cheese, sauce, basil--must be top notch. These clearly were. If there's any criticism, it's that it could have used a bit more basil. There was nothing to criticize about Jon's sausage and mushroom pie. The sausage was amazing--tender and perfectly seasoned. This was some of the best pizza I've ever had and we will surely return often.

Three Bean Chili

Three Bean Chili

1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 lb. lean ground beef (I like ground sirloin)
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbs. dried oregano
1/2 Tbs. salt
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 (4 ounce) cans chopped green chile peppers, drained
3 (28 ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, crushed (You can used diced, but I like being able to control the quality)
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. chili powder
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small bag frozen whole kernel corn

Brown the ground beef and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the vegetables (including the canned peppers) and stir in, cumin, oregano, and salt.

Add the tomatoes, chili powder and pepper. Stir in the all the beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, add the cooked beef and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in the corn, and continue cooking 5 minutes before serving.

This recipe adapted from "The Best Vegetarian Chili in the World" from

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Spicy Caramelized Chicken...or Shrimp

Hopefully, at this point, maybe you trust me a little? This dish is delicious--sweet, salty and spicy. Really good. And it's versatile--I've made it with both chicken and shrimp. The downside? While cooking, it stinks. Blame it on the fish sauce, an Asian staple of liquefied anchovies and water. Fish sauce can be found in the Asian food aisle of most supermarkets. It smells like, well, feet, but it's also great because it adds a depth of earthy saltiness to Asian dishes. So there's the full disclosure. Now just trust me and try it.

Spicy Caramelized Chicken (adopted from Quick and Easy Vietnamese--serves 2)

2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into large chunks (You want to keep it large so it doesn't overcook.)

2 Tbs. canola oil

1 Tbs. minced garlic

3 Tbs. minced fresh ginger (I have substituted ginger powder. It works, but it's not as fresh tasting.)

2 Tbs. finely chopped shallots or onion

3 Tbs. brown sugar

2 Tbs. fish sauce

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1 tsp. red pepper flakes (This makes it spicy. Use less if you prefer.)

1/4 cup water

Heat oil over med-high heat until hot. Add chicken and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Push chicken to sides of pan. Add garlic, shallots, and ginger to center and stir fry 1 minute. Stir in with chicken. Add sugar, fish sauce, salt, pepper and pepper flakes. Stir in and bring to boil. Add water, stir, and reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until the sauce is thick and coats the chicken (approx. 10 minutes), stirring frequently. Serve over rice.

Shrimp Variation (in picture):

Begin with the garlic, shallots, and ginger and continue to cook the sauce until it is almost thick (7-8 minutes). Add a pound of shrimp and stir into sauce until cooked through.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I've been trying to update this blog for 3 days and have been unable to upload pictures. Sigh. The blogspot help center indicates that the fix is imminent. So, hopefully I'll be updating soon with Vietnamese Caramel Shrimp and Three Bean Chili.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Something to Think About...

I've loved Barbara Kingsolver since I read the The Bean Trees in college. Couple that with the fact that her latest work is about food, plus the fact that it takes place where I'm originally from, and, well, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life was irresistible.

Animal is part journal, part lesson, part cookbook. I enjoyed all three parts.

As the title suggests, the book traces a year of growing food. Kingsolver and her family committed to a year living on only in-season food that they produced themselves or that they buy from local resources. Kingsolver shares both funny (squash takes over the house at one point) and somber (rooster harvest day) of home food production. The author's husband, Steven Hopp, an environmental studies professor at the college I attended, inserts brief lessons on mass food production pitfalls and problems. Daughter Camille adds personal anecdotes and recipes. (Daughter Lily is too young to participate but is a source of amusement in several places.)

Kingsolver strongly, and perhaps somewhat unfairly, condemns all industrial agriculture. While she doesn't suggest that everyone commit to the same regime with which her family experimented (indeed, she occasionally looks forward to the possibility of buying out-of-season foods), she does argue for the consumption of organic produce and free-range meats. She dismissively fails to deal in a real way with the fact that organic and free-range foods are often not financially (or geographically) accessible.

Despite these shortcomings, I highly recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. First, because it is a delightful and informative read. And second, because, even if we don't adopt Kingsolver's food beliefs, we should be more aware of what and how we eat.

Check out the book here: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Friday, September 28, 2007

Potstickers and Crab Rangoon

Sometimes the appetizers are the best part of the meal. So why not make them the meal?

Note: The amounts in this recipe make double what you will need to fill a package of wonton ton wrappers if you make both kinds of filling. Both freeze well.

Crab Rangoon
1/2 package of wonton wrappers
1 package cream cheese
1/2 package imitation crab, coarsely chopped (honestly, I'm still weirded out by imitation crab, but I can't justify real crab in this cheesy fried recipe.
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. Worchestershire sauce
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 scallions, finely chopped
ground black pepper to taste
oil to deep fry

Mix all ingredients well. Heat oil in deep pan. To fill the wonton wrappers, I like to make a sort of assemble line. Spread the wonton wrappers on a clean, DRY cutting board or counter. Place a tiny (1/2 to 3/4 tsp.) amount of filling in the center of each wrapper. From a small bowl, dampen a fingertip and use it to wet the edges of the wrapper. Close the wrapper to form a triangle. Dampen the two corners and fold in to form a envelope shape. Once all the rangoon are made and the oil is hot, fry in batches and drain on paper towels.

I've tried several recipes and my favorite is from Alton Brown:
1/2 pound ground pork
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
2 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons ketchup
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
35 to 40 small wonton wrappers (I use half this when I'm also making the crab rangoon.)
Water, for sealing wontons 3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, for frying
1 1/3 cups chicken stock, divided

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.

Combine the first 11 ingredients in a medium-size mixing bowl (pork through cayenne). Set aside. To form the dumplings, remove 1 wonton wrapper from the package, covering the others with a damp cloth. Brush 2 of the edges of the wrapper lightly with water. Place 1/2 rounded teaspoon of the pork mixture in the center of the wrapper. Fold over, seal edges, and shape as desired. Set on a sheet pan and cover with a damp cloth. Repeat procedure until all (or half if applicable) of the filling is gone.

Note: I don't bother with covering anything with a damp towel and I haven't had a problem with drying out. As with the rangoons, I fill a batch of wrappers, then dampen and seal them all as this seems faster. To shape them, I fold into a triangle, then crimp in the middle of the triangle sides.

Heat a 12-inch saute pan over medium heat. Brush with vegetable oil once hot. Add 8 to 10 potstickers at a time to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, without touching. Once the 2 minutes are up, gently add 1/3 cup chicken stock to the pan, turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove wontons to a heatproof platter and place in the warm oven. Clean the pan in between batches by pouring in water and allowing the pan to deglaze. Repeat until all the wontons are cooked. Serve immediately.

The recipe can be found here: Alton Brown's Perfect Potstickers.

Dipping Sauce

I use this dipping sauce from for both appetizers:
3/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup white vinegar
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbs. ketchup
2 Tbs. cornstarch (I use 1 Tbs, because I like it a little thinner.)

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil stirring until it begins to thicken.

I like a little heat, so after the sauce it boiled, I add a little Chinese Hot Mustard.

The recipe can be found here: Sweet and Sour Sauce.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Love Cakes

Before moving to Chicago to go to law school, I lived for two years in Atlanta. Among the many things I loved about Atlanta, the food scene was top of the list.

My favorite restaurant is Surin of Thailand. A small, sparsely elegant restaurant in the Virginia-Highlands section, Surin dazzles with its clean, bright Asian flavors. It's impossible to choose between the Fresh Basil Rolls and Surin Baskets appetizers. The Basil Rolls perfectly blend the flavors of tender pork and shrimp with the crunch of bean sprouts and the freshness of sweet basil. The Surin baskets are a lovely crunch filled with shrimp, ground chicken and sweet corn. Order both.

I don't think I ever tried a dish at Surin that I didn't love. The chicken curry is a balanced mix of earth and sweet and the Spicy Basil Leaves is the perfect level of spice.

My other favorite Atlanta restaurant is The Flying Biscuit Cafe. The Flying Biscuit has opened additional restaurants, but the original location is in Candler Park. It's tiny space with an adorable sunflower mural in one room. The menu is full of fresh, unique dishes. The Flying Biscuit improves on classic Southern fried green tomatoes with a sweet and spicy cashew and jalapeno relish. And of course, if a restaurant is going to calling itself The Flying Biscuit, the biscuits better be outstanding. They are. Light, fluffy, and just a touch sweet, they're divine.

My favorite dish is the somewhat cutesy named Love Cakes. They are earthy and spicy and complimented by the tang of the Green Salsa and feta cheese. The Flying Biscuit is generous to share the recipe on its website (click here) but I've pasted it below (and noted substitutions) for convenience:

Love Cakes

2 (15 ounce) cans cooked black beans
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons minced yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup masa de harina (This is a fine corn meal, usually found in the Latin foods section)

1/2 cup Green Salsa (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup slivered red onions

Rinse and drain black beans in a sieve.
In a small sauté pan heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil over medium heat. Cook onion, garlic, cumin, and salt until onions are translucent. Place drained beans and onion mixture in a bowl and mash with a potato masher until well combined.

Gradually add masa, allowing mixture to absorb it before adding more. Test dough by rolling it in the palm of your hand. Keep adding masa until dough doesn't stick to your hand and holds the shape of a ball.

Divide dough into 16 small balls and flatten into cakes. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of canola oil. Saute cakes until lightly browned on each side, about 3 to 5 minutes per side.

Top with Green Salsa, feta cheese, and slivered red onions.

Green Salsa

1 1/2 pounds tomatillos
1/4 cup minced yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 serrano peppers, stemmed and seeded (I substitute 1 jalapeno is serrano peppers aren't available)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (I use black pepper)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Peel the husks off the tomatillos. Place them in a roasting pan with the onion, garlic, and Serrano peppers. Roast for 25 to 35 minutes. The tomatillos will break down and become juicy. Remove form oven and cool.

Place the roasted ingredients in a food processor and puree. Season with salt, white pepper, and cilantro. Chill until ready to serve.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Of the many Food Network shows that seem only less about cooking and more about the personality of the celebrity chef, Throwdown with Bobby Flay is one of the most enjoyable. I was a Flay for a long time. On Boy Meets Grill, he comes off too swaggering and cocky (without the humor of an Anthony Bourdain). So I was surprised and curious when I learned the premise of Throwdown. Flay, known for his southwestern-inspired cuisine, "challenges" a local expert and competes with a version of the local's dish.

Flay, with all his swagger, is really set up to fail. There's no real chance, for example, that he's going to beat a professional wedding cake baker. Yet, he throws himself into each challenge and often comes up with dishes that may not be the best (especially given that the judges seem to expect the classic taste), but are quite inventive. So here's to Bobby Flay.

Last night's Throwdown featured the muffaletta. The muffaletta is a New Orleans classic sandwich. It's essentially an Italian sub with a delicious olive salad topping. If you don't like olives, this isn't for you. If you do, it's simply divine. I wanted one. Since the Food Network site didn't provide a recipe, I made mine.

1 round bread loaf (I like sourdough)
3/4 lb. assorted deli meat (I use 1/4 lb. each ham, genoa salame, proscuitto)
1/4 lb. mild cheese (I use provolone)

Slice the bread loaf in half horizontally and scoop out a bit of the middle to make room for the tasty fillings. Layer the meats on the bottom half and top with the cheese.

Olive Salad
1/2 cup Spanish olives
1/2 cup Kalamata olives
Half a stalk of celery, minced.
1 shallot, minced
1 1/2 Tbs. carrots, minced
1 1/2 Tbs. cauliflower, minced (I've omitted this with little notice)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Pile the olive salad in the inside of top of the bread loaf. Carefully close the sandwich. Place in 350 degree oven to heat the meat and melt the cheese.

Note: This recipe was originally inspired by Emeril Lagasse's Muffaletta Sandwich on Sourdough Bread. However, I've made a number of changes based on recipe about the classic muffaletta.

Note2: I apologize for the weird font. I've tried numerous fixes without luck.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Frontera Grill--in Chicago and at Home

Owned by world-famous chef Rick Bayless, Frontera Grill is famous in Chicago for gourmet Mexican food. We visited for a friend's birthday on a Saturday night. Unable to get reservations, they arrived at 6 p.m. to get on the wait list and then had drinks and waited in a local bar. They were given an estimated wait of 2 hours. The rest of the party of 8 total arrived at 8 p.m. At 9:30, we checked on the table and were told that they were waiting for a large party to leave. The party had been done for an hour but were refusing to vacate their table even after the host offered them free drinks in the bar. While I appreciated the restaurant's efforts to clear the table, not much soothes a wait that is 90 minutes longer than even the estimated 2 hour wait.

We were finally seated in the "lower level" (i.e. the basement), which was sparsely decorated but comfortable. As to the rest of the restaurant, my impression was of masses of people. I couldn't even begin to describe the decor.

The food was good. The tamales were tender. The mole was bold. The ceviche was outstanding. Service was decent, but not what I would have expected from a renowned restaurant. Refills were slow and there was not much follow up.

Overall, I'm glad that I experienced Frontera Grill but I'm not sure I'd return. While I enjoyed the food, I'm not convinced it was worth the fairly pricey bill (Around $50 a person including dessert and excluding alcohol) and I am convinced that it wasn't worth the wait and the crowd.

So if you want to experience the taste of Frontera Grill but aren't near Chicago or just don't want a 2 hour wait for a table, check out the line of Frontera Grill products. Pictured above is the Sausage and Roasted Pepper selection of the Stone Fired Pizza line. The stone-fired crust is crisp. The organic chicken chorizo sausage is delicately spicy and perfectly complements the earthiness of the roasted green peppers and red onions. It's terrific.

Also delicious is the Frontera Classic Salsas. I favor the Chipotle Salsa with its smoky heat and hint of roasted garlic.

Information on both Frontera Grill the restaurant and the products can be found here.

Spicy Broccoli Pasta

I love this dish. It's warm and soothing and comforting. The original recipe is courtesy of the Food Network's Sarah Moulton back when she had an engaging show called Cooking Live, rather than the tragic exercise in boredom she currently hosts.

You're first reaction is going to be "What? Browned broccoli? That'll taste burnt." Trust me--it won't. It will taste earthy, garlicky, spicy and delicious.

Spicy Broccoli Pasta
1 bunch of broccoli, trimmed into bite-sized pieces
4-6 cloves of garlic, chopped (adjust to taste)
1 box of chicken stock
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 box angel hair pasta, cooked (note: I like to drain the pasta just before it is al dente because it will cook as the dish finishes)
3 Tbs. Parmesan cheese

In a large pan with a lid, heat the oil over medium high heat until it is ready to smoke but is not smoking. Add the broccoli and toss to coat in oil then leave it alone. Allow to cook 1-2 mins. until it is golden brown on the bottom. Stir, reduce the heat to medium low, cover and continue to cook until the broccoli is done to the tender-crisp doneness of your liking, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic is beginning to golden, approx 1 minute (do not overcook). Add the chicken stock, raise heat to medium high and bring to a simmer. Add the pasta and finish cooking until it is al dente. Stir in the cheese.

Modifications: The above recipe is the best, but if I'm in a hurry or don't have fresh broccoli on hand, I'll make the dish by sauteing the garlic and pepper flakes, adding the stock, cooking the pasta in the stock and throwing in some frozen broccoli at the end.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Good Food and Great Conversation

We had our first dinner guest in our new apartment a couple of weeks ago to obsess, I mean discuss...the final Harry Potter book.

We met after work so I wanted to put together a mean that was fast but impressive. Roasted chicken is my go-to meal when I want impressive. This recipe from an old Fine Cooking is the best I've found. The best part is that it's also the easiest.

Roasted Chicken
(prepare the night/morning before cooking)
3 to 3 1/2 pound chicken
3 Tbs. kosher salt
2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme with stems set aside for later use. (I think this is one of those recipes for which the fresh herb is essential. Thyme is easy to handle. Simply hold the top of the stem and gently run your fingers backwards down the stem to remove the leaves.).
1 1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
4 cloves peeled garlic
1 lemon, quartered
3-4 Tbs. butter, melted

The night or morning before you plan to cook the bird, combine the salt, thyme and pepper. Prepare the chicken by removing the giblets and washing and patting drying. Place chicken in a roasting rack. Rub the salt/thyme/pepper mixture all over the chicken. Place in the refrigerator, uncovered, until ready to cook.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While it preheats, stuff the bird with the reserved thyme stems, lemon and garlic gloves.

Bake the chicken until a thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 170 degrees. Every 15 mins. while cooking, baste the chicken. At first you will have to use the butter but soon the chicken will create juice and you can baste with that.

Allow the chicken to rest for 5-10 mins. before carving so that the juices stay with the meat.

I served the chicken with roasted asparagus and these potatoes. They were delicious and I'm not even a big potato lover. The only substitution I made was to use any red potatoes. I wanted a bit of cover.

A nice bottle of Riesling and some good Harry Potter conservation completed a great meal.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Foodie Blogroll

I joined the Foodie blogroll so I'm linked to other food blogs. Check them out!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Foodie Library

Other than cooking (ok, ok and bad reality TV), my other love is reading. I won't bore you with my many book recommendations, but I'd like to share some of my favorite food writings.

I have to start with Anthony Bourdain since his book inspired the title of this blog. I came across Kitchen Confidential at a local used bookstore about a year ago. I devoured it like a favorite dish. I still pick it up occasionally and read a random chapter.

Bourdain is swaggering, macho and quite often vulgar. He's also honest, passionate and almost always hilarious. The book traces Bourdain's childhood coming to love food through his rough and tumble youthful years as a young line cook to his career as executive chef at Les Halles. Along the way, he introduces you to characters almost too colorful to be real. He also shares useful tidbits that every restaurant partron should know.

Pick up Kitchen Confidential and be immersed in a world where food is a passion and an adventure. And find out why you should never order fish on a Monday.

More than just a pretty chest

In the Martha and Me post, I discussed Martha Stewart. Let's move on to Giada De Laurentiis. The granddaughter of movie producer Gino De Laurentiis, Giada has risen to fame on the Food Network in the past couple of years. Her show, Everyday Italian, is beautifully shot with closeups of her hands as she squeezes lemon and closeups of her chest...well, all the time. It's food porn, and it's a little distracting.

I suppose the reason for the shots of Giada's cleavage is to attract viewers outside of the Food Network's core female audience. I ran this busom conspiracy theory by Jon. He was puzzled. Apparently, the chest isn't a distraction for him. He's so annoyed by Giada suddenly launching into an Italian accent on the Italian ingredients that he hasn't noticed the chest. I guess we all have our pet peeves.

But enough about the boobs. Tonight, we tried an actual Giada recipe from her Everyday Pasta cookbook. And it was delicious. The flavors of the pancetta, onion and basil combine beautifully with the egg. The pasta adds a nice texture. The recipe is called "Breakfast Scramble" in the book and can be found under a different name here. As always, I made some changes which I noted.

Breakfast Scramble
1/2 cup orzo pasta

10 large eggs (This seemed like a lot of egg, so I reduced it to 8 and it worked fine)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 ounces smoked mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I only have regular mozzarella on hand and I was worried that it would not be flavorful enough, so I substituted grated Parmesan--about 1/4 cup. I really like Parmesan and asparagus together.)

2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon butter

4 ounces pancetta, coarsely chopped (The pancetta I buy comes in 3 oz. packages so I used that amount.)

1/2 cup chopped onion (I had and used red onion.)

8 thin asparagus stalks, trimmed, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces (To try to get more veggies in this meal, I increased this amount to 12 stalks. I'd double it to 16 next time.)

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Drain the orzo. (Note: Interestingly, I noticed after I finished cooking that the Barilla orzo instructions call for 9 minutes of cooking time. I followed Giada's directions, and they worked. At 9 minutes, it ould have been mush.)

Whisk the eggs, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend. Stir in the cheese and basil. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the asparagus and saute until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add the orzo and stir to coat. Add the egg mixture. Using a rubber spatula, stir the mixture until the eggs are softly set, about 4 minutes.

Transfer the egg mixture to a serving bowl and serve.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Food Snobbery

I'm not really a food snob. I enjoy a lot of bad food--see the bluberry muffin post. I could eat my weight in Olive Garden salad and Red Lobster cheddar bay biscuit. But on some level, I acknowledge--even revel-- in the badness. It's good eating but it's not good food. Deep down, I think that good food is expensive. Quality ingredients are costly. The talents and skills to bring out the best in those ingredients are rare and usually well-compensated. Zagat's top restaurants are $$$$ for a reason. Or so I've long believed.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a restaurant that changed my mind. It's called Pita Inn. I visited the one in Skokie, but there are branches in Glenview and Wheeling too. I had the Vegetarian Falalel Platter. Six of the most tender, perfectly seasoned falafel patties I've ever had, accompanied by 2 fluffy, light homemade pitas and lettuce salad, hot sauce and tahini sauce. Price? $3.95. It's insane. If you're in the Chicago area, you must go. And while you're there don't try to resist the perfectly sweet and crisp bakclawa. At $0.95, why would you want to?

Martha and Me

Martha Stewart may be the most hated of the celebrity lifestyle gurus. For me, that honor goes to Sandra Lee, queen of things semi-homemade and wholly-repulsive. I understand the Martha mockery. She's prissy and, well, is there something above Type A+? But I don't care. Martha makes great food. And frankly, if I had the time (and patience) I might even try some cute Martha crafty project.

But since I sadly have to work for a living, for now I'll stick with Martha's fabulous Caesar Salad. Honestly, it's rare--very rare--that I make recipes and don't tweak them in some way. I did try some changes, but I keep coming back to the original. Martha made it perfect. Shocking, right?

Let's talk frankly about ingredients here. This salad is a real Caesar. That means raw egg yolk and anchovies. There's some risk in raw egg, of course. But if you are healthy and the eggs are fresh, it should be minimal. I've been eating this salad for years and have never had a problem. If you are concerned, Martha says (and Martha's never wrong) that you can substitute mayo. Now about the anchovies. Lots of people hate them; few of those have ever tried them. They aren't fishy. They just add a nice background flavor. Food is about adventure--give it a try.

Serves 4 to 6.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 eight-to ten ounce loaf rustic Italian bread, crusts removed, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic
4 anchovy fillets
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 large egg yolk
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 ten-ounce heads romaine lettuce, outer leaves discarded, inner leaves washed and dried
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, or 2 1/2 ounces shaved with a vegetable peeler


Make the croutons: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine butter and olive oil in a large bowl. Add bread cubes, and toss until coated. Sprinkle salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper; toss until evenly coated. Spread bread in a single layer on an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet. Bake until croutons are golden, about 10 minutes. Set aside until needed.

Make the salad: Place garlic, anchovy fillets, and salt in a large wooden salad bowl. Using two dinner forks, mash garlic and anchovies into a paste.
Using one fork, whisk in pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and egg yolk
Using the fork, whisk in the olive oil.
Chop romaine leaves into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces. Add croutons, romaine, and cheese to the bowl, and toss well. If you wish, grate extra cheese over the top. Serve immediately. To make a version of this dressing that you can store, simply mince garlic and anchovies, and place with remaining ingredients in a jar. Screw the lid on the jar tightly, and shake to combine. Shake the jar before each use. Store, refrigerated, for up to 4 days.

The recipe can be found on Martha Stewart Living here.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I thought that I posted this recipe a while ago, but apparently I did not.

Jon and I have been trying to curb our dining out :( So I wanted to find some Asian recipes because I love Asian food but have never cooked it. I knew that I would miss it if I couldn't find a way to duplicate it at home and our goal would go out the window with the carvings. I found lots of egg roll recipes online and combined and adopted them to our tastes and came up with this:

Egg Rolls
Large egg roll wrappers
Peanut oil for frying
Vegetable oil
1 lb. ground pork
3 cups shredded green cabbage
1-2 cups diced carrots
1 cup diced onion
2 Tbs. low sodium soy sauce
garlic powder to taste
ground ginger to taste.

Brown the pork in a bit of vegetable oil over medium heat. Remove from pan. Add a bit more oil to the pan and the carrots and onion. Saute for a couple of minutes, and then add the cabbage (the cabbage cooks faster and you want it to be more tender-crisp). Saute until tender. Add the pork back to the pan. Add the soy sauce and garlic and ginger and mix well. Set mixture aside to cool. (Note: this mixture can be made well ahead. The cooler the mixture is when you fill the rolls, the better because hot mixture will make the wrapper weak and hard to handle.)

Heat approximately 1 inch of peanut oil over medical high heat in a small, high-sided, heavy pan. (I use a very small iron skillet; a deep fryer would be perfect.) While it heats, prepare the egg rolls. I lay several wrappers on a clean DRY surface. Spoon a small portion of the filling into each wrapper in a line in the center (do not overfill--I estimate 2-3 Tbs.). Fold one long corner of the wrapper over the filling. Fold both short corners in. Use your finger to rub a little water on the remaining corner (this makes it stick). Gently roll the part with the filling over onto the long side to close and seal the egg roll. Repeat.

When the oil is hot (test by dropping a tiny piece of wrapper in--it should bubble and rise to the surface immediately), gentle place rolls into it and fry (turning if necessary) until golden brown. (This process will depend on what you are frying in. My small skillet fits 2 rolls and I have to turn them. The key is not to put in too many rolls at once because the temperature of the oil will drop and the rolls will be greasy rather than cripsy.) Drain on paper towels.

I know that this seems like a lot of steps, but it's surprisingly easy and quick.

I like to serve these with this this sweet and sour sauce I found on allrecipes.

Guilty Pleasures

As you can probably tell from the simple fact that I have a food blog, I love cooking. Baking is a different story. It just seems so complicated what with all the specialty ingredients and the measuring and rising. Jon bakes bread, but I bake nothing. That's not to say I don't enjoy the occasional baked treat.

So here's the confession: I love, love, love...(deep breath)...Duncan Hines Bakery Style Blueberry Streusel. There I said it.

I know they're far from authentic. They're a little too sweet. The blueberries are almost flavorless. But they are delicious. And I love them.

There. I confessed. So what's your guilty pleasure? I know you've got one.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Change in Plans

I had planned to make the asparagus pancetta flatbread pizza tonight, but after shelving our books in the new apartment all day (two English majors with grad schooling makes for an absurd number of books) I was not in the mood to knead the dough for flatbread. So I resorted to an old favorite that I haven’t made in years.

I tossed the asparagus with extra virgin olive oil and roasted it at 450 until tender-crisp. While the asparagus roasted, I sautéed diced pancetta until golden and crisp. I combined the asparagus and pancetta and served it over rice drizzled with a little evoo and dusted the whole dish with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

Dishes don’t get much simpler than this one, but there’s something delicious about the asparagus, pancetta, and cheese combination.

When Jon is away...

I'll play. Jon does not like shrimp and I love them. With him away at a conference, I pulled out the ol' shrimp scampi recipe. I used to make this dish a lot because it's fast, simple and tasty. I can't remember the origins of the recipe but I think that I combined one from Rachael Ray and one from Ina Garten. Most of this can be changed to suit your tastes, but I do recommend using lots of garlic.

Mince 4-5 cloves of garlic. Combine approximately 1 clove with 6-8 medium shrimp. Sprinkle liberally with red pepper flakes. Add the juice of half a lemon and extra virgin olive oil and toss to coat.

While the shrimp are marinating, cook the pasta. We've recently switched to whole wheat pasta. I have to say that this is the first dish I didn't like it in.

When the pasta is a few minutes from done, heat some evoo in a saute pan over medium and add 3-4 anchovy fillets. Cook until they melt. (You can omit the anchovies but they give the dish great flavor and is not at all fishy). Add the rest of the garlic and more red pepper flacks and saute until garlic starts getting tender. Add the shrimp and cook until done. Do not overcook! Add the pasta and toss with a little extra lemon juice.

I really like to add some chopped fresh parsley at the eat but alas I had none.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The sweet taste of summer...

While I was home in Virginia, I picked up this recipe from my mom. It's a simple and quick take on strawberry shortcake. I've already made it a few times for events and it's always a hit. The best part is that there's almost zero clean-up.

1 store-bought angel food cake*
2 packs of fresh strawberries
2 packages of Cool Whip (light works fine)
sugar or Splenda
Tear 1/2 of the cake into bite-sized pieces and line the bottom of the dish. Slice one pack of strawberries on top of the cake and sprinkle lightly with sugar (this helps the berries make a little syrup). Spoon one package of Cool Whip on top of the berries. Repeat to make a second layer. Top with a strawberry for decoration. Done--delicious, fast, pretty and easy. What more could you want?

*Note: if you can find an angel food cake in a tall container (like the one pictured), you can invert the cover and use to hold the dessert and use the bottom as a lid. This is nice if you are taking the dessert to an event because the "dish" can just be tossed at the end of the evening.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Real Thing

Have you had an heirloom tomato yet? If not, track one down, cut it, sprinkle with a little salt (preferably sea salt) and enjoy the taste of summer. Heirloom tomatoes are the real thing--grown from tomato seeds that have not been engineered to create the perfectly round, red, tasteless thing you find in the supermarket. Heirlooms are knobby with crazy color variation--in a word ugly--but they taste like real tomatoes.

We picked up a couple of beautifully ugly heirlooms and made a quick bruschetta. I combined the diced heirlooms with some basil, EVOO, salt and pepper and a touch of garlic and served the mixture on top of toasted slices of French baguette that I brushed with EVOO and rubbed with garlic.

To go with the bruschetta, I made some kebabs. Almost any meat and veggie combo will work on kebabs, the key is to cut everything into chucks that will cook at the same rate.


Is there anyone who doesn't love bacon? Carbonara is so often my go-to meal. It has few ingredients that I usually have on hand and it's super quick. And did I mention that it has bacon?

There's no real recipe here, most things are to taste. Fry bacon until crisp and then crumble it (I usually use 3-4 slices per person). While the bacon fries, cook the pasta (I prefer linguine, but any long pasta will do). Toss the cooked pasta with cracked egg yolks (like 2 per person). The heat from the pasta will cook the egg and create a sauce. Grind lots of fresh black pepper over the pasta. Top with the bacon and grated Parmesan. Delicious!

Note: This dish is delicious as is, but can be turned up a notch by subbing pancetta for bacon. Also, it's delicious to saute some shallots before adding diced pancetta and cooking until crispy. tossing some chopped parsley at the end adds a nice color and peppery flavor.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Twist on Pizza

J loves pizza. I like it too but I'm not always in the mood for red sauce and pepperoni, so I adapted this recipe from Cooking Light.

1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine warm water and yeast in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Add 1 cup flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt to yeast mixture; stir until blended. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead dough until elastic (7-8 minutes) adding remaining flour, a little at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise about 45 minutes. While dough rises, prepare topping.

1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound fresh asparagus spears, trimmed
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

Saute the pancetta and thyme over medium heat until pancetta is just crisp. Remove from heat and add garlic, salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 475°.
Punch dough down, re-cover and let rest it 5 minutes. Roll out dough and spread topping evenly it. Arrange the asparagus over topping; sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake at 475° for 10 minutes or until crust is golden. Top with the slivers of Parmesan.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

An Oldie and a Newbie

Rosemary Pork Chops, Fried Green Tomatoes, Garlic Parmesan Spaghetti Squash
I planned to cook pork chops and spaghetti squash. While cleaning out the fridge, I found a green tomato that I had bought at the farmer's market a while ago and forgotten, so I decided to free it.

For the pork chops, I did a very simple preparation. I chopped some fresh rosemary and garlics. I rubbed that and a little EVOO on the pork and put it in the fridge.

In the meantime, I cut the ends off the squash, sliced it in two vertically, and scooped out the seeds. Then, I popped it on a sheet pan cut-side down and into a 400 oven for about 45 minutes until tender. After it cooled a bit, I shredded it into the "spaghetti."

While the squash roasted, I prepared the green tomatoes by slicing them fairly thin and tossing them in a mixture of 1 cup flour to 3/4 cup corn meal. As a southern girl, I've eaten my fair share of fried green tomatoes. I must admit that I still don't get them exactly right. It's frustrating. I tend to put too much oil in the skillet and that makes then soggy. Next time, I'll start with just enough veg oil to cover the bottom and get it quite hot before adding the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes are in the pan, they should be salted and peppered heavily (very heavily on the pepper). When the bottom is a deep golden brown, flip and salt and pepper that side too.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Happy Birthday to J.

I decided to try to surprise J with a nice dinner for his birthday. This was the menu:

Filet Mignon

I liberally sprinkled the 1 1/2 inch steaks with kosher salt. I added a pat of butter to a small cast iron skillet heated to medium high. I seared the steaks for about 3 mins. on one side, turned it, seared for 2 mins. on the second side. Put them into a 400 degree oven for 3 mins. to finish. They came out a perfect medium.

Rosemary Mushroom Risotto

Ah, this side dish was going to be penne pasta with garlic cream sauce and mushrooms. except I forgot to buy cream at the store. So, I improvised. It turned out great.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

dried rosemary

1 cup arborio (risotto) rice

a splash of dry white wine

3 cups chicken stock

1 cup beef stock

1 large portabella mushroom cap, cleaned of the "gills" and sliced.

Parmesan cheese

In a separate pan, warm the combined stocks to a simmer.

I first sauteed the shrooms in about a tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil until golden and removed from pan. I added an tbsp. of oil and sauteed the shallots and garlic until tender. I added the arborio rice stirring until it turned translucent. Then added a splash of vermouth (mmm the aroma). Once the vermouth was absorbed, I added the stock a ladle at a time until absorbed, stirring constantly. To finish I added 1/2 tsp. rosemary and the mushrooms back in. Topped with the cheese.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Grilled Fish Tacos and Black Bean Salsa

We've been attempting to eat healthier. This is one of my favorite dishes that it tasty and high in protein and pretty low in fat.

Grilled Fish Tacos
3 tilapia filets (any mild fish would work)
Cajun or blackening seasoning
shredded lettuce
diced tomato
minced jalapeno (to taste)
4-6 6" tortillas

Liberally sprinkle the fish with blackening seasoning. Grill until opaque (approx. 3-4 minutes of the George Forman). Allow to cool for 5 mins and break up into bite size pieces. While fish is cooling, warm the tortillas in microave or oven. Top with remaining ingredients to taste. A squeeze of fresh lime is nice.

Black Bean Salsa
15 oz. can black beans
1 avocado, diced
1/4 red onion chopped
8 oz. corn (frozen or canned)
1/4 cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped (remove seeds and veins for less heat)

Combine all ingredients and top with dressing:
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

The seeds...

I've recently discovered a number of food blogs and decided it might be fun to try one myself. Hope you enjoy.