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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My First Seder: A Pictorial

Last night I hosted my first Passover Seder, a tradition I've really only experienced at my parent's or grandparent's. As J pointed out to me last night, we hosted our very first married couple holiday--a feat we're both proud of and wiped by. I have a few phenomenal recipes to share with you, but today, as I scavenge my way through whole wheat matzoh and left over haroset, "Passover" brownies and brisket, I leave you with the pictures of our meal.

Passover Brownies

Dark Chocolate and Sea-Salt Caramel Matzoh (one with pecans)

Local Grass Fed Brisket

Fennel, Chestnut, Cranberry Matzoh Stuffing

Israeli Salad

J's Grandmother's Silver (WHICH HE POLISHED!!)

Our Table

Sunday, March 28, 2010

How I Lost My Favorite Pizza Place

Last night, we ordered pizza from our favorite, local, pizza joint, Big Daddy's. The one where the guy knows us so well, he knows our voices. He knows exactly how J likes each and every pizza we order, be it BBQ chicken or Pepperoni. He catered our rehearsal dinner. Almost every Sunday for the last 2 years, we've ordered a pie from there.

Sadly, last night was Big Daddy's last night. He is closing the doors of the pizza joint. Located in the small town of Three Oaks, MI (where my shop is) he is just losing money. Too much to stay open any longer.

This is really sad, not only for John (aka Big Daddy) but for our town. It's just another sad sight of businesses closing due to this economy. But what really gets me, what really has made me mad enough to sit down in the middle of prepping the dinner for tomorrow's seder and write, is the fact that a lot of this has to do with people saving $2 and buying from a large, national, chain (one I won't mention but let's say it rhymes with mutt.) In talking with people around the town, I've found out that a lot of locals just bought into their $10 pizza deal, and stopped buying our local pizza. John's pizzas are not expensive, mind you. But yes, they are $2 more. But they are also delicious, made by hand, and do I need to mention again that he knows me by my VOICE? 

Without ranting like a crazy person, let me please just ask you to try and spend the extra $2 to buy local. I'm not asking you to always do this. I understand how the recession has affected US ALL, but when it comes to something like buying food from a local owned grocery store, or (obviously) shopping at farmer's markets, or trying to just support your local business owners. It's worth the extra few dollars to keep these businesses going. Otherwise, we'll end up in a world where the only place to shop is Walmart.

And I for one don't want to live in that world.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Beer-y Pork au Poivre

With all the beer guest blogging around here, I had to fill you in. When I had Joe guest blog, it was a fair and square trade, much like our beer trading every other month or so. I would write, cook, and blog a recipe involving beer, and he would produce a great beer entry for me. It was such an exciting task--having an end goal is often helpful for me. J and I, in the car, started throwing ideas out, and after much deliberation we came up with doing a play on Steak au Poivre with a beer reduction. And then some.

I wanted to use Mexican flavors, and thus, a Mexican beer. Instead of going basic, I decided to use Mexico's answer to craft beer, the newly released (in the last year or so) Cucapa. They have a great honey-infused beer, and while it's not always my favorite to drink (in the label, anyway) I knew it would pair beautifully with pork, heavy spicing, and other such niceties. Given that it was still a bit on the chilly side--after all, spring has only JUST sprung, I paired it with plantain "frites" and a celery root and parsnip mash with arugula and scallion. I reduced down a bottle of the Cucapa about 2/3, and added it to the pan drippings after cooking the pork tenderloin "steaks." In a word? Unbelievable. At the last minute, I decided to mix up a dip for the frites...greek yogurt, the beer, some hot sauce, salt and pepper. And that was even more incredible. Perfect beer notes, paired with that creamy BITE that greek yogurt has? Oh my...

I did double fry the plantain frites, I can't lie to you. But other than that, this dish is rather healthy and would impress the pants off of anyone that happened to drop by for dinner.

And seriously? Freaking fantastically insanely good.

So as to not overwhelm this particular entry, let me know in the comments if you want the recipes for the plantains and the celery root mash, and I'll add them!

Pork au Poivre with Cucapa Beer Reduction
1 pkg pork tenderloin (there are 2 pieces) trimmed and cut into 3 inch "steaks"
2 bottles Cucapa Honey (or Mexican style beer that you particularly enjoy)
1 tsp chipotle chili powder (or cayenne)
2 tsp pasilla chili pepper (or ancho, or whatever you have)
2 TBSP whole cumin seeds
2 TBSP whole coriander seeds
3 TBSP multi-colored peppercorns
2 TBSP kosher salt
2 TBSP olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
Chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 350

In a morter and pestle, grind all spices and salt until chunky--not too smooth, but with some whole ground pieces. This could be done much quicker in a spice grinder--I was feeling particularly anti-equipment this day.

Place 1 bottle of beer in sauce pan and reduce by about 2/3. Should be over medium-high heat. Stir as foam starts to get too overwhelming. When reduced, turn heat off. Reserve.
Pour spices onto plate.

Take pork "steaks" and season each side with salt and pepper.
Crust one side of each piece by placing down on plate of spices--crust heavily with spice mixture.
In a large, oven-safe skillet (large enough to hold all the pork steaks) heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Place pork in skillet, spiced side down, and sear--approximately 2-3 minutes.
Flip pork, sear another 2-3 minutes.
Place skillet in hot oven for approximately 12 minutes--until an instant read thermometer reads 140 degrees.

Remove pork from skillet, place on board or plate to rest at least 10 minutes.

Return skillet to heat (medium) and add reduced beer to pork drippings. Deglaze pan, scraping up all bits on bottom of pan. 
Allow to reduce until sauce seems dark in color and thick enough to pour over meat.

Plate pork and pour sauce over.

Use 1/4 C other bottle of beer for greek yogurt sauce, and/or drink with dinner!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Beer, Bacon, and Chocolate: What's the fourth food group again?

In the spirit of the awesome guest blogger I had last week, I had to share this amazing post from my great friends, Nick and Rebekah of Kitchen Lab and Design in a Bag . They are two of my favorite people to eat, drink, and talk with, and they know exactly what they're talking about. It's scary sometimes--the conversations I can have with Nick about having an ally in the world of craft beer (other than J of course!) Check out this post and you'll know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.

Great Beer, Bacon and Chocolate?
One of the great joys of cooking is combining flavors; bringing things that may seem disparate together to create something new, something which might seem at first blush to be a lousy idea can, sometimes, become a new "go-to" staple. The idea of beer and chocolate is basically mainstream at this point, no doubt someone who had enjoyed the wonders of drinking port with dark chocolate, or a fabulous creme brulee with a Sauternes,  brought out some fine chocolate with one of the myriad of fine craft beers created in this country and Voila!! --a star is born. This past weekend we had just such an experience with great friends, following another great, simple meal. The combination was a great American craft beer, Founder's "Nemesis" Wheat Wine , with Vosges Chocolate with Bacon (Mo's Bacon Bar.) 
This really was a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup moment, the beer, for me was really screaming for food, because of the high alcohol and cloying sweetness (which is a problem I have with many "high gravity" beers), too strong and over the top for sipping without food. In this case we took the beer and let it warm to a cellar temperature and had it after dinner, with chocolate.  The first chocolate was fine (it generally is), but didn't really seem to like the beer, or visa-versa. Our friends had brought along a bar of one of the genius Vosges "Bacon-Milk Chocolate" bars. Wham!! a star pairing was born. I can't say enough about the chocolate concoctions created by the team at Vosges (a great Chicago company), that girl Katrina (and her team) are amazing!! Check it out. We love to have a square or two of nice chocolate after dinner, often with wine, but on this night (and more to come) it was the fantastic Founder's Brewing's Nemesis Wheat Wine and Vosges Bacon-Chocolate--oh man give it a try!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Goldilocks and the Three Wooden Spoons

Kitchen utensils are extremely personal things for people who spend a lot of time in the kitchen. When J and I got married, it was absolutely apparent that I much preferred my things to his. (His plastic cutting board that makes no sense to me is still hiding in a cabinet somewhere.) As I buy new things, I tend to give or throw away the old, but there are things that just stick. Knives, spoons, graters. My small, citrus, microplane.

Never was this more apparent than yesterday, when our friend Rebekah asked me to pick up wooden spoons for her. J and I were making a trek to the outlets and she texted me, asking for new wooden spoons to use for salads. When I said yes, she texted back not to worry about it--clearly she lacked a bit of faith in my ability to pick out the right spoons. I called her bluff, and asked for the required information in order to please her with this purchase. "Not too heavy, not too big. Not fussy. Salad set is fine, but more spoon than fork."  Now, Rebekah is a kitchen designer, and she and her husband are fabulous cooks and food people. So, understandably, this was a task to be reckoned with, and one I was damn sure we were going to ace!

Armed with the information, and a fire in our bellies, J and I hit all of the kitchen outlets--three to be exact. After visiting the first two (right next door to each other) we found two spoons (really four, but they are single spoons) that we liked--very similar in size and weight, but slightly different in length. One was 10 inches, one 12...both seemed very usable. We decided we'd keep the ones she didn't like, and move on. The final stop was to the chef store, and there we (ahem, J) found a Calphalon set that he liked. It was cool, modern looking--and I was fairly certain she wouldn't like it. But the glee on J's face assured me that HE would, so we purchased that and left.
*J liked the ones on the right*
We showed up for drinks with Rebekah and Nick that evening, and unveiled our three choices. Immediately, she discarded J's favorite--yay for him! But the two similar, yet differently sized choices put a spark in her eye that is generally only apparent for a great Cotes du Rhone or talk of skiing and dogs. She and Nick decided on both (meaning I have to go back to the store and buy myself the shorter pair!)

Things like this are important in friendships, I feel. Especially food "intense" friendships. The knowledge that you UNDERSTAND and GET the importance of such things as wooden salad spoons, or a great grater. It's why I love that my husband doesn't mind that every single time we're in a kitchen store I find 1,000,000 things to buy, and always whine about not having the perfect cutting board.

In S.A.T terms, kitchen stores are to Jill as Guitar Center/Woodwind Brasswind is to J.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I Promise, I'm not a Genius

I get the feeling many people think I only have wild successes in the kitchen. Reading over posts I've written, it is true that I write about recipes that I pulled out of thin air and rocked, recipes I've written and kicked ass on the first try, yada yada. But often, there are meals that don't just pull together as well. The thing is, usually those are things I try on my own--not even for J--and if they don't work, I keep trying until they do!

This happened on Friday. Strangely, via twitter. Super Rockstar Chef Rick Moonen gave me a recipe for a non-soy (aka no Monsanto) veggie burger. Clearly, if you read this, you know I am NOT a vegetarian. Far from it. But I love a good veggie burger. I specifically love an easy to throw on a stove and add to a salad veggie burger, like Morningstar Farms. But ever since viewing Food, Inc., I've been hugely struggling with the purchase and consumption of genetically-modified soy products.  Seriously. I grapple with this issue weekly. And 50% of the time, I remain strong. And 50%, well...I cave. So when I asked Chef Moonen for a recipe (and he got back to me within hours) I was super excited to try it!

His recipe called for 1 C almonds, 1 C sunflower seeds, 8 stalks of celery, scallions, onions, parsley, cilantro, lemon, garlic, and tahini. I threw all of this into the food processor (with a can of chickpeas, to add some more protein) and whirled it around until it came to what I considered a decent consistency. I added salt and pepper, and some Sriracha (yum!) and heated up a skillet with some olive oil. The taste of the mixture was downright overwhelmingly delicious--so I was super excited!

When I threw two patties into the oil, I had really high hopes. But when I (ahem) "flipped' the patties, one fell apart pretty smoothly, and the other managed to flip decently. After another few minutes, I pulled both burgers off the heat. Neither of them managed to stay together very well--sad, but true. So I took the best of the two patties, broke it apart and chucked it in my salad. Like I said, the flavor was awesome!

I saved the rest of the mixture in a container and plan to address it tomorrow. I'm thinking of a binder--perhaps some quinoa? Bulgur? Something that seems as healthy as the rest of the recipe?

Anyone with any major ideas, please--don't be shy! This is a challenge I really hope to conquer. Not just for myself, no...but for earth-conscious vegetarians around the globe. Or at least in SW Michigan.

Friday, March 19, 2010

"High Fidelity" for Beer

I couldn't be MORE excited about this post! Class, meet my first guest-blogger, Joe Hinman! Joe is a long-time customer of my shop, and someone I've grown to respect as a go-to beer guy for a very long time! His opinions are studied and smart, and he is one of the smartest beer fans I've ever met in my life. We do beer trades all the time, and I love any time he and his lovely fiance, Jayme, come visit me in the shop. When I started this blog, Joe pointed me toward his beer blog: A Lexicon of Common Sense, and  we decided we had to do a blog trade!

I'll be writing on his blog this upcoming week and will link to it here, too. In the meantime, please note that my favorite Imperial Stout's are listed on here--I love #1, 2 and 4. And Left Hand's Milk Stout is a great "session" stout--love speaking the speak.

With another St. Patty’s Day here and gone, and the desire to guzzle Guinness by the gallon in remission for a year, here are ten ways to enjoy and respect one of the most popular styles of beer. 

There’s not a thing wrong with Guinness, it has its place and is an excellent gateway into the wide, wide world of stouts.  Here is a list of my top five stouts and top five imperial stouts. The former category includes milk and sweet stouts; the latter includes American and Russian imperials.

Top 5 Stouts
  1. Kalamazoo Stout – Bell’s Brewing Co. 6% ABV - A good standard stout, brewed with licorice to give an extra bite. Roasty, sweet and smooth drinking and available year round.
  2. Tres Blueberry Stout – Dark Horse Brewing Co. 4.5% ABV – Third in a five part holiday stout series from one of the finest breweries in Michigan. Normally I’m not wild about fruit beers, but this one has it right. The blueberry flavor is more earthy than it is sweet and plays beautifully with the natural malt flavors of a stout. I wasn’t totally sold at first, but after a couple experiences I was won over.
  3. Shakespeare Stout – Rogue Ales 6% - Another solid beer, encompassing all aspects of a good stout: Malty, a little sweet with hints of coffee and chocolate, very slightly creamy making for an easy drink and this one comes with a nice hop presence, adding a bit of an edge. Also a year round offering.
  4. Left Hand Milk Stout – Left Hand Brewing Co. 5.2% ABV – This is a new one for me. As with the blueberry stout, I wasn’t sold at first. This brew is way sweet. It’s not so much a dessert beer as it is a beer that is dessert. Super creamy, goes nicely with chocolate cake. It’s a full-bodied, thick drink but doesn’t knock you out after one or two.
  5. Special Double Cream Stout - Bell’s Brewing Co. 6.1% ABV – Yes, another beer from Bell’s. Bell’s gets a lot of credit and lot of criticism. It’s a pretty large brewery so a lot of people view it as trendy and overrated. But those people who have been drinking it for awhile understand it got to be so big because they make good beer. Especially stouts. They have a larger stout lineup than the average breweries and all but one are exceptional drinks. This one is similar to the Milk Stout, but more balanced. Maltier, more flavorful and far less sweet with the perfect amount of cream. It’s the best example of a sweet stout I’ve had thus far.
Top 5 Imperial Stouts
  1. Plead the 5th RIS – Dark Horse Brewing Co. 12% ABV – The finale of Dark Horse’s five part holiday stout series, the alcohol content of this monster really sneaks up on you. It almost drinks like a regular stout, only tastier. That trademark roasty flavor is more pronounced backed by mocha and dark, bittersweet chocolate. So black light cannot escape. Be careful with this one, it’s dangerously smooth.
  2. Kentucky Breakfast Stout – Founders Brewing Co. 11.2% ABV – Aging beer in bourbon barrels is common practice and yields nice results. Founder’s has some killer bourbon barrels, and they use them very effectively. KBS is a bourbon barrel aged stout, perfectly sweet with great bourbon flavor and notes of vanilla, chocolate and coffee. Everything balanced, every flavor has its time in the sun and the overall mouthfeel/aftertaste is pleasant and relatively smooth. The alcohol is apparent in this one, but it doesn’t get in the way.
  3. Old Rasputin RIS – North Coast Brewing Co. 9% ABV – A classic RIS. The standard by which all other Russian imperials produced in America are judged. It’s a great example of this style and it’s available all over the place all the time. There’s no reason not to drink it.
  4. Yeti  Great Divide Brewing Co. – 9.5% ABV – There are four Yetis: Regular, oak-aged, espresso oak-aged and chocolate oak-aged. I’ve had the latter two and my favorite is the espresso, so I’ll talk about that one. It’s full of great coffee flavor, is obviously oak aged and has a nice hop presence. It’s a pretty intense drink but totally worth it.
  5. Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout – 7% ABV – What Old Rasputin is to the American-produced RIS, Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout is to the Imperial Stout worldwide. It’s a benchmark for all other imperial stouts. It’s very drinkable at this low of an alcohol content. Not that 7% is low by any means, but it is the lowest for a stout to be considered imperial. This is really everything an imperial stout should be.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pop Tart Who?

I had no intention of blogging so early today. But I just took breakfast to a whole new easy level, and literally ran to the computer to write about it. (I only wish I'd had the foresight to photograph the darn thing!)

I've been on a no-jelly kick lately. Probably because I'm dreaming of springtime produce and the ability to make my own. Meaning, anytime I've had a craving for a PB&J (which is frequently, for some unknown reason) I've been slicing up different fruits to pair with said creation.
I've also been addicted to Trader Joe's Crunchy Unsalted Almond Butter. Call Dr. Drew addicted. Within reason, I eat it every day, either for breakfast, lunch, or a giant spoonful lovin' snack.

This morning, knowing I have a crazy-not-sure-I-know-when-I'll-be-eating-again day, I went for an almond butter, banana, and strawberry sandwich on sprouted wheat bread for breakfast. But then, to pay homage to the totally amazing rockstar I met the other evening, I "kicked it up" a notch. I decided to throw the concoction into my Breville Panini Press (one of my many loves in my kitchen.) Not for very long, just long enough for the banana to get melty and the strawberries to warm through.

I scarfed it down like a dark chocolate covered peep. You will never eat a pop-tart again. This is whole food at it's best, and you can't beat it.

Now go eat something healthy, whole, and delicious!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beer. It Brings Us Together.

I'm not sure when or how I got so involved in the craft beer culture, but I'm quite convinced I'll never leave. Beer lovers, aficionados, and the like, are a tried and true community, and they are no joke. From novices to complete and total rockstars, everyone invites you in to taste their new creation, and to hear your thoughts. They may not take your thoughts into consideration, but likely they will--and they'll appreciate it.

Today, I purchased an actual domain for this crazy blog. Which is crazy exciting. But while on the phone with my particular hosting company, we got talking about my blog and, in turn, about beer. He's a self-proclaimed "beer snob" and I immediately asked him about local breweries (he's in AZ.) That happens ALL THE TIME. Literally.

I'm working on a homebrew competition at the shop this summer. Any time I tell someone, be it a customer, friend, random stranger I meet on the street, they are pumped. They know someone who brews, or they're a brewer themselves. I'm not a homebrewer, but J and I are convinced we're going to try a batch this spring. Hell, I can cook, J is a brilliant chemistry dude (in his own mind) and that, to us, equals the ability to attempt a batch. We have great friends who brew, and surely they will lead us in a proper direction. This week, I'm working on a brand new recipe for a guest blog entry on a friend's super beer-centric blog.

People love their beer. They love to try things and they love their home state. Localvores are often huge beer fans, because often you have a brewery near you. Usually it can be pretty good. One hopes, anyway. I'm a huge proponent of finding what's in your 'hood. There is a "newish" brewery in Chicago, Half-Acre, that I'm itching to visit. And Michigan, well, come on. We're up there with Denver in terms of deliciousness that involves barley and hops. Ideally lots of hops. And barrel aging.

On this gorgeous spring evening, I challenge you guys to make a plan to go visit a local brewery, if possible. And then tell me all about it. Preferably with a picture and description. I promise to drool, comment, and discuss at necessary length.

And if you're curious, my Irish Stout of choice for tomorrow night is Beamish. I LOVE Guinness, I do. But I love Beamish a bit more.

Monday, March 15, 2010

We Kissed Mario Batali: An evening in culinary wonder

I am desperately going to try and keep this as brief as possible for you, but it's an epic story and I don't want you to miss anything. 

I don't really know where to begin. The beginning? The staff of the wine shop/theater had a "staff dinner retreat" to Publican last night, the brainchild of Donnie Madia, Chef Paul Kahan, and several others. I've been dying to go there since it opened, and was super excited that we were all going together. Joining us was the wonderful Joe Shanahan, owner of such legendary establishments as Chicago's Metro and Double Door, as well as a partner in the restaurant. Turns out, it was to be a prix fixe beer dinner with one of Michigan's finest breweries, Dark Horse. This made the experience even more enticing for little old me.

Chef Paul did not disappoint--not that I ever had a doubt. This meal was perfection, and the beer pairings were some of the most spot on I've ever experienced. It's still unclear to me which was my particular favorite course, but I know both J and I  wanted  to eat the entire thing over again just as we were finishing. The Bouchot Mussels au Gratin were HUGE and luxurious, the wagyu short ribs and smoked grapes were an explosion of flavor. I had a particular fondness for the black cod...I swear there was heaven in that bowl. It was the perfect balance of all things flavorful while managing to be beautifully simple. I love food like that. Where the ingredients are so divine and the cooking method so perfect, you need nothing else. (But the good crusty piece of bread to sop up the broth!) The dessert was oatmeal cookie "sandwich" with smoked maple, raisins, and walnuts.

I have to say, I don't often get starstruck. This will be important for you as you continue reading. But chefs change the game for me. I'm impressed, amazed, stunned...and when Chef Paul came over to the table to say hello to Joe and meet the table, I blushed, clammed up (so not like me, obviously) and just listened. If you don't know who Paul Kahan is, google him immediately. He is a culinary force to be reckoned with.

Of course, I had nothing but high expectations for Dark Horse. Their beers are gorgeous, and if you haven't had them, I highly recommend them. The brewery is based in Marshall, MI, and is next on my list of things to do. Travis, the general manager who was representing the brewery that night, could not have been nicer or more attentive, and the whole experience was phenomenal. I'm a HUGE fan of their smoked stout, which paired with the short ribs and smoked grapes might have been the most perfect example of beer and food in one sitting.
Mike, Becky and J with Emeril
What happened next is honestly a blur of hilariousness, phenomenal cuisine, outstanding service, and some of the finest beers to be consumed. And pork rinds. (Oh the pork rinds...)  Chicago was hosting the Home and Housewares show this weekend, which was "culminating" in a benefit dinner tonight for the traveling sextet eighth blackbird. Chef Paul and Mario Batali are cooking together, and the entire culinary world seemed to be in town for the Housewares show. So when we sat down to dinner and in walked Mario Batali, orange clogs and all, it seemed perfectly normal. And then Emeril Lagasse, looking impeccable, entered the dining room. And so, again, I was starstruck. Though my dining colleagues encouraged me to get up and go get a picture, I just couldn't. Until I consumed some more liquid courage, and then I did. And so did J. Needless to say, they couldn't have been cooler, and Emeril told us to call him when we go to New Orleans next month so that he can "hook us up." We spoke to Alain Joseph, Emeril's Culinary Assistant, about our upcoming trip, and he was incredible. (And also, very well dressed!)

Publican is set up as communal seating--something I absolutely adore. The woman sitting next to me, who was just beginning her 1st course as we were eating dessert, asked if the cookie was good, and we struck up a conversation. They, too, were in town for the Housewares show--a group of All-Clad reps. Something to remember about me, and how I cook, is my unabashed love for All-Clad products. (I often joke that my three reasons for getting married were my love of Jayson, All-Clad, and a Cuisinart food processor.) J and I chatted with them throughout their meal, discussing the courses, the All-Clad, and of course, this blog. They couldn't have been more fun to enjoy our experience with, and I hope they travel back to NYC safely!

As we closed down Publican (the remaining members of our group, J, Becky, Mike and myself were thoroughly enjoying several more beers as the evening continued) it was time to leave. Until the entire entourage of celebrity chefs invited us to continue our evening with them at another of Madia and Kahan's restaurants, Big Star. And we did. And somehow ate the entire left side of the gorgeous Mexican menu. (Oh my god the beef tongue tacos!) The celebrity chefness did not stop with the three aforementioned total rockstars. Joining them at Big Star were Ming Tsai, Curtis Stone, and others. When asked if he would come take a picture with Becky, Curtis Stone draped his enormously long legs over the booths, jumped into ours next to Becky, and planted a smacker on her!

I felt so taken care of by Madia and Kahan in both of these experiences that I can't even tell you. I mentioned pork rinds, right? Well, they were not on the menu for the evening, but Publican is famous for them. When I mentioned to Madia that I was going to have to come back to have the pork rinds, within 5 minutes a glorious cone of them appeared on our table. Chef Paul came to our booth at Big Star, talked smack about Js old favorite burrito joint in Chicago, and helped us in our efforts to finish off the last of our tacos!

What these chefs do for the culinary world is why I'm here right now. It's why I cook, and blog, and eat the way I do. It's why I went from never ever ever wanting to eat pork or chicken on the bone to grilling pork tenderloin with a beer reduction (a recipe I'm working on) and why I have no issue eating organs. They're inspiring, creative, and masters of their art form. Some people work in paints, some in music. These people work in food, and strive to keep our planet sustainable and healthy while encouraging we, the home chefs and grocery store shoppers, to buy local, organic, and in season.

And they make some killer food while doing it!

For more information or pictures, let me know in the comments. I'm happy to continue to wax nostalgic about my evening.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Yesterday is old news Pasta

Yesterday was one of those days. The kind of day where you had high hopes for positive energy all day and nothing majorly wrong happened, but still, your drive home from work is the highlight of the day? Where you want to crawl into your comfiest pair of college sweats and eat absolutely nothing good for you? Yeah, that was my yesterday. I got it together on the drive home and started thinking about what to cook for dinner. I've been HORRIBLE all week and haven't cooked. Lucky for you I've had all the other people's dishes to recap, or you'd be reading a week's worth of salad and almond butter.

This just sort of came to me, knowing what I had in the pantry and what level of energy I felt I could devote to the kitchen. A little clarifying via a phone call with J on the way home (and a re-route) to the store, and I was good. Oh, and I was armed with bottles of samples from Wine Friday, one in particular that I really wanted to drink with J--this fantastic Jean-Pierre Frick Alsatian Pinot Noir. I've only had an Alsatian Pinot Noir once before, and it was before I knew enough to understand the point. It was amazing. Find it if you can, or try and find something similar. Light in both body and color, and delicious. Perfect for summer.

Anyway, I made this last night and it was really delicious. It could have been a puttanesca, but not quite. Nice salty bite, the pasta was enough to kick in the serotonin levels a bit more, and spice woke me up out of my funk. And so easy that you could make it, eat it, and still enjoy your relationchef!

Which made finally seeing my husband for the first evening in a week much more important than whatever my nonsense du jour was!

Spicy Sausage Satly Pasta (love the alliteration!)
Probably serves 4-6, or the two of us with a lot leftover!
1 lb whole wheat penne 
1 pkg spicy chicken sausage (I used Trader Joe's Andouille) sliced into rounds
2 TBSP olive oil
1 tin anchovy fillets
2 shallots, thinly sliced
8 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3 TBSP crushed red pepper (it was super spicy, adjust to yourself)
freshly ground black pepper
1 C dry red wine (I used a Cotes du Rhone I had open)
1/2 small bottle of capers, with juice
1 C frozen peas
1/4 parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 C manchego cheese, grated
1 C reserved pasta water
salt, if necessary
honey/agave/sugar, if necessary

UNDER Cook penne (about 2 minutes early) and drain, reserving 1 C of the pasta water (I just scooped the pasta out of the pot right into the sauce, with is great for keeping the water.)
In a large skillet (big enough to toss all the pasta in at the end) heat 1/2 tbsp olive oil and brown off chicken sausage. Make it crispy--should be nice and crunchy.
Remove sausage and set aside.
In same skillet, add remaining oil and anchovy fillets. Yes, all of them. No, they do not taste fishy.
Melt the anchovies into the oil, breaking them apart with a wooden spoon until they basically become part of the oil.
Add red pepper flakes and crushed black pepper.
Add the shallots, cook 2 minutes.
Add garlic, cook 1 minute.
Deglaze the pan with the red wine, and allow to reduce about 5-7 minutes.
Add in the capers and cook 1 minute. Taste the sauce. If it tastes too spicy or salty, add in some honey/sugar/agave to balance, about 1 tsp at a time.
Add in the chicken sausage and stir.
Add in pasta and cheeses and toss. 
Add in pasta cooking water as needed to thicken the sauce and make it all come together. 
Add in peas and toss to heat peas.
Taste for salt and pepper--you shouldn't need to add any salt, but if you do, add here.

Add a little extra shredded manchego on top, once you dish yourself a huge bowlful.
Serve with a nice piece of bread--I bought some Ciabatta home and it was lovely.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It's the Most Incredible...Dip (in the world!)

(Photo: Ric Watson)
I'm embarrassed to say that I did a horrible job of shooting pics of the food on Saturday night. What can I say? I was in awe of my friends, my husband, and my seemingly never-ending glass of bubbly. So, sadly, I do not have a picture of this intensely amazing, incredibly awe-inspiring spicy feta dip. Needless to say, this drool-worthy photo above is not the dip in question, but it will give you a bit of a visual cue.

Our friends Liz and Jack make it all the time. Probably because, just like Saturday, we all request it. It's THAT good. And though we all know how easy it is, I've never made it. I guess I never think of it...but now it's so going on my list for the next dinner event. It's just awesome. Liz has "told" us the recipe before, but usually, I've had some wine, and am certainly not remembering. I asked her to share the recipe with me, and of course, it's from right out of her brain. Kind of. What I mean is, there used to be a recipe, and in her most recent (unbelievably gorgeous) kitchen remodel, it got lost. So this version is straight out of her head, and I can tell you, it did NOT disappoint on Saturday. We were dipping EVERYTHING (green beans, pretzels, chips) into the glorious spicy goodness.

One thing. You should try and make EVERYONE at said gathering at least have one bite. It's garlicky, in the best way possible, and you probably don't want to be the one person not eating it, having to smell the rest of the party!

Did I mention it's insanely easy? Score!

Liz and Jack's Spicy Feta Dip
One chunk of feta (one pkg)
10 (or so) pepperoncini peppers plus a bit of juice (adjust to your particular heat desires)
2-3 cloves of garlic (again, adjust to your taste)
red pepper flakes, to taste
1/4 plain (or greek, which is what I would do) yogurt
1 sprig fresh mint, chopped
1/4 C olive oil

Now, Liz doesn't say how she does it, but I'd add all ingredients but the olive oil into the food processor and pulse. Don't make it to pureed. You want it to be slightly chunky, but still creamy. 
Then stir in the olive oil slowly until the mixture looks just combined.

Garnish with a bit of fresh mint.

Serve with ANYTHING but multi-grain chips, crunchy baguette, crackers, pretzels, vegetables...all good.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spicy String Beans a la Moi

Here we go. As promised, I want to share recipes (or at least awesome descriptions) of all the food we had at the shindig on Saturday night. I've got some guest bloggers coming up, so I'll start out with the "blackened" string beans, made by me. (I say "blackened" because Ric's original recipe calls for these to be blackened in a screaming, white-hot cast iron pan. I don't have one big enough for this, so I just get a HUGE stainless steel pan really really hot.)

As I said, these are an adaptation on Ric Orlando's incredible Blackened String Beans dish. I originally changed up the recipe due to what existed in my pantry, but now, four tries later, these are the definitive recipes I will use each and every time. These string beans are a great appetizer or side, but just make sure you have LOTS of napkins out for your guests. They get messy, in the best possible way. They combine the awesomeness of a slightly undercooked (aka crunchy) veggie mixed with some great heat and a creamy delicious dipping sauce. For me, they are perfect!

And as we found out at the Oscar party the next night, they reheat amazingly and the remoulade only gets better with a few days in the fridge.

A healthy, spicy, makes you look a total rockstar in the kitchen vegetable dish? Um, YES PLEASE!

**Warning: These will smoke the HELL out of your kitchen. If you don't have a great vent above your stove, open windows, doors, turn on ceiling fans, and be prepared. There is a good deal of smoke (maybe disconnect your smoke detector until your done) but don't be worried! Just deal with it--it's oh so worth it!**

"Blackened" String Beans
2 lbs fresh string beans, stems picked off
2 tbsp light colored oil--I really like grapeseed for this, or Zoya. Something light in color.

Spice Mix:
1 1/2 tsp cayenne
3 tsp pasilla or ancho chili powder (if you don't have, you can skip--I did the first time)
1 tsp dried oregano
3 tsp kosher salt
3 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp paprkia
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder--not granulated

Mix spice mix together in a bowl, and set aside.
Blanche string beans--place in boiling water for only about 30 seconds to 1 minute, until they are bright green and still crisp.
Remove and drain, but don't rinse. 
Put beans in a bowl big enough to toss them in, add the oil and spice mix and toss to coat beans very well!
Set aside--I let them sit while I get the pan ready.

When you're ready to cook them (basically when you're ready to serve them) place a skillet large enough to contain the beans on the stove, over high heat.
Let the pan get very, very, very hot--about 10 minutes worth of sitting there, dry, heating.
Dump in the beans and shake them around. (If your pan is small, do this in batches so as not to crowd the pan.)
Using tongs, move them around to make sure they're getting evenly "blackened."
I like to get a bit of a char on the beans, so shake and toss them around for about 2-4 minutes, until they look done. Feel free to check them as you go!

Serve the beans mounded on a great platter/bowl, and serve with the Mustard Remoulade.

2 TBSP paprika
3/4 TBSP hot sauce (I used Louisiana, you could do Tabasco or Frank's. Something vinegar-based though, nothing too thick like a Mexican hot sauce.)
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/3 C dijon mustard
1/4 C grainy mustard
1/2 C mayo (I use Olive Oil Mayo)
1 tsp Old Bay
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp dried tarragon
1 TBSP finely minced onion (just cut off a small piece of an onion)
2 scallions, finely minced
1 celery stalk, finely minced
1 C light colored oil--use same as you use for beans

In food processor (or blender if you don't have) combine all ingredients except the oil and process very well. 
With machine running, add the oil in a steady stream to combine.
Taste, and adjust seasonings. If it's too mustard-tasting, add a bit more mayo.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Saturday Night in Food (Porn)

Happy day everyone! I'm working my butt off trying to get you some seriously concise recipes for all the great foods that were at the party on Saturday night--and trying to convince some of the amazing authors of those recipes to guest blog for you!

So while I'm working on that, I figured I'd give you a little taste of our Saturday night!

I promise to give you the written form ASAP, but to satiate you, here we go!

Clay's HOMEMADE Pumpernickel Pretzels with Dill Dip AND Apricot Fig Dip

The aforementioned Blackened String Beans minus the remoulade (we were bad photographers)

Lisa's AMAZINGLY GORGEOUS crazy-layered Chocolate Cake

Make a Wish!

And one last tease, though this was the ACTUALLY the cure for my Sunday morning...

Clay's Oatmeal, Whole Wheat, Banana Pancakes

Happy drooling!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Big Weekend, Big Birthday, Big Beans

As adults, we don't get to choose our birthdays. Not consciously anyway. But some of us, a proud few, go through life with some event that eventually becomes our "other birthday." We all know someone who has had a near death experience and celebrates the first day of the rest of their life. Well, I'm one of those people. Except, literally, I have a second birthday. March 7, 2005. 

Which makes Sunday my 5th birthday.

This blog is devoted to the food and drink side of me, and I don't want to deter too far from that. So instead of giving you all the details, I'll just tell you that I had a stem-cell transplant for lupus in 2005, and have been in remission almost ever since. I am wildly healthy, and I consider the day I "got" my stem-cells to be my birthday. (Actually, this is pretty common amongst anyone who's gone through the process.) If you have questions beyond that, feel free to ask me in the comments. I'm not shy about anything, I just don't need to overshare, especially on such a "hot button" topic. 

So, why talk about it here at all? Well, because in true me form, J and I are throwing a party to celebrate. No, not a kegger. Just a small gathering of some of our really good friends, and my brother and his boyfriend who are here for the weekend to celebrate with us. Each year, post-transplant, I've gone to Chicago to see the doctors (actually twice a year for the first 2 years.) The 5th year is the final one, meaning Monday should be the last time I hear the words Pulmonary Function Test (among many other clinical terms) again! Awe yeah! Honestly? This day is more exciting and meaningful for me than my "actual" birthday, and so it only seemed right to celebrate this monumental milestone day with a bash! 

Instead of spending the day slaving away (which you know I'd love to do, but I have to be at the shop) we've just asked everyone to bring a heavy appetizer like dish to share, and a bottle of something fantastic to drink. What will I be drinking? Cava, of course. I'm a sparkling girl through and through, and it's not often a celebration happens with me NOT having a glass of bubbly in my hand. But more importantly, I know you all want to know what I'm MAKING, and here it is. Blackened string beans.

For any of you that are from or have ever been to Saugerties, NY, you know about New World Home Cooking. The restaurant's owner and Executive Chef, Ric Orlando, is a staple in our area, and a world-class chef. One of his signature dishes are the Blackened String Beans, and I recently scoured the internet looking for the recipe. Shockingly enough, there it is, right on their website. 

I made these for dinner with friends in January, and they were a huge hit. I made them again for my parents when we were in NY, and again, raves. I've changed the recipe a TINY bit just to accommodate the things that are generally in my house and to make the accompanying Remoulade a little creamier. But these suckers go quick--I bought 4lbs of beans for Saturday night!

Ric suggests making his recipes verbatim the first time, and then jam away, so I'm going to encourage you to try these the way his recipe states, first. I promise to post a picture and my version next week, along with any other fabulous dishes my friends make for this party. (I hear tales of a gorgeous chocolate cake made by the lovely Lisa.)

So I'll post pictures and recipes next week, when I'll be 5 years old. Most of me anyway.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Secret Salad Life

For all of my writing and talking about how balanced my eating is, I have a secret. I LIVE for salads. Live for them. Meaning, I could eat a giant salad every single night of the week and think nothing of it. Clearly, this is not very good for stimulating my culinary brain, and yes, it is a little boring. But it's true. Having a husband who is a full-time musician means a lot of meals eaten at home, alone, with my good friend DVR. And often, that means easy, and easy means salad. A big, gigantic, often eaten right out of the big bowl, salad. 

But here's the thing. My salads are NEVER boring. Never. Though I use similar ingredients every time, they're never quite the same, and they are actually really healthy. Balanced with protein and fiber and flavor, how could I not love them!

My trick to pass on to you is to add everything in the kitchen into your salad. Seriously. Now, this is not going to be your culinary masterpiece. Any chef or food critic would call what I eat on these nights absolutely insane. But insane can be good--and never boring. I generally start with spinach, and add leafy greens, or romaine, depending on season and what I bought at the store that week. A lot of them. A good 2 cups total of lettuces. Then, I go to town on my produce drawers. Cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, avocado, carrot. Fruit: berries, apple, pomegranate, mango, grapefruit...last night it was blood orange. All chopped. 

I then head voraciously toward the pantry. Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and hearts of palm or artichoke hearts. Protein you say? Ok! I usually either cook up a veggie burger (not my favorite food-wise but easy, cheap, delicious and healthy) or slice up some turkey. If I've made chicken any time soon, I'll try to add that in. Tuna's made it's way out of the can and into that salad bowl, too. (No, I don't add all of these at the same time. Just examples--I would be crazy!)

Then I move onto some "garnishes." Adding in some sliced (by me, of course) almonds or walnuts, and usually a good heaping spoonful of ground flax for some extra goodness. And to top it off, usually some crumbled feta, or sliced parmesan, or a good sharp cheese. Make sure to season your salad with salt and pepper--I love using a good sea salt and lots of fresh cracked pepper.

Now, to dress my beautiful concoction. I never, ever, ever buy salad dressing for myself. I do buy it for J, but I don't ever use what I buy for him. Salad dressings were one of the first things I learned to master a few years ago, and I've never looked back. (Many thanks for this go out to my brother and mother for their addiction to homemade dressings.) 

I start with an acid or two...usually the juice of a citrus and a vinegar, half and half. I've been going for blood orange or grapefruit lately, but lemon always works, and I throw in a splash of balsamic or re/white wine vinegar. Just a couple of tablespoons, right on top of your salad. Then, I add a touch of sweet--for me that means Agave, but honey is great here too. About 1 tsp. Then just add on a splash of olive oil--I use less than most people, because I like the tang of an acid, but generally people will go 1 to 2 on olive oil. That's WAY to much for me, so just test your palette.
And then toss the whole mixture together! No extra bowls necessary, though of course feel free to create the dressing separately and then toss it with the salad. Like I said, I've been doing this forever, so I know exactly how I like my salad dressed.

So there. I've told you a huge secret. It's not all gourmet up in my kitchen. Often it's me, on the couch, computer on my lap, tv on, with a salad bowl resting on my napkin'd lap. Why dirty an extra bowl, right? 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Impressed Myself Spiced Citrus Roasted Chicken

As previously reported, I roasted my first whole chicken last week. Don't ask me how I've gone this long without performing this task. Don't ask me how I've gone through this culinary birthing I've been experiencing for the last few years without roasting a chicken. I've just never done it. I've roasted pieces of chicken, plenty of times. But never have I ever roasted a whole chicken. Until now, of course...

Here's what I have to say. First of all, this is (or should I say WAS) a daunting task to me, for some reason. Maybe it's because I have visions of past chicken dinners with various people cooking where the chicken did not turn, cooked? And while it always seems easy enough on television, I've watched my mother curse at our GIGANTIC Thanksgiving turkey every single year. Oh yeah, and until we got married, I didn't have a large enough roasting pan. (That's a good one, right?) Anyway, I decided it was time.

My reason for making this decision were two-fold. First of all, when I asked friends what they were looking for a in a new food blog, so many people said to talk about things that are intimidating. Now while I realize most of you have probably done this, like I said--it was super intimidating for me. Secondly, I REALLY have a desire to make some chicken stock this week, and though I can easily make it from a rotisserie bird, what kind of adventurous food blogging chick would I be? So, there you have it.
This is after about 25 minutes of cooking time

I'm going to tell you, this was so much easier than my nightmares led me to believe all these many years. I'm also going to tell you that my first roasted bird turned out pretty darned good. The meat was juicy, and it was super flavorful. I decided against going nice and simple with the flavorings. I figured that at the very least, if the chicken was super over-cooked and nasty, at least it would be well flavored enough to chop up and saute into tacos ASAP. So I made it spicy and citrusy and freaking fabulous tasting. It was really good! I plan on roasting other chickens in the near future. It's SO MUCH CHEAPER than buying parts, and just as healthy given that I gave the skin off of my chicken breast to J to add to his. (So sneaky!) And, for me, in the boondocks, it is so much easier to find a vegetable-fed well treated chicken if I buy it whole, rather than in boneless skinless parts. I will modify as I continue in my task, and I'll post tips for you guys as I figure them out. (My trussing was less than stellar--didn't affect the bird, just my ego.)

J and I didn't have any wine with this, but I would definitely serve this with either a great brown ale (like Dogfish Head Indian Brown) or a slightly oaked Chardonnay or Cabernet. Something with enough oak to balance out the heat from the meat, but enough to round out the meal just perfectly. I really like Avalon California Cabernet--you can't beat the price and it's available everywhere.

Did I mention the house smelled ridiculous and I felt like an absolute and total rockstar? It was a definite brush with fame for me in my own head that day. Donning my "Food is Fashion" apron (an old PR swag item) I felt like a kitchen star. And that made that dinner all the more better.

Oh, and the GRAVY...


Small (2-3 lb) roasting chicken
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chipotle chili powder*
2 tbsp pasillo chili powder*
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp salt
2 oranges, zested and sliced in quarters
1 lemon, zested and sliced in quarters
8 garlic cloves, peeled
12 oz beer (mexican lager, preferably)
1 C chicken stock
*Use whatever spicy stuff you have. I happen to own a pantry full of crazy chili pepper/powders. You could totally sub regular chili powder, cayenne, paprika.

For gravy:
1/2 C Molasses
2 TBSP agave/honey
Zest and juice of 1/2 orange
salt and pepper (as necessary)
1 C chicken stock

Preheat oven to 400.

Wash and thoroughly dry chicken, inside and out.
Mix together spices and black pepper, set aside.
Zest citrus and set aside.
Drizzle oil all over chicken, and under the skin on the breast--use hands to get under the skin gently.
Rub juice of 1 full (quartered) orange and half (quartered) lemon and half of the zest all over chicken.
Salt chicken.
Massage spices all over chicken, rubbing all over and in cavity and under breast skin.
Stuff 4 garlic cloves and juiced orange and lemon into cavity.
Truss chicken (which I sucked at) by tying legs together to keep cavity "locked and loaded" and tuck wing tips under the bird.
Pour full beer in bottom of roasting pan, under rack. Juice remaining citrus and throw juiced pieces and remaining garlic cloves in bottom of pan.
Place chicken on rack in roasting pan (I have a pan w/ rack, could use baking sheet)
Place pan in middle of oven, breast side up.
Cook until internal temp is 170 and juices run clear from thigh joint. (Took my oven about 90 min.)
Check moisture in pan occasionally (I checked every 25 minutes or so) and add chicken stock as needed to keep moisture in the pan.
Remove chicken from pan, set on cutting board, cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest at least 15 minutes before carving.

Take remaining liquids and solids in roasting pan, removing the fruit pieces and garlic.
Pour into small saucepan (or do it in existing roasting pan) and place over medium high heat.
Add remaining gravy ingredients and stir vigorously. You'll need to check seasonings several times.
Bring to a boil and allow to reduce at least by half. You want a thick sauce, not anything too watery.
Test seasonings again--add more honey if it's too salty, spicy--add more heat if you need.

Drizzle gravy over sliced chicken.