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, January 29, 2005

Apple, Pear and Cranberry Crisp

This feels like the right kind of weather to make a warm apple crisp. I wanted to try a new recipe for this old favorite, so I looked around the web for some ideas. I was pleased to find a recipe for Apple, Pear and Cranberry Crisp on allrecipes.com. This crisp came out very well...so well that by the end of the day there was barely any left in the pan!

Apple, Pear and Cranberry Crisp
Adapted from recipe seen on allrecipes.com
Serves 6-8
Total time needed: One hour

2 apples - peeled, cored, and cubed
2 pears - peeled, cored, and cubed
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup butter

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8 inch baking dish.
Mix the apples, pears, cranberries, 1 tablespoon flour, honey, and lemon juice in the prepared dish.

2. In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup flour, brown sugar, oats, walnuts, and butter to the consistency of coarse crumbs. Sprinkle loosely over the fruit mixture. Here's how mine looked at this stage:

3. Bake 45 minutes or until brown and crisp on top. This is what mine looked like emerging from the oven:

This apple, pear and cranberry crisp is absolutely delicious and I love the combination of the three fruits. It's a nice twist on the traditional apple crisp. This is also extremely easy to make. In fact, I made it with our Lima Bean "helping me"and even her little 21-month-old self could patiently hang in there during the prep work and clean up. I think she could tell the tasty end result would be worth her efforts.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A Snowy Night's Journey to Cafe Matou

Chicago got a lot of snow last weekend, as you can see from this photo of my porch. We had made plans to try Cafe Matou and were looking forward to going, so no amount of snow and slush could keep us away. On went the coats, hats and boots, and off we went for French food.

Cafe Matou is a cozy neighborhood restaurant. When you open the door, you are welcomed into a lovely bar area and then for dinner you are ushered into a second room, painted in warm colors with lovely lighting and artwork. The menu is French, but with a twist...several dishes had flavors or cooking styles that I wouldn't have expected at a strictly French place. As Bon Appetit, The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others have noted, this works at Cafe Matou.

For our appetizers, Win ordered the escargot served with a garlic and herb-basted bread . I had a pasta with roast goose, Jerusalem artichokes, and kalamata jus. The escargot was excellent. My pasta was really delicious, but I personally found the goose to be...well...a bit too goosey for me. This is no reflection on Cafe Matou's goose, rather an indication that I am just not that big of a goose fan. I hadn't had goose before so I wanted to give it a try and now I know it's not for me. Win, on the other hand, adored the goose in the pasta so we traded appetizers mid-course. Both the escargot and the pasta were winners (once we found the right home for the pasta).

For my entree, I ordered a dish of peppered bluefin tuna and grilled shrimp, served in a citrus butter sauce with sesame seeds. I think I have mentioned before that I am always a little nervous to order tuna at restaurants because I just don't care for ultra-rare tuna and I know that is often how chefs like to prepare it. Cafe Matou cooked this one beautifully; it was cooked just enough around the edges and then nicely pink and more rare in the center. The citrus butter sauce was outstanding.

You'll also notice in the photo above that we had a bottle of hard cider with our dinner, served in charming cider cups. It was quite dry and the right kind of spirit for a cold and snowy night.

Win ordered the Poulet rôti en crapaudine for his entree, which was chicken stuffed under the skin with a panade of butter, tarragon, garlic, onion, and cognac. Normally Win would never order chicken out at a restaurant. It's something we cook at home all the time and it just doesn't seem that unique. But he had heard and read excellent things about this specific chicken and he was interested in trying it. He loved it; it was delicious and the herbs flavored the chicken beautifully.

For dessert, I selected the chocolate and banana bread pudding and Win chose the profiteroles. Win really enjoyed the profiteroles, but I must say my bread pudding was even better. It completely exceeded my expectations when I took the first bite by being intensely banana flavored and just the right consistency. This ended up being an even better dessert than I had thought it would be.

When we had finished our meal, we walked to the front bar and asked the manager if he could call us a taxi. The snow was deep and it was freezing, so a quick taxi home sounded much better than a long and snowy slog on foot. The manager said he'd try, but that Cafe Matou had been having a hard time getting the cab companies on the phone and that cabs often don't service their neighborhood (which seems quite odd, because it's a fine part of town). A nice man at the bar overheard our conversation and offered to drive us home. We were surprised by his kind offer and declined, thinking that we'd definitely be able to round up a taxi. After a few minutes of trying, things didn't look good and the man at the bar repeated his offer. Turns out, he's the boyfriend of a Cafe Matou waitress and he was sitting there waiting for his girlfriend's shift to end. He offers patrons rides home all the time when they find themselves in a similar cab bind. As we stood there pondering whether or not to take a ride from a total stranger, the manager and the bartender both said "He does this all the time for people; we don't know why, but he does." So with that endorsement, we hopped into his car.

The kind man's name is Jeremiah and he gave us a ride all the way home and wouldn't accept any money. We had a great chat on our drive and couldn't thank him enough for his kindness. When we repeatedly offered to pay him something for his trouble, he said "Just come back to Cafe Matou again sometime."

We will. Cafe Matou is an intimate place with an interesting menu of well-prepared French dishes. It made for a special night out.

Cafe Matou
1846 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
Telephone: 773-384-8911
Web Site: http://www.cafematou.com

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Lima Cheers!

Our Lima Bean just turned 21 months old. It’s been a few weeks since I did a Lima update, so I wanted to share a quick story about one of her latest developments.

Several months ago, we taught Lima how to clink glasses and say “cheers” when we were out at restaurants. She caught on to it immediately and loved to see our happy reaction every time she extended her sippy cup towards us. So toasting became a very common occurrence at our meals out, with Lima “cheersing” every glass of water, Coke, tea, wine or beer that happened by.

Lately, Lima has taken her cheers routine one step further. She’s now adapted the cheers concept to the world beyond beverages. Whenever she and someone else are wearing the same thing or behaving in the same or similar way, she now feels the need to declare a cheers. So for example, when I put on my apron to cook, she runs into her room, grabs her apron and has me put it on her. Once it’s on her, she says “Apron Cheers!” and then she bangs her little apron-clad tummy against mine. If I get out a broom to sweep the kitchen floor, she grabs her mini-Swiffer duster and yells “Duster Cheers!”. Then she taps her duster against my broom and gets to work “dusting.” When she puts on her undershirt in the morning, she takes great pride in declaring “Undershirt Cheers!” and hunting down Win so that the two of them can bang stomachs, like a clinking of the glasses in a traditional toast. If she catches you in the bathroom brushing your teeth, she’ll want to whip out her tiny toothbrush and brush too, but only after issuing a “Toothbrush Cheers!” and clinking brushes with you, of course.

So pretty much anytime you are doing or wearing something similar to Lima, you get a cheers. It’s really quite festive and I must say that I like the happy little ritual she’s developed for us. It makes all of the everyday chores and obligations much sweeter.

Next time: We met an angel at Cafe Matou

Sunday, January 23, 2005

IMBB 11: White Bean Risotto

It's time for this month's edition of "Is My Blog Burning?," kindly hosted by Cathy of My Little Kitchen. For this eleventh installment of IMBB, Cathy selected beans as her theme. When thinking about what I could make with beans, I remembered that I had some arborio rice in my pantry that was just begging to be used. So I decided to make a White Bean Risotto. This dish is quite simple and relatively fast to prepare, yet the end result tastes rich and sophisticated.

White Bean Risotto
Adapted from white bean risotto recipe seen on Cooking Couple.com
Serves 4-6

1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large tomato, chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
28 ounces chicken broth
1 (16-ounce) can white beans (I used Great Northern but other kinds would work well too)
1/3 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese (Parmesan would also work well here)
Fresh or dried mixed herbs to taste (I used a bit of dried oregano, dried basil, and fresh thyme)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Coat a large skillet with non-stick cooking spray. Saute onion until translucent. This should take about 5 minutes at most. Add garlic and tomato and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

2. Stir in arborio rice and cook for another minute. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.

3. Reduce heat to simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until broth is absorbed and rice is tender. This will take between 25 and 35 minutes. Stir in white beans, cheese, herbs, salt and pepper. Cook until all ingredients are hot, probably an extra one or two minutes.

4. Taste the risotto. How's the flavor? I haven't given exact herb measurements here because I think it's very important for you to add whatever herbs you would like and in whatever amounts you find pleasing. Start with small quantities and add more as needed and you'll be fine.

I have only made risotto a few times and this was my first try with a white bean risotto. It came out quite well and is rich with flavor. If you haven't made risotto before, give a risotto recipe a try. It's actually quite a bit easier than you'd think and the end result is a delicious, flavorful, and comforting meal for a winter night.

Thanks to Cathy at My Little Kitchen for hosting this month's IMBB event and choosing a theme that let me explore something new.

Related Entry on Beans: If you like beans, check out the recipe I made a few weeks ago for Mock Deep-Fried Chick Peas. This recipe, from Shape magazine, makes a relatively healthy, nutritious and definitely delicious snack. Feedback on this dish has been great, so I wanted to be sure to highlight it in my archives for bean lovers or anyone looking for a new, healthy snack.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Queso Fundido with Bacon and Chipotles

Last week we received our second shipment from the Grateful Palate Bacon of the Month Club. This month's bacon is New Braunfels Pepper Bacon. According to the Grateful Palate literature, New Braunfels Smokehouse is a family-owned company which opened for business in 1943. The town of New Braunfels is located between Austin and San Antonio in Texas and it has a long history of German residents with expertise in curing meats. The expertise comes through with this particular bacon...it's really lean and the pepper on it gives it amazing flavor.

With this bacon shipment, we also received a recipe for Queso Fundido with Bacon and Chipotles. We love queso fundido but hadn't made it at home before, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Queso Fundido with Bacon and Chipotles
Recipe based on the one provided by the Grateful Palate
Serves 4 appetizer-sized portions or 2 entree-sized portions

4 ounces sliced bacon
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 to 2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, chopped (see note below)
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated
4 corn tortillas
1 teaspoon dried oregano

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a pan over medium heat, fry the bacon until crisp. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and drain the grease from the pan.

2. Add the olive oil to the pan. Then add the onion and cook, stirring it until browned. This will take about 5 minutes. Add the chipotle chilies and stir to combine.

3. Place the cheese in a gratin dish and crumble in the bacon. Stir in the onion and chipotle mixture.

4. Lightly brush the tortillas with water, wrap them in foil, and place them in the oven to warm. At the same time, place the gratin dish in the oven and heat until the cheese is melted, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven and garnish with oregano. Serve immediately with the warmed tortillas.

This is a delicious dish for those who love spicy flavor and don't mind an occassional meal with a high fat content. The cheese provided a smooth, creamy backdrop for the spicy chipotle chilies and the sharp pepper bacon. In addition to a nice mix of flavors, this dish also has pleasant textural contrasts...soft cheese, tender onions and chilies, and crispy bacon.

As an aside, this recipe introduced me to chipotle chilies in adobo sauce. I have eaten chipotle peppers before, and I had heard of adobo sauce, but I never knew a product existed that was specifically Chipotle Chilies in Adobo Sauce. You can find these in the Mexican or Ethnic Foods section at your grocery store. My store did have them, but I had to look long and hard on the shelves to finally track them down. Here's a photo of the ones I found to assist you with your search, if these happen to be new to you as well.

So this Queso Fundido was great as a meal and would probably be even better as a prelude to some other terrific Mexican dishes. Best with margaritas or a Corona.

Next time: It's time for this month's "Is My Blog Burning?" event. Beans is the theme and I have an easy yet sophisticated recipe in mind.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Who Knew Duck Corn Dogs Could Be So Good?: Dinner at Viand

Last weekend, Win and I had dinner at Viand Bar & Kitchen, a terrific place in downtown Chicago. Win has walked past Viand a number of times and been curious about it, but for one reason or another we hadn't tried it yet. I loved our dinner there and I am thrilled that we finally stopped in and tried it.

Viand's interior has a clean, sleek, Art Deco feel. The photo above is of the front of their kitchen and it just gives a hint of Viand's style. The setting is comfortable, relaxed and warm while also quite stylish.

Upon arriving at Viand, we were greeted by some of the most friendly and competent staff I've met lately. The hostess was very sweet and our waiter, Dennis, was superb. Dennis was that excellent combination of friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient without ever making us feel rushed. He knew the menu inside and out and was able to make terrific recommendations on some dishes and share candid thoughts about why he didn't personally care for one or two others. I'm delighted that I listened to one of his suggestions because it was absolutely delicious.

As Dennis mentioned when we were seated, Viand is a Latin word meaning "a morsel of food" or "a delicious dish." In keeping with this "morsel" theme, Viand serves small plates of food with their cocktails. Viand has an interesting menu of sweet martinis and savory martinis. Each martini is accompanied by a small dish of something that will complement it. I ordered the Bubbly Martini with kirsch strawberries. Win had the Raspberry Lemonade Martini with fresh raspberries and blackberries in a liquor on the side.

Viand's dinner menu is organized around small plates (appetizers), nibbles (salads), vital victuals (soups and side dishes), and large plates (entrees). Guests can select any combination from the various menu categories and Viand will accommodate that. So one doesn't have to follow the traditional appetizer, entree, dessert path. Instead, you could put together a selection of small plates or a small plate and a large plate, etc. It's somewhat similar to tapas in the freedom of choice it affords. Win and I were interested in so many things on the menu that we told Dennis we'd be ordering in stages, a little bit at a time, and then we'd see what struck our fancy for the next course as we went.

We started off with She Crab Soup and Tenderloin Skewers with Onion Marmalade, Chili and Truffle Oil. The She Crab Soup was outstanding; full-flavored and creamy. The Tenderloin Skewers were really unique; cooked perfectly and accented extremely well by the onion marmalade, chili and truffle oil.

Next we decided to try the Crab Cakes in Dijon Cream Sauce and the Coffee Seared Skirt Steak with a Chocolate Chili Sauce, Fennel and Endive. Dennis had recommended the skirt steak as one of his absolute favorites, citing the unique combination of coffee, chocolate and chili that make it exceptional. He was definitely right. While I have seen steak with coffee or espresso sauces before, I haven't yet seen a coffee/chocolate/chili combination. The taste was amazing and I'm so happy I took his recommendation. I will say that the coffee/chili taste was a bit overpowering on the fennel and endive for me, but it wowed me on the steak. The Crab Cakes were delicious as well.

Now here's where we diverge from normal people. Even though Viand considers those plates to be small plates, you can see from the photos that the portions are actually quite sizable. Normal people would probably have stopped at those two courses and headed out. We're definitely not normal when it comes to trying new dishes though, so we went on for a third round. This time we ordered the Duck Corn Dogs served with Plum Ketchup, Caraway Mustard, and Orange Marmalade and the Lamb Lollipops with Mint Sauce over a Vegetable Mash. The lamb was wonderful and the sauce and vegetable mash worked really well with it. The Duck Corn Dogs were amazing. As you can see from the photo above, these look just like the corn dogs you might have at a fair or an amusement park. Inside a delicious corn dog breading, however, is moist, tasty duck...almost like a duck sausage. These were so, so good and each of the sauces was delicious with the corn dogs in different ways.

Everything on Viand's dessert menu sounded very good, but we decided that before having any dessert we should definitely get outside and walk off some of the dinner. We took a walk down Michigan Avenue to The Cheesecake Factory in the lower level of The John Hancock Center. Here's what we ordered for dessert:

I mentioned we weren't normal, right? In the back is a huge brownie sundae and in the front is a piece of Snickers Bar Cheesecake. Now even we have our limits, so much of this went uneaten, but it was still fun and decadent to try.

I loved, loved, loved Viand. Excellent service, interesting menu, pleasant atmosphere, and most importantly delicious food. It's not the kind of food you'd want all the time (duck corn dogs and lamb lollipops need to be served sparingly), but when you are in the mood for something unique it's absolutely worth a try.

155 East Ontario Street
Chicago, IL 60611
Telephone: 312-255-8505
Web Site: http://www.viandchicago.com

A Fancy Pot for a Sicky Meal

Wondering where I've been for the past few days? I wish I could say I took an exotic vacation somewhere and that's why I haven't been posting. But unfortunately my blog absence stems from much more boring reasons. Our family got hit HARD by a stomach virus this weekend. Our Lima Bean got sick late Saturday night and spent all of Saturday night and much of Sunday not feeling well. Win and I thought we had escaped it until it hit us both on Monday night. Horrible, nasty stomach bug. Now, we've been sick before but what made this time especially bad was that it was our first "whole family" sickness. In the past, maybe one or two of us caught a cold and had to deal with that for a few days---not really a big deal. But this time, it was a really awful virus and it got us all. Not fun trying to take care of a toddler when you feel that sick. Oh well, with kids being such experts at germ acquisition, I'd imagine this isn't the last time stuff like this will happen. I'll hope days like these are few and far between; for now, we're just happy to be feeling better again.

On Tuesday night, when I finally thought I could eat something, I broke out the Ramen noodles. Seemed to be about the only thing I could handle at the time. My in-laws gave us this dandy blue Le Creuset pot for Christmas and the Ramen was the first thing we made in it.

Sorry my fair little Le Creuset, you deserved something so much fancier for your maiden voyage. But thanks for serving us well with the Ramen.

OK, so now you know I'm still here and I will post more substantive entries in the next few days. This sickness disappointed me on the blog front too because we just ate at a great place in downtown Chicago that I want to tell you about and we're cooking some neat new things here at home. All that to come in the days ahead when I have more time and can do those entries justice. It's no fun to write about food when the thought of it makes you sick!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Oh, it's an after midnight club...my bad

Before we had dinner at Buona Terra the other night, we popped into a place called Misala for a drink. Misala is just a few blocks away from Buona Terra and we thought it would be a fun place to check out before settling in to our dinner locale. Misala, which is Spanish for living room ("mi sala"), is a Caribbean-inspired bar and lounge with hip decor and an interesting menu.

Everything about the place aims to be stylish and trendy. The menu of island fare such as fried plantains, jerk chicken, and pollo en fricassee looked great. But check out the photo above. It was 8:00pm and there wasn't a soul in the place. Even the waitress had called in and said she was still blowdrying her hair and was going to be late. (This is a true story, as told by the bartender.)

Clearly Misala was expecting a crowd. Check out the velvet ropes all stacked up and waiting to be used on the left side of my photo. And oddly enough many of the dishes on the menu were followed by an asterisk that meant they were available only after 10pm. After 10pm? I'm quite familiar with dishes not being available after certain times in the evening, but found it very unique that they didn't even start serving some of their best ones until after 10pm.

The mystery deepened as we talked more to the "bartender." He was a friendly and down-to-Earth guy, and he freely shared his disgust that the waitress was late. We ordered drinks off their special cocktail list (a California Margarita for me and a Misala Signature for Win) and he was off to make them. The drinks took a while to make and when he returned with them, he wanted us to taste them to make sure they were good. The "bartender" said he was "a Hennessey man" and that "when he drinks he drinks to get drunk." He's not really one for mixed drinks, preferring his liquor straight up and potent. We took a sip and actually both drinks were excellent. So he got them right and was pleased with that. But let's take a step back here and review what just happened: The "bartender" told us he wasn't really sure how to make these kinds of mixed drinks. Is this nice man even the real bartender? Or was he just some guy holding down the fort until the waitress (whose hair is apparently terribly long and wet because she still hasn't shown up 30 minutes later) and the real bartender came for the evening?

And I repeat...where are all the customers? I feel like the guy in those old British Airways ads who finds himself in the middle of a deserted city and yells "Where is everybody?" at the top of his lungs.

We knew we were going to Buona Terra for dinner, so we didn't want to eat too much at Misala but we did want to try something with a Caribbean flavor from their menu. Everything I really wanted wasn't available until 10pm, so I held back and just savored my drink. Win got the Caribbean Jerk Chicken Skewers, served with Yellow Rice and Pigeon Peas. The chicken was excellent and better than what's served at one of Win's other favorite Caribbean restaurants in Atlanta. The bowl of rice and pigeon peas was huge and I ate a healthy amount of it too; it was really delicious.

After we finished our drinks, we said goodbye to the kind "bartender" and went on our way, still wondering where the real staff was and where the customers were. It was only after we got home and did some research on the place that we found out it was known as an "after-midnight spot" with various DJs at the ready. Since we have the Lima Bean, I doubt we'll be hitting the after midnight scene at Misala anytime soon. But if any of you Chicagoans do, let me know what you think. What we could gather from our brief, and apparently ill-timed, exposure to the place was that it would probably be fun.

Misala's decor is trendy, the lounge atmosphere comfortable, and their Caribbean menu is unique. The two things we tried off their menu were delicious, but we can't really say we experienced what Misala is really like. Clearly this place doesn't get going until really late in the evening but if you are up for that, check it out.

2556 W. Fullerton
Chicago, IL
Telephone: 773-276-5843

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Discovery of a New Italian Favorite: Buona Terra

This weekend, Win and I went out to dinner near Logan Square, a cute, developing neighborhood here in Chicago. Win has a great time picking restaurants for us to try and he's got excellent instincts about what will please us and what won't. When he found a place called Buona Terra in Zagat, he thought its score of 22 for food, 21 for décor, 22 for service and average cost of $24 for dinner seemed like a great combination. (For those unfamiliar with the Zagat Guide’s rating system, 30 is the highest score and the Buona Terra scores rank in the “very good to excellent” level.) As usual, his judgment was spot on with this weekend's pick.

Buona Terra is a charming, intimate Italian restaurant with delicious food. When we arrived, the place was packed so we decided to sit at the bar and have a drink while waiting for a table. While perusing the wine list, we were thrilled to see Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico on the list. We got engaged in Venice almost 6 years ago at a restaurant called Il Vecchio Fritolin. The wine we were drinking that night was a Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico Reserva 1994. Before even knowing I was going to get proposed to, I thought the wine was really good and I actually wrote down what it was so that we could remember it for the future and perhaps enjoy it again. It’s been nearly impossible for me to track down this wine in the US so it was a real treat to see a Borgo Scopeto on Buona Terra’s wine list. We like the wine independent of its involvement in our special evening, but we do always remember it as our engagement wine.

Anyway, we ordered a bottle of the Borgo Scopeto and enjoyed a glass at the Buona Terra bar. We mentioned our happiness in seeing this bottle of wine to the bartender, a friendly, engaging woman who turns out to be the co-owner of the restaurant. Her husband is the chef and she filled us in on his background. Turns out he's from Mexico and was raised on a dairy farm there. He trained in a number of Chicago restaurants over the years, mostly in the classic French style. When he decided to open his own place, he chose Italian cuisine because it's what he loves, but he still employs a lot of his French training in his dishes.

When our table was ready, we moved on and poured over the menu. Practically every dish looked good, so choosing was hard. I had been dreaming of good pasta all week, so I knew I was doing pasta as my main course. I'm a huge sucker for Caprese, so despite numerous interesting appetizer selections I went with the Caprese (sliced tomato with fresh mozzarella and basil). Win chose the Proscuitto e Mozzarella all Ferri (mozzarella wrapped with proscuitto and grilled; served over mixed greens and balsamic vinegar). Here's a look at our appetizers. Win's Proscuitto e Mozzarella all Ferri is on the left; my Caprese is on the right.

The appetizers were really good. My Caprese was delicious but Win’s Proscuitto e Mozzarella was amazing. The cheese and the proscuitto had a delicious grilled taste that really enhanced their flavors and the meat and cheese paired very well with the greens and balsamic.

For my entrée, I chose the Rigatoni Buona Terra and Win selected the Ravioli con Vittello. Rigatoni Buona Terra is rigatoni pasta tossed in a sun-dried tomato cream and topped with roasted walnuts and goat cheese. Ravioli con Vittelo is ravioli pasta stuffed with veal in a brandy cream sauce and topped with fresh mozzarella. Here is a photo of our entrees, again with Win’s on the left and mine on the right:

Both were very rich and delicious. Win’s ravioli was filled with tender veal and the brandy cream sauce was heavenly. Overall a really gorgeous combination of flavors. My rigatoni was in a more powerful, yet very creamy and rich, tomato sauce that was superb.

I was too full for dessert but Win ordered a vanilla gelato with chocolate sauce. The chocolate sauce had a really unique malted milk quality to it that gave the already delicious sauce an even more special edge. How do I know this if I was too full for dessert, you ask? The very kind (and perceptive) waiter brought two spoons and who can say no to gelato when an extra spoon is right there?

Normally one or both of us would have sampled something from the Secondi Piatti section of their menu but we will have to save that for next time. Besides pasta, Buona Terra offers a number of interesting red meat, pork, fish and chicken dishes.

Buona Terra has a comfortable atmosphere, a friendly and helpful staff, and hardworking owners. The food is excellent and the prices reasonable. With just one visit, it easily became one of our new favorites.

Buona Terra
2535 North California

Chicago, IL 60647
Telephone: 773-289-3800

Next time: It's 8:30pm...where is everybody?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Straight from Spain: Toasted Bread and Bittersweet Chocolate

The February 2005 issue of Food & Wine is devoted to the food of Spain. I love the section on tapas and their coverage of what some prominent Spanish chefs are doing to invigorate traditional dishes with new twists. A recipe for a unique little treat caught my eye as I flipped through this issue and I just had to try it. It's Toasted Bread and Bittersweet Chocolate.

One look at the ingredients list and Americans might think it's too bizarre to taste good, but you'll have to trust me that it's outstanding. It's also quick and easy to prepare with a decadent outcome.

Toasted Bread and Bittersweet Chocolate
As seen in Food & Wine, February 2005
Serves 4
Total Time Needed: 10 Minutes

16 thin baguette slices
1 4-ounce bar of bittersweet chocolate, cut into 16 pieces (I used Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Premium Baking Bar)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt

Preheat the broiler and position a rack 8 inches from the heat. Spread the baguette slices on a baking sheet and broil until toasted, about 30 seconds. Turn the slices over and set a square of chocolate on each one. Broil just until the bread is golden and the chocolate is beginning to melt (about 30 seconds). Transfer the chocolate toasts to plates and drizzle with the olive oil. Lightly sprinkle sea salt on the chocolate and serve right away.

See how easy? It's toasted baguette, warm, delicious chocolate, flavorful olive oil and sea salt. That's it. But this is an absolutely marvelous snack or dessert. The chocolate, olive oil and salt enhance each other beautifully and the flavors work really well together. Win and I have enjoyed making these treats for the past couple nights and they barely get out of the oven before we greedily snatch them up.

Although the Food & Wine article said that chocolate on bread was a common after-school snack for children in Spain, this combination isn't typical in most of the US. Here's hoping it catches on; it's too delicious to miss!

Next time: We Found a New Italian Favorite

Thursday, January 06, 2005

A Sweet Breakfast for My Little Sweetie

At Christmas, a friend of mine gave our Lima Bean a book called If You Give A Pig A Pancake by Laura Numeroff. This book is so charming and the illustrations by Felicia Bond are absolutely adorable. We've been reading it at least once a day and it's the rare children's book that I still find quite endearing, even though I'm probably approaching my 100th reading of it.

This book also got me to thinking that I had never made Lima pancakes before. She's usually a fruit and cereal, oatmeal or toast gal in the mornings. So this week I whipped up a batch of pancakes and cut them into heart shapes for my little sweetie.

When I told Lima we were having pancakes for breakfast, she seemed interested enough. Then I showed her how I cut them into little hearts and she held one so carefully in her two hands and said "Oooooh" very approvingly. I actually didn't expect the heart shape to impress her since she hadn't had pancakes before and therefore they could be any shape for all she knew. But she somehow understood that little hearts made them a hint more special and she was visibly excited about them. It was really cute.

She dug in and loved them. Since she was new to pancakes, she was also new to syrup. Needless to say, she's a big syrup fan now. While she ate, she happily pointed to the pig in the book and was very pleased that she and the pig both had syrup for their pancakes. When I asked if she liked them, she exclaimed "Like!", which is a big shout of approval from Lima.

If You Give A Pig A Pancake, the end result is a wonderful children's book. If you give a Lima a pancake, the end result is a very happy (and syrup covered) little girl.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Veal Chops and Herbed Potatoes from the French Countryside

Win's sister and her family gave me a wonderful book for Christmas called The Cook and The Gardener by Amanda Hesser. The book is subtitled "A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside" and it is just that. Hesser tells the story of the year she spent as the cook in a 17th century chateau in Burgundy, focusing much of it on her efforts to build a relationship with and learn from the chateau's crusty old gardener. The book discusses the seasonality of food, fruits and vegetables in particular, and shares how the chateau's menus revolved around what food was fresh and best in any given season. The book is part memoir, part travel log, and part cookbook. I love Hesser's writing and am eagerly devouring each page.

While I haven't had a chance to read the entire book yet, I couldn't wait any longer to try some recipes from it. The book's stories and recipes are categorized by season and then by specific month within each season, highlighting the dishes that take best advantage of the garden's offerings that month. For obvious reasons, I decided to start with two hearty winter recipes from January. We made Veal Chops with Sage Cream Sauce and Warm Potatoes with Red Wine Vinegar. Both dishes are outstanding and they really did remind us of the types of meals we had on a trip to France a few years ago.

Veal Chops with Sage Cream Sauce
Based on the recipe found in The Cook and The Gardener by Amanda Hesser
Serves 4

4 veal loin chops, about 3/4 inch thick
coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup of Hesser's winter stock or water (Note: the Winter Stock recipe is in the book or you can use 1/4 cup low sodium beef stock and 1/4 cup water)
1 tablespoon thinly sliced sage leaves (about 3 sprigs)
3 tablespoons heavy cream

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Season veal chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat in large saute pan.
3. When the butter is foaming, add the veal chops and saute 3 to 4 minutes per side, until they turn a deep brown.

4. Transfer the well-browned chops into a roasting pan and finish cooking in the oven, about 5 minutes.
5. While the chops are in the oven, deglaze the pan. Over medium-high heat, add stock to the pan, sprinkle in 2/3 of the sage and scrape the meat juices stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring the stock to a boil and reduce to 1/4 cup. Add the cream and stir. As soon as the sauce comes to a boil, remove from heat. Taste for seasoning; the sauce should be full flavored.
6. Once veal chops are cooked completely, transfer them to a serving plate. Spoon the sauce over the veal and sprinkle on the remaining sage. Serve.

Warm Potatoes with Red Wine Vinegar
Based on the recipe found in The Cook and The Gardener by Amanda Hesser
Serves 4

8-12 small round red or white potatoes, washed (about 2 pounds)
Sea salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot lobe, minced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves (about 8 sprigs)
freshly ground black pepper
coarse salt

1. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan, season with sea salt, and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through and soft in the center (about 15 to 20 minutes). Drain and cut potatoes in thirds.
2. In the same pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and soften for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and the vinegar. Toss them well to coat. Add the thyme and season with pepper. Add salt if you find it necessary. Toss once more and serve.

Here are our potatoes, tossed but still in the pot.

And here is the final, plated presentation:

We paired this meal with a 2002 LillyPilly Red Velvet. This was one of the wines that we received in our Wine Grab Bag a couple months ago. The wine was good, but much sweeter than we were expecting. It worked with the meal though and was actually kind of a pleasant change from the richer reds we usually drink. What surprised us when we went to uncork the wine was that there was no cork---it had a screwtop! I know some wineries are moving to screwtops, but we did find it funny to unscrew the top. Check out the photo of the bottle below, screwcap prominently displayed in front.

This was a really delicious dinner and it was quite straightforward to prepare. Win was in charge of cooking the veal and thanks to his skilled preparation, the veal came out of the oven tender and delicious. The sauce for the veal was flavorful without being overpowering and it had a nice balance between creamy (thanks to the heavy cream) and fresh (thanks to the fresh sage). The potatoes were equally good, with a stronger herb taste. The thyme and red wine vinegar made for an interesting combination that worked well on the warm potatoes.

I'm looking forward to reading more of The Cook and The Gardener and will definitely be cooking more dishes from it. It's a lovely read with the power to transport you to the French countryside, one meal at a time.

Next time: A sweet breakfast for my little sweetie

Monday, January 03, 2005

"At Our Table" in the new year

Happy New Year! Being a list-maker, a planner and a lover of all things organized, I thought I'd start off the new year with a quick review of what "At Our Table" is all about and a look forward to what's coming up in 2005.

What is the focus of "At Our Table?"
"At Our Table" follows the culinary adventures, large and small, of a family in Chicago. This blog features recipes, restaurant reviews, cooking and baking tips, travel stories, cookbook and foodie book reviews, kitchen gadget recommendations, and anything else that strikes my fancy.

And just who are the members of this Chicago family?
Linda, Win and the Lima Bean. I'm Linda and I write this blog and do most of the cooking and baking in our house. As you can tell from my entries, sometimes I make really special, interesting meals and other times I keep it simple. I love cooking and am building my cooking repertoire one meal at a time. I also love to go out in Chicago and eat out around the country. I make no claims to be an expert chef, but I'm getting better with practice and experience and having fun along the way.

My husband, Win, also enjoys cooking and is especially talented with grilling, frying, and all things meat. He makes a great scalloped potato dish too (which, oddly enough, I don't think we've shared here yet...that will come soon!)

The Lima Bean is our 20-month-old daughter. Despite her young age, she's already in to cooking too and spends a lot of her time pretending to cook with play food. She's my trusty sidekick for all grocery shopping runs, trips to the Farmer's Market, kitchen disasters, and most of the cooking I do. She's a great eater with a penchant for sauteed mushrooms, rice from Dona Torta, and applesauce. At least those are her favorites this week. You'll see stories about her peppered throughout "At Our Table."

What's ahead for "At Our Table?"
Looking forward for 2005, I have a few blog resolutions. First, I'd like to experiment even more in the kitchen and am going to try and pull out new recipes from my cookbooks and magazines every week. I love my old faithfuls, but I'm going to try new recipes more vigorously this year and of course share them with you. Second, I'd love to bake more in 2005. Since we have a small family, desserts take a while to eat in our house. I often forgo baking because I don't want the temptation of a whole cake or tart sitting in front of me all day. In 2005, I'm going to bake more and worry about that less. I've found too many good dessert recipes lately that need to be tasted. Finally, I'd like to spend some more time checking out what my fellow bloggers are cooking and trying their recipes myself. They are always fun to read about; in 2005, I'd like to put even more of them into practice.

If you are new to "At Our Table," welcome and I hope you enjoy this blog. If you would like to be notified of new posts to the site, see the sidebar to the left and sign up to be updated when new entries are posted. For seasoned readers, thanks for following along on my journeys with food and I'll look forward to having you along in 2005.

Next time: Veal and Roasted Potatoes from the French countryside

Photo Credit: The photo above is from the Webshots Photo Gallery and belongs to them.