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.

Friday, December 31, 2004

New Snack Sensation: Mock Deep-Fried Chick Peas

I have discovered an amazing new snack. The January 2005 issue of Shape magazine includes a recipe for what they call Mock Deep-Fried Chick Peas. According to the team at Shape, this snack "provides all the crunchy satisfaction of chips, but offers protein, calcium and fiber too." I love chick peas and have never baked them like this, so I was all for trying this one out.

The people at Shape weren't lying. This is an awesome and relatively healthy recipe. All the nutrition information is provided below the recipe.

Mock Deep-Fried Chick Peas (or Baked Chick Peas with Herbs, which I think would be a nicer name and so that's what I will call them)
Recipe as seen in the January 2005 issue of Shape magazine
Serves 4
Total Prep and Cook Time: 40 Minutes

1 19-ounce can chick peas, well-drained, rinsed and patted dry
olive oil spray
coarse salt to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, or more to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place chick peas on a rimmed cookie sheet. Here are my chick peas before baking. (Note that I doubled the recipe, so I have a lot more chick peas than 19 ounces)

Bake, shaking tray every now and then, until golden brown and crunchy, about 35 minutes. Here are my chick peas emerging from the oven:

Pour into a large bowl. Lightly coat with olive oil spray; I used my trusty Misto for this. Add salt, cayenne, garlic powder, and oregano. Toss to coat evenly.

That's it. It's as simple as that. Each serving (with a serving being about 1/4 of the batch) is 136 calories, 8% fat, 75% carbs, and 17% protein. Chick peas are a very healthy food due to their high protein, low fat ratio and they are really flavorful and delicious.

I love this snack and am going to be trying all sorts of variations of it. For my first try, I seasoned it as the Shape recipe suggested but in the future I am going to play with the seasonings and change up the spices and herbs to see what else strikes my fancy. This dish was so easy to make yet so different and so good. I highly recommend trying it and I hope you like it as much as I did.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Help for Stuffed Post-Holiday Stomachs: Hot and Sour Soup

We spent the Christmas holiday with Win's family in North Carolina and were treated to more delicious meals and special desserts than I can possibly count. As I've mentioned before, Win's parents are excellent cooks and bakers. They focus on using quality ingredients and striking a perfect balance between healthy eating and decadent taste. Over the course of the past few days we were treated to Win's mom's classic fried chicken, their delicious roast turkey, a really nice ham, and their wonderful prime rib. Win's dad baked loaves of bread and bran muffins for the carb cravers in the house. He made a sumptuous citrus tart based on a recipe by Karen Barker of The Magnolia Grill. And if that wasn't enough, there was pecan pie, berry cobbler, homemade fudge, and several kinds of Christmas cookies to tame even the strongest sweet tooth.

So in addition to enjoying the company of family, we certainly ate well this Christmas. Given all the delicious, larger meals we've been having, I thought now was the perfect time to whip up some hot and sour soup. This version of Hot and Sour Soup is light, basically healthy, and extremely easy to prepare. A winning combination for full post-holiday stomachs and tired Christmas cooks.

Hot and Sour Soup
Recipe based on one found in "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen"
Total Prep and Cook Time: About 30-40 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

8 fresh medium mushrooms
2 10.5-ounce cans condensed chicken broth and 2 cans water
1 8-ounce can bamboo shoots, drained
1 14-ounce package of tofu, drained
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch or 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cold water
2 eggs
4 scallions, sliced (optional)

1. Wash the mushrooms. Slice them into thin slices and set aside.
2. Heat the chicken broth and water in a large pot over high heat. When it comes to a boil, add the mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Turn down the heat and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes.
3. While the soup is cooking, cut the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes. Add the tofu, vinegar, and soy sauce to the soup. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes.
4. Mix the cornstarch or flour (either works fine) with the cold water in a small bowl until it becomes a thick paste. Add it to the soup and stir until the mixture boils and thickens a bit.
5. Beat the eggs in a small bowl. Pour the beaten eggs slowly through the tines of a fork into the soup. The tines will help separate the eggs so that they cook in thin strands (rather than big lumps) in the soup.
6. If you would like to garnish with scallions, do so now and serve.

If you do a search of the web for hot and sour soup recipes, you'll find hundreds from which to choose. Is this version the most authentic? Probably not. Does it use the most complex and native Asian ingredients? No. But here's why I like it:

1. It's quick and easy.
2. All of the ingredients can be found easily at your local grocery store.
3. It is reasonably healthy.
4. And above all, it tastes great and is pretty close to some hot and sour soups I've had at restaurants. Again, it's not perfect but it's a terrific home approximation.

As you can tell from the photo at the top, I didn't garnish mine with scallions this time. I'm not a scallion fan, so unless I am making this for company I omit them. The bright green color adds a pretty jolt to each bowl of soup, so if you like scallions definitely go for it.

On a separate note, I highly recommend "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen" for any recent graduates, newlyweds, young singles or people new to cooking. We received this cookbook years ago as a wedding gift and it is full of fun recipes that are delicious, easy to make and don't require a huge kitchen or tons of fancy kitchen gadgets. Even now with a bigger kitchen and a somewhat bigger cooking repertoire, I still refer to it for some of my old favorite recipes.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Recipe for a Happy Lima Bean

Want to make a little girl very happy? Well, if the little girl is our Lima Bean, then just give her this picnic and play food set as an early Christmas gift:

I cannot even begin to count how many pretend hot dogs I've assembled, imaginary bowls of yogurt I have made, and play eggs I have scrambled since Lima became fascinated with cooking and pretend food. I now spend a good portion of my waking hours making imaginary food with very small whisks and spatulas. And she knows the right way and the wrong way to do each dish; don't even think about making pretend applesauce without squishing the apples first. She'll call you on it every time.

When Lima's not making pretend food, she's enjoying the real kind. Her love of mushrooms continues and I've made sauteed mushrooms three times this week alone. She loves them and honestly I can't keep them in the house more than a day before she cleans me out again.

Lima Bean's Favorite Sauteed Mushrooms
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 package of fresh button mushrooms ( 6 or 8 ounces)
1-2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth
a few sprigs chopped parsley

Thoroughly wash mushrooms and slice them into whatever shape and size pleases you. Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is heated, add mushrooms. Let them cook at the medium-high heat for 5 to 8 minutes without stirring them. When they seem like they have cooked down some and are getting tender, add the sliced garlic. Stir mushrooms and garlic around and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes. Next add the chicken broth, stir, and let cook for another 5-8 minutes. Once mushrooms are tender, which they should easily be at this point, feel free to mix in some finely chopped parsley for color.

A few notes: I just slice, instead of chop, my garlic because I like to remove it at the end. I like Lima to get the garlic flavor but I don't know if her toddler body is up for ingesting whole slices of garlic yet. Also, I didn't add parsley to the mushrooms in the photo above; Lima doesn't require it. Finally, I use a minimal amount of oil to keep it healthier. If you are watching that, one tablespoon should be fine.

Happy Holidays to all!

Next time: Stuffed from holiday sweets? I have a hot and sour soup that's easy, light and just the right thing for weary post-holiday stomachs.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Crazy Night Out at Tony N' Tina's Wedding

Last week, Win and I went to see (or rather, be a part of) "Tony N' Tina's Wedding." For those unfamiliar with this show, I'll give a quick explanation of how it works. This show is unlike most plays out there. The premise is that Tony and Tina, a hugely stereotypical Italian-American couple, are getting married and you're invited to their wedding and reception. So unlike your typical theatrical performance where you go and sit in a theater and watch actors perform on a stage, "Tony N' Tina's Wedding" encourages you to mingle and interact with the performers and other ticketholders as if you are guests at a real wedding. This was a totally unique and fun way to spend a night out.

The evening started with a pre-wedding cocktail in the cocktail lounge next to the church. Amaretto sours sounded good to us that night, so we happily sipped those as some of the actors started to work their way into the crowd. They would exchange hellos with you as if you were really a guest at the upcoming wedding. The man playing the videographer for the wedding brushed against my purse when he walked by and when I looked up, he was snarling at me as if I had done something really wrong. Turns out, this totally fit with the videographer's personality and as the show progressed, I understood what the crazy man in the cocktail lounge was doing.

Then it was time for the ceremony. We all crammed in to church pews to see the comical exchange of vows, various Biblical readings and blessings performed. This play pokes fun at Italian-American stereotypes and all sorts of wedding traditions.

After the ceremony, we passed through a receiving line where I got to meet the mother of the bride, the bride's brother and the groom. Win met the father of the groom and some others on his way through. The actors were totally genuine in thanking you for coming and making you feel like you were a guest at the wedding. Next, it was on to the reception where a glass of champagne was waiting.

The reception was where the real fun happened and the actors mingled with guests more freely. We chatted with the groom and he told us how he never thought this day would come. We talked with some bridesmaids, ogled the bride's gigantic diamond, and posed for pictures with members of the wedding party. One of the groomsmen tried to set the young, single woman sitting next to me up with the wedding photographer.

As for food, there was a buffet of sausage and peppers, rigatoni in a marinara sauce, another kind of pasta salad, Italian bread and a salad of fresh greens. Vanilla wedding cake with vanilla icing was also served. Despite the extreme vanilaness, it was pretty good. Cash bar at this wedding and Win got us a couple glasses of red wine with our dinner. The food isn't the real reason to go to this show, but it was actually pretty good and also very well-managed for a large-scale buffet to feed such a big number of guests.

As the reception progressed, the priest who presided over the wedding pretended to really loosen up and he came over to me and said some very funny, but very dirty comments. I'll leave the specifics out from here, but let's just say I was embarrassed to tell my Mom what he said when I was telling her about the show. It was hilarious though and another way the performers interact with the guests. There was singing, dancing, toasting and fighting; all the elements for a crazy, entertaining wedding.

"Tony N' Tina's Wedding" is a really different way to spend a night out. It's part theater, part circus, and part "Sopranos" episode. While some parts of it were a bit cheesy, overall we loved it and we'd recommend it for people who are up for a fun, interactive theater experience. I think the show is best enjoyed by people who are willing to really get into it and play along; if you act like a guest and talk to the actors, they will suck you right in. If you're shy and prefer to just be left alone at a show, you might get less out of the whole experience.

Tony N' Tina's Wedding
Pipers Alley
230 West North Avenue
Chicago, IL 60610
Telephone: 312-664-8844

**Please note the two photos in this post come from the Tony N' Tina's Wedding web site. We took our own photos at the reception, but the lighting wasn't the best for photography and they came out a bit too dark.

Next time: One Happy Lima Bean

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

We Love it When Pigs Fly: The Bacon of the Month Club is Here!

Win is a huge bacon lover. OK, maybe not as huge as this person, but still he's right up there. So it seemed only fitting that at some point he be enrolled in the Grateful Palate Bacon of the Month Club. You might remember that we recently purchased a Wine Grab Bag from them and were pleased with the results. We're just starting our Bacon of the Month Club subscription and so far, so tasty.

When Win's membership began, he received a club membership certificate, a bacon t-shirt, a cute little toy pig, and a Bacon of the Month club pen that glows a bright pink when you press down to write. Now honestly all this is very cute, but Win really just is interested in the artisanal bacon being delivered to our door each month. As such, I have commandeered the little pig toy and cool pig pen to carry in my diaper bag and whip out when Lima needs a quick diversion. Oddly enough, a glowing pig pen can really perk up the spirits of a fussy toddler.

Recently, our first month's supply of bacon came. It's Swiss Meat's Hickory Smoked Honey Cured Bacon. Swiss Meat and Sausage Company is a family-run business located in Swiss, Missouri. The Grateful Palate literature that accompanied this bacon promised a "wonderfully sweet bacon with an almost soft, creamy texture." I'm not enough of a bacon connoisseur to be able to detect a "soft, creamy texture" to bacon but I was able to tell it was very high quality and delicious. Win, much more of a bacon connoisseur than I, agreed and loved it.

If the bacon in the photo above seems a bit overcooked to you, don't fret. I like my bacon on the more well-done side and Win kindly obliged by cooking mine this way. He'll eat the rest of this month's supply a little less done and more to his taste.

So far, the quality of our Grateful Palate products has been outstanding. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I did have a problem with how I was billed for shipping charges though. When I placed my order, I received an online invoice quoting a certain shipping charge. It seemed low to me, so (expecting to pay more) I inquired about it but didn't hear back from the company. As such, I assumed that this lower rate was the amount I would be billed. When my credit card bill came, the shipping charges were much higher than originally stated. I checked with the company and these charges were in fact correct, since bacon needs to be sent via 2-day UPS and those rates are higher. The problem was twofold: The Grateful Palate web site wasn't clear in how shipping charges were tabulated when you ordered multiple products (in our case the wine and bacon) and they never got back to me on my initial shipping charges inquiry leaving me to assume the initial price quote was correct. I was prepared to pay the full amount for shipping, and when I never heard from them my larger than expected credit card bill was a shock. In any event, the company assures me they have changed their web site and problems such as this one will be avoided in the future. We've been quite happy with their products so far; I just mention this so that anyone else who orders from them knows to check out the shipping charges carefully.

I was pleased that his first month's supply was a hit and we're looking forward to seeing what comes in the mail next month.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders

Last night we made one of our favorite dishes: Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders. As I was planning this post, I struggled with what to call the dish, since so many of the things that make it tasty don't make for great recipe titles. Namely, this dish gets a lot of its spark from Panko flakes (Japanese style bread crumbs), Lawry's Seasoned Salt, and of course any special sauces you might use for dipping.

I know chicken tenders are not fancy, but these have an excellent flavor and I think they're a notch above the usual. Here's how you make them:

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders
Serves 4

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 cup buttermilk
1-2 cups Panko flakes (Japanese style bread crumbs)
1/8 to 1/4 cup Lawry's Seasoned Salt (or use whatever amount seems right to you)
black pepper, to taste
6-8 cups vegetable oil

1. Slice the chicken into long thin strips about the size of your finger or perhaps a bit wider. The size isn't crucial; cut them however you'd like.
2. Place chicken and buttermilk in a plastic bag. Add a generous sprinkling of Lawry's to the bag. We probably add about 1/16 or 1/8 of a cup at this point. Close the plastic bag, massage the chicken mixture so that all the pieces are fully coated with the buttermilk and Lawry's and let marinate in the refrigerator for 2-12 hours. I usually just have mine marinate for about 2-4 hours and that always works fine.

3. Place the vegetable oil in a large, deep frying pan or cast iron pot. Use enough oil to completely cover the chicken. Heat the oil until it's 350 or 375 degrees.

4. While your oil is heating, prep your chicken for frying. Put your Panko flakes into a large, shallow bowl and add about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of Lawry's and some fresh ground pepper to taste. (We like a lot of Lawry's in ours; you might want to be more sparing.) Remove the chicken tenders from the bag one at a time and shake off excess buttermilk. Take each and coat on both sides with the Panko flake mixture. Place the coated chicken on a plate and now you're ready to fry them up.

5. Gently place your chicken tenders into the hot oil. Fry until the chicken is golden brown, about 12 minutes. Cooking times will depend on how thick your chicken is and the temperature of your oil, so just check the chicken to ensure that it is done before serving.

6. When chicken is done, remove from the pan and set pieces on a plate lined with paper towels. The towels will help catch some of the excess oil. When this process is done, place your chicken on a serving plate and enjoy!

As I mentioned above, Panko flakes and Lawry's are what makes these chicken tenders so distinctive. Panko flakes give the dish a delicious crunch and nice texture. The Lawry's provides just the right amount of "oomph" that makes these a winner.

As you can tell from the photo at the top, we like to serve ours with a wide array of dipping sauces. Last night's sauces included:

*Sumpao Boat Sweetened Chili Sauce for Spring Rolls from Thailand
*Terrapin Ridge Wasabi Mustard
*Pepper Creek Farms Red Bell Pepper Jelly
*American Spoon's BBQ Mustard
*Hoisin Sauce
*Laurent du Clos Dijon Mustard
*Frank's Red Hot Sauce
*Woeber's Horseradish Sauce
*Mrs. Dog's Disappearing Mustard

We just try a dab of this and a dab of that to see what tastes good. My absolute favorite is the Thai chili sauce. I also like the Mrs. Dog's mustard a lot. It's sweet, hot and spicy all at once. As an aside, several of our mustards came from the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Win brought them home after a trip through Wisconsin and if you're a big mustard fan you might want to check out their offerings.

As I mentioned at the start, there's nothing fancy or complicated about chicken tenders but this recipe has such a great lift from the buttermilk, the Panko and the Lawry's that I felt it worth sharing. It's easy, relatively fast and great as party snacks, an appetizer, or a main course. It's also very kid friendly.

Next time: We Love it When Pigs Fly

Sunday, December 12, 2004

1st Annual Food Blog Awards

Kate at Accidental Hedonist has announced nominations for the 1st Annual Food Blog Awards. Nominations are being accepted now through December 19 in the following categories:
Best Overall Food Blog
Best New Blog
Best Group Blog
Best Post
Best Non-Blogging Food Site
Best Site Design
Best Food Blog - Writing
Best Food Blog - Recipes
Best Food Blog - Humor
Best Food Blog - Wine
Best Food Site - Chef
Best Food Blog - City
Best Food Blog - Theme
Best Food Blog - Food Industry
Best Food Blog - Restaurant Reviews

Being a relatively new kid on the block, "At Our Table" is only eligible for the best new blog category. Too bad there's no category for "Best Blog by a Woman Who Has to Use Her Food Processor in the Upstairs Bathroom to Avoid Waking Her Baby Daughter." I'd be sure to sweep that one.

There are some great sites out there, so check out this post on Accidental Hedonist to nominate your favorite foodies.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Delicious Mediterranean Cuisine at Andies Restaurant

Last Sunday morning, we ventured off to Andersonville to show my in-laws that unique part of the city. Andersonville is a neighborhood in Chicago with a very interesting ethnic mix; there's a large Swedish presence there as well as a thriving Middle Eastern community. So on the main street through Andersonville, you'll see the Swedish Bakery, the Swedish American Museum and Erickson's Delicatessen alongside Persian restaurants, Middle Eastern bakeries, and places like Turkish Cuisine and Bakery. We were in search of breakfast but didn't have a specific place in mind. How lucky we were to bump into Andies Restaurant!

Andies Restaurant refers to itself as a Mediterranean, Lebanese, and Greek place. Its large dining room is bright and sunny and its staff is welcoming and warm. On Sundays Andies offers an amazing brunch buffet alongside its standard menu. While we were tempted by the buffet option, Win's parents and I decided to order off the menu and let Win sample all the buffet had to offer. Win's Dad went with the Lebanese Omelet, Win's Mom chose the Greek Vegetarian Omelet, and I had the Spinach Crepes. All of these dishes were absolutely delicious and presented beautifully.

At the buffet, Win found lamb, dill rice, more hot and cold salads than I can even begin to describe, blueberry crepes, a vegetarian lasagne, various kinds of eggs and breakfast meats, loads of fresh fruit, and an impressive array of desserts. It is a very large buffet with a really nice assortment of offerings. Not your standard American breakfast buffet fare; everything is prepared in a Mediterranean or Lebanese or Greek style. Win loved everything he sampled and he would have tried even more of the offerings if he hadn't gotten too full.

At the end of our meal, our waitress came over and handed Lima a little toy beauty kit as a gift. It included a tiny hairdryer, comb, brush, toy lipstick, a compact, a mirror, rollers and a bottle of pretend perfume. This was such a sweet gesture and totally unexpected. I put some curlers in Lima's hair and she was very thrilled to look in her new mirror and check this all out (while applying her new lipstick, of course). I don't know if Andies regularly gives little toys to children or if perhaps this was a holiday thing, but it was extremely sweet and it made Lima's morning.

To be honest, I probably never would have chosen Andies if restaurants with more traditional breakfasts had been open. While I like it, this type of cuisine isn't usually on the top of my "must try" list. Andies won our business because it was open when we needed it and boy am I glad they were. Their food is delicious and we will definitely be back. They won us over instantly and if you're in Andersonville check them out.

Andies Restaurant
5253 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60640
Telephone: 773 784-8616
Web: http://www.andiesres.com/

* The first photo in this post comes from the Andies Restaurant web site. I was disappointed that I didn't have my camera with me for this breakfast, hence no decor or food photos of my own this time.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Steak Au Poivre and Garlic Mashed Potatoes

My in-laws left yesterday after a very nice visit. As I mentioned in my last post, I cooked steak au poivre with garlic mashed potatoes the first night of their stay. Dinner came out really well but unfortunately I don't have any photos of it to share. Our current place doesn't have a dining room, just a very large eat-in kitchen that people like to congregate in while I cook. I love my kitchen and I love that there's space for guests to mill around and hang out while I get meals together. One of the downsides to that though is that I always hesitate to take any photos of the food I cook for guests if they are standing right there. It just seems wrong to document the whole cooking and plating process, as if this is some science experiment, when I have guests eagerly awaiting their dinner. So you'll just have to trust me that the meal was appealing to both the eye and the palate.

While we're on the subject of my kitchen and how inviting it is to people, I'll mention one other downside to my current floorplan: my guests also see all the spastic things I do while cooking. This dinner came out extremely well, but I did have one judgment error when planning for the meal. My recipe for the mashed potatoes called for Yukon golds. At the store, the only gold potatoes were these tiny little potatoes probably meant for roasting (not mashing) because they were so cute and would make a charming presentation with a pot roast or something like that. In a fit of crazy judgment, I decided that these petite gold potatoes would probably be more tender and therefore better than larger potatoes and that they would make an even better mashed potato than regular sized ones. Ok, not only is that reasoning flawed but I also completely forgot how long it would take me to peel 3 pounds of really small potatoes that were just going to get mashed up anyway. Let's just say it was tedious but I got it done reasonably quickly. All while my in-laws watched (and kindly offered to help). So that was my bizarro display for this meal---poor judgment with my potato selection leading to excessive peeling time. If only I had known more information like this before shopping.

Here are the recipes for the steak au poivre and garlic mashed potatoes. They come courtesy of The Chopping Block, a cooking school and retail store here in Chicago. As mentioned before, I love their classes and their recipes are delicious without being too hard for any cook.

Steak Au Poivre
Recipe courtesy of The Chopping Block
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 15-20 Minutes
Serves 4

4 steaks (filet mignon, sirloin, or New York strip steaks are good choices)
¼ cup black peppercorns, whole
sea salt, to taste
4-5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, cut into slices
¼ cup cognac (red wine works too)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup chicken stock
½ cup heavy whipping cream

Let the steaks sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Crack the peppercorns using the bottom of a heavy pan or place in a plastic bag and use a meat mallet to crack them. Generously press the cracked peppercorns into the steak.

Heat a large skillet over a medium high flame until hot and add 2-3 tablespoons butter until melted. Add steaks and cook on first side until dark brown sear is created, about 3-5 minutes. Flip steak over, add remaining butter and cook to desired degree of doneness.

Remove steaks from pan and let rest, covered, while making pan sauce.

To make the pan sauce, reduce flame to medium, add shallot and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Deglaze pan by adding cognac and scraping off browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add mustard, chicken stock and cream. Turn heat to high and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Serve pan sauce over steaks.

I always use red wine in place of cognac in this dish. Why? I always have a red wine in the house but I rarely have cognac. The red wine works very well. We usually use filet mignon for the meat, since it's one of my favorite cuts. As usual, Win was my grill guy, and I must compliment him for his masterful meat preparation. He had 4 steaks to cook for 4 people who liked them at varying levels of doneness and he got them all just right.

I cannot emphasize enough how good this pan sauce is. It's absolutely delicious and you will love it. We love it on the steak and usually drizzle some over the mashed potatoes too; it's that good.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Recipe Courtesy of The Chopping Block
Prep Time: 10 Minutes (unless you are me and you bought really tiny potatoes that take forever to peel)
Cook Time: 30-40 Minutes
Makes 4-6 generous servings

3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled or scrubbed, cut in half
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon sea salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk (or heavy cream...c'mon, you have it for the steak anyway...go crazy and use it) sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

1. Place potatoes and garlic cloves in large pot with 1 tablespoon sea salt.
2. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife.
4. When potatoes are tender, drain and return to the pot. Add butter and mash partially with a potato masher. Add milk ¼ cup at a time and continue mashing until desired consistency is reached.
5. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

These potatoes are easy to make and they have just the right amount of garlic flavor. Rich, creamy and a wonderful complement to the steak au poivre.

We also served a mesclun salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette with the meal. For our wine, we poured the 2000 Summerfield Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that we got in our Wine Grab Bag. This was a full, strong red that really benefited from decanting. It tasted very good on its own before dinner and excellent with the meal. So the first wine we sampled from the grab bag was a winner.

Thanks to my mother-in-law's help, we had the kitchen cleaned up in no time...and that always helps make a happy ending to any meal.

Next time: Discovering Mediterranean Cuisine in Andersonville

*The photo above comes from the Specialty Produce web site. You can find them here.

Friday, December 03, 2004

In a Week with Minimal Cooking, Trader Joe's Parthenon Pizza to the Rescue

Right now I’m in an odd culinary abyss between last week’s Thanksgiving holiday and a visit from my in-laws this weekend. Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving with my side of the family. We had a great time on our visit and my Mom cooked all her Thanksgiving classics. Lima loved everything, especially my Mom’s sautéed mushrooms. Every time I ask her what she wants for dinner now, she says “mush-rooooms!” She’ll even ask for mushrooms at breakfast. So it’s a weird thing, but since they’re healthy it’s a good thing she’s developed this new fondness for them. Anyway, that was last week: eating lots of yummy food and enjoying the company of family.

This weekend my in-laws are coming for a visit and we’ll probably do our fair share of eating out. We like to take them to lots of different kinds of restaurants here in Chicago so they get a good mix of cuisines. I’ll do some cooking too and I’m finalizing my menu ideas this morning. I know steak au poivre and garlic mashed potatoes is the plan for one evening, but I’m still thinking about the others.

Anyway, this week I languished in a cooking void, as you can probably tell from the lack of cooking posts in the past few days. Ate a lot last week and have entertaining coming up this weekend. So not much big time cooking going on at my house until my in-laws arrive. As such, I broke out the Trader Joe’s Parthenon Pizza last night. This is a pizza topped with Sicilian tomatoes, fresh spinach and feta cheese. It was delicious! As I’ve written before, I’m a Trader Joe’s fan and this pizza is another high quality product from them. The flavors are great, the crust is crisp, and it’s quick and easy to bake. I was impressed with how well the fresh spinach and tomatoes survived the freezing process too. It was just a frozen pizza, but it tasted much better than the average one in the grocery store freezer case. Check it out at Trader Joe’s for a quick meal.

Now I’m off to finalize my cooking plans and hit the grocery store. As always, my trusty sidekick Lima will be at my side. She loves the grocery store now for two reasons: 1) the people behind the deli counter always give her a slice of cheese when we go and 2) our grocery store now carries some really cute horse stuffed animals in the toy aisle (known as "neigh neighs" to Lima). Neighs neighs and cheese---what's not to love? Happy weekend!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Robey's Pizza: Come for the pizza, stay for the blog

I can't even begin to tell you how many people find my site by searching the web for "Robey's Pizza." Robey's is an excellent pizza place in the Roscoe Village neighborhood of Chicago and I highly recommend it. The pizza above is my own creation of goat cheese, black olives and artichokes.

Robey's doesn't seem to have its own web site so search engines have been directing people to my site because I mentioned Robey's in the past. Here's a favor to all of you searching for Robey's info. All of their contact information follows. Enjoy your pizza!

Robey's Pizza
1954 W. Roscoe Street
Chicago, IL
Telephone: 773-248-7800

To my knowledge they are open for lunch and dinner. They offer indoor and outdoor seating (when weather permits). Street parking is available. You can eat in or takeout; I'm not sure of their delivery policies.

So you came here for the pizza; hope you stay for the blog!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Thoughts on Rocco DiSpirito's book "Flavor"

Sorry for the lag in posts recently. Blogger has been giving me problems for the past few days and hasn't let me post new entries until now. So I've been here...just temporarily cut off from posting. Hopefully whatever the issue was is resolved now. On to some thoughts for today...

I recently spotted a copy of Flavor by Rocco DiSpirito with Kris Sherer at our library. This is one of those cookbooks that I'd been curious about, but it hadn't quite made it to the top of my "must buy" list. So I was thrilled to bump into it at the library to get a chance to check it out for free.

Flavor is a gorgeous book. The photographs by Henry Leutwyler are beautiful and they make each dish jump off the page. Even when I wasn't interested in a particular recipe, I'd rest a moment on that page to soak in the art of the book. Really well done photography.

After seeing DiSpirito's crazy trainwreck of a show "The Restaurant," I wasn't sure that he'd be the type to pull together a cogent, well-organized cookbook. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how user-friendly the book is and by how much general cooking knowledge DiSpirito shares upfront. He spends many pages reviewing his thoughts on seasonality of foods, quality of ingredients, cooking styles and techniques and most importantly flavor combinations. The writing is clear and interesting and I learned a few things from the first chapter about "Finding Flavor."

The recipes in the book take much more of an Asian slant than his cooking at Rocco's in New York City would lead you to believe. There's some discussion of his style being sort of a "Global Fusion" and you can see that coming through in the recipes. My favorites from his Appetizers section include the Heirloom Tomatoes with Orange Zest, the Sweet and Sour Tamarind Shrimp on Rosemary Skewers, and the Jumbo Asparagus with Oyster Mushrooms and Fresh Pecorino Cheese. In the Entrees section, I'm most drawn to his Pomegranate and Cinnamon Lacquered Duck and Szechuan Peppercorn-Rubbed Fillet of Beef. DiSpirito's Lavender Creme Brulee really intrigues me for dessert. These are just a few of the recipes that popped out for me; obviously the book features many, many more.

The dishes don't seem terribly easy to prepare, but the book is honest about cooking and prep times and the recipes appear clear.

So will I be cooking from it? To be honest, not any time soon. For a busy mom, the dishes are just a bit too tough to gather (sometimes exotic) ingredients for and prepare on a tight dinner schedule. But when I have more time to experiment and cook a bit more leisurely, I'd welcome the chance to try something from this book.

While probably not the cookbook you'll rely on every day, it's a fun read. Obviously this isn't an official cookbook review since I haven't cooked anything from the book yet, but consider it a preliminary thumbs up for Flavor.