May 16, 2006

celery & red pepper braise

6 stalks celery
2 red peppers

cut celery & pepper into 1/2 - 1 pieces. Saute in a bit of olive oil, sprinkle w/ salt. Sprinkle lightly w/ chili powder & oregano. When starting to soften, add 1/4 - 1/2 cup chicken broth, sliced garlic, bay leaf, and braise until soft and liquid has evaporated.

very nice with some crumbled strong english cheese.

borrowed/adapted from here

The most amusing part of all this is that for years I loathed celery AND peppers, but in the last 2-3 years I have come around to liking celery altogether when properly prepared, ie, not in tuna fish salad, and to liking red peppers. I will NEVER EVER like green peppers, except when cooked well to death in olive oil and served with a large spicy italian sausage.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:12 AM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2006

obsessing; or, homemade mezze

Because I blew through the hummus and baba and foul moudammas from Middle East Bakery in about two days, but I still had lovely persian breads left, I made a bunch of my own mezze, which came out rather well, if I do say so myself.

First I took my big black eggplant and subjected it to the Cook's Illustrated Best Recipe baba ganoush recipe oven treatment: 1 hour at 500F, turning every 15 minutes until it is nearly charred and entirely squishy. Scrape the innards out, cut and mash roughly, add olive oil, garlic crushed to paste with salt, lemon juice, and a bit of tahini. Totally ass-kicking. I love baba ganoush, and fresh-made is totally the shit.

Then I made the black bean hummus recipe from Saveur magazine. Much as you might expect, with tahini, garlic, lemon, olive oil and salt in with the can of black beans, but also a bit of cumin and ground coriander, and a quick hit of paprika on top. Very satisfying.

And I did a quick-and-dirty variant on the muhammara recipe in Best Recipe, taking some jarred red peppers and a cup of walnuts and whizzing them up with pomegranate molasses, olive oil, cayenne & salt. This is the easiest thing in the whole world, and so delicious, and unusual enough to be impressive for guests. You could do this and put it on a platter with store bought hummus and baba (not that you'd need to bother, since both of those are wicked easy too), and presto, instant cocktail nibbles. Or dinner, depending on your level of gluttony. Especially if you had some labneh balls and yogurt around too...

Posted by foodnerd at 07:52 AM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2006

garfield park conservatory & plant market

After my Borinquen breakfast, I went down to Garfield Park to check out what I thought was a farmer's market. Turns out it is a plant/garden market, so I bought some herbs and heirloom tomatoes and a tomatillo, and a pretty green pot for my cycad. And while I was there, I went to the Conservatory as well to look at all the pretty things. I ended up taking a bunch of photographs, many of which turned out poorly, but here are a few of my favorites:

And though the Sweet Room was empty for renovations, there were still a few food plants in the collection.


a cocoa tree


a coconut palm (i think)


a banana tree

and one very sad, very unphotogenic Kona coffee tree.

And because I am a dork and have an ongoing photo series of my feet in various settings, I leave you with this:

Posted by foodnerd at 07:09 PM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2006

best hangover cure in chicago, and mini-burgers at Emmit's

Last night I went out boozing with some coworkers at Emmit's and Richard's, both at the corner of Grand & Milwaukee & Halsted. A good time was had by all, and too damn many gimlets were had by me. However, I did learn one very important thing: in addition to being a high-quality dark cop bar, Emmit's has really delicious mini-burgers. No kidding -- really good buns, decent meat, real pickle & cheese. Yummy.

And Richard's has a swell jukebox, full of Dean Martin and Ray Charles and jazz and motown. I really needed someone to dance with. :-(

Anyway, this morning I woke up less hungover than you might imagine, but still the situation required serious breakfast measures to be set right. So I got in the car and went to Borinquen and got myself a roast-chicken jibarito dripping with garlic oil, and a cafe con leche, and a salt-cod fritter. The salt-cod fritter was fantastic, crunchy and salty and just greasy enough, and i dipped it into a pool of the spicy herbal vinegar out on the table. Have a closer look at how yummy it was:

At 10:30 I was the only person in the dining room, but it filled up as I dawdled over a magazine and the last bits of plantain and yellow rice sopping in the vinegar. After an hour or so of quality time with my Puerto Rican breakfast, my sense of well-being had returned and all was right with the world. The whole works set me back less than 10 dollars. And 8 hours later, I still haven't needed to eat again yet. Heh!

Posted by foodnerd at 07:23 PM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2006

lula cafe: kids in a candy store, plus bonus rant about green beans

C was able to escape his corporate-bonding obligations last night, and so we made plans to buy wine and take it over to Lula Cafe for dinner. By the time I met him in the car at Randolph Wine Cellars I felt like a kid going to meet her favorite cousin for a playdate -- i think it was that the day was so cold and rainy, and work has been rather tedious the last couple of days, and the prospect of totally nerding out over a good meal was just too good. :-)

So, anyway, props to Dr. Vino and his wine-store map for making it easy to find a good bottle shop in the right location for C to get there by bus and me to meet him in the car. Randolph Wine Cellars is a nice small shop, a little bit high-end-wine in feeling but it does have some good cheap bottles, a helpful friendly staff who hooked us up with wine advice and a list of the best 5 BYO restaurants in town, and a handy bargain shelf from which I bought a 50 dollar bottle of riesling for 20 bucks. C will have to remind me what the hell it was we actually drank with dinner, since we failed to write it down and I can't even begin to remember other than it was red and french. Whatever it was, it was light and bright in color, and strongly tannic at first, and C was a little disappointed, but as it spent time in the air it improved sharply and by the end of the meal we both liked it rather well. It was best with the duck, but more on that in a minute.

We started with prosecco (very good, quite dry) and a rhubarb gimlet (with no identifiable rhubarb whatsoever save the pale pink tint, very disappointing). Then we got a spinach salad with shaved strong cheddar, a poached duck egg and some sort of tart ranch-style dressing that I liked but C didn't care for much. The duck egg was poached while twisted into plastic wrap, giving it a pleasingly gathered, asymmetrical shape -- very clever. The star appetizer, though, was the duck consomme, which came with a long slab of crunchy grilled marrow toast, morels, lamb sweetbreads, shards of parmesan and a tangle of microgreens. YUM. Perfect hot savory goodness, the perfect thing for a March day in May.

Then we had a wild nettle risotto with white asparagus, golden beets, blood orange, black walnut, and creme fraiche, which was very nice but none of the flavors really went together until you got a bite with the black walnut, which tied all the sweet-earthy-bland-creamy flavors together into a whole that worked. The problem was only that there were about 4 tiny specks of black walnut on the whole dish. (This is my one objection to Lula in general, the microscopic quantities of certain of the ingredients that get much stronger billing on the menu. There was a similar situation in the spinach salad, where there were 5 tiny shavings of cheddar on a nice mound of salad -- you had to consciously ration in order to have any cheese left after the first two bites.)


sorry all the photos are so dark and lame

We also had a spectacular spaghetti in a red sauce spicy with bacon and a bit of chili, and sprinkled with queso fresco. This is one of the things Lula does *really* well, mixing a Mexican ingredient found in every local grocery into a fancy preparation or a dish from some other cuisine. The spaghetti itself was exceptional, well flavored and wheaty, chewy and substantial. We both loved it.


And last we split the roasted muscovy duck breast with a corn crepe filled with morels and some kind of slow roasted meat we suspect of being duck also, along with a salad of crisp green beans and more microgreens and a lemon mustard. The duck was delicious, almost smoky, but not quite as tender as the one I tasted at Tre Kronor with my father. I realize that with a statement like that I am picking the smallest of nits, but the blog *is* called foodNERD, and I *am* just that pedantic sometimes. :-)

Random side note (start rant): I love green beans above all other vegetables. Always have. There is nothing that green beans can't go along with, and they are reliably delicious, and I just love them. C begged to disagree, and tried to remind me of the glories of asparagus and spring peas, and I will frankly admit that those two vegetables are indeed sublime, when you get them fresh from the dirt. But there are two problems: 1 - unless you own the dirt, it is nearly impossible to acquire them fresh enough to still be delicious, and 2 - though mindbendingly yummy, they are not as versatile in flavor as the green bean. And, I feel compelled to add, even when you have a crappy old starchy nasty green bean from a bad supermarket, you can slow-cook it with garlic and olive oil and tomato and turn it into something good despite itself. That doesn't work with peas and asparagus. Maybe peas. Definitely not asparagus. (End rant.)

So, back to dessert. Banana cream pie and a brace of sorbets, strawberry and passionfruit. The pie is apparently famous, getting feature articles written about it in local rags, but we're not seeing it -- the custard has too much cornstarch in it and the crust was just meh. Still, it didn't suck and we left no bit of banana or cream unconsumed. The sorbets were lovely, particularly the passionfruit one, and the combination of the two worked beautifully. And the garnish of freezedried strawberry actually tasted good, too. Who knew?

It was a delicious meal, made of fresh local sustainable ingredients at a reasonable price, and eaten in very good company, if in horrendous weather. (The wind in Chicago is just obnoxious. There is no reason for such dreadful wind -- the cold and the rain is bad enough, must we be blown off our feet every other week, winter and summer? Feh!) Plus, bonus, C had a couple other bottles to take home with him for later. Work may bring him here with less frequency over the next months, which is good news for him getting to spend less time away from home and family, but is bad news for this blog, since you will be reading fewer stories of our ridiculous gustatory shenanigans. Perhaps he can report his Oregonian shenanigans and I can relay them...

Posted by foodnerd at 07:51 PM | Comments (1)

random thought while getting water at the office

Am I the only one who thinks it would be completely rad if refrigerators came with soda siphons in the door along with dispensers of regular water and ice cubes? That would be the best thing EVER. Somebody call Kenmore and Sub-Zero. (And give me copyright credit -- i need the money.)

Posted by foodnerd at 12:09 PM | Comments (1)

May 11, 2006

bizarre salad combo

I got a salad from the supermarket for lunch today, and at the very end I had some shredded cabbage & green peas left, and those few bites were by far the best of the salad. I am going to have to make a purple-cabbage and baby-peas salad sometime soon. Yum.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:58 PM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2006

next food network star, year II

I found this email exchange between me & my friend C very amusing, so I decided to share it with you, the Internet:

C:
Speaking of which, what'd you think of the most recent Food Network Star show? I thought the winner was clear from the beginning, but still disappointing, somehow. I'll try the show when it actually comes on, I guess.

FN:
I thought it was pretty clear about Next Food Network Star that Guy had it in the bag from the start and it was his to lose. However, I was rooting for Andy, the technique nerd, b/c I would totally have watched that show, plus he's cute. And I felt bad that the amateur was the first to go -- I didn't think she deserved that. Give that silly cow with the bad highlights the boot!

C:
Yeah, Andy was my fave, too--he was so great with the cupcakes, and in the shared demo where he wacked the shit out of a pile of lemon grass. Most of the time, though, he was too uptight. Bummer. Silly cow w/ bad highlights: francophile girl w/ bikini? God, I could not *stand* her. Yech.

FN:
I don't know -- i was giving Andy the benefit of the doubt, since as a nerdy person myself I knew just exactly how awkward it would be to have to do all that TV stuff at the same time as you try to speak coherent english AND cook something. I remember last season people really got better over time as they got more used to it.
______________________

And then we got distracted by talk of where we are going to eat the next time C hits town, and how he's adopted my beloved gimlet, and how a place out there in Portland makes them with *silver tequila* -- mmmmmmm....

Posted by foodnerd at 07:58 PM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2006

corn clam chowder, lazy style

I needed to use up stuff in my house, and I had a can of corn and a potato, so I decided I could make chowder. I sauteed some diced onion and put in some thyme and some smoked paprika to make up for the fact that I had no bacon or salt pork, and then I put the diced potato in to cook with some 1% milk, figuring the potato starch would thicken the milk up a bit, which it did. At the end, I put in the corn and a can of razor clams my daddy brought me from Seattle, and topped it with the last of the cilantro I had in the fridge. Remarkably successful, quite delicious, and low in fat, even. Yum!

Posted by foodnerd at 02:01 PM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2006

bleeding heart bakery

Tallasiandude & I stopped in at the Bleeding Heart Bakery while he was here, because it caught his eye while we were at the Edmar. It's a shade expensive, but everything is organic and sustainable, and the things we tried were delicious. We got two tea cakes, one meyer lemon and one chocolate-porter-hazelnut-dried cherry (we ate the chocolate one over vanilla and choco-peanut butter ice cream from Oberweis Dairy, mmmm), and a couple of day-old, half-price sticky buns, one with pecans and one without. I have high standards for sticky buns, and find most of them either doughy and bland or overly sweet, but these were very nice and balanced, with good caramel cinnamon flavor to them and a nice texture to the bread. Worth a visit if you're in the area, and they have a few tables and wireless should you be inclined to linger a bit over your treat.

Posted by foodnerd at 01:36 PM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2006

variation: dill slaw

The sour slaw that I love so much (and others seem to also) works really well with dill instead of parsley. Mmmmmm.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:48 PM | Comments (0)

May 04, 2006

smørrebrød

I read the smørrebrød article in Saveur and got a little bit of religion. I want to have a big smørrebrød party, and have people over and make a shitload of these things, but i worry that not everyone thinks that eel and herring is as delicious as I do. So to scratch the itch just a little bit, I got out a tin of sardines in mustard sauce that's been kicking around the cabinets for a while, and chopped up a hardboiled egg, and put it together into a salad and spread it on brown multigrain bread, with a sprig of dill and some baby pickles. Delicious! And to make myself feel like I was eating more healthfully, I made a salad of red peppers and fennel, which bizarrely went really well with the sandwiches.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:33 PM | Comments (0)

May 03, 2006

i love it when a plan comes together

You have to picture me smirking and chomping on a cigar like George Peppard in the A-Team when I say that, by the way. Heh.

I woke up today hungry, so i ate a multigrain pita and a hardboiled egg, which should be plenty to get me through a couple of hours before lunch begins to occupy my consciousness. But i didn't even make it out of the house and onto the bus before I was hungry again, and I was seriously considering stopping into the KFC that emits such wonderful smells where I wait for my second bus, even though I know it never tastes as good as it smells.

But I held out, figuring I'd just endure the shame and order lunch at 9:30am once I got to the office. And lo and behold, the professional-networking meeting that was held here last night had only two attendees, and so the fridge was FULL of fabulous leftover homemade cocktail nibblies, and I've been able to completely address the crisis with deviled eggs, roast-beef and red-pepper-mayo crostini, stuffed mushrooms, crab-goat cheese empanadas, and avocado-egg-creamcheese-caviar spread. I felt like I was at a London hotel, drinking my milky tea and munching on WASPy savories. How awesome is that?

Sometimes the universe really does provide.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2006

pavlova

When your friend asks you to bring a dessert to a gathering, and you have a half-bag of shredded coconut, a handful of almost-overripe strawberries, and a few bananas, what do you do? You dig around in the cookbooks, decide that macaroons are not going to use up the berries, and that coconut custard pie is just too much work, and settle on a pavlova instead. Then you bike to the supermarket and buy kiwis and heavy cream, and get busy.

I used the Cook's Illustrated Best Baking Book recipe, and the meringue came out beautiful, just perfect, but I couldn't get it off the parchment paper when it came time to serve, so I guess it wasn't so perfect after all. It broke all up into ugly sticky bits, but i shoved them back together and hid them under fruit and cream, and no one was the wiser save H who witnessed the whole thing. I put kiwis and strawberries and bananas onto it, drizzled it all with passionfruit puree, which is much runnier than I expected it to be, but is also so staggeringly delicious that I am putting it on every pav I ever make henceforward, and topped the works with toasted coconut. The whipped cream went on separately, because one of the guests was lactose intolerant, and the whole thing was rather well-received, happily. I was very happy with it myself, since the meringue base is very sweet but the rest of it is all just fruit and unsweetened cream, so the whole thing works once it's together -- and it's easy to make, AND as a bonus it makes me think fondly back on my trip to New Zealand. What's not to love?

Posted by foodnerd at 08:30 PM | Comments (0)