Tuesday, August 28, 2012
There are many slow cooker macaroni and cheese recipes out there but most call for cooking the noodles first. If I'm going to do that I might as well just stir up the sauce too. Part of the appeal of the crock pot is very few dishes to clean. A one pot cooker. Hence the popularity.
So I forged boldly ahead and dumped uncooked macaroni -- I used Italian Gemelli (8 oz) instead of more popular elbows, 1 can condensed milk, 1 1/2 cups milk, 2 eggs (beaten and mixed with the milked), S&P, and grated cheese -- lots of grated cheese. I used about 3 1/2 cups of cheese mixed into the pasta and then sprinkled the rest on top. Cooking on low keeps the egg custard from separating while the noodles simmer to cheesy tenderness.
I love my crock pot.
Monday, August 27, 2012
There are some cooks and chefs who's recipes I trust and some I steer away from. Ina Garten -- too much mayonnaise. Bobby Flay -- his flavors just aren't that interesting to me. I can't even think about looking at recipe form Paula Dean or (shudder) Sandra Lee. But, I never find fault with Mark Bittman.
Bittman is one of America's great cooks. He has been called America's best home cook and his consistently solid ideas and recipes are a great place to start looking when I'm ready to start cooking.
His short ribs simmer for hours in a sauce of chiles, red wine, and coffee -- flavors James loves. I knew this one would be a hit.
I started by browning the well seasoned meat in a hot pan with olive oil. I put the meat into the crock pot. With the pan on low I tossed in a chopped onion, 3 chopped cloves of garlic, a dried chile d'arbol and a pimiente d' espellette (not what Bittman uses but it's what I had and they are both flavorful pods). After about 15 minutes the onion was soft and ready to add in the liquid. I poured in 1 cup of strong coffee and 1 cup of red wine. With the heat on high I reduced the liquid by half and poured everything over the meat in the crock pot along with a pinch of cinnamon and about 2 TB of brown sugar. Eight hours on low and this fairly fuss-free dinner was ready to serve with buttery mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans -- direct from our garden.
"This is really good honey," James said between bites. "Hold onto this one."
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Today I harvested several Black Krim, a variety I've tried to grow before with not much success, Sebastopol Cherries ( local variety I'd never heard of so I had to try some out), Snow White, an outstandingly flavorful yellow-white cherry, and one lone Julia Child, a beautiful pinkish red namesake.
While I was bringing in vegetables I gathered up fanciful striped Dragon Langerie beans, Italian yellow wax beans, Romano beans (or some cross there of) and romantically named Signora della Campagna -- a lady from the country, light green tinged with delicate purple stripes. From the far side of the garden I picked several yellow and green zephyr squash, a couple cocozelle zucchini and one lone Rondo di Parigi, way past it's prime baseball size. Not to forget a couple lemon and Persian cucumbers. And just a few of the Sebastopol Gravenstein apples James picked off our backyard tree this morning. Tomorrow I will can those apple slices for mid winter pies and remember a summer day in our new Northern garden.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Friday, August 24, 2012
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Next to James' chops I laid down a field of fresh picked, quickly sautéed collard greens favored with garlic and chili peppers.
We have a full garden. We have a lot of collards.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
I found myself looking at a pile of apples with an oven on the blink (no pie today). Somehow that led me to soup. I had an scorn squash just begging to be cooked. I started a stock pot with 2 strips of thick bacon over medium heat. When the bacon had crisped and rendered a good amount of fat I set the meat aside and popped a chopped onion and 3 minced cloves of garlic into the pan to sauté in the bacon fat (delicious!). When the vegetables had softened (about 6 minutes) I added in two cored apples and that large acorn squash -- both peeled and chopped, along with one diced tomato, a bay leaf, two cups of chicken broth, and about a cup of water. I covered the pot and let the squash simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. I puréed the soup in the blender along with a dash of milk (about 1/2 cup) and served James his dinner topped with a little of that crisp bacon alongside a toasty grilled cheese sandwich.
Monday, August 20, 2012
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Certainly not fancy. Certainly not gourmet. But just the thing to cheer our hometown team onto (hopefully) victory.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Friday, August 17, 2012
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
"I'm the rookie here," my water said with a smile. He's been serving steaks at Chicago's Gene & Georgetti's for 12 years. I settled into the cozy dining room that I suspect has changed very little since the doors first opened in 1941.
I'd been waning to try a few of Chicago's less famous (perhaps) but revered regional specialties. I started with an appetizer of local favorite Shrimp de Jonghe. Basically it's shrimp cooked in a super garlicky, but still somehow mellow, butter sauce. That crusty bread came in pretty handy.
Iceberg lettuce, tomato wedge, and a tangy oil and vinegar dressing (not even any cheese) make Gene & Georgetti's house salad a throwback to the days before mesclun mixes and restaurants with backyard farms. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I loved it. It felt good to cut through that crunchy, watery lettuce. Suddenly I was back to my hometown's "Little Italy" fidgeting in my best clothes, napkin in my lap, trying hard to keep up with adult conversation.I look around the room and I can picture elegant women in short fur stoles delicately dragging a fork through dishes like Chicken Vesuvio. This broiled chicken dish is another regional Chicago favorite, poultry simply drenched in an olive oil and garlic sauce that also flavors the crisp -- okay delicious -- fried potatoes.
I love that there is nothing modern about this menu. It's not food I want to eat everyday but I love that it still exists and diners can make a visit to a bygone time when Frank Sinatra might have been holding court at the next table.
Gene & Geogetti's was born in the days when Italian food was exotic and ethnic. Back when spaghetti wasn't something every American family ate regularly. We've come a long way as diners but I'm glad friendly and yes tasty places like G&G's still exist somewhere. I hope they never fade away.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Chicago is a friendly city. When you walk into The Purple Pig, a jovial small plates wine bar on Chicago's Michigan Avenue (the midwest's 5th Ave), you know immediately you are among your future friends. Communal tables, tidy little booths and an outdoor patio beckon to guests but to me the best spot in the house is at the marble topped bar looking into the shockingly small kitchen and within chatting distance to the charming, friendly but never obtrusive bartenders.
The Purple Pig cures a few meats in house. I started with a tray of house-made sliced coppa and a tasty antipasto of baby artichokes, fingerling potatoes and peppery salami Toscana. I expected the artichokes to be warm but in fact the cold pickled salad made the perfect foil for fatty cured meats and crisp toasts.
I love the smear section. Everything in it sounds so tasty and just the kind of foods I like to eat. Delicious things with toasts. Deconstructed crostini. Savory deliciousness.
Next came a deliciously crispy plate of Morcilla (blood sausage flavored as in Spain and Argentina with a delicate hint of clove) with fava beans and sherry vinaigrette.
Although The Pig describes itself as Mediterranean the offerings had a decidedly Spanish flair, with a little Italian tossed in. Both countries that revel and excel in small tastes.
Another Chicago restaurant tempted me with dessert. The soft serve machine behind the bar is hard to ignore. I couldn't resist the salted caramel with flakes of salt and brittle caramel on top. I quickly dug in and asked for a couple extra spoons for my new good friends seated next to me at the bar. The Purple Pig is that kind of place.
Good ingredients thoughtfully prepared make for exceptionally delicious dining but a friendly atmosphere, a happy crowd and genuinely pleasant service make for a great restaurant experience. I love The Purple Pig.
Monday, August 13, 2012
For my taste of Chicagoland I popped into Portillos, a local chain. The dog is still a dog but the sport peppers make the taste.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
I admit it. Even after all these seasons, suffering through lesser contestants and foolish challenges, I am still a big Top Chef fan. When I landed in Chicago, the home of Top Chef season 4 winner Stephanie Izard, I started plotting a visit to her insanely popular restaurant, Girl & The Goat. Stephanie wasn't a flashy contestant but her food seemed consistently solid and she never stooped to the "I'm not here to make friends" attitude seemingly required by reality show producers.
Small plates in the restaurant world these days are the new tapas with eclectic menu wine bars and gastropubs popping up in eating cities across the country. Girl & The Goat follows in that tradition with a sizable menu of small plates designed to taste and share. I snuggled into a seat at the bar and prepared to be dazzled.
The bartender, handsome and slightly bored in a wearing all black, tattooed hipster kind of way said the roasted cauliflower was one of his favorite items on the menu. Out came a savory bowl topped with toasted pine nuts, bright pickled peppers, grated cheese (was it pecorino or parmesan -- I can't be sure) and mint. I liked it. It was fine. It need a little salt.
I think perhaps James and I are a little old fashioned (and certainly not hipster material) when it comes to vegetables. At our house roasted cauliflower has a healthy dose of caramelization and is cooked soft, to just past toothsome, where the vegetable gives up it's sometime hidden sweetness. The Goat's cauliflower still had a bit too much bite for me.
I was beginning to sense that this creative busy kitchen while daring and inventive had a problem with consistency.
I thought I'd try one more taste, ready to be wowed. I love chick peas. When I see garbanzos on a menu I gravitate towards the dish so I had trouble staying away from the chick pea fritters. These were not at all what I expected. The "fritters" kind of amounted to fried hummus with a crisp salty shell. Interesting. probably not a dish I would order again, but interesting. The oddity here was the eggplant caponata underneath. Again it may just be my personal, old-fashioned taste. But eggplant should be soft with a velvety texture that makes the sometimes overlooked vegetable a sensual delight. The Goat's could have been cooked a bit longer. Flavors good, execution questionable.
I rarely order dessert -- especially without James. But I couldn't resist the "Sweet Corn and Peaches" or imagine what might be in the dish when it arrived. What came out was the true flash of brilliance I had been waiting for. The peaches sautéed in butter and brown sugar were fine, the bourbon caramel ice cream tasty, the sandy cookie and caramel sauce nice bits of texture. But, oh that whipped cream. I've never tasted anything like it and I can't wait to steal the idea. The cream was infused with the flavor from corn cobs and whipped to a light froth with sweet kernels folded in. Delicious, addictive, fantastic. Brilliance from a Top Chef winner who is not afraid to take risks which makes for interesting dining and the occasional note of brilliance.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Pequod's is a neighborhood place. Small and off the beaten tourist path enough that my cab driver didn't know where it is, Pequod's nevertheless manages to hit just about every best of list and is a deserved favorite among local pizza lovers. Pan pizza -- like other unique Chicago styles -- starts with an uncommon crust. Almost a savory pie shell, the buttery, oily, rich dough is baked until the bottom is crisp and the pastry flaky. Unlike any pizza dough I've ever tasted.
On top of that flaky dough comes layers of filling. First thinly sliced mozzarella cheese that melts into a gooey barrier keeping the crust from getting soggy under the mountain of fillings. Next they pile on the sauce, a thick almost chunky uncooked canned tomato concoction that bakes along with the pie. For my toppings I added sliced tomatoes, black olives, and Pequod's renown Italian sausage.
This is not a pizza you can fold over and munch happily while strolling the city streets. This is a hefty pizza flavored casserole you eat with a knife and fork.
Pequod's lunch special -- a 7" cheese pan pizza and a beer or soft drink for $4.95 may be the best lunch deal ever. With extra toppings and tip I still walked out for less that $10, smiling ear to ear. I can't imagine how the golden arches manages to sell a single burger in a town with lunch options like Pequod's.
Friday, August 10, 2012
I started my quest to know Chicago's famous dishes with a classic, a familiar city stand-by, an old-time favorite now a chain of stands across the city and soon to open in Las Vegas and San Jose: Al's Italian Beef. The classic South-side Chicago sandwich tops thinly sliced roast beef, dipped in thin beef juice, with either sweet peppers or hot giardiniera. a spicy mix of peppers, carrots. cauliflower, celery, olives and onions. Al's is a popular choice and often shows up on favorites lists or travel TV shows but Chicago's neighborhoods boast enough choices for every cop, deliveryman, UPS driver, and hungry citizen to claim his favorite haunt. The friendly debates rages on in newspapers, magazines and local blogs.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
|Dry aging room at David Burke's Primehouse|
Of course I did a little reading up on Chicago before I landed, hungry and looking for dinner. David Burke's Primehouse had many stellar reviews and lengthy descriptions of the dry aging room where house aged rib eyes and strips (and sirloins for the house "burker") are held with fans wafting over the meat and beautiful slabs of pink Himalayan salt for up to 75 days. Little did I realize David Burke's Primehouse was literally in the lobby of my hotel. Pretty hard to resist.
Chicago is a meat eater's town. Once Chicago's meat packing industry boasted that the windy city "fed the world." Today there seems to be a steakhouse on every corner. This is not the lean, grass fed, politically correct beef dominating menus on the far coast. This is fatty, corn-fed, heavily marbled mid-western beef. The beef that Michael Pollan followed. The beef from stockyards and industrial farms. The beef we are not supposed to want.
I did feel a bit guilty and a bit local when I sat down at my leather clad table and ordered an old time favorite: the wedge salad. I know I should prefer a darker green. I know I should want a delicate olive oil vinaigrette but there is something irresistible about the combination of crisp iceberg lettuce, tangy blue cheese, salty bacon and bright onions. David Burke's is a first class version. Instead of the usual sprinkling of ripe tomatoes, this should be a main course salad accented the rich blue cheese dressing with a concentrated, glassy tomato vinaigrette. I felt like licking the plate.
Ribeye is the house specialty and one of only 3 cuts DB's ages in house. So I gave it a try -- aged for 55 days. The first bite (maybe the first two) was as good a bite of steak as I've ever had. The char from the grill, the ribbons of fat and the salty meat made a delicious, near perfect combination. But with further bites I wanted less not more of the oddly thinly cut savory meat. James and I are both big (dangerously big) fans of salt but Primehouse's steak teetered dangerously on the verge of being just too salty -- even for me. Perhaps my taste fatigue owed to the fact that I had no side? I ordered the baked potato hash but found the bacon jam with raisins way too sweet for the dish and the potatoes themselves dry and oddly, given the seasoning level of the meat, under seasoned.
I can't deny I love the classic old fashioned steak house. But steak houses are expensive these days and for me it takes a phenomenal steak to warrant the $50, $60, even $70 price tags routinely charged by todays "modern American steakhouse(s)." Not a one of the current collection can stand up to my beloved Peter Luger where they not only age but cut their own steaks from hand selected whole sides of beef. David Burke's is a pleasant evening out, a nice place to go once. Peter Luger is a steak to dream about, over and over again.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
A plate of home. Heavily spiced high heat roast chicken (50 minutes at 450º) stuffed with home grown whole cippolini onions, sautéed zucchini and green beans from out garden and oven baked potatoes. Nothing fancy but plenty of leftovers for a first meal after I've left. Chicago here I come.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Ever since I had these lightly fried and heavily salted peppers in Spain I have been wanting to make them for James. He loves the crunch of flaked sea salt (we love Maldon) and I knew these olive oil drenched bites would be a hit. But, finding the delicious Padron peppers in the states isn't so easy. Finally this year we grew our own and today I gathered the first fruits off the plant for a simple appetizer. Peppers fried whole in hot olive oil until blistered, sprinkled with coarse salt and served.
Monday, August 6, 2012
Collard greens, spicy sausage and beans. A Southern classic cooked together based on a recipe from the New York Times. It's perfect dish to store away in the freezer for James to heat up while I'm gone.
I started with smoked andouille sausage (3 links), 2 cloves of garlic, and a bit of onion in a hot pan with oil. When the sausage had a bit of color I added in about a pound and a half of soaked white beans and 1 quart of chicken stock and let the beans simmer for 1 hour, covered. When the beans were still crisp tender I added in the cut up collards and let the entire mixture (seasoned with salt, pepper, and chili peppers) simmer for another 1/2 hour until we had a thick strew ready to serve -- with a splash of hot sauce -- over fluffy steamed rice.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
"I know I tell you know to have it around," James said wistfully peering into the kitchen. "But I really wish we had some cake."
I don't need much more encouragement than that and after a quick glance into the fridge I pulled out the last of a tray of Costco organic blueberries and started to mix. For something simple and tried and true I searched Joy Of Baking and came up with this blueberry "buckle" or streusel topped cake.
I creamed 1/2 stick of butter with 1/2 cup of white sugar and then added in 1 egg and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. Next I added 1 cup of flour (mixed with 1 tsp of baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt) alternating with 1/3 cup of milk. I spread that batter into a greased 8"x8" pan. I covered the batter with blueberries and then loosely spread the streusel topping (1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon with 1/4 cup of butter cut in until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs) over the berries.
After 45 minutes at 350º James had fresh blueberry cake ready to top with rich vanilla ice cream. A perfect summer dessert.
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Well no, it wasn't supposed to be. But, I quickly changed course and headed the collards beans and sausage dish I was stirring towards the freezer and whipped up a quick white sauce -- a very cheesy white sauce. I didn't have quite enough milk for all that pasta so I thinned the sauce with some of the pasta cooking water which gave this decidedly rich dish a deceptively light feel. Chard, pasta, cheese, sausage and a little time in the oven for dinnertime magic. And and a couple for the freezer too.