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.