March 31, 2006

molasses cookies

The other day I felt like having a cookie after supper, but I didn't have any cookies. All the baking that has been going on around here must be having an effect on my mental processes, because without even really thinking about it, I cracked open the Baking Illustrated best-recipe book and dug around for the cookie I was craving... and ideally, that I had ingredients for. And banged out a batch of totally spectacular molasses cookies, yay me. They were soft and spicy, and quite a bit like my grandma's "aunt lila's cookies" except not as dark brown, and moister. Good for dessert, good for breakfast. Yay cookies!

Posted by foodnerd at 08:50 PM | Comments (1)

March 27, 2006

shrimp creole

The new Penzey's magazine, Penzey's One, did a feature issue on New Orleans and the gulf coast, full of personal stories and photos of flood trauma, plus lots of delish-looking family recipes. (This down-homey just-folks approach is the great appeal of the magazine, which still feels a little like a high-school publishing project, but that is part of why I love it.)

So I got a hankering for the Shrimp Creole recipe in there, because it sounded simple and good, and because i had a bag of frozen raw shrimp hanging around. Saute up small-diced onion, celery and pepper (in butter lest i forget), add bay leaf and paprika and salt, pour in a can of tomatoes and simmer, then add in the shrimps, a little cornstarch slurry and some parsley. Fabu, quick and easy. I have been eating it for dinner all week with rice and broccoli, and I think it is healthy enough to be counterbalancing the Perez and Hecky's I've been eating for lunches. :-)

Posted by foodnerd at 07:49 PM | Comments (1)

March 24, 2006

apple galette

TNR loves to bake, so i think it is her influence that has caused me to make way more sweet pastry things than usual of late. She bought a huge pile of tiny apples for cheap at Stanley's, then got sick and didn't use them, so I stepped in and made a quickie apple galette with the other half of the pastry i made for the pear tart tatin. Nummy.

Posted by foodnerd at 11:18 AM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2006

a tavola, creepy lovenest with good food

At the spur of the moment last night I had dinner with JG at A Tavola, the italian restaurant in her neighborhood that has been touted as the best gnocchi in the city. The gnocchi are pretty good -- a little marshmallowy in texture for my taste, but in a fabulous sauce of brown butter and lots of big crispy-fried sage leaves. We also had tagliatelle in a lamb ragu (yummy), a braised pork shank over white beans (yummy and huge), and braised beef short ribs over risotto (super-extra yummy).

However, this delicious straightforward-italian meal was eaten in a quiet little restaurant infested with at least 3 couples obviously having affairs. All the men were 50ish, all the women were skinny and 20ish, and ALL OF THEM were canoodling outrageously. Fingers were being sucked, two of them were actually making out at a corner table, and there was general fondling all around. JG saw one of the guys looking bored and yawning as his girl talked enthusiastically about something, then perked right back up again when the finger-licking resumed. EEEEW.

We just eyeballed them and laughed, in between admiring discussion of our short ribs. It was like fine dining in a deeply creepy junior high dance. It's really the perfect restaurant for the setup: quiet and romantic, but in a young hipster neighborhood where those aging dudes can be utterly assured that they won't see anyone they know on a Tuesday night.

Posted by foodnerd at 04:22 PM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2006

how you know you are feeling better

you make something not only full of vegetables but also containing spicy chile sauce. And eat it, AND don't feel nasty afterwards. Praise the lord.

I had a bag of unsweetened coconut that needed using. Here is what I did with it:

made thai coconut rice (jasmine rice cooked in coconut milk + water + small slice ginger, then sprinkled with toasted coconut)

made indonesian spicy stirfry (chicken, broccoli, carrot, onion, snow pea, mango & spicy sambal - no coconut in this one)

made curried greens from a Saveur recipe that I've been ogling for years now. The green beans in the supermarket looked nasty, so i got mustard and turnip greens instead. This worked out awesome, since I shorted the water in the recipe a bit and instead relied on the not-fully-moistened coconut to absorb the residual water from the greens, making the final product nice and dry. I am totally making greens this way again, and I might even truck up to Devon St and see if I can find curry leaves, though the recipe is delish without them.

made a german chocolate cake - since TNR can't eat sugar or dairy, i took it on as a challenge to find a way to make German Chocolate Cake she could eat. We used unsweetened coconut, made a maple+butter+florida crystals frosting (thickened up by cornstarch and the dried coconut), and did the chocolate cake recipe from the current issue of Cook's Illustrated, swapping applesauce 1 for 1 with the sour cream and cocoa+oil for the solid chocolate. (Who knew unsweetened chocolate had milk solids in it?) The cake came out awesome, very moist and fluffy and chocolaty -- the recipe is a bit fiddly, but worth the trouble.

Posted by foodnerd at 01:06 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2006

when bad food happens to good people

I went to an offsite company meeting last week in California with my whole company. This was for the most part a very satisfactory experience (except for the whole food poisoning situation, which has been proven to be completely unrelated to the trip), but on our first night there, we all had dinner at a vegetarian restaurant that had been billed to us as just completely fabulous, really great, fantastic food, eat there all the time. (We have a California office, and this place was down the street from it.)

I was trying to keep an open mind, even though I'd checked the internet and figured out it was a chinese-style place specializing in fake meat, which to me is a VERY BAD SIGN since there is a place like that in Boston that is just horrid. Bear in mind though that there is also a chinese-style vegan place in Boston (Allston actually) that is unexpectedly terrific, if a bit low in protein -- we have dined there happily with vegetarian friends, on dishes that treat vegetables well and make them the stars. So I am not anti-vegetarian, I am anti-bad-food. And that's what we got for dinner out in San Mateo: Really Bad Food.

vegetarian spring roll vegetarian restaurant in san mateo theoretically, a potsticker

The spring roll was the one exception -- it was full of nice fresh cabbage and was quite tasty and well fried. Everything else ranged from mediocre to truly nasty. The actual vegetables themselves were pretty good, cooked crisp-tender, but the sauces were pretty lame, and the faux meat was generally icky. The mushroom-based not-beef was the best of the lot, tasting fairly okay if you were expecting mushroom taste rather than meat taste. And the potstickers were just a travesty: thick bready dough filled with nasty things claiming to be vegetables. Just wrong.

Compounding an already bad situation was the fact that there were four of us at the table, all women, all carnivorous, all ravenous from a long flight from Chicago, and all by this time very very cranky. By the time the entrees had arrived we'd already resolved to take matters into our own hands and go out later to the In-N-Out Burger we'd seen next to the freeway on our way from the airport. And so we did, and at last all was right with the world.

at long last, in-n-out

Posted by foodnerd at 08:42 AM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2006

american chips are lame

boring american chips

This is the same label that makes the completely fabulous UK chips that come in flavors like lamb+mint, roast chicken, thai sweet curry, etc. But here in America, all we get is ranch, tarted up as if it's something interesting. Arrrgh!

(in googling for a link to the UK chips - sorry, crisps - i found this. Chippie knows where it's at, yo.)

Posted by foodnerd at 09:26 AM | Comments (2)

March 17, 2006

health update - bummer

Turns out it wasn't salmonella that I've been suffering from -- it's campylobacter.

C read my post and immediately called to ask how I knew it was salmonella, at which point of course I told him I didn't, I actually had no idea, and that was when the last part of the puzzle fell into place. Turns out he's been just as sick for just as long, and his doctor did the tests and figured out he had a campylobacter infection. We both got sick Thursday night/Friday morning, and have had identical symptoms -- his big victory today was eating some toast and marmalade.

Which, unfortunately, means that we got food poisoning when we were eating together -- which was the absolutely delightful meal we had at HB last week. God damn. We really liked our food and the atmosphere there, and had every intention of going back, but at this point i'd have to say there's no fucking way. Individual cases of campylobacter infection are caused primarily by uncooked poultry, and since well-fried chicken livers are as close as we got to poultry in that meal, that means the culprit is bad kitchen habits: cross-contamination. Bummer.

We are sad. For so many reasons.

wine & menu, hb
picture of the wines C brought
the pinot noir was delightful

Posted by foodnerd at 11:07 PM | Comments (1)

March 16, 2006

green poo

This is fairly grody, but it's so hilarious it had to be shared. I never wondered, but now I know: drinking large amounts of purple gatorade makes your poo BRIGHT GREEN. Like leaves on plants green. I laughed so hard I cried when I saw the green there in the bowl.

Apparently it's the vast amount of Blue #1 dye they use to make it purple -- passes right through your system and combines with the yellow tones in poo to make green.

Posted by foodnerd at 10:54 PM | Comments (40)

March 15, 2006

pear tart tatin, an end to suffering

it's been a while since I posted. Sorry about that -- came down with a lovely case of salmonella whilst in California for a company meeting. This is day 6 of the horror, and the first day I've had any appetite at all. Honestly, the gorier aspects of salmonella are bad enough, but being in San Francisco with no appetite is truly wretchedness. Now that I'm home, I've got a fridge full of cheese and a bowl of lovely fruit I've been utterly uninterested in eating for days. Awful. Truly awful.

Last night, when I started to think about what could be done about the new roommate's overripe pears, I knew I was on the road to recovery. Tonight, when I made -- and eventually even ATE, yay me! -- this pear tart tatin, I knew things were well on their way back to sanity.

pear tart tatin, unmolded

The new roommate (TNR?) can't eat white sugar, so this was a maple syrup based tart, and I have to say, I recommend it to everyone. A bit of cornstarch thickens it up the last little bit, and the maple adds a terrific depth of flavor to the caramel. Yumminess.

Posted by foodnerd at 01:10 AM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2006

it's the sauce

My coworker JG got some lunch today at Hecky's and its delightful aroma wafted into my cube and I was forced to investigate. She had a half chicken there nestled in the foil and styrofoam, covered and glistening in a red coat of bbq sauce. She ate all the dark meat and licked off her fingers, and told me she usually got too full to eat the white meat, which she didn't like anyway, so she threw it out. I gave her The Look, whereupon she said she'd put it in the fridge for me. :-) She's awesome that way.

hecky's bbq chicken

And just now, after a really irritating bout of data cleanup for a client that should have done it themselves, weeks ago, I went and got that chicken breast and ate it and was happy. "it's the sauce" is what it says on the menu from Hecky's. The chicken's fine, moist enough and so on, but the sauce really does make the difference.

I've never had a sauce like this, fragrant and frankly quite sweet -- which usually I don't like, but this is tempered by a strong vinegar tang and spicy heat that seems like a combination of a solid dose of Louisiana style hot sauce and cayenne powder. It's fantastic stuff, worth licking off all your digits and eating with a spoon if you get the chance. Yum.

Posted by foodnerd at 06:08 PM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2006

now departing gate G14, hell in a handbasket

Photos from O'Hare Airport: Exhibits A & B proving that our culture is criminally, tragically fucked up.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:50 AM | Comments (2)

March 05, 2006


I was oot and aboot yesterday in Humboldt Park, riding my bike, when I grew peckish. I came upon a likely-looking place that said Jibaritos and Lechon Asado in big letters in the window, and when I peeked in, the place was mobbed, which I took to be a good sign. There's takeout in the front, so at first I thought I had to wait in line, but there are two dining rooms, one to the left and one to the back, and I got a table right away. It's a little divey, but homey and full of families and young people and old people -- lots of people, eating lots of food, speaking lots of languages (or at least spanish and english). This is Borinquen Restaurant.

There are some cool looking appetizers -- i saw a skewer of meat and a big fried ball of something (plantain I'd guess) going to another table -- and mixed plates, but I got the headline dish, the jibarito with lechon asado. I'd had a jibarito at Rudy's Taste, which I found hard to eat and ultimately disappointing, so the fabulousness that arrived on the plate here was truly heartwarming.

jibarito & rice

Imagine some nice flavorful roast pork, in a sandwich with lettuce and tomato, glued together with a bit of cheese whiz and a generous dollop of mayo. Now imagine that instead of bread, there are two toothsome slabs of plantain, smashed flat and fried crisp in -- wait for it, this where it gets really good -- hot oil with so much garlic in it that globs of garlic stick to the outside of the sandwich. The garlicky goodness wafted up to me immediately, and I started thinking happy thoughts about the world and everyone in it (those of you who know me know how uncharacteristic that is). I am so grateful for all of the different kinds of people in the world, each of whom figures out these amazing and wonderful new things for me to eat. I mean, who thought this thing up? It's brilliant.

It comes with a big pile of yellow rice, studded with beans and bits of ham and chorizo. Usually the rice in these situations is pretty dull stuff, just there to fill space, but this was really delicious. Happily, there's a recipe for it on the website of the restaurant. :-) And they have Hawaiian Punch, for which I have a soft spot a mile wide, and I have to say, it goes really, really well with a savory treat like this jibarito.

It's not on Metromix, which strikes me as bizarre, but that's ok -- we don't want too many more people to find it, or we won't be able to get a table.

Posted by foodnerd at 04:54 PM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2006

yummy treat from austria #2

B also brought back an exquisite little miniature Sacher torte, nestled in its wooden box straight from the Hotel Sacher itself, which we shared at a gathering of friends while I was back in Boston recently. I miss all my friends there, and I wish I could just pack them all up and bring them here with me, so they can enjoy what I'm enjoying and always be close at hand. Alas, it is not possible, and so we drowned our sorrow in dark chocolaty apricot goodness.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:33 PM | Comments (1)

yummy treat from austria #1

my dear friend B took a trip to vienna recently, and apparently ate nothing but pork and strudels. Not really. But almost, and wouldn't that have been fun?

And then he brought me back this little bottle of joy.

Apparently this is a great Austrian specialty: the oil of toasted pumpkin seeds. It's all dark brown and nutty, with that interesting bite of acridity that pumpkin seeds have. Lovely drizzled on roasted winter squash, and I can't wait to put some into a squash soup or a celeriac soup. Yummy! Thanks, B!

Posted by foodnerd at 12:25 PM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2006

the experiment

When I got back from holiday break on January 3, I had a bunch of leftovers from the familial celebrations, and there were a few things kicking around the kitchen after the roommate's departure. And I was exhausted and busy, and didn't really get around to grocery shopping, and I kept cobbling together meals from what I had, and finally it occurred to me that considering how jam-packed my cupboards were (compared to my nearly-empty refrigerator), I should make a game out of it and see how long I could go without buying any food whatsoever. (This is what happens to you when you are a foodwhore and squirrel away treats and ingredients in every spare corner of your kitchen.)

And thus was born The Experiment. I decided that I should make a special dispensation for buying milk, since you can't exactly stockpile fresh milk, and that I could be allowed the occasional meal out, since refusing social interaction for the sake of a pretty nerdy self-experiment seemed somehow wrong. Here are the stats:

half gallons of milk: 2, plus pint heavy cream for making sherbert

lunches out w/ coworkers or at clientsite: 2

Perez lunches: 5 -- it was cold, i needed soups! (this was the closest i got to cheating, because invariably Perez yields a bounty of leftover tortillas and at least 2 meals per purchase)

fancy dinners I didn't pay for: 2

weekend w/ MG visiting: 4 meals out total (tacos --> leftover nopalitos & refritos & tortillas)

weekend w/ELF visiting: 4 meals out total (dinner --> ribs & fries I ate for lunch later)

Except for these meals and the leftovers they occasionally generated, I went from January 3 to February 3 without buying any food at all. NO FOOD BUYING FOR 30 DAYS, and I cooked all the freaking time. I could have gone longer but the fry fest was on February 3 and I had to get things for that. After that, I ate more leftovers and cabinet contents, and didn't really and truly do a grocery shop until yesterday, when I went batshit at Stanley's and bought 20 bucks worth of vegetables.

I suspect that I got mildly malnourished during this experiment. I've been tired and cranky, and feeling almost sick, for a week or so if not more, and I'm craving fruit and vegetables -- i keep buying nutrient-rich juices on impulse -- and craving chicken, which is light and low in fat unlike all the heavy winter pastas and beans and meats I've been eating. I really didn't eat enough fruit & veg the last two months, certainly not enough vitamin C except for the limes that come with meals at Perez. I'm really happy about the beet salad in my fridge and the rutabaga mash I'm having for lunch and the broccoli I'm going to have this weekend.

Here's what I had to work with, beyond staples like flour and spices and oil:

frozen thai meatballs from roommate's mom
frozen veg - asparagus & broccoli
frozen salmon & shrimp
canned beans
canned tuna
canned fancy wild salmon & razor clams & oysters from my dad over a year ago
box of mushroom soup
2 dogs/buns from roommate
radicchio & parsley
limes from tallasiandude's mom's tree
leftover lamb leg from roommate's bon voyage dinner
leftover bread
kimchi & rice-pucks
2 kinds of salumi leftover from brother's xmas gift to me
scraps of cheese
cookies & crackers from holidays, including 2 boxes of pb & cheese sandwich crackers
dates stuffed with walnuts
2 carrots & 1 onion
1 large red kuri squash
jar of moroccan carrot spread
jar of pickled mushrooms
3 lbs rotini, whole wheat & regular
jar red roasted peppers
can olives
broth & tomatoes in cans
dried fruits

Here's a sampling of what I made and ate during this experiment:

cold lamb w/ baguette & spicy carrot spread
spicy lamb stew w/ beans, carrot, tomato w/ stale-baguette toasts or tortilla toasts
cereal + milk, till the cereal ran out
cookies, brownies, yogurts for breakfasts
lunches & dinners of sandwich crackers + chocolate bonbons from dad
tuna w/ jalapeno, beans, peppers, with crostini crackers
lamb broth w/ whole wheat rotini, lamb shreds & meatballs

eggs w/ birria meat & parsley & pickled nopalitos, with leftover beans & reheated tortillas = brunch for 2

gratin of stale bread, peppery salumi & strong italian cheese, w/ eggs & leftover cream
Trader Joe's soycutash with nopalitos & leftover pico de gallo, tortilla chips
soycutash with birria meat & nopalitos
mushroom soup with various croutons & chips and other junk
canned wild salmon mixed with mayo, eaten on some sort of starch (surprisingly good for canned salmon)

salmon w/ pasta/asparagus/radicchio/garlic, with sprouted onion garnish - this salmon was frozen, from Trader Joe's

pasta w/ tuna in oil, roast peppers, parmesan olives, last of the parsley & sprouted onion

kimchi treat with pucks & freezerburned bacon & frozen shrimps (made w/ piloncillo instead of brown sugar - came out very yum)

crazy rice plain, also crazy rice re-cooked with cream & piloncillo
hot dogs w/ spicy mustard & homemade pickles

limeade & lime sherbert from at least 4 pounds of limes

More recently it's been packaged ramen with defrosted thai meatballs and fish cake, and carrots scavenged from the bottom of the bin. That and a big pan of another gratin of squash, mole-salumi and mozzarella leftover from fry fest.

Seriously, it's amazing how many awesome meals can be made from what at first glance appears to be nothing. Granted, eating sandwich crackers and nothing else for lunch is perhaps more than is called for by simple thrift, but I have given myself a new resolve to eat only from what I have until what I have is gone, and ONLY THEN to go food shopping. We'll see how I do -- I'm like a magpie, except that instead of shiny objects I get distracted by fabulous condiments and pretty cuts of meat and exotic vegetables.

Posted by foodnerd at 10:10 PM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2006

seeking the chicago dog

I had the kickass jumbo dog at the United Center, and that got me thinking: I've not had any other proper Chicago-style dog since I moved. So i started looking around for some. And taking tallasiandude to get some. And we found mostly sad, small weiners only vaguely in the same vicinity as the full salad+celery salt condiment array that is required.

So we did what any sane dog-seeker would do: We asked the homeless guy who asked us for money. He directed us to Tony's Place at Chicago and State. Which is open nice and late, and has a decent dog, but I am still searching. Maybe what I want is really a polish? I am imagining that a polish is a kielbasa, which is stronger flavored and thicker than I have in mind, but perhaps I am just mistaken about that.

Tony's Place

I've heard Gold Coast Dogs is good, and i want to go try Superdawg because those dog-statues on the roof crack me up. And my coworker says to try the Weiner's Circle but only late at night when drunk. Anyone with a good lead on a serious Chicago dog, with good beefy dog flavor underneath a piquant salad of dill pickle, mustard, hot sport peppers, onions, fresh tomato and celery salt, let me know. Thanks!

Posted by foodnerd at 06:03 PM | Comments (2)

March 01, 2006

moon palace & making friends

There don't seem to be too many food bloggers in Chicago, for whatever reason, but one whose blog I like a lot does live here, or at least occasionally she lives here, and last week I reached out of my usual reclusive misanthropic shell and met up with my first real live food blogger, Cindy from foodmigration. She's awesome, and we made friends (yay!), and selflessly *ahem* explored the shanghainese offerings of Moon Palace, the only place I've been able to dig up that has anything on the menu remotely resembling what I've gotten used to at Wing's in Boston.

We had xiao long bao, soup dumplings, which were delicious -- they are bigger than usual, with a thicker wrapping, and with way more meat than soup, so they're not in contention with top-notch soup dumplings, but they taste good and frankly a tasty nonstandard soup dumpling is better than no soup dumpling at all. Cindy'd never had any xiao long bao, and she loved these, so I can't wait for her to get out to California and have soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Los Angeles. (WATCH OUT: The link plays music. Sigh.) She in for a TREAT. :-)

The dumplings were the starter, along with some spare ribs steamed in spicy black bean sauce wrapped in a lotus leaf -- good, but in no way spicy. We were distracted by trying to get to know each other and cross-examine the menu at the same time, but eventually we got ourselves sorted out enough to order more dishes.

We'd heard that Moon Palace had a braised pork shoulder, and from the photos on LTHforum it looked a lot like the dish at Wing's that I call Pork As Big As Your Head. We ordered that, which Moon Palace calls braised pork thigh, along with rice cakes with pickled vegetable and bamboo shoots, and some clearly fried shrimp. The shrimp weren't on the menu, and I had to try and explain what I wanted because I couldn't remember the chinese words for it, but once we had established that the dish i was after was a) free of vegetables, b) not spicy, c) sauteed, and d) in a clear sauce, they knew what I wanted and told me i could have it. Yay! Cindy'd never had rice cakes, either, so I was thrilled to share my love for the chewy white pucks of joy, along with my recipe for cooking them with kimchi. Heh. The pucks here were delish, in a yummy dish of pickled salty veg, bamboo shoot slices, and pork, because no vegetarian dish is complete without pork, right? And the clearly fried shrimp were good too. The shrimps are regular shrimp, bigger than the special type of shrimp that you get on a good day at Wing's and every day at Mandarin Chateau, and the sauce is somehow thicker and more visible, but I ain't complaining -- they were yummy. Tallasiandude says that I've been spoiled by starting out with the creme de la creme of the dish, and that most other versions of clearly fried shrimps come with that thicker sauce.

And the pork as big as your head? Perhaps not quite as big as my head, and it didn't fall off the bone as soon as you glance at it sideways, but it was succulent and fatty and full of that lovely brown savory sauce, and we both liked it very much. Cindy had just made a big pot of veal stock and wasn't up for more along the same lines, so I took the bone home and am going to make soup out of it, probably this weekend. (which i did - here's a picture of it:)

pork mushroom noodle soup

So it still remains to be seen if Moon Palace passes the tallasiandude test, but so far it's the best there is in these parts, and I will definitely go back -- sometimes a girl just has to have soup dumplings and rice pucks and a big braised brown pork shoulder. And it's nice to have a new friend in Chicago. :-)

[photos are coming -- camera pictures are hard b/c sometimes my download tool doesn't work, and i am too cheap to pay 25 cents or whatever per picture.]

Posted by foodnerd at 06:13 PM | Comments (0)