Female. Lives in United States/Illinois/Chicago, speaks English. My interests are Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking/Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.
This is my blogchalk:
United States, Illinois, Chicago, English, Female, Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking, Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Experimenting with Tortilla Espanola

I fell in love with tortilla espanola when I spent a few weeks in Spain during a high school summer trip. We spent about 10 days travelling all around Spain and then we settled in Salamanca to study at the Universidad Pontificia for the remainder of the trip. During our travels to different cities, tortilla was a staple on the table. While seemingly simple...it's just eggs, potatoes, onion and some seasonings cooked together...it's taste is so delicious. And tortilla proved a welcome savior to me when well-meaning Spaniards wanted us to taste blood sausage and other shall we say interesting meats. Even if I just had a few small bites of the meats that scared me (remember I was about 16 at the time and had a less adventurous palate), I'd happily dive into the tortilla espanola so they could see my appreciation for their cooking.

Many of the standard recipes for tortilla espanola call for 4 large potatoes. In my mind, this is a bit too much. I used 4 large potatoes in my tortilla this week, and while it came out delicious, I think the egg to potato ratio is a little off. I prefer my tortilla to be held together well by the egg and be generously studded with potatoes. The tortilla I cooked this week is more potato-heavy than I'd like, but still good. So I've played with the recipe a bit since then and here's my take on tortilla espanola, using fewer potatoes.

Tortilla Espanola
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 white onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
5 eggs

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Fry potatoes and onion in oil for about 15 minutes. Cook until potatoes are relatively soft and lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Beat eggs together in a large bowl. When the potatoes seem ready, pour the potato and onion mixture into the eggs and mix together. Here's the part that I think is critical. I like my tortilla to be really held together well by the eggs. If you are at this step and don't think you have enough egg to fully surround the potato and onion micture when you put it in the pan, add another beaten egg. Again, it is just my personal preference to have an "eggier" tortilla, still full of potatoes and onions, but largely bound by eggs. It strikes me as closer to what I ate in Spain. If you feel you have just the right ratio of egg to potatoes to onion, then move ahead to the next step happily.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Spread mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes without stirring. Then place a large plate over the pan and flip the pan to transfer the tortilla espanola onto the plate. You'll want your tortilla to be golden brown on the cooked side. Carefully slide tortilla back into pan and cook the other side for 5 to 10 minutes.

This recipe will make a large tortilla and it should serve 6. To be tradional, serve cold.

My tortilla looks a tad rustic, which I like. It came out more potatoey than I'd hoped, but it still tastes delicious and this was a good way to play with the recipe a bit and figure out how to perfect it for next time.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Ugly But Good Cake

A while back, before I started this blog, I made a really good Neiman Marcus Coffee Angel Food Cake.  As with all angel food cakes, I used a lot of egg whites and had a lot of egg yolks left over.  Not having a use for them immediately, I decided to freeze them.  I've heard you can freeze egg yolks and they keep fine, and I wanted to give this a try.

So this week I got inspired to whip something up using those yolks.  I searched allrecipes.com and also posed the question of what to do with 10 egg yolks to the good folks in the Jamie Oliver forums.  The people in the forum had wonderful ideas, but not exactly what I had in mind for this week.  So those recipes will all be kept and definitely put to use at a future time.  This week, I decided to make an Egg Yolk Sponge Cake, submitted to allrecipes.com by someone named Carol.

I love allrecipes for a few reasons.  First, there are loads and loads of recipes on the site and every time I'm looking for something new, I seem to find an interesting recipe there.  Second, I love that the recipes are submitted by real people cooking in regular kitchens.  This usually makes the recipes a touch more user friendly than what I find in some (not all) cookbooks.  Finally, I enjoy this site's rating system.  Recipe users can rate the recipe after making it and also provide comments and tips on how to enhance it.  I've gotten several great ideas from other cooks who have tried the dish before me and provided nice suggested alternatives to the original recipe.

So I decided to go with Carol's Egg Yolk Sponge Cake.  Here's the recipe, as seen on allrecipes.com.

Egg Yolk Sponge Cake
Makes one10-inch tube cake (14 servings)
Submitted by Carol

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup egg yolks
1 egg
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice, strained
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
3/4 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C)  Sift together twice: flour, baking powder, and salt.  Pour back into sifter.  In a large mixing bowl beat egg yolks and whole eggs with an electric mixer until thick and lemon colored (about 5 minutes).  Gradually add sugar, beating after each addition. This should take about 10 minutes.

Fold in orange rind, orange juice, and lemon extract.  Sift dry ingredients into egg and sugar mixture and fold in. Do not stir or beat.  Add boiling water and fold in quickly, just until liquid is blended.  Pour batter into one ungreased 10-inch tube pan.

Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 60 to 65 minutes. Turn cake over in pan on a wire rack and let cake hang for 1 hour or until cool.  Loosen cake sides from pan with a spatula and shake from pan. Dust top lightly with confectioner's sugar or frost with Orange Butter Frosting.

Note:  I dusted with a little confectioner's sugar and then decided that the cake could use a little more oomph so I made a very light glaze to pour over the top.  The glaze was made using confectioner's sugar and orange juice, just enough of each to create a thin glaze consistency.

The cake came out very well, but mine stuck to the tube pan in places.  Since the recipe specifically called for an ungreased pan, I followed instructions but I was disappointed with the sticking.  Note to self:  Always grease this pan in future.  The cake has a fresh, natural citrus flavor.  One of my biggest pet peeves is any orange flavored food that tastes like St. Joseph's Children's Aspirin.  I hated the fake orange taste of St. Joseph's Children's Aspirin as a kid and to this day I'll deem certain foods "too Saint Joseph's" if the orange isn't natural tasting enough.  The cake's a little more dense than I would have predicted and it seems like the kind of cake that would suit an afternoon tea very well.  So it is yummy all around, but ugly due to the sticking.  I'd be really disappointed if I were making the cake for guests, but since it was just for us we can deal with a little stickage.


Mystery Solved

Last week I told you how my car got broken into in broad daylight (Entry from 7/22/04).  As odd as it seemed, I searched and searched and didn't think anything had been stolen from my car.  So I got the window fixed and moved on, thinking it was all over. 

Well today began chapter two in the saga.  (And boy do I hope this is a two chapter saga and we're done now)  I came out to my car this morning and it had been ticketed.  I wasn't parked illegally so I couldn't imagine why I got the ticket.  When I opened the classic Chicago orange ticket envelope it said that I was being cited for not having a city sticker.  For those of you not from Chicago, a city sticker is required for all vehicles registered in the city of Chicago.  It's like a little resident parking permit of sorts and it costs $75 per year. 

So my immediate reaction was "What?!?  I have a city sticker.  I paid my $75 and got it well before the due date this year.  It's right on my windshield!"

Or is it?

Nope, the city sticker was gone.    Nothing left but some smudges of adhesive.  How crazy is that?  Now I know that something actually was taken from my car in the break in.  My city sticker!  Can you imagine that thieves actually smashed my car window so that they could peel off my city parking sticker and steal it?  That is some low, low behavior.

Anyway, so now there's a few matters to contend with.  Have to contest the $120 ticket because I honestly did have the appropriate sticker and didn't realize it had been stolen.  Have to file a police report and get a new sticker, paying a premium on it this time.  So now we have closure on what the thieves actually did take and I hope that this is the last of this story.  Food topics are so much more fun to write about.

I'll get back with some cooking entries later.  I made a cake that I want to share and I'll be doing some more cooking tonight.  Stories and recipes coming!

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Breaking In the Cuisinart with Hummus

As I mentioned in a previous post, I just got my first food processor.  Until now, I've been chopping by hand or using a blender when recipes called for a fine chop, slice or puree.  I was always disappointed when a recipe indicated that a food processor was really required to make the dish turn out right.  Hate to be left out due to lack of gadgets.

All that's behind me now though.  I now have the Cuisinart Prep-11 Plus 11-Cup Food Processor.  I know this is its official name because we still have the box it came in on our kitchen floor.  Turns out the box is the perfect height to be a little workstation for Lima.  She loves to walk up to the box, pretend she's doing something terribly important there, and then walk away.  She also uses it as a storage space for all her treasures.  Right now, the box is holding a tongue depressor, a manilla folder, a teething ring shaped like a fish, and two rocks.  Normally I'm against clutter, but this little workstation is too cute so we'll let it hang around for a while.

I decided to test out the Cuisinart with something relatively basic:  hummus.  While I had eaten hummus numerous times, I never made it myself...mostly because a chef told me it's best done with a processor and I lacked one.  As usual when I cook at night with any noisy equipment, I had to haul the Cuisinart to another room far from Lima's to make sure the noise didn't wake her.  Despite this little detour, the hummus came out really well and the Cuisinart proved easy to use and easy to clean. 

Here's the recipe I used.  It's from The Chopping Block, a cooking school and retail shop in Chicago.  I've taken several cooking classes there and loved them all.  I'll be cooking again with them soon and mentioning more about them in upcoming posts. 

Prep time:  15 minutes
Makes 4-6 generous servings

2 cloves garlic
2 15-ounce cans of chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
small handful of flat leaf parsley
water, only if you feel it's needed (see directions below)

Chop the garlic in a food processor fitted with metal blade.
Add remaining ingredients and pulse until a smooth paste is formed.
Taste the hummus.  If it's too thick, add additional water or lemon juice.

Note:  When I tasted my batch, I decided that it not only needed more lemon juice but I also added a bit more cayenne as well.  Trust your taste buds and adjust the seasonings as you see fit.  The basic recipe above serves as a good start; improvise as you'd like.

Serving suggestion:  Make a well in the center of the hummus and fill with olive oil.  Sprinkle the top with smokey paprika, cayenne pepper or paprika.  This time around, I garnished with some flat leaf parsley for color and a dash of smokey paprika.  If you haven't tasted smokey paprika yet, be sure to give it a try.  It is delicious and provides a rich, smokey (almost bacon-like) taste to dishes.

So I started my food processing career off slowly with some basic hummus, but now I'm gearing up for something more challenging in the Cuisinart.  A while back I made some delicious potato and smoked gouda pancakes to serve as an appetizer.  The dish was excellent, but it took forever to get the potatoes sliced so finely by hand.  Maybe I'll give that recipe another go, this time with the Cuisinart.


Monday, July 26, 2004

Don't Forget The Lime Rickey

Saw this article in The New York Times this weekend and it made me nostalgic for some of the outstanding seafood places we used to enjoy in New England.  This article mentions just a few of Boston's best.  Having been to Jasper White's Summer Shack, Locke-Ober, Legal Sea Foods, and many other great places that go unmentioned in this article, I definitely agree that New England has some amazing seafood. 


Remember that if you go to New England, make a point of hitting every roadside clam and lobster shack you can.  And have a lime rickey with your clam roll.  You'll thank me later.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Dining Al Fresco in Lincoln Park

Another gorgeous day in Chicago.  After a few miserable, humid days last week we are getting very lucky with some beautiful, mild weather.  Perfect weather for a little walking around, so Win had the idea to hit Lincoln Park today.  We spent a little while walking up and down Armitage and windowshopping.  An added benefit (and surprise) to us was that there was a massive pet adoption effort going on today and the street was lined with dogs and cats up for adoption.  Many of the stores were also hosting some adoptable pets inside.  Lima loved the constant stream of dogs to pet and that really helped to keep her entertained along the walk.  She also loved carrying the new pink plaid purse I got her for $1 at Paper Boy the other day.  I know I'm totally biased, but I must say she looked awfully cute swinging that little purse around.

After a while of walking, we decided to stop in at Tilli's for an early dinner.  Tilli's is a popular nightspot for cocktails and oddly enough it also has a good reputation around town as being very hospitable to children.  Unique combination.  Tilli's has great patio seating and a spaceous dining room that opens to the outside.  The menu is basic but there should be something on there to suit almost any taste.  Win had the Chicken Milanese Wrap with homemade potato chips and I had the Portabello Panini with a side salad.  Both were good and most importantly the atmosphere---beautiful sunny day, fresh air, relaxed setting---made us feel like we were on vacation.  That's a nice way to feel on a Sunday afternoon in your own city. 

I will say our waiter, while friendly, was rather slow and hard to track down plus I never was offered a refill on my iced tea.  So service left a little to be desired, but nothing so bad that we'd avoid returning.  The food was good, if basic, and it was nice to dine al fresco in such a fun part of town.  Then on the way home one of the pet adoption people gave Lima a yellow balloon and her day was officially made.

So, I did a lot of eating out again this weekend.  What's next on the cooking agenda?  I just got my first food processor and I'm dying to try it out.  So I have been scouring cookbooks and magazines for recipes that require a food processor.  I know that's bizarre, but I'm excited about my new machine.  So some food processing is coming and I'm thinking of making Tortilla Espanola this week.  I haven't made that in a really long time and I have a sudden craving.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Breakfast at Wishbone

Today we had breakfast at Wishbone.  We've heard good things about Wishbone's food and family friendly atmosphere, but hadn't yet tried it.  We were glad we did.

Wishbone bills itself as "Southern Reconstruction Cooking."  We sampled the breakfast menu and thought it had a nice mix of options.  Eggs, pancakes, french toast, cereals, fresh fruit and all the standards you'd expect for breakfast.  Things get interesting when you dive into their special breakfasts though.  There you're looking at things like shrimp and grits, crawfish cakes, and blackened catfish.  Win and I both ordered off the special breakfast section of the menu.  I had Red Eggs (two scrambled eggs on corn tortillas covered with black beans, cheese, chili ancho sauce, sour cream and salsa) and a delicious biscuit.  Win went for the Andouille Hash (sauteed andouille chicken sausage, potato, peppers and onions served with two eggs and a corn muffin).  Both were delicious and featured well-balanced flavors.  Wishbone's service was very fast and attentive, the portions sizable, and the prices reasonable.  

There are 2 Wishbone locations in Chicago.  The original Wishbone is located in the West Loop just about a block away from Harpo Studios where The Oprah Winfrey Show is taped.  The second Wishbone is on Lincoln Avenue close to Lakeview and Roscoe Village. 

Definitely worth a trip for breakfast, especially if you like Southern food.  We'll let you know how lunch and dinner go at Wishbone whenever we get around to trying them.


Friday, July 23, 2004

Not Homemade But Close

Have you tried Matt's cookies?  In my mind, they're hands down the closest thing you can get to homemade in the cookie aisle at the grocery store.  Sure, bakery cookies and upscale gourmet shop treats might be closer to homemade or even more decadent, but if you're in the grocery store looking for a cookie fix, head straight for the Matt's.

I don't know why I even tried them for the first time.  The packaging is kind of hokey and maybe even makes them look a little cheap.  But one bite and I was hooked.  It started with their awesome peanut butter cookies and now has extended to their chocolate chips.  They have other flavors, but I am trying to show some restraint (at least for now).  At 139 calories (yes, the package says 139...not 140) per cookie, you've got to reign it in a little if you can.  And yes, people from Matt's, I do accept gifts. 

In other food news, I picked up some really delicious watermelon today and am now on a quest for those little personal size watermelons I've been hearing about.  Haven't seen them in my local store yet, but I'm going to try and hit a fruit market soon that I think will have them.

In completely unrelated news, Lima and I went to the pet store today and picked out 4 goldfish.  Carmen, Alfredo, Pippin and Clancy are now happily swimming around their new home and Lima had a great time checking out all the dogs, cats, birds and fish at the pet store.  I'm sure she would have rather come home with a dog than with 4 fish, but the fish are making her happy for now.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Oh no! My G-Man!

So I was going to blog today about the terrific grilling we've been doing lately.  Last night we had some really nice chicken breasts marinated in lime, tomatillos, garlic and other spices.  We ate that with a simple salad and delicious corn on the cob.  Then tonight, we're planning to do ribeye and shrimp on the grill, accompanied by garlic and herb mashed potatoes and spinach.  I'd tell you much more about these meals, but another event overshadowed my morning.

My car got broken into!

I had taken Lima to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park.  For you Chicagoans, this is a great museum for young children and it's free on Thursdays.  It's located just down the street from the Lincoln Park Zoo and its moderate size makes it a wonderful stop for really little kids as it's not too overwhelming to them.  Lima and I had a great morning checking out all the exhibits and the Butterfly Haven (where real butterflies fly all around you and the surrounding flowers).  After about 90 minutes, we decided to call it a morning and head home for her nap.  We walked down the street (Cannon Drive for you Chicago folks) and there it was.  My car's passenger window had been completely smashed! 

My car (affectionately called the G-Man for reasons that are too bizarre and lengthy to explain here) might be old, but he's been everywhere and I love him. 

This would totally stink for anyone, but it was a real bummer to have a toddler with me and have it be about 90 degrees and humid outside.  Anyway, glass was everywhere and poor Lima's little cheeks got so red from hanging out in her carseat while I made some calls and tried to figure out our next steps.  I looked all through the car and oddly enough I don't think anything was taken.  So it's kind of bizarre---who breaks into a car and then doesn't take anything?  Were the thieves waved off by someone and had to run or was this just an act of random vandalism?  And why would you pick my car of all cars---an 8-year old city car with no signs of anything worth stealing?  Who knows?

Anyway, can't drive around with a toddler and a totally smashed window so Lima's nap was put on hold and we had to track down an auto glass shop.  Fortunately, we were directed to one that did good work fast and relatively inexpensively.  I'm out $110 now, but the window is fixed and they did the work fast enough so that Lima didn't have a total meltdown before I got her home for her nap.

Isn't that crazy?  What a weird way to spend a morning.  So anyway, huge bummer that it happened and completely disappointing that it did on a major street in broad daylight.  But all things considered we got the whole situation back to normal pretty fast.  Still had to blog about it though. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Good Food Read

I love to read books about cooking, restaurants, and the food industry in general.  I also am a sucker for good personal stories about people's lives, loves, and ardent interests.  As a fine combination of the two, Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte easily won me over.

I finished this book far too quickly.  I loved it right from the start and wanted it to go on and on.  I know people have mixed feelings about Amanda Hesser.  She's taken some heat lately in food circles and many have a pretty definite reaction (good or bad) to her and her work.  This article provides some interesting insight into Hesser and the perceptions her audience has about her.  If you don't know the name, she's been a food reporter and columnist for The New York Times and is also the author of The Cook and The Gardener.

Cooking for Mr. Latte tells the tale of Hesser's courtship with Tad Friend, aka "Mr. Latte," by weaving together stories of the food they shared.  The book chronicles bits and pieces of their life from their first date to their wedding, all centered on the meals that marked each event.  I love the way Hesser writes.  She's easy to read and has a light conversational style, but clearly has a passion for food and knows her stuff.  She includes over 100 recipes in the book, punctuating each chapter with the recipes for the meals she mentioned.  I was really thrilled to see a recipe for Vanilla Bean Loaves from the Hi-Rise Bread Company in Cambridge, MA in the book.  When we lived in Cambridge, this place was just a few blocks away from us.  When the Lima Bean was born, they sustained us with their delicious sandwiches for a few days until I could get my wits about me and get back to cooking again.  They make amazing bread, sandwiches and all sorts of baked goods.  I never sampled their vanilla bean loaves when I lived there, but now I'll get the chance to try the recipe on my own.  Can't possibly come out as well as Hi-Rise does it, but it's worth a shot. 

Reading this book made me want to take part in Hesser's homemade meals and restaurant outings.  It made me wish I always had the perfect assortment of fresh herbs, fine cheeses and Italian cured meats in my fridge.  She makes whipping up food for a dinner party seem so effortless.  It's one of those "fantasy of food" reads that aspiring cooks can really get into, especially if you like the underlying love story part too.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

A Tale of Two Rice Puddings

There are two kinds of rice pudding in my life.  One is my Mom's recipe.  Rich, creamy, and loaded with plump raisins, it is the best rice pudding you will ever have.  The other is a quick and easy rice pudding you can make using leftover rice.  Much less decadent, but it fills a certain niche too.

Yesterday, I made the quick and easy version.  I had some leftover rice from Chinese takeout and decided that there would be no lovlier use for it than rice pudding, even this basic one.  Here's how you make it:

Quick and Light Rice Pudding
2 cups leftover rice
1 cup milk (I used skim to keep the calories down and it worked fine)
½ teaspoon salt
3-5 tablespoons sugar, honey, or maple syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ cup raisins or other dried fruit

Combine the rice and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Just when it's to a boil, cover it and lower the heat.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until all milk is almost absorbed (20 mins worked for me).  Add all the additional ingredients and stir. 

This is a healthier, lighter rice pudding than the rich, creamy one my Mom makes.  As such, it's suitable for a light dessert, an afternoon snack, or even as breakfast.  While it lacks the creamy goodness and depth of my Mom's recipe, it's great as a lighter, faster alternative.  I ate some for breakfast this morning and Lima even had it as most of her dinner tonight.

But let's get to the good stuff.  If you are looking for a really decadent rice pudding, look no further.  In reviewing my Mom's recipe, I don't see anything that makes it particularly unusual or unique, but it's stood the test of time and is always delicious.  My Mom, an incredibly sweet and giving lady, is the type of person who always makes special food and desserts based on who's coming over.  So my cousin Carol gets her delicious homemade manicotti, my cousin Laura gets her pecan praline pie, and my brother Mike gets beef stroganoff.  I hate beef stroganoff and I think it should also be noted that my Mom never makes it when I am home; she reserves it for visits from my brother only, not larger family gatherings.  This is the kind of niceness we're talking about here.  Anyway, there's a whole contingent of "rice pudding lovers" who visit and my Mom will make rice pudding for them.  I happily fall into this group.

Mom's Old Fashioned Creamy Rice Pudding
1 quart milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup long grain rice
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup evaporated milk
2 eggs slightly beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy saucepan, cook the milk and salt until slightly heated.  Stir in the washed rice.  When the mixture reaches the boiling point, lower heat and simmer 15-30 minutes until rice is done.  Add 1/4 cup evaporated milk and cook a few minutes longer.  In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, sugar, vanilla and the remaining 3/4 cup evaporated milk.  Stir some of the rice mixture into the egg mixture.  Return the mixture to the one in the saucepan and cook slowly until it thickens a bit (about 3-4 minutes).  Pour into bowl; stir often as it cools.  Serve with dash of cinnamon on top if you'd like.

I wish I had a photo of this pudding to share in this post.  It's much creamier and prettier than my rice pudding pictured above.  You'll just have to trust me on that for now.

By the way, I had my Mom's rice pudding recipe tucked away in a recipe box my Mom painted and stamped for me.  She also filled it with some recipes she knew I loved.  She did this when I got married and moved into a bigger apartment with a kitchen you could actually cook in.  How cute is she? 


Sunday, July 18, 2004

And the Decadence Continues...

Since my Mom left this morning, life should theoretically be back to the regular routine.  And that routine includes cooking.  We decided to take one more day off though and hit a couple more places for lunch and dinner.  Check out the pizza I had for lunch.  Outrageous pie of goat cheese, artichokes and black olives (my own little creation).    

We had this delicious creation at Robey's Pizza in Roscoe Village.  I love Chicago deep dish and stuffed pizza, but to this East Coast girl real pizza is thin crust.  While I love Chicago and can see myself here for a long time, it does trouble me that Lima is going to grow up thinking that deep dish pizza is regular pizza.  That's just not right.  We'll have to indoctrinate her to the ways of thin crust pizza by frequent visits to the East Coast...or Robey's.  Robey's makes excellent thin crust pizza in their wood fire oven.  So good!
It was a beautiful day so after spending a lot of the afternoon in the park, we decided to head out for Japanese food.  This time we visited Cafe Furaibo in Lakeview.  Cafe Furaibo has only been open a short while and its owner is putting in a lot of effort to get her place off the ground.  Cafe Furaibo serves a well-balanced menu of sushi and other Japanese fare.  Tonight we sampled miso soup, wasabi shumai (steamed wasabi flavored pork dumplings), soft shell crab, and fire drops (deep fried tuna, black tobiko, shiso leaf mayo, masago, avocado, red tobiko, oba, cream cheese and a spicy sauce).  Cafe Furaibo's presentation is often simple, but beautiful.    

The one thing I did cook tonight was some chicken breasts for Lima to eat for dinner this week.  I always find it easier to cook her stuff in batches ahead of time so when toddler hunger strikes, I'm ready.

Poor Starving Blog

If new bloggers want anyone to read their site, they probably should update it frequently, right?  Makes sense to me, but I violated my own rule this past week because my Mom was in town for a visit.  It was so nice to see her and to let her have some Grandma-time with the Lima Bean.  Before coming, she specifically requested that we don't make any fuss over her and don't bother with fancy cooking or cleaning or other "guest" preparations.  Well, I of course cleaned and stocked the house with plenty of baked goodies and treats, but I must confess I took her at her word on the cooking part.  We did a LOT of eating out this week.  Mostly just casual, easy meals but we did eat our way around town.  So I don't have much in the way of cooking to report this week and my stove must wonder where I am, but I do have some restaurant chat.  Here's a sample of the places we went:
*Joey's Brickhouse:  Joey's is a new place at 1258 W. Belmont.  I have a soft spot in my heart for Joey's because I think they are trying really, really hard to get this new place off the ground and because they have treated us very well both times we visited.  The menu is diverse and we always like the food.  I will say that Joey's food tends to surprise me with how it is spiced sometimes...it's not always the flavor or spice balance I'd expect...but it's Joey's take on things and fine for a change.  Nice decor, but on a beautiful night sit outside on the sidewalk.  This week I tried their gazpacho (soup of the day) and their warm artichoke dip.  Both were excellent.  We have also had rave reviews about the lamb shank and the pork chop at our table.  And if you're doing dessert, go chocolate fondue.
*Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.:  I can't believe I ate here.  It's one of those chains that I normally would dismiss as too themey, too kitschy, too commercial.  We had taken Lima to Navy Pier to see the Children's Museum (which incidentally is wonderful and worth a visit for kids 10 and under).  She absolutely loved the Children's Museum and looking at all the sights on Navy Pier, but come 11:30 her toddler stomach needed some sustenance.  Bubba Gump's has great outdoor seating, a beautiful view and was completely accommodating for a toddler.  I didn't have high expectations for the food, given my anti-theme restaurant bias, but it was really good.  We tried the shrimp po'boy and the grilled fish sandwich...simple but tasty when washed down with a fresh strawberry lemonade.  Perhaps the ultimate seal of approval came when Lima stole a shrimp off my plate and tried to down it whole.
*Calliope Cafe:  Absolutely awesome sandwiches, salads and snacks.  My favorites are the Southwestern Cobb Salad and the Turkey Avocado Sandwich, but friends and family also swear by the pork tamales, the buffalo chicken sandwich, the pesto chicken sandwich, the orange walnut spinach salad and pretty much any of the daily specials.  It's a cute, casual place with an outdoor patio and it's worth a stop for a quick lunch or dinner.
*Que Rico!:  Que Rico! is one of our favorite Mexican Places.  I love sitting on their sidewalk and sipping a margarita...feels so decadent.  Their queso fundido with chorizo is heavenly and I'm a big fan of the chicken flautas.  Everything we've had there has been exceptional.  Try their special desserts too...the brandied peaches and cherries with ice cream is unbelievably good.  I didn't find a web site for them; they're at 2814 N. Southport.
So this is just a quick sample of some of the places we went.  Nothing fancy this time, but good all around and we were lucky to be able to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather.  My Mom left this morning so for anyone actually reading this, I promise more regular blogging is to come.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Rivers and Rhapsody

Last weekend we hired a babysitter and had a Friday night out on the town. As I've said before, Chicago is an amazing restaurant town. The city has so many different neighborhoods and most of them are full of eateries. My only disappointment is that I don't have the time to experience them all.

On this particular evening, Win and I met up with some of his colleagues for drinks at Rivers. Rivers, or Rivers Euro-American Bistro as it's officially named, is located on the ground level of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. This was the starting point to our night so it was just drinks for us this time around. We sat outside on their patio overlooking the Chicago River listening to their live jazz band. The band was terrific but a little loud, since our group had (unknowingly) selected a table right in front of where the band would ultimately set up. Rivers appeared to have quite the after-work singles scene going. We had a couple drinks and then took a leisurely walk to our ultimate dinner destination Rhapsody.

Rhapsody is one of those places that completely captures what I mean about Chicago having so many good restaurants.  Before leaving the larger group at Rivers, we mentioned where we'd be having dinner.  No one knew the place, yet it turned out to be outstanding and had received accolades from Chicago Magazine and others.  There are just so many good restaurants in this town that a lot of them can go undiscovered.  Our theory is that we could eat and eat and eat out around town and still not scratch the surface of what's out there. 
We had crab cakes and gazpacho with some crab for appetizers.  Each was delicious and really flavorful.  If you've read any other entries here, you can probably begin to see I'm a bit of a gazpacho freak...this one was exceptional.  For dinner, I had Pan Seared Wild Labrador Ocean Trout with Boulangere Potatoes & Morel Mushrooms with Bordelaise Sauce.  The fish was good, but the mushrooms might have been the best mushrooms I've ever tasted.  So perfectly tasty in the bordelaise.  Win had Butler Steak with delicious potatoes and spinach on the side.  Rhapsody serves scrumptious homemade bread with dinner.  My only issue with the bread is that it's brought around by a server and you select one piece and then have to wait until the server returns to dive into your next piece.  When you are a bread glutton like I am, the bread man never comes fast enough and you sit wishing you had a bread basket on hand, even though it's much less stylish.  I know the bread server conveys elegance and a refined touch, but when bread is that good, a girl needs to get her hands on it fast.
The meal was full of flavor and very satisfying, so despite an interesting dessert menu we skipped desserts this time around.  After walking halfway home though, I couldn't resist the allure of a soft-serve vanilla ice cream cone from McDonald's.  Sometimes the richest dinners are best capped off with something basic, right?

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Magnolia Grill

While visiting family in Durham, North Carolina this weekend we had the chance to dine at the Magnolia Grill. We had eaten dinner there once before and loved it, so we had high expectations for this second visit. Magnolia didn't disappoint.

The chef-owners of Magnolia Grill are Ben and Karen Barker. Ben manages the main menu and Karen is the pastry chef. Their food has been called "New Southern Cooking" and each delicious dish, while often simple, is full of flavor and interesting ingredient pairings. Since opening Magnolia Grill in 1986, the Barkers have been the recipients of James Beard Awards and accolades from Gourmet, Wine Spectator, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Esquire, The New York Times and other prominent publications. In 2001, Magnolia Grill was named the 11th best restaurant in America by Gourmet.

I always get a good feeling when I see the chef-owner of a prominent restaurant actually there, night after night, working in the kitchen or at least being present on the floor. I liked it when I saw Charlie Trotter on the floor at Trotter's, I liked seeing Ming Tsai expediting orders at Blue Ginger, and I like seeing Ben Barker in the kitchen at Magnolia. Ben Barker has been working in the open kitchen both times we've eaten at Magnolia Grill and he's reportedly there full-time. Karen Barker also works there full-time, although is less visible to the customers as her role as a pastry chef puts her in the restaurant at different hours. I like that kind of involvement and think it's one of the things that keeps a great place great.

There were four of us at the table and so we were able to sample a wide variety of Magnolia Grill's offerings. We ate:

*Cool as a Cucumber Soup with Vermouth Shrimp, Buttermilk and Dill
*Pan-Seared Foie Gras on Jerry's Italian Honey Figs with Blackberry Gastrique, Mache and Shaved Vidalia Onion Salad
*Peregrine Farm Heirloom Tomato and Celebrity Dairy Goat Cheese Salad with Arugula, Foccacia Croutons and Sungold Tomato Coulis

Our one disappointment of the evening was that they were out of the "to die for" appetizer---Grilled Nectarines with Serrano Ham and Buttermilk Blue Cheese, Almond Picada, Fennel-Arugula Salad, and Clementine Syrup. My in-laws had tried these once before and swore they were the best thing on the appetizer list. So that was disappointing, but the appetizers we did have were each delicious. Flavorful and just the right balance of richness and light.

*Pan-Roasted Wild King Salmon in Green Tomato Creme Fraiche Vinaigrette with Blue Lake, Yellow, and Fava Beans, Red Pontiac Potatoes and Sungold Tomatoes
*Pan-Seared Sesame-Crusted Alaskan Halibut in Crab Kombu Broth on Sugarsnaps and Cucumber Vermicelli with Peppery Greens
*Grilled Niman Ranch Centercut Pork Chop in Sorghum and Smoked Tomato Jus on Brunswick "Stew" with Sweet Corn, Country Ham and Cornmeal Spatzle

Everyone enjoyed their entrees, but the salmon and the pork chop got the best reviews from the table.

*Bing Cherry Ice Cream and Toasted Buttermilk Waffles with Cherry Compote
*Peach Melba Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
*Banana Banana Split with Milk Chocolate Malt and Peanut Butter Sauces and Cocoa Peanuts
*Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pattie Cake with Whipped Cream

The desserts were delicious and each struck just the right note---the panna cotta was light and refreshing, the chocolate cake rich and intense. I loved the ice cream and waffles and their take on the banana split was very creative. It's not hard to imagine why Karen Barker was named "Best Pastry Chef in America 2003" by the James Beard Foundation.

This is just a small sampling of the Magnolia Grill menu. I realize we happened to order a lot of fish on this visit, but it should be noted that they were also offering steak, lamb, rabbit, osso buco, and blackeyed pea cakes among the entree selections. Magnolia Grill's staff is completely without pretense and its decor is casual. All this allows you to focus on the meal itself and savor the flavors. We loved our visit and with any luck we'll be back for a third.

Magnolia Grill
1002 Ninth Street
Durham, North Carolina

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Toddler Treats: Nut Butter Hors d'oeuvres

We're back from our 4th of July weekend. It was nice to have some time away and over those few days I got to visit an excellent restaurant and learn some new recipes. More details will be coming on those in the upcoming days. For now though, I wanted to post the recipe for the toddler treats that I mentioned last time. While they may not be very visually appealing (my friend calls them "turds"), they are pretty healthy and the kids usually love 'em.

So here it is, courtesy of my friend Debra. I believe the original recipe can be found in Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron.

Nut Butter Hors d'oeuvres

3/4 cup creamy natural peanut butter (You can also use creamy almond butter)
1/4 cup mashed cooked beans (Pinto beans work but you can try any kind)
2 tablespoons tahini or soft butter
1/4 cup wheat germ
3/4 cup crumbled shredded wheat cereal (Suggestion: Use your food processor to shred it)

Mix nut butter, beans, and tahini in bowl and microwave for 2-3 minutes until soft and melted. Mix in wheat germ and cereal. Drop mixture by tablespoons onto plate, aluminum foil, or waxed paper (You can also roll the mixture into small balls by hand). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm.

Debra suggests freezing the whole batch and then just taking out a serving at a time when you need it.

The recipe also has the following note: The dry ingredients (the germ and the cereal) can be mixed half and half or in any proportion as long as they add up to one cup. Actually, you can use any quantity as long as you can form cohesive balls. Also, you can substitute part of the dry ingredients with ground oatmeal or ground whole germ corn flakes.

Let me know if you try them and how your kids like them. Just remember that this recipe includes nut products, so be careful about feeding it to your children unless you know they don't have any nut (especially peanut) allergies and that they are the appropriate age for this kind of snack. If you have any great toddler or kids recipe ideas of your own, feel free to share them in the Comments section or to send your ideas to atourtable@hotmail.com. I'm always looking for new, healthy ideas that'll keep Lima interested.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Babies on the Bus Go "Wah, Wah, Wah"

Today this was more than a children's song lyric, it was my reality. I took Lima to the zoo this morning with our friend Debra and her baby girl. The girls had a great time at the zoo. They are at that really cute stage where you know they understand practically everything and are trying so hard to communicate but most words aren't quite there yet. So they often rely on gestures to get their point across. The giraffes were a big hit with this group and each girl had a specific signal to show us they knew about giraffes. For Lima, it was touching her neck to show us how she knows giraffes have long necks. For Debra's little girl, it was raising her arm up way in the air because she has a book that uses that gesture to show how giraffes "walk tall." It was a really nice outing and we all had a great time for about two and a half hours. But then...

Lima got tired. Really tired. Apparently so suddenly, horribly tired that it caused her to WIG OUT as we were wrapping up our zoo trip. I don't know why but Lima has never been one to sleep in a stroller or car seat. So if she's tired and not in a crib, watch out! Anyway, we were heading out of the zoo and looking for a bus to get us home when the crying started. And continued, and continued. Even on the bus. And no amount of singing or snack providing was turning this one around. So that was kind of a crazy way to end the morning (I think it wore me out as much as Lima) but it still was a fun trip and fortunately Debra is wonderfully understanding of these things.

(As an aside, I should probably mention here that Lima is great. I realize I'm writing about the times she's crying at the zoo or crying on the merry-go-round, but it's because those are the things that pop out in a day...not the other 10 or 11 hours when she's being super pleasant, full of smiles, and doing cute things. So don't get the wrong impression...she really is a good girl and we're so lucky to have her.)

OK, so this is supposed to be a food blog and I have yet to mention any food. Well, we didn't do much in the way of food at the zoo except feed the girls their lunches of fruit, crackers, cheese, turkey. You know, those little pieced together lunches that you give toddlers to try and find that magic combination between what's healthy and what they will actually eat. Debra brought along some very cool snacks that she made using almond butter, beans, wheat germ and other healthy items. The girls loved them and I'm getting the recipe. Once I have it, I'll be sure to post it for those looking for healthy toddler snacks you can make yourself.

Dinner deserves mention. It was a beautiful night and Win grilled horseradish-crusted filet mignon for us. I don't know how he does it, but he has an excellent flair for cooking meat to each person's exact specifications. He never sets a timer and he doesn't even wear a watch, but he is always capable of getting each piece of meat cooked perfectly for its recipient's taste. He also is a great recipe improviser and has no fear about altering the measurements or actual ingredients in a dish. I tend to stick with recipes as seen in their original form and this is something I'm working on growing out of. So the filet mignon was delicious and it was so nice to have dinner cooked for me.

I'm going to be taking a few days off from blogging for the 4th of July holiday. This is a fledgling blog, so if you're actually reading and (hopefully) enjoying this, hang with me. I'll be back with some new entries next week.