Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Easy weeknight dinner

The other night I wasn't in the mood for serious cooking.  After reviewing the contents of the fridge, and deciding what needed "to go" soon, I decided on a classic- burritos.  I love making burritos because the cooking and prep time are both fairly minimal, it's always soul satisfying, and I always take seconds!

I'm sure you've made burritos before, but do you have a standard recipe, or do you just throw whatever you have available in the pan?   Using some older veggies, 1/2 pack of meat, and a left-over egg white from an earlier batch of brownies, I managed to cook up some delicious burritos.   Of course I jazzed it up a bit with some cilantro spinach flavored wraps (from Trader Joe's- the habanero lime ones are awesome too), and habanero-lime salsa.  Sour cream added nice richness to the egg white and chorizo mixture.  Adding chorizo to my burritos is a new treat after finding a great local producer that sells both ground and sausage link chorizo  (Triple S Farms). 

My ingredients:
1/2 lb. chorizo
1 egg white
1 poblano pepper - chopped
1/2 onion- chopped
3 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce - diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 can black beans
sour cream
lettuce- chopped
Wisconsin cheddar- grated

Pop the wraps in the oven on low temp for just a few minutes so they are nice and warm, and the cheese will melt right away.  Saute the onion, garlic and peppers.  Set aside.  Saute the egg and chorizo - add back in the veggies, chipotle peppers and beans- cook for a few minutes.  Fill your wrap with cheese and sour cream, add the protein/veg mix, top with some lettuce and salsa.  Voila- Bon App!

PS- Please feel free to leave your comments, suggestions, criticisms, etc.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Top Chef Edition

In preparation for tonight's Top Chef finale (part1 I think- unless someone can comment on whether tonight is actually the last episode- I can't find any information!), I wanted to add a few of my favorite cocktail recipes.  Make a drink, settle in, and watch the Caribbean fun!

Old Tom Collins:

2 oz. Ransom Gin (this is a small batch, barrel aged gin- don't let the whisky color throw you- it's awesome)
2 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz (or a good squeeze) of agave syrup (or sub. 1 tsp. of sugar)
3 oz. club soda
Mix the first 3 ingredients in a shaker preferably over ice.  Pour in glass and add soda. 


2oz of Bacardi Spice Rum
6 oz. Ginger ale (preferably a good, spicy one- Reed's Extra Ginger Brew  is good and pretty easy to find)

Pour rum over ice in a tall glass and fill with ginger ale.  Easy breezy!

Mint Julep

2.5 oz. Bourbon (Maker's Mark is a good choice)
2 tsp. water
1 tsp. powder sugar
4 sprigs of fresh mint

Muddle the mint with the sugar and water.  Add bourbon, shake well and pour over ice.

Long Island Ice Tea

1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/2 oz. triple sec
1/2 oz. vodka
1/2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. tequila
1/2 oz. rum
1 oz. lemon juice
3 oz. coke

Mix and enjoy responsibly - or you may not make it through the show!

So where did all that food come from....

In an effort to try and eat more sustainable and local foods, I have decided to try and document at least one meal per week.  This meaning that I am trying to trace down where my foods really come from, and how they were produced.  I may not find all the answers that I am looking for since the research is really only going to be done via Internet (although I wish I had the time and resources to venture across the land and explore farming like Michael Pollan).  My recent obsession of food findings is in fact due to Pollan; I have finally finished reading Omnivore's Dilemma - a fantastic read on how, why, and where our food really comes from. Pollan travels the country, interviewing many farmers, and documenting the industrial and pastoral food chains.  I definitely recommend this book if you haven't already read it.

While I was cooking my last blog meal- "The Irish Feast", I made note of the producers/manufacturer's of all the ingredients.  I'm listing the store names in case any of you interested readers shop at these same places, or buy the same brands, you will have an idea of where your food is coming from too.

Trader Joe's Note:  Quite a few items are from Trader Joe's - it's hard to get exact information since they have their own private label, however, they say that "Our customers can be assured that all products in Trader Joe's private label are sourced from non-genetically modified ingredients."  They also list that there is NO MSG, added trans fats, nor artificial colors or flavorings in any of their products.

Trader Joe's Butter
Apples - Organic from Washington Domex  - tree fruit company that hasn't gotten any bad publicity as far as I can tell - that's good!
Parsnips- from Meijer - no producer name??
Onions- Organic from Peri and Sons Farms in NV  (rec'd score of A from BBB (Better Business Bureau)
Seasonings- sources unknown
Garlic- Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, CA  (garlic capital of the world FYI) - claim to use heirloom seeds; largest producer of garlic in the country...hmmm
Chicken Stock- Organic from Trader Joe's
Sour Cream- Organic - Meijer
Parsley- USA Little Bear Brand - of which I just read that their curly parsley and cilantro were both recalled in Dec. for positive testing of salmonella - great..

Meijer Naturals Old Fashioned Oats - No GMO's is the only thing I can get from this label
All-purpose flour, sugar, and baking soda - Trader Joe's
Rosemary - Infinite Herbs - whose website gives no info on how or where the product is produced
Milk - Kilgus Farms, grass fed cows with feeding pasture rotation; does not sell outside a 100 mile radius :) (and only 50 miles from my home- maybe I should take a drive out!)
Beef - Triple S Farms (local farmer whom I have met and like- still waiting to get out to his farm this spring)
Potatoes- Russets from Idaho ??
Carrots- Local from Blue Moon Farm
Peas - Organic from Meijer

Some good, some bad, some I'm just not too sure where it came from, which can be a large problem with store-brand or private-label items.  These grocers and distributors what to make their own niche in the organic market, but at what cost?  These private labels are anonymous by their own nature.  According to The Cornucopia Institue
"Our research indicates that the vast majority of organic eggs for private label brands are produced on industrial farms that house hundreds of thousands of birds and do not grant the birds meaningful outdoor access. If these grocery chains want to truly express a commitment to organics, and communicate this tangibly to their customer base, we would encourage them to specify on their label which egg producers and cooperatives they are "partnering with" and to fully participate, transparently, in The Cornucopia Institute research study and scorecard."
Now I really can't wait for spring/summer to arrive:  fresh produce from the garden and the farmer's market!
Good luck in you own shopping endeavors.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


For those of you in the Chicago land area- check out the Family Farmed Expo this weekend (Thurs-Sat.) at University of Illinois-Chicago.

The event is packed with workshops, chef demos (including Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard), exhibits, meet the farmers, business conferences and more.  Join other fans of locally and responsibly produced food at this even promoting Midwest farmers and producers. 

St. Patrick's Day Feast

Brown Butter Soda Bread
(recipe of Chef Cathal Armstrong - Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, VA
I recently saw this recipe and thought I'd give it a try- especially since I've never made Irish Soda Bread - this is not a traditional version, rather a twist on an old classic.  In case you aren't familiar with the bread (as I was not)- it's a quick bread that uses baking soda in place of yeast, requires little kneading, no rising time (since you don't have to wait for the yeast to do it's thing), and consists of the following main ingredients:  flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk.  This version uses rosemary and brown butter to give a nutty flavor to the bread.  The cross at the top of the bread is indicative to Irish Soda bread.  Some believe it is made to ward off the devil, others (and more widely accepted) believe it is created to allow circulation and expansion of the dough while baking. 

Makes 2 medium loaves:
  • 1/2 stick of unsalted butter
  • 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
    1/2 loaf ready for baking
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 Tbls sugar
  • 1 Tbls chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 3/4 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, add ~ 1-2 tsp of acid (lemon juice or white vinegar) to the milk and let stand for ~30 min. to allow curdling
Pre-heat oven to 375F

Stir butter in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until melted, and then continue to cook about 3 minutes or until golden brown; remove from heat.
Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar into a large bowl.  Mix in oats, rosemary and pepper.  Pour the buttermilk and brown butter over the mixture; stir with a fork until the flour mix is moistened, and then turn out onto a floured work surface.  Knead gently for a few turns - just enough to get the dough molded and a bit smooth (NOTE: overworking (kneading) the dough will result in a tough bread- you do not want to over develop the gluten).
Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a ball.  Flatten the ball into a 6" round, and place on a baking sheet.  Brush the tops of the bread with a little melted butter, sprinkle with additional ground pepper, and cut a 1/2" deep "X" into the top of each dough. 
Bake the breads until deep golden brown - about 40 minutes.  Cool on a rack for 30 minutes. 
Excellent served slightly warm with butter.

For my first attempt, this bread turned out better than expected.  Lending off a sweet aroma, reminiscent of fresh baked biscuits; the taste was slightly sweet with a touch of rosemary and pepper. 

Irish Parsnip and Apple Soup

Parsnips, common to Ireland, were used quite often in the winter when many green vegetables were not available.  This comforting soup lends a good balance of sweet and spice.
(Serves 4-6 sides):
1 Tbls flour
1 pound of parsnips (~ 2 very large), peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound of apples (~2 large), peeled, cored and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp cardamom pods
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 litre chicken stock
3/4 cup heavy cream (or sour cream)
salt and pepper
chopped parsley

Melt the butter in a large stockpot/saucepan.  Add the parsnips, onion, and apples, cooking until just softened; Do Not brown.
Add the spices and garlic, and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring well.
Pour in the stock slowly, stirring until well mixed.  There should be enough stock to cover all the veg/fruit.  Turn the heat to simmer, cover the pot, and cook for ~40 minutes, or until the parsnips are fairly soft (may take up to an hour).  Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.  Add the cream and mix well - Do Not let the soup come to a boil, or the cream will curdle.  Serve hot with chopped parsley. 
Irish Parsnip and Apple Soup with Brown Butter Soda Bread

Irish Stew

Traditional Irish Stew is a simple, pure peasant dish made with cheap and available ingredients of the season.  Potatoes and lamb dominate this dish since the Irish primarily grew root vegetables and raised sheep in the country's grassy hillsides.  The stew has evolved and adapted to include whatever offerings available in your area.  For instance, lamb is not as popular in America as it is in the British Isles, so beef is often substituted (as it is in the following recipe).  Other root veggies can also be substituted such as parsnips, turnips, or swedes.
Whichever you choose to include, the stew will be rich and hearty.

(Servings: 3-4)

* 1.5 pounds boneless lamb stew meat (or beef)
* 2 russet potatoes, peeled
* 3 large carrots, peeled
* 1 yellow onion, diced
* 2 Tbls chopped fresh parsley
* 1 1/2 cups of fresh or frozen peas
* Beef stock (2 -3 cups)
* salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 250F.  Cut the carrots and potatoes into fairly large chunks (as they will cook for quite a long time; pieces to small will become overcooked and soggy).  Place the chopped veggies and the meat into a large ovenproof dish (dutch oven works good) with a fitting lid.  Add 2 - 21/2 cups of beef stock to the pot, along with the chopped parsley, salt and pepper.  Be sure to season generously.  Put the pot on the stove top and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Then cover the pot and place in the oven for about 2 hours. 
Remove the pot from the oven and add the peas - also add more stock if the liquid is running low (the liquid should cover the meat and veg).  Cover the pot and continue to cook in the oven for about 30 more minutes.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes. 
Bon App!

Up next:  Where did it all come from!  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Frontera Grill

My goal here is not to write a whole lot of reviews, but I couldn't pass this one up; plus, it fits into the theme a bit, as a restaurant that practices sustainability and buys from local artisans. 
"Our aim is to serve flavorful, artisanal food grown responsibly by people we know."  -   Frontera Grill:
On a recent trip to Chicago, I seeked out a restaurant I've been dying to try for some time now- Frontera Grill - owned by celeb chef Rick Bayless.  The restaurant radiates with warm colors and is very inviting.  It was pretty crowded so we hovered at the bar waiting for open seats, sipping our afternoon cocktails - mine was a tamarind margarita, and D. had the mescal margarita which i quickly switched over to drinking as well.  The mescal drink is so delicious - made with Del Maguay single village mescal, 10yr old brandy, peychaud bitters and limonada.  I'm not sure if it's the mescal or some hidden gem they add in that gives the drink a subtle smoky flavor.  A must try!
To start with, we ordered the Verduras en Mole Verde - a casserole of roasted chayote accompanied by local winter veggies simmered in a spicy green sauce with black kale, served with warm tortillas.  If you have never tried chayote, it's a pear shaped fruit with a firm texture and a taste similar to summer squash.  The heat in the decadently creamy  sauce sneaks up on you in between the subtle flavors of the kale and chayote, and the crunch from the pepita's. 
Next we tried a sampling of entrees and sides:  Pork tacos, grilled green onions, a trio of salsas, Platanos con Crema, and Tortitias de Regueson.   The pork tacos are very simple, black beans, braised pork (from Maple Creek Farm in Wisconsin) and house made guacamole.  Looking at the plate, it doesn't scream excitement, but togther it makes wonderful sense.  The meat was tender, juicy and fresh. 
The Tortitias were a special that day, and well worth it: little cakes of house ricotta wrapped in swiss chard, and deep fried.  They lay in a pasilla sauce (dark, smoky, chili sauce) and accompanied by a peashoot salad, jack cheese, and a crispy epazote  (an ancient Mexican spice that has a rich flavor - hard to compare it to anything I know, so you must try it for yourself!)  The plantains were a traditional side:  sweet, fried, and mixed with a mild a cream sauce; tasty but not nearly as satisfying as the entrees.  A nice way to end a fantastic dining (and drinking) experience. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Kale, Bacon and Bread

Lately (by lately I mean the last 4-5 years) I've been having trouble finding decent bread.  There is a nice bakery in town, but with little variety and the hours don't suit me.  Other than that it's Meijer or County Market - I need not say more.  Every so often I tell myself I will make it my goal to bake my own bread this week.  So with my recent spare time, I searched through all my cookbooks and piles of pulled magazine pages and newspaper clippings to find, thus far, a great bread recipe.  I have been working on it for a few weeks and am fairly happy with the results - dark brown and crusty on the outside, chewy and soft on the inside. 

Along with the bread (not that I need something else because god knows I can eat a whole loaf in one sitting), I decided to go with a sort of side dish for dinner.  This is a Thanksgiving inspired side dish, one that is comforting during the long, cold winter months.  Plus who doesn't love Thanksgiving dishes.  We should eat more of them all year round as far as I'm concerned. 

No-Knead Crusty Bread (adapted from Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC)

Note:  my measurements are in metric - if you don't have a scale - go get one- NOW.  They are a must have for baking and pastry.  I use a Polder digital scale (
  • 300g (grams) Unbleached bread flour
  • 75g.  Buckwheat flour
  • 75g. Wheat germ
  • 50g. Flaxseed meal
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 10g. sea salt (fine grain)
  • 360 g. warm water
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Add the warm water and mix (wooden spoon is useful here) just until the ingredients are combined into a sticky dough.  You may need to flour your hands and work it slightly.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it to ferment for about 8-10 hours - yes, you should start this early in the morning (or at the end of the night and let ferment overnight). 
Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface, and work the dough slightly for a few minutes- this is a new find (March 14th, 2011) that I have found to produce a bit lighter airy bread.  After kneading for 3-4 minutes, form dough into a round.  Proof the dough seam-side down in a well-floured banneton, or if you don't have one, as I don't - a floured tea cloth works just as good.  Let it proof for about 2-3 hours in a warm, draft-free place (the stove is good - make sure it's OFF please!).
Pre-heat the oven to 450F before baking.  Preheat the pan and lid as well.  A large stock pot, dutch oven or cast iron pan work well.  When the dough is risen, remove the hot pot and lid, sprinkle a little four onto the top of the dough and tip the loaf in upside down so the seam side is up.  Shake the loaf to center it in the pot, cover and let bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the lid, and finish baking about 15-20 more minutes.  The bread should be well browned and crusty.  Cool on a rack and enjoy the crackle!

Kale, Bacon and Beets (serves ~3)

Notes:  Try to buy local bacon- it's better.  I've been using Triple S Farms - it's got great flavor, and a perfect ratio of fat to meat. 
  • 5-6 Slices of Bacon
  • 1/2 large onion, sliced
  • 2 Tbl. almonds, sliced/slivered, toasted
  • 2 Tbl. golden raisins
  • 1/2 large potato, diced
  • 1 golden (or red) beet, diced
  • 1 1/2 bunch of kale, collards and/or swiss chard
  • 2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
Place the potatoes and beets in an ovenproof dish, drizzle with olive oil and bake in 450F oven for about 25 minutes or until tender.
Wrip the leaves of the greens into small pieces.  Chop up the stems if using chard. 
Cook the bacon in a cast iron skillet - remove and set aside.  With 1 Tbl. bacon fat, carmalize the onions over med-low heat for about 15 minutes.  Add the chard stalks if using, raisins, and saute for 10-15 minutes.  Add the greens and vinegar, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the greens are wilted.  Mix in the almonds, potato and beets, and season to taste. 
This recipe is easily adaptable using a variety of greens, or other root veggies.
Bon App!