July 31, 2008

dinner in the sky

my friend told me about this crazy new thing where you can have dinner on a platform suspended from a giant crane.

file under: Things I Would HATE

(i mean really. 4 point restraints during dinner? smog? and what if you have to take a whiz?)

Posted by foodnerd at 06:41 PM | Comments (0)

July 30, 2008

summer dinner

This dinner isn't really anything special, but it's representative of the summer season and the general state of things:

grilled chicken thigh with salt and garlic
baked salt+pepper fries (Alexia brand frozen; not bad, but not compelling)
grilled onion and zucchini plus cherry tomatoes and fresh thyme
the garden's first tomato, foodnerd style with olive oil, salt and pepper

Posted by foodnerd at 08:22 PM | Comments (0)

dark chocolate zone bar

they had dark chocolate and dark chocolate almond zonePerfect bars at the Costco, so i bought some (with a bargain coupon, wooo). turns out they are choco-rific, very pleasingly dark and chocolaty, thereby scratching that itch while also sating the hunger quickly so you can get through an inconveniently-timed client conference call.

Posted by foodnerd at 10:55 AM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2008

white turnips

My parents have had a bumper crop of white turnips this year. I have been eating the greens since spring, helping to thin the bed, don't you know, and they were delicious -- at least up until the last batch, which were cut from the tops of lovely huge white & purple turnips. That last batch was quite bitter, so much so that I didn't enjoy them even when cooked up perfectly with diced bacon and onions. So note to self: turnip greens best when young.

But now I have lots of nice white turnips, which I have also been seeing in the farmers' markets around here. And though you can mash and cream them, winter style, that preparation doesn't have much appeal in weather like this. So what I have been doing is treating them just like daikon.

They're quite similar in flavor, a little milder and a bit harder in texture. They work very well sliced thin in simple pickles, either just salt and vinegar, or a mix of that with a bit of sugar. Occasionally I'll toss in a little hot pepper flake, but usually I like the clean crunchy quick pickle just plain. It's worked well alone, or mixed with carrot and/or cucumber.

I've eaten these pickles plain, or as a side to a japanese style meal. I've been mixing them into cold cooked somen noodles, along with scallions and some chopped tamagoyaki (which i did buy in a frozen block from the market -- it's OK, but a little sweet and spongy).

The other thing I've been doing is blanching them in cubes and throwing that into various chopped salad things, like the russian pickle mix and shrimp salad from an earlier post. They're a bit bland once blanched, so they work as a neutral filler and carrier for other flavors in the salad.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:21 PM | Comments (2)

July 28, 2008

another sign of the apocalypse

WTF: $8.95 for a bottle of OLIVE BRINE? Hello, people, the whole point of a dirty martini is that you already have a jar of olives in brine in hand, and you're trying to get more of it into your glass. You should not ever need to buy foofy "cocktail" brine from a specialty purveyor. Ever.


Posted by foodnerd at 12:25 PM | Comments (1)

July 27, 2008

stuff we've been eating

garden peas with shiitake and sweet onion

Shelled a bunch of peas from the parental garden, and sauteed in a tsp of butter with some soaked dried shiitake and diced vidalia (also from the parental garden). Deeply satisfying, particularly mixed with the brown rice shown in the photo.

quasi-russian-salad plus toasted sauerkraut rye and canned salmon salad

Still trying to use up all the pickled things, so I chopped them up (pickled onion and green bean and cuke), blanched turnip and carrot, and diced the fantastic pickled beets that K made for us, to come up with a salad vaguely reminiscent of the classic russian chopped salad, except with no mayo or canned peas. It turned out delicious, and fairly begged for rye toast and salmon salad. The toast is the sauerkraut rye from the local Panorama bakery, which i have been trying to get hold of for months (wouldn't you? seriously, bread with sauerkraut in it? yes, please!). It's not as sauerkrauty as I'd imagined, but very good, moist and with a solid rye/caraway flavor.

shrimp salad in half an avocado

It was so hot and humid for so long that we pretty much didn't turn on a stove for days on end, and ate whatever cold dishes I could come up with. This was one of the best, inspired by perfectly ripe avocados at Whole Foods and a memory of the incredibly good shrimp salad we had at Duarte's Tavern in Pescadero, CA. That salad was tiny pink shrimp mixed with diced vegetables and mayo, and mounded into an avocado half, and surrounded by salad composed of incongruous stuff like beets, which should not have worked but totally did. So i found a can of tiny shrimps, blanched some turnip and carrot, diced some cucumber, and chopped some dill and celery leaves -- mixed it all together and put it on half an avocado, on top of farmer's market oak leaf lettuce with some more of K's pickled beets. We were rather pleased with it.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2008

No. 9 Park

For my birthday, we gathered a bunch of dear friends and booked a table for 10 in the Cafe room of No. 9 Park. The dishes listed in the Cafe's menu seemed actually more appealing on the whole than those in the main room, and I figured a prix fixe structure might have a better chance of mitigating this group's natural gluttony into something vaguely approaching diet-friendly. (Let's face it, I am not going to *actually* diet at my birthday dinner.)

Whether or not we were successful in maintaining sensible restraint can perhaps be debated, but of much greater importance is the insane deliciousness of everything we were served. We arrived very early, so we ordered cocktails at the bar (I recommend the pear martini if you like sweet, and the pegu club in general). I was famished, so we ordered 6 oysters to share, and these turned out to be very briny little fellers of exceptional quality, with mignonette (my favorite) to turn them out perfectly.

The bartender mentioned that while at the bar (6 inches from our table for 10) we could order from the main room's menu also, but not once seated -- which of course meant I scrutinized that menu for any other little treasure we might need to sample. Thereby we came into possession of a plate of exquisite homemade corn agnolotti, in a creamy mustard-yellow sauce apparently made of pureed chanterelles and cream, with tiny sauteed chanterelles and chives. I have heard that the signature plum gnocchi are stupendous, and I had every intention of returning to the bar for a plate of these as post-dessert, but we ended up too full -- next time. (There will *definitely* be a next time.)

The Cafe prix fixe consists of starter, main and dessert. Uncharacteristically, many of us were drawn to the same dishes, so there were lots of plates of steak tartare and gnocchi with peas and lobster, both excellent. The tartare is actually just a tiny shade better than the lovely one over at Eastern Standard, piquant with pickles and capers, and smoothed by brioche toast points and -- be still my heart -- truffle aioli. The gnocchi was fluffy while still being chewy, a paradox i rather enjoy, in a creamy, lightly truffled sauce with a few big chunks of lobster and a scattering of peas and button mushroom bits.

The cod and potatoes was a big winner, with bits of sweet corn and butter-foam draped over the fish and potato, and I have to say: when a kitchen can make a dish out of simple, bland ingredients like these and have it trump a plate of confit duck (delicious itself, with cauliflower puree and dreamy duck leg and rillettes), I will follow that kitchen anywhere.

The duck liver mousse is excellent, with sweet onion topping and dark toast, and had it not been so hot outdoors I probably would have ordered that myself instead of the tartare. The roasted bone marrow arrives as a massive Stonehenge of vertical marrow bones, blanketed in a forest of flat parsley leaves and capers and flake salt -- also a huge hit all around.

The gorgonzola fondue of lamb and brioche is all you could hope for -- a big white crock of gray-blue melty goodness surrounded by perfectly rare bits of roast lamb and brioche triangles and a tangle of pea shoot salad. Again, had it not been so humid I would have been all over this instead of the gnocchi. The roasted sea bass I didn't actually get any of, but there were ravings of happiness from that end of the table, as there were for the orecchiette with sausage and rapini.

Dessert offered two main options, plus selections of sorbet, ice cream, and cheeses. The lemon tart with lemon sorbet was good, but i found the lemon tart to be a bit too heavy, though the lemon sorbet was extra-puckery and exactly what I wanted after the meal. The chocolate sabayon mousse arrived as a perfect cylinder, balanced next to a bit of bitter coffee gelee atop a sheet of feuilletine mixed with chocolate-hazelnut goop. But the real hit was the frozen treats: the perfect blueberry, strawberry and apricot sorbets, and the black-olive ice cream, which really did have an effect very similar to butter-crunch, as advertised.

Somehow a bottle of brachetto d'acqui materialized, gratis from the restaurant as a birthday toast, and that sealed the deal: I *heart* No. 9 Park 4-eva.

This is a top-end restaurant, make no mistake, with perfect ingredients and well-composed flavors, and with super-restrained minimalist decor that was oddly comforting and comfortable -- but what made the evening so festive and satisfying (aside from the magnificent company) was the relaxed-yet-solicitous service. The bartender was instantly willing to whip up a Diet Dr. Pepper & Jack Daniels, even though F was totally kidding about wanting one. A table of 10 monopolized the middle of the room for the entire evening, and was never rushed or hassled. We were checked on and catered to, but ultimately left alone to have whatever sort of good time we liked.

I am a very lucky girl to spend my birthday around such a table surrounded by such wonderful friends.

(photos to come -- they're on someone else's camera...)

Posted by foodnerd at 11:53 AM | Comments (0)

July 23, 2008

Green Bay is weird

I am in Green Bay, WI for work, and this place does not make sense to me. I started my day at 5am in a mildly infuriating hotel at O'Hare and flew directly to my client meeting, fueled only by an energy bar and black McDonald's coffee. We broke for lunch at 1pm and by the time we got food it was much closer to 2 and I was about to pass out from the hunger. (I confess Wisconsin has pushed me pretty well off the wagon: lunch was fish and chips with excellent curry sauce and tartar sauce, while dinner was cheese soup and deep fried cheese curds, but I'm getting to that.)

Our meetings broke up at 4:30pm, and after checking a bit of email my colleague and I headed out for an exploratory walk, mostly so as to keep me awake long enough to eat dinner. We passed some lovely early and mid 20th century buildings, including the frothy 1908 courthouse and the fabulous art deco Northern Building -- but not many restaurants. One Mexican spot with a patio was locked tight as a drum at 6pm. The Stein seemed rather more like a windowless old man bar. Eventually we fetched up at the spot where we'd had lunch, an Irish pub (hence the chips and curry), so we kept on going.

We passed about 6 pubs in a row, I swear I do not exaggerate: a few Irish, a few sports, a few more generic, but all labeled "pub." Having had pub food for lunch, we pushed on. We passed a sad looking Chinese restaurant and a semi-promising Mediterranean place called, unfortunately, FetaZ. We kept going over the bridge to the other side of the bay, where we encountered two brewpubs and then an IMMENSE farmers market. We browsed the market, mourning our inability to buy the gorgeous peaches and kohlrabies and fragrant onions, and passed a decrepit Thai spot and a small Japanese of not-encouraging appearance. Oh, and a couple more pubs, one called Keggers. We also passed more restaurants that were outright closed. The only spot we'd seen pedestrians in any quantity was the market itself. Everyone else was in the Titletown Brewery -- we'd stuck our heads in to check the menu, as we'd heard of this place from the clients. It was more pub food and swarming with people, so we pressed on.

By now we were growing hungry, so we headed back, hoping to see something good on the way. We didn't, so we headed for FetaZ. Unfortunately it was a weird takeout spot with fajita pitas, greek salad and suspect gyros (Best Greek Restaurant of 2006 and 2007 awards notwithstanding), and we didn't really dig it, so we left. Starting to be frustrated, we walked back to where we thought we'd seen some other spots, which turned out to be closed or pubs. Are you starting to see the weird?

Finally we gave up hope of a healthy dinner and headed for Al's Hamburgers, since 1934 purveying greasy goodness to the citizens of Green Bay. Which, in solid upstanding greasy spoon tradition, closed at 7pm, the exact moment at which we arrived. Despair! Sadness! And then confusion:

What kind of city has no useful restaurants in its downtown business district?

What kind of city has its pubs outnumbering restaurants by at least 3 to 1?

What kind of city has perhaps a third of said restaurants of apparently current operation locked up tight at the dinner hour on a weekday?

We gave up and walked back across the bridge to the Titletown Brewery, which at least was much less crowded by then. (God forbid citizens be out past 7.) And you know, Wisconsin may be weird but it is well known for its cheese, so we had to try the beer-and-cheese soup (spicy and rich, basically a tarted-up welsh rarebit sauce with a few diced vegetables to support the argument that it's a soup). And it is beyond my capacities to pass up a deep-fried cheese curd. These were excellent, very crisp and of a delicate flavor that demanded attention. Don't mindlessly pop these, and certainly do not drown them out completely in the tomato sauce provided. I got a salad to balance the protein, with apples and pears and cranberries -- it should have been good, but I didn't really grasp that all the fruit was sauteed with onions and poured over the salad piping hot. Steaming hot apples and onions topped with salad dressing and walnuts is weird, and in kind of a bad way. I ate a few to get in the fruit, picked out the cranberries, and left the rest. Blargh.

Happy update: We went to Al's the next day for lunch, and the burgers are great. Messy handformed patties grilled with onions right in, topped with melty processed yellow cheese, and resting on a pillowy white bun. Redemption!

Posted by foodnerd at 10:55 PM | Comments (4)

July 22, 2008

traveler's advisory

Take note, Logan airport travelers: Lucky's Lounge in Terminal A has food that does not suck.

I was flying on Northwest for work but encountered flight delays and was rebooked onto Delta, and so found myself in Terminal A, mildly cranky due to idiotic security screening policies, two hours early, and hungry. Saving my brown bag for later when I might not have access to food, I poked over to Lucky's, drawn by the promise of a lobster roll.

Said lobster roll has zero celery, just enough mayonnaise, and chives, all nestled in a rather nice ruffled leaf of green lettuce in a toasted hotdog roll. Perfect, if you are willing to overlook the fact that the lobster is frozen, which I most certainly am whilst dining in an airport.

And you can have it with fries or a salad, and they'll make that salad into the wedge salad for $3 extra, which means you can also have a pretty solid rendition of that classic salad, with bacon and big crumbs of blue cheese, a creamy dressing with a nice hit of celery seed, crunchy iceberg and some fresh cucumber chunks (and some sad-ass tomato slices, but you can't have it all).

I would have been happy with this meal in a regular restaurant. The rest of the menu is heavy to rich bar foods (burgers made with half sausage half beef, cheeseburger pizza, chicken wings, tuna melt), but that's fair enough: cranky travelers need happy food, and the stuff on other patrons' plates looked pretty good too. There's nice eye candy on the walls (vintage black and white photos of Sinatra, Elvis, et al). And there is a power outlet at EVERY SEAT.

Posted by foodnerd at 06:37 PM | Comments (1)

July 15, 2008

turkey burgers

I keep reading about different kinds of burgers on Just Bento, and turkey burgers came up at some point, so i had it on the brain already... and I've had a bag of 6 burger buns taking up ungodly amounts of space in my fridge for over 2 weeks now. Turkey's low in fat, so what the hell, we'll try it.

A quick google turned up this pair of articles about turkey burgers on Off The Broiler, a blog new to me but pleasantly nerdy and practical. I stole much of his method, and mixed up a batch of 6 burgers using:

1 lb dark ground turkey
.5 lb white ground turkey
big fat squirt yellow mustard
2 shallots, minced
1 tsp korean miso (with bean chunks, but that seemed to work out ok)
big fat squirt Louisiana hot sauce

I cooked them in a cast iron skillet over medium heat, and they gave off lots of juice, which caramelized into a lovely looking stuff that I couldn't bear to waste, and i found that smearing them around over that browned sauce gave them a very nice color and flavor by sopping up all that proto-fond. One note: flat burgers cook fine, no need to put a little center-dent as you do with beef burgers -- that'll just get you a donut-shaped turkey burger. Heh heh heh.

These tasted pretty good, but still were bland enough to be overpowered by the strong homemade relish I put on. But they were tender and juicy, no dried out low-fat pucks, and quite savory and satisfying. I think the method works, the miso is a tenderizing juice-preserver, and the way is open to flavor experimentation every which way. Yum.

Posted by foodnerd at 10:13 AM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2008

black raspberries & skyr

I am happy to report that I took my tray of black raspberries and two tubs of skyr over to my friends V+A's house for dinner, and that skyr slightly sweetened Icelandic style goes really really well with the berries. Whew.

2 tubs + 2-3 tablespoons of sugar was just about right for the 4 of us, and we just sprinkled big piles of berries onto the skyr. And it turns out that skyr is actually fat free, which is truly hard to believe, given the silky creaminess of it all. Skyr is available at my local Whole Foods, and probably at yours too.

Posted by foodnerd at 02:18 AM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2008

how to terrify a foodnerd

Lots of girls struggle with their weight. Lots of girls have weird issues around food. I personally have always gone with the "ooh, look, yummy" approach instead.

And I was usually fine with that. The occasional tight skirt wouldn't work out so well, but it was OK. Tallasiandude likes soft and squishy, so that was OK too. But yesterday I went to the doctor's office, and they weigh you just as a matter of course, and standing there in a summer t-shirt and skirt, no shoes, I was 10 pounds over my highest weight ever, 35 over where I should be. And at that point I lost it.

I'd had an inkling it was coming, since reliable old favorites have stopped fitting of late, but the raw numerical proof was just the last straw. And the problem for me is, not only do I look like shit, not only am I clearly not in optimal health, but my diet isn't actually *that* bad. I eat vegetables, whole grains, fruits and all that, far more than the average American.

And so i find myself staring down the barrel of having to make truly drastic changes in what I will eat, and more terrifyingly, what I won't eat. I don't want to be that girl who won't have a chocolate, who won't touch even one french fry. I don't want food to become my enemy, ever -- and I am scared shitless that it will.

Yesterday my parents brought me a big tray of gorgeous black raspberries, my favorite, and there's way too many for us to eat them all fresh (the way they are best) before they spoil. My first instinct was, "Yay! I can make pie!" And then I realized that I really *can't* make pie, not if i want to eat any of the berries myself. And that was when I started to cry.

This morning I woke up and ate a big bowl of the berries with some cottage cheese for breakfast. I'm planning on making some kind of berry fool with Icelandic skyr, which is supercreamy yet low in fat, and the thought of this plan has made me calmer. I'm still scared as hell, but maybe I will be able to make it work and still eat with the delight and wonder that I love so much.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:28 PM | Comments (3)

July 09, 2008

making the best of what you got

I bought some Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted wheat penne, whilst in the throes of having read an article about the increased nutrition in sprouted grains. I'm also trying to figure out what changes I can make to my foodwhore diet to drop some of the extra 20 pounds I'm lugging around. I figured I'd at least try it.

It's nasty.

It tastes like pasta made of beans, which isn't surprising since there are two types of beans in it. If you overcook it even a little bit, it gets mushy and falls apart, and the difference between hard in the middle and mushy is about 30 seconds in the pot. It's pasty and grainy.

I first served it with sauteed kale and garlic and broad beans, which wasn't atrocious, since the kale and beans were in the same nutty flavor universe as the pasta, but when we tried it with some tomato sauce it was just yucky.

Armed with this knowledge and the hope that a nutty tasting pasta might taste better with actual nuts, today I cooked the rest and put it together with some well-salted zucchini and vidalia onion, chopped walnuts, a sprinkle of salt & pepper and some walnut oil. This was actually something I might consider food. It was reasonably tasty, with the salt and bright squash and nutty oil working their magic, and though the pasta has a tendency to stick to your teeth, it was at least cooked the right amount this time. I won't, however, be buying this product again -- life is just too short.

Posted by foodnerd at 02:26 PM | Comments (2)

July 08, 2008

ode to chicken salad

I LOVE chicken salad. And I almost never get it, because I don't trust restaurants not to put 8 pounds of mayo and huge chunks of celery in it.

But whenever I get some extra cooked chicken -- specifically when i have some extra pulled off the bones from making soup -- I like to make some chicken salad. The most recent version had nothing but mayo, celery leaves (LEAVES, you will note, not gross crunchy blocks), dill and salt & pepper.

And as always, I am struck by how mindbendingly delicious just-plain-chicken can be when in close quarters with mayonnaise. I eat it extra slowly so as not to miss any of it, because it never lasts long. Yums.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:03 PM | Comments (2)

July 06, 2008

dill-onion potato salad

I have jars of pickled everything still left from last year -- I might have gotten a little carried away. So I'm trying really hard to use stuff up, so I can reclaim a few scraps of fridge space... which means that today I made potato salad with two whole pickled onions, chopped up and added to the hot diced potatoes so the vinegar would absorb (this being the Cook's Illustrated tip: boil taters in salted water, then sprinkle with vinegar while hot before adding the mayo dressing). The dressing was mayo and sweet Swedish mustard in about equal parts, plus a big handful of chopped dill.

It's pretty awesome just licked off the mixing spoon, and I have high hopes for it alongside some smoked salmon for dinner tonight.

Posted by foodnerd at 04:01 PM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2008

at last, a truly great pasta salad

I love pasta salad, or at least the idea of pasta salad -- cool pasta, tasty accessories, simple and fresh and filling. But it's never like that -- it's either too full of stuff, or too oily, or too bland, or too something. So I rarely make it, other than to casually toss a few selected leftovers into a bowl of cold pasta for lunch on a hot day.

But my coworker made some for our office potluck last week, with basil, mozzarella and grape tomatoes, and it was awesome. I had some more for breakfast the next day, and was again struck by the yumminess. I asked her for the recipe, and it turned out to be just as simple as it seemed to be, but somehow the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I made some last night and took it to a July 4th fireworks party, and at least 5 strangers came up to me and told me how awesome it was, so i know it's not just me nerding out about this.

Here's how to make it:

Boil a pound of orzo in heavily salted water. Drain and rinse and drain again. Add just enough olive oil to coat the orzo. Cut up fresh water-packed mozzarella into bite size dice (1/2" or so) -- I cut ciliegine into 4 bits each. Cut grape or cherry tomatoes in half, or in quarters if you feel like the halves are too big. Rip up a big pile of basil leaves. Mix it all into the pasta and add ground black pepper, and extra salt if it needs any (it will probably want at least a little bit). Let it sit for a while before serving for best flavors.

I think that I added a shade too much oil, so i splashed in just a little bit of rice vinegar, and i think that was a good addition, even though it wasn't part of the original recipe. I also think that the trick is to get the flavorings in the pasta while it is warm enough to infuse the flavors, but cool enough not to cook the tomatoes or melt the cheese at all. The taste is quiet, but not bland -- it's somehow refreshing: creamy and spoonable from the orzo, basil-y throughout, and fresh from the tomatoes.

Happy Independence Day!

Posted by foodnerd at 01:19 PM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2008

pure genius: naeng myun

The other day, it was hot and muggy and disgusting, and we went for dinner to the Korean/Japanese place here in town, Sushi Yasu. I ordered oshitashi (cold spinach with sesame), a bunch of nigiri, and "cold noodles," confirmed by the waitress to be zarusoba, cold soba noodles with the most delicious dipping sauce known to humankind, and a perennial hot-weather favorite of mine.

But i think we had a language barrier situation, because instead of soba what arrived was mool naeng myun, the cleverest invention of Korean cookery: tasty noodles, tasty beef and egg, tasty julienned raw vegetables, in cold broth... WITH LOTS OF ICE CUBES.

I can't think of any other food short of beverages that actually goes so far as to include the ice cubes in the food itself, thereby keeping it super cool and crisp so as to continually counteract the general icky sticky warmness of your being.

Posted by foodnerd at 09:23 AM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2008

this n that

looks like they finally repealed the foie-gras ban in chicago. one american absurdity down, 4,999,999 to go.

John Harvard's Brewhouse is pretty mediocre in general, though certainly serviceable and reliably open late -- but they have an incredible chicken pot pie. Very nearly as good as the ur-potpie I had at the late, lamented Locke-Ober (before Lydia).

i think my favorite sausage from Paulina Market is the smoked thuringer. i am not alone in this, as at least one party guest remembered them from years past and requested them specifically. they are properly robust to stand up to party condiments, and they are just plain smokilicious. i also tried something new this year, a fresh hungarian sausage (very long, spicy with paprika, and pleasantly dry and crumbly in texture) and the german wieners (long skinny hot dogs, only better tasting than an average supermarket dog).

year-old wedding cake is pretty tasty stuff. the outer frosting tastes a little bit like freezer funk, but the insides are much as we left them.

Posted by foodnerd at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)