Sunday, October 26, 2008

Product Recommendation: Trader Joe's Island Soyaki

I love Trader Joe's. The products are high quality and natural, and the prices are excellent. Mostly though, I love the food samples that they have at the back of the store. I've found so many great items that I might never have tried if I hadn't had a sample first. The latest (and maybe greatest) is Island Soyaki.

As the name suggests, it's part soy sauce and part teriyaki. This is a case were the whole is better than the sum of the parts. It's brighter than soy or teriaki. There's a hint of the spiciness of ginger and the tang of pineapple, and the sesame seeds add an earthiness.

Island soyaki replaced the sweet and sour sauce as my favorite sauce for the potstickers. Try it.

C is for cookie

These cookies came about as a result of two of my favorite food blogs. They originate at the Smitten Kitchen blog (and if you aren't familiar with this site, go now--it's gorgeous). Adam at The Amateur Gourmet "assigned" readers to make them. What can I say, I've always been a good student.

The cookies are deliciously unique. The sea salt adds a salty rush to the sweetness. I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of white chocolate. It's just too sweet for me. The salt on top of the cookies cuts the sweet in a great way.

I followed the recipe exactly. My only minor criticism is that her estimation to create balls of two tablespoons created really large cookies. I would cut back a little to make smaller cookies. Even making large ones, this recipe made 40 cookies for me. I think the recipe is really for 4 dozen cookies.

The recipe is here: Crispy Salted Oatmeal Cookies.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cheese Puffs

I made these cheese puffs (or if you are fancy and french, Cheese Gougères) on the fly as a Sunday afternoon snack. Mostly, I just wanted to see if I could.

Despite how fancy smancy they sound and look, they were actually very simple and easy. I followed the recipe I found here: Cheese Puffs

I'm not a baker, at all. That role falls to my husband, but he tends to bake breads and bagels (mmm...bagels) rather than cakes and cupcakes. All of this is a long way of saying that we do not have a pastry bag. So, I used a gallon freezer bag and cut the tip off. It took some practice to get the puffs ball-shaped and I made a decent-sized mess, but it worked. Also, I did use my Kitchenaid, but I think this would work fine with a hand mixer.

These are light, cheesy and perfectly salty. They would make a great appetizer for a cocktail party.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Three Olive Tapenade

I know that some people hate olives. I don't get it. Olives are the perfect combination of salty, earthy and fruity. If you dislike the particularly salty, green olives that are often on salads, don't write off all olives. There are so many varieties with their own unique flavors. Kalamatas, for example, are mild and fruity. If you have a favorite, this recipe can easily be made using one type of olive.

2 cups olives (I used one cup kalamata; 1/2 each of Spanish green and oil-cured)
3 anchovies
3 Tbs. drained capers
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbs. fresh thyme
pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is uniform.

I like to serve this with slices of baguette that I brush with extra virgin olive oil and toast.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Checking In

It's been almost six weeks since making my food New Year's resolutions. It seems like a good time to check in on my progress.

Make one new dish every week from our ever-growing and beloved collection of cookbooks.

Hmmm...I'd give myself a C on this one. We have made several new recipes but not six. It's sometimes easier to fall back on familiar favorites. When we do this, though, we miss out on finding new favorites. There's a triumph in trying a new dish and knowing that you'll be eating it for years to come.

Learn to make a killer spaghetti...maybe even with meatballs.

We haven't tried this resolution. It's a challenge because neither of us loves red sauces. If you have a great recipe, please share it.

Eat at least 2 super-vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, chard, kale, etc.) a week.

Solid B+. We actually do well in this category. Super-vegetables are super. We love roasted cauliflower, sauteed spinach and steamed broccoli. Thanks to an experiment with getting a surprise box of organic vegetables, we tried kale for the first time this winter. We are fans. We found a terrific kale soup recipe I'll be sharing very soon.

Learn to make a really good Asian noodle dish.

No luck here yet. Again, suggested recipes (or recommended Asian cookbooks) are very welcome.

Get better at photographing dishes for the blog.

I'll give myself an A for effort here. Sometimes things go well (see the quesadilla post); other times, not so much (see the rest). But, hey, practice makes perfect, right? I'm practicing. Any tips are appreciated.

Try at least 3 new restaurants (this would be more but it conflicts with last year's decision to eat out less).

We excel at this one (or fail at the decision to eat out less, but let's be positive, okay?). We tried Kuma's Corner with our friend Noelle. We had chocolate fondue at Ethel's with Noelle and our friend Scott. We plan to try Balanced Kitchen with our friend Melody soon. Ahh, if only all the resolutions were this easy.

Eliminate Diet Coke.

I'm most proud of myself for this one. I haven't completely ridded myself of the Diet Coke addication, but I'm made tremendous progess. I was drinking 4 DCs a day. I'm down to no more than two and usually one. I drink more if we eat meals geared traditionally toward soda pop--pizza, for example. Maybe I should switch to beer. I don't miss the DC when eating fresher foods like salad or sushi.

As an added plus, I've lost a couple of pounds just from this small change. It's not so much that anyone but me has noticed, but my pants are definitely looser.

That's Tiffany reporting in. More updates later.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Book Review: The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop and Table Hop Like a Pro (Almost)

The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop and Table Hop Like a Pro (Almost)
by: Adam D. Roberts

*Highly recommended*

Roberts is the author of a popular blog called, not surprisingly, The Amateur Gourmet. If you haven't visited it yet, I encourage you to do so. Pssst...there's even a link to it over to the right. Roberts' blog is unique in the universe of popular food blogs. It's more accessible than other blogs. The food doesn't always look like it was just staged by a food stylist. (Yep, they exist. How do you think that Subway sub looks so tasty in the ads when it's flat, dry and leaking mayo when you order it at your local shop?) The photographs are...amateurish (yet still better than my own). And you know what? That's refreshing. Roberts isn't about perfect food. He's about exploring food, about finding yourself through the exploration of food. His enthusiasm for food is infectious. His humor about his experiences is top notch.

If you enjoy the blog (and I do), you'll enjoy the book. Roberts isn't afraid to put himself out there in print. In his efforts to inform his readers (and himself) how to shop at farmers' markets and dine out like the pros, Roberts exposes himself as vulnerable and self-conscious. That just makes him more appealing. Ultimately, as Roberts dines alone in a top Parisian restaurant that acts more like a private club and fights his neighboring patrons for the bread basket (really!), you wish you were there with him. Roberts has an innate charm that leaps off the page--computer or print. You want to be his friend.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


During the winter when I'm leaving work, the sky is already dark. By the time I get home, I'm drained from a long day of analyzing cases and researching law. Cooking is restorative for me. The acts of chopping and stirring, smelling and tasting, clear my mind. I enjoy it. Sometimes, however, physical tiredness overtakes and I just want to put together a dish that requires very little effort--something that is done in minutes. That's when I turn to quesadillas.

The best thing about quesadillas is that you can use anything you like in them. Choose a meat--beef, chicken, shrimp--or go vegetarian. Jon likes no meat and sauteed portobello mushrooms in his. Choose a cheese; we prefer the slight heat of Monterrey Jack but any will due. Add some vegetables; we love roasted jalapenos and caramelized onions. Red or green peppers would be great.

I start by heating some extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. I add thinly sliced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they turn golden. In the meantime, I heat the broiler and roast some jalapenos until blackened and blistered. I then put them in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. The steam helps the skins peel easily. After a few minutes, peel them and slice or dice finely. Discard the seeds.

I've recently discovered a love for broiling fish and seafood. The high heat of the broiler quickly cooks the fish while leaving it juicy. For these quesadillas, I broil some shrimp simply seasoned with salt and pepper. Broil it for just a few minutes until it has just turned pink. Don't over cook it as it will be tough. Is there anything worse than tough shrimp? No, there is not.

Heat a non-non-stick (hmmm...that's a double negative. Anyway, don't use non-stick) skillet over medium-high heat. Place a tortilla in the skillet, add the cheese and other ingredients, top with a little more cheese and put on the top tortilla. Check periodically and when the bottom is golden brown, carefully flip the tortilla. When the second side is browned, remove from skillet, cut into wedges and serve with salsa and avocado.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cold Comfort

Chicago has a reputation for being brutal in the winter. That rep isn't necessarily deserved. I grew up in the mountains of Virginia and, for the most part, the climate is similar. But there's always that one week. Seven to ten days where everything people say about Chicago winters is true. It's frigidly cold and the wind howls like an angry dog. You wonder why anyone chooses to live here. During that week, I just want to hibernate, to wrap myself in a blanket on my couch and watch the cold press in on the windows. It's weird how you can almost see the cold.

While I'm tucked into the couch, I also want some comfort food--something warm and filling. When I came across this post on the fabulous Amateur Gourmet blog, it sounded perfect. The best part is that it can be made with anything that you have on hand. I always start with bacon (2 slices per person) and always use cannellini beans since I always have them on hand. Then I add whatever sounds good--carrots, celery, parsley, cheese, garlic, the possibilities are bounded only by the contents of your refrigerator.

So somehow, while this dish is always simple, it's never boring. Comfort food at its best.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Good friend; good soup

We received a wonderful Christmas gift from our friend Noelle. A lovely white oven safe bowl and a cookbook called Soup Bowl.

We recently tried the Tuscan Bean Soup from the book. It was delicious--warm and filling. Perfect for a cold January night. As a bonus, it was fast and used ingredients that we usually have in the pantry (so to speak, in our tiny kitchen, it's just a cabinet).
The recipe says that it serves 6 but those must be small-maybe first course-portions. It fed us both well with a little left over.

Tuscan Bean Soup from Soup Bowl

10.5 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

10.5 oz can cranberry beans, drained and rinsed (We couldn't find cranberry so we used red beans)

2 1/2 cups chicken stock (I doubled this)

4 oz. small pasta

4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 Tbs chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Combine half the cannellini and cranberry beans with half the chicken stock and puree. Pour into a large pot and add the rest of the beans. Add stock to reach your desired consistency. Bring to a bowl. Add the pasta and return to a boil. Cook until the pasta in tender.

Meanwhile saute the garlic in the evoo until golden. Add to the soup. (Note: for time, I sauteed the garlic in the same pot as the soup and then added the bean/stock puree and continued with the recipe).

Add the parsley and season to taste.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Happy 2008!

Ah, it's that time of year.

Confession: I rather like New Year's resolutions. New Year's has the same feeling that starting a new semester in school always did. It's a fresh start. It's optimistic and new. But the typical resolutions (eat healthy, lose weight, exercise, etc.) never seem to work, do they? So, I'm sticking with foodie resolutions.

So here are my food resolutions for 2008:

Make one new dish every week from our ever-growing and beloved collection of cookbooks.
Learn to make a killer spaghetti...maybe even with meatballs.
Eat at least 2 super-vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, chard, kale, etc.) a week.
Learn to make a really good Asian noodle dish.
Get better at photographing dishes for the blog.
Try at least 3 new restaurants (this would be more but it conflicts with last year's decision to eat out less).
Eliminate Diet Coke.

Okay, so that last one is a more typical New Yeary resolution. I'm keeping it. Really. I am.