Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The comeback kid

summa squash

So I mentioned how I haven’t cooked a proper meal (or even an egg) in about a month. Not to mention the last time I really made something and wrote about it on here, I think I was having a bad cooking day. Well, last night last Tuesday I came back and I came back strong. Inspired by one of my fave girl crushes, Deb, of Smitten Kitchen, I used her latest pizza recipe, added a salad, a couple sage suggestions from my big sis, and came out with the most delectable pizza I have eaten in a long time.

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A simple, straightforward pizza that skips the traditional cheese and sauce and instead layers thinly sliced veggies on lemony goat cheese and chopped fresh basil. Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I am strongly pro-goat cheese and even more strongly (guh, my grammar) pro-pizza.

summa squash pizza

I made this last night and I am already plotting on how to use the extra dough in my freezer for a second round. Should I stick with the tomatoes and summer squash? Wait a tick, I just had a thought: peppadew peppers. Have you experienced these little nuggets of taste sensation lately? Holy crow. Go get some. They are hot and sweet and the spelling of their name is so adorable. I just want to shuck them under the chin and give ‘em a quarter for mowing my lawn. Peppadews were recently brought back to my attention when I had a pizza at Serious Pie in Seattle with peppadews and fennel sausage. Next time I make this pizza I’m going to make the goat cheese base and then top the mo fo with caramelized onions and chopped peppadews. My mind just EXPLODED.

Whoa, sorry about getting distracted there for a second, but really, amped is not the word for how I feel about this pizza. Sometimes when you make a store bought pizza dough without the fancy aids of pizza stones or gas grills, it ends up heavy and gluey and not feeling like a light meal. The combination on this pizza though, of the lemon spiked goat cheese, the fresh veggies and herbs is so simple and perfect it just ends up amazing.

summa squash pizza 2

I ate a leftover cold slice for lunch and seriously almost pulled a muscle patting myself on the back. So easy. We had this with arugula, red onion, goat cheese and crumbled fried prosciutto in a sherry vinaigrette. Hello kitchen. It’s good to be back.

Since you can find the recipe for this pizza on the interweb here, I will give you the recipe for my salad. It was a bold one and so pretty.



Three slices prosciutto, crisped in a pan with a little olive oil
1-2 tbs. goat cheese
Bunch arugula, washed and dried
¼ purple onion, diced
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 part sherry vinegar
2 parts extra virgin olive oil
1 squeeze fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt, pepper
Pinch sugar

Crisp your prosciutto slices in a sauté pan over medium high heat, using just enough oil so that they don't stick (you won't need much). Once they have crisped up enough to be stiff, drain excess grease off on a paper towel and then crumble them into bits. Meanwhile, prepare vinaigrette. I like to combine all the ingredients in a glass jar, throw the lid on and shake aggressively. Emulsifies like nobody’s bidness. Toss prosciutto crumbles and remainder of salad ingredients in salad bowl, drizzle of the vinaigrette. Toss well to incorporate the goat cheese, it nicely mellows out the sharpness of the arugula.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ditka, beers, Ditka, sausages, Ditka, pork chaps

Riiight, so it's Wednesday. In my last post, I said on Monday I would finally write about the Taste of Chicago. Welcome to my web of lies. Please forgive me. I'm going to try to get us all back into the trust tree. A few weeks ago, a few of my very favorite ladies and I went out to the Windy City to check out the Taste of Chicago. The Taste is apparently the largest food festival in the U.S. Basically, for us girls, it was an excuse to check out a (mostly) new city and eat our way through it. The event of the Taste itself was just our jumping off point. We planned on stuffing ourselves in every corner of the Windy City and we did just that. Deep dish was in order:


which we found at Gino's East. I am aware that Gino’s is a bit of a tourist trap. I also know that we most likely could have found better deep dish or stuffed pizza in outer lying neighborhoods (I had my eye on Baccinos in Lincoln Park in particular). Deep dish pizza in a city known for deep dish pizza. These are the sorts of things I research extensively. But we happened upon Gino's our first afternoon there. We were starved and they have a very cute looking roof deck (not to mention a line around the block). The pizza was good. It was not life changing in any way, and, combined with two pitchers of beer on a hot sunny afternoon, left us feeling a little bit destroyed. We ordered a small cheese and a medium sausage. This was more than enough food for five of us. The sausage had a patty on top that was the same diameter as the whole entire crust. This is intentionally done so that you get some sausage in every single bite (heart attttaaack).

That night we headed out for a light dinner and some heavy drinking. Tavern on Rush had come highly recommended from few friendly people we had spoken with over the course of our day, so we headed there to start the night off. I had an incredible dirty martini. I prefer mine filthy with olive juice, so that it’s more like taking a sip of sea water than vodka. They served their’s with blue cheese stuffed olives. Holler.


After our fancy martinis we retreated to a table outside. It was great people watching and conversation but the food there was pretty horrible. Not to mention the fact that we had a rather aggressive waitress who kept trying to remove drinks and wine glasses before we were finished with them. For shame. Due to our deep dish hangover, we opted for a few appetizers and salads. I ordered a warm vegetable salad with melted asiago. It was one of the worst things I have ever gotten at a restaurant. The veggies were all over cooked and came on a bowl of wilted spinach, drowning in a pool of greasy melted asiago. It was something I could have made myself at home about 1,000 times better. Fortunately Sunday night wasn’t about food, it was about fun and we had that: lots of it. A few cocktails, some giant jenga at a divey bar and few million creepy dance moves later, we shuffled home to our hotel and hit the hay.

For breakfast the next day, we headed to Yolk. A breakfast spot I had found at some point during my extensive online research of where to eat in Chicago. Yolk was amazing breakfast and dammit if I don’t love me some breakfast. I had the eggs Benedict, the house special, and they were fantastic.


Amongst all the yelp rants I read about how bad the Taste is, I found one girl’s suggestions for getting the most out of your visit. It is so totally helpful when people use yelp to offer suggestions and tips rather than solely as a forum for bitching. Following her directions, we cruised through at lighting speed. Is it crowded? Yes. But we went on a Monday and barely waited in line at any of the food stalls. Most of the gripes I saw were made by people that live nearby saying that it completely screws up traffic and overcrowds the area and makes that part of downtown thoroughly unbearable for a dull week. I dunno if you have been to Chicago ever, but have you SEEN how wide the avenues are? I kind of want to take those people and put them behind the wheel of my car two weeks ago when I had to navigate through the North End on the Friday night of the Tall Ships Weekend. I’ll show you crowded streets you whiny Midwesterners! ANYWAYS, we easily snuck in the back side, bought our tickets (they come in rows of 12 for $8 each. We each got two rows and it was more, much more than we even needed. At the Taste each food stall offers full size portions of a few things for about 6-9 tickets and then two “taste” options for about 3-4 tickets. The taste options are perfect for sharing, everyone can get a good bite that’s interested. Straight away Val purchased herself a deep fried, barbecue saturated turkey leg that was the size of an adult human’s femur. It was bigger than her head!

chicago 05

So that kept her quiet and occupied for the next hour and 45 minutes, while we went on to sample Jamaican style goat with jolie rice, mustard fried catfish, beef and cheese empanadas, homemade potato chips with hot sauce, Chicago style hot dogs, Taiwanese shining noodles, chocolate and banana egg rolls, churros, chicken kabobs with a mango chummichurri sauce, curried fries with date chutney, homemade fudge, chocolate covered strawberries and a chocolate dipped frozen banana. Hello, diabetic coma. It was total gluttony and I felt greasy and stuffed afterwards. I would love to say that I was floored by the food but honestly the best thing (in my opinion) was the frozen banana. And that’s weird because if French fries and anything chocolate had a battle for my heart, it would be a no contest match up with fries sweeping the series. I am all about the savory. I do love me a sweet after dinner, but I could easily live without. Everything felt heavy and under seasoned, but I will say that some of things were inspiring. First, I was really proud of myself for going for the goat instead of the jerk chicken and second, the mustard fried catfish did taste really incredible but I was sicked out by the fact that there was black-blue catfish skin in it. Erica, a hot dog connoisseur of sorts, really loved her Chicago style dog, which is piled on a seeded roll with pickles, tomato, lettuce and some sort of spicy green peppers that are dyed a color not found in nature. The peppers turned me off as I tend to shy away from foods in the fluorescent category, but I will say it did taste alright. Regardless, she loved:


Once we were sufficiently feeling ill, we strolled through Millennium Park, which may be one of my favorite urban spaces ever. From the wildflower gardens to the shiny silver bean (Anish Kapoor? I believe) to the intensely cool Crown Fountain we drank in the scenery and attempted to digest the ridiculous food extravaganza that we had just consumed.

Friday, July 17, 2009


I have been a bit distracted from cooking lately. It's the middle of the summer. Most people can relate I'm sure. My sister has been visiting as well and for some reason when the person you hang out with most is on vacation you tend to ease into a "vacation diet" pretty easily as well. She said everywhere she goes somebody has an excuse to eat. This is a problem I enjoy having, mind you, so it's not all bad but it does mean that my week of dinners went a little something like this:

Sat: Fried Clams on a picnic table at the harbor
Sun: India Pavilion with Paul
Mon: Wine Dinner for Piz's birthday at Ashmont Grill
Tue: chicken fajitas at Chez Piz
Wed: cookout at Michelle's
Thurs: Spice n Rice with Paul
Fri: cocktails and grilling at my dad's Airstream down by the beach.

Which, I mean letsbeserious, is a pretty nice week I've had. But as you can deduce the amount of cooking I have done is nil to nathan. Alas, I promise that next week I'll make some magic happen. A) I hereby swear that on Monday, I will FINALLY blog about the Taste of Chicago and B) there will be a home cooked meal happening in my Very Own Kitchen in the early part of next week.

These two promises are about all I can handle currently as I am also dealing with a olfactory crisis of the highest magnitude. The Monday following 4th of July I got into my car and it REEKED. I mean, so sickening, like sour socks or something. The Funk that Won't Quit has since taken an epic journey of sorts. It has metamorphosized over the past two weeks from sour socks to hot garbage to dog poo and despite my efforts I can NOT locate the source! Two days after the initial stink, I looked under the seats (I know it took me two days, I'm not much of an adult, I'd rather just live in misery then do something about it). Mind you, before I even attempted to locate the smell, I called my sister and hurled accusations "did the kids eat in my car when you had them? Because it stinks!" My examination under the seats unearthed a small, square piece of food product. It was pale yellow (perhaps once white?) with some green flecks (herbs? mold?). It had the same size and shape as a piece of paneer. When I seized this piece of food product from my floor mat I tossed it on the ground and stepped on it, to discern its texture. It was resilient, almost spongy to my stomp. Is this food? I wish I took a picture of it, but it was 6 a.m. and I wasn't feeling like documenting my experience at this point in time. The cube remains a mystery, because, I don't even eat paneer, let alone in my car. I tend to not eat in my car because I like to give my food the full attention it deserves and I drive stick, so you know, logistics. Anywho, cube of mystery removed, I figured by lunch time my car would be smelling better. Three days later when it wasn't I removed the floors mats. There was some substance on one of them I figured had to be IT. I scraped it off and left the floor mats out of the car to air out until I could vacuum and Febreeze them. Still the funk remains. At this point in time I am wondering if someone hates me and smeared some sort of a stink bomb into every crevice of my car because I have never experienced anything like this before in my life. I'm at the point where I will have to get it detailed and tell the team of detailers that I simply won't take the car back until the scent is gone. If this has ever happened to anyone else and you have tips or support group suggestions, I am truly desperate and open to anything. Every time I get in I'm like "hm, I think it's better. Is it better?" and then when I have to shut the windows on the highway I almost pass out from huffing death smells. I wouldn't wish this on my mortal enemies.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The food contingent in my family is pretty competitive. Not outwardly so, but we all love to eat, love to drink and love to try making new things. Great dishes are praised and talked about, bad dishes gain you notoriety. The end result of this healthy obsession with good food we all have is that we all eat very well when we’re together. But the shared enthusiasm can at times create a mildly competitive atmosphere. My mom almost throttled my dad one time because he told her- after eating a warm crab dip made by my cousin Jenny- that she was being usurped as the family’s number one chef. My Aunt Linda is still trying to live down a dry chocolate cake she baked in the mid 1980’s, despite 10 plus years of subsequently moist baked goods. This is the environment we, my sister, cousins and I, are coming into. We want to carry the torch, but we’re not sure if the veterans like Piz will singe us with it as we try to grab it from their hands. My “Aunt” Sally doesn’t help things. I feel like she could teach the Barefoot Contessa a thing or two about making cakes. She once made a tuxedo cake that caused me to ask her to politely leave the party, because the very existence of that cake in the universe is extremely dangerous to the continued maintenance of my goal weight. Sally also makes a hot fudge sauce that could best be described as molten brownie batter often provides us with a signature cocktail. This year is was blueberry mojitos with ginger simple syrup.


She also brought brownie pops and pistachio blondies which were made with pistachio butter that she had leftover from making some pistachio ice cream. Sweet fancy Moses.


Then there’s my cousin, Sallyann, who puts the rest of us in the younger generation to shame. Last year for my mom’s 60th she was in charge of the appetizers. Since Heather and I were planning the whole menu we received an email from her detailing her contribution- antipasti spread that could rival any at a fancy rustic Italian restaurant and an herb infused vanilla lemon cocktail which I am still drooling over one year later. With so many talented cooks at the counter, everybody wins. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a bit of competition. Even when we are gladly stuffing our faces, we still want our dish to be the standout. My mom spent most of the dinner hour demanding people tell her which potato salad they preferred, hers or Linda’s. A wrong answer yielded a verbal assault and schooling on how cooked potatoes should properly be for a good potato salad.

My sister and I came clean to each other long ago that the best thing about cooking food for other people is the attention that inevitably comes along with being the cook. The praise for delicious food is one of my life’s great joys. So naturally, when we decided to tag team the assignment of “appetizer” for my aunt’s 4th of July party, we were looking to impress. We decided to make a summer salad found in this month’s Gourmet. The original recipe included marinated grilled chicken; green beans with almonds in a vinaigrette; grilled, marinated mushrooms; tomatoes with fresh pesto; a cucumber radish salad; and, a chickpea and mint salad. It all seemed like pretty straightforward preparations and we thought bringing a healthy but fancy appetizer to the table would be a good thing. Our first modification was to nix the chicken. Upon arrival at Trader Joes we found ourselves performing the standard “okay they don’t have this, let’s just get this” dance, that I more often then not find myself performing in the TJ’s produce department. Radishes were out, as were tomatoes. We figured if my mom already had tomatoes we would use them and we would just use red onion in place of the radishes. We would include a jar of store bought roasted red peppers to add a little color. We made our substitutions quickly and with precision. Frankly, it had taken us WAY too long to drive over there; we were absolutely refusing to go to any other store to get even one more item. And perhaps most pressing of all, there were cold beers, BLTs and episodes of Mad Men on demand waiting at home. We figured with the groceries bought and ready to go we would whip together our food in the morning and have time to take a walk before heading to Linda’s at noon. What happened in the morning instead was four chaotic hours in my mother’s viciously unorganized kitchen, involving chopping, dicing, blanching, brining, grilling and at least two accidents, the details of which I will spare you of here.

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Okay, now let me just take five to tell you about the “breadsticks” and by “breadsticks” I mean three varieties of bread product we decided would accompany our platter of veg.
Originally, we had designs on making breadsticks out of pizza dough. Said dough which was to be rolled into artful twists with an herb mixture and some parmesan. As I read the excruciatingly detailed instructions for making the twists Heather waved her hand cut me off and said “No. Just no. No, okay?” We decided grilled pitas would suffice. We also grilled the pizza dough we had on hand, coating the hot dough in the herbs and cheese mixture. Oh, and used a random can of Pillsbury crescent rolls we found in my mom’s fridge which we also jazzed up with the herbs and cheese. What ended up accompanying our veggie platter was a bread flight of sorts. Don’t like chewy undercooked pizza dough? Well, try a crescent roll with herbs jammed in it. If that doesn’t suit you, then go for the crunchy grilled pita (which are only really good grilled when they are fresh and hot otherwise they end up chewy as all get out). The whole bread aspect of this meal was like a bad episode of Semi Homemade.

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After this marathon cooking session we found ourselves driving over to the party, platter of food in the back feeling less than triumphant. Heather dismissed our failure as essentially “Crudités on crack” because for all the hours, all we really had was a bunch of different vegetables on a plate with nary a cheese or dipping sauce in sight. Virtually every vegetable was prepared in a different, time consuming manner. On the original recipe there was no denotation of how long this was supposed to take us. After our experience we concluded that if the magazine doesn’t tell you how long it will take you to make something your best estimate is approximately four to five hours of backbreaking labor.

As we hashed over the ridiculousness of what had just happened to us in the kitchen Heather was like “wait, what did you do to the cucumbers?”

Me: I pickled them I think. But like, fast.
Heather: You pickled them. You flash pickled cucumbers. What the hell were we thinking?

At least it looked pretty.

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For all of the effort I would like to tell you crudités on crack was a runaway hit, but alas, it was not. It didn’t help that it was c-o-c was put out at the same time as the cheese and crackers plate and piping hot grilled kielbasa. Veggies will never beat meat and cheese. It’s sad but true. I need to learn my lesson with my family and just bring pigs in a blanket like I did on Christmas Eve. I can’t tell you how tragic it is to me that my most successful culinary contribution to a family get together from the beginning of the world to this date is pigs in an effing blanket. Those things disappeared while still steaming and almost caused a fist fight.

All in all it really doesn’t matter that our vegetable platter went over like a lead balloon. We still had many cocktails, hours of sunshine, loads of fireworks, burgers, dogs, Grand Old Flag singing (wish I was joking) and dessert!

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(L-R: chocolate cupcake, chocolate and strawberry ice creams and cinnamon biscotti)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

workin' on it

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Oh hey, member me? I have been a mega slacker on here lately. I'm sorry Porky D., I have been otherwise engaged. Honestly, I swear to god, I feel really guilty that I haven't been able to find time to write but I have been living it up like a Fancy Pants World Traveler and Fourth of July Celebrator, PhD. Truth be told, I have loads of stuff to write about. What with me and some of my favorite ladyfriends having attended the Taste of Chicago last week and with all the amazing Fourth of July foods/festivities I have eaten and taken pictures of in the past week. However, right now, due to the two days off taken for the Taste of Chicago and having the 3rd of JUly off in order to start celebrating the USA a day early, I have nil time to sit down and type. It doesn't mean I love blogging it out any less. Please believe me. Did I mention my other super excuse? My beloved seestor is home for the whole(!!) month(!!!) of July(!!!!). Which means I'll have plenty of funny stuff to talk about but for right now....some 'works photos to tide us over.

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