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.