Wednesday, December 28, 2011

where we ate: xmas 2011 edition

thanks to my pesky ear infection, we laid low and close to home for most of this vacation. lucky for us, close to home still yields a ton of great food choices.

arrived on 12/22 after 17 hours in the car, so no energy to do a lot of anything, and no real desire for anything heavy (especially after happy hour milkshakes at steak and shake back in Ohio). We ordered some sushi from Itto's, an old standby that's two blocks from my parents' house: inari, tamago, caterpillar roll, veggie maki of some sort, and some goma ae, my favorite preparation of spinach.

12/23: went on a grocery expedition and ran other errands, with a stop at Char Dog, aka Wiener's Circle: you know it's a neighborhood institution when it has its own wikipedia entry. My favorite local pad thai for dinner from Noodles in the Pot.

christmas eve: My parents go out to breakfast together every Saturday morning. This weekend we joined them, along with my sister and her boyfriend. We went to Marmalade, a new-ish spot run by a former chef at M Henry, another of their favorite breakfast spots. The menu here was inventive, with lots of sweet and savory options. I ended up with the euro breakfast: Butternut squash, applewood smoked bacon, leek, and scallions wrapped in a crepe; accompanied by two eggs, any style, house potatoes, and cranberry cognac chicken sausage, finished with a red wine reduction. This is my favorite way to eat: little bits of everything, all well-balanced and harmonious. Tim had an eggs benedict variation of some sort, and ordered the chorizo on the side so that I could snack on it. Saturday nights growing up, every weekend since I can remember, we have had Chinese food. Our restaurant of choice has changed over the 30+ years of this tradition. The first place I can remember us ordering from was called Paris Inn, which was a couple doors down from a movie theater, and also about a block from our jewelry store. Our current go-to location is Jade East. Sweet and sour chicken, char siu chow fun, chow mein, and fried rice, every week, without fail. This food tastes like nostalgia to me. I can't get enough.

christmas day: lots of cooking! I am very lucky that both of my siblings are accomplished cooks, with similar tastes. brunch: baked french toast with berries and fresh whipped cream, peach cobbler, geoff's breakfast hash (potatoes and bacon and other good stuff), soyrizo with rice, spinach crustless quiche, chicken sausage, cantaloupe, grapefruit, mimosas. Dinner: turkey, slow braised (slow cooker) brisket, baked sweet potatoes with brown sugar, garlic mashed potatoes, stuffing, braised and glazed brussels sprouts, arugula salad with roasted beets, (and walnuts and ricotta salata), cranberries, rice, cheddar garlic biscuits, key lime pie, banana cream pie.

12/26: leftovers for breakfast, because who can pass up good post-holiday leftovers. Edwardos stuffed spinach pizza with our friend Jeremy while we caught up on watching our friend Jason on Jeopardy and played a couple of games of Scrabble. A healthy dinner of popcorn and milk duds while watching Hugo (what a sweet movie and what beautiful effects! now I must read the book).

12/27: Salt and Pepper diner for some excellent pancakes - somehow, everyone in my family prefers thin, chewy pancakes to light and fluffy ones. I didn't realize this until this year, when we randomly got on the subject of pancakes. I don't remember eating a lot of them growing up, and I definitely didn't eat them thin and chewy when mom made them at home. We did go out now and then for Dutch Baby pancakes at Grannys or Original Pancake House, but I am still intrigued that we all independently arrived at this pancake style as we've gotten older. Tim wanted to trek out to a brewery that he's been eyeing for years, so we hiked out to Indiana to check out Three Floyds. Beers: Robert the Bruce, a dark brown Scotch Ale; Black Sun, a coffee-y stout; a four beer sampler; and an Arctic Panzer Wolf (their website says: "9.5% ABV 100 IBUs. A massive IPA that will leave your palate its hapless victim". Scorched earth is our brewery policy"). Also fries for both of us, a bowl of homemade ramen in dashi broth with pork belly and a soy-infused egg for me (all pub food should be this good!), and mac and cheese for Tim. I drank one beer, and promptly slept all the way back to Illinois once we got in the car. Walked a bit of this food off at zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo, and finished the night with two episodes of the new Sherlock Holmes on the bbc, and some ribs from Carson's, which has been around since right about when I was born. They pale in comparison to Dinosaur BBQ and some other favorites of mine, but they do the job.

12/28: Mom made breakfast! French toast, chicken sausage, bacon and fresh fruit. This was a filling breakfast, and I am also a little burned out on eating, so lunch ended up being baguette, cheese and fruit. Ventured out for one final meal in the neighborhood, Vietnamese at Simply It (which is a silly name). Tim had a vegetarian pho named Erika (no idea why) and I had Bun Bo Xao va Cha Gio: marinated beef, rice noodles, egg rolls, and a bunch of veggies on the side (bean sprouts, lettuce, onions, cukes, pickled carrots), all accompanied by a chili fish sauce. We couldn't leave town without a cupcake, so the last stop of the trip was Molly's, where I got a mixed berry and a cookies n creme (split both with sister's boyfriend) and Tim had a butterscotch caramel.

And that brings us to now. Tim's asleep since he's driving 17 hours tomorrow, while I capture all the culinary goodness of this trip. Aside from Marmalade and Carson's, all of these foods can be acquired within a square mile of my parents' house. I get so spoiled when I come back here.

View Chicago Recent Eats in a larger map

Monday, December 19, 2011

Countdown to the holidays

We'll be headed to Chicago soon, which means trying to use up all of the perishables in our fridge. Back in the day, that meant a lot of 'stir fry everything together' and 'make a frittata with whatever's in the produce drawer. These days, there are so many online sources to help us be a little more creative - here are a couple of my favorites: has some of the prettiest pictures, presented in full-screen format. You can search for recipes by ingredients on hand by typing one into the 'i crave' box, or many into the 'i have' menu. You can also tell it what you dislike so that its search engine will avoid things that you wouldn't make. I can't tell how good it is at finding things that use many/all of the ingredients instead of just one out of what you've added. Adding chicken, milk, carrots and cheddar, I did find an apple chicken chili that sounds intriguing, and uses three of my four ingredients. gojee searches blogs (I haven't bothered to figure out how - another piece of evidence that the internet is making me dumber - I haven't explored anything about how this site works), and links you directly to the blog where the recipe is featured (in this case, Kitchen Trial & Error). so, it also helps me to explore the nets and find new blogs to bookmark. You can tag your favorite recipes, and share things via social network. lets you enter up to three ingredients from its drop down menu, and gives you real time updates about how many recipes it has found that include all of your ingredients. there are 91 recipes (out of a database of 200k+) that include chicken breast, milk and carrots, including Thai Green Chicken Curry. The recipes are submitted by users, and other users rate and review them.  You can save recipes for later,  favorite them, or share them via social network. there is also an i-app, but I haven't tried it yet.

To save recipes I love, I'm still pretty happy with the paprika app on my iPad, but now I have to go back to work, so no posts about it right now.

I know, many people have probably been using these apps/sites for awhile. Other favorites out there?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bacon Bourbon Jam

Someone was selling Bacon Jam at the farmer's market yesterday, and smartly sampling it as part of the marketing strategy. It was sweet and spicy, smoky and bacony. It was also $8 for a smallish jar, which meant it was time for me to try experimenting with my own, low-budget version. The interwebs yielded two good base recipes (and food porny pictures): boozy bacon jam from spoonforkbacon and bacon jam from not quite nigella. From there, I tweaked based on what was hanging out in my kitchen, and also for my preference for sweet over spicy. If I did it again, I would probably make it a little less sweet - probably less maple syrup, and maybe not the balsamic - but overall, I'm pretty happy with it.

Bacon Jam

1 pound Boar's Head (naturally smoked) bacon, strips cut into about 3 pieces each
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 shallot, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground szechuan peppercorns
¾ cup sweet bourbon (i used maker's mark)
2/3 cup strong brewed coffee
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a dutch oven over medium heat, render the bacon for 6-8 minutes (it won't be done yet). Remove bacon and set aside.
2. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pan; add butter. Once butter has melted, add onio, brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Cook until the onion is soft, 10-15 minutes.
3. Add shallot, garlic and spices and sauté for an additional 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Return the bacon to the pot and stir until well combined. Add the bourbon to the bacon mixture and cook the liquid down for 3-4 minutes.
5. Add the remaining ingredients, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. If it looks dry, add a bit of water.
6. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes.
7. Skim off any fat/grease that has formed at the top and discard (patient version: allow to cool, refrigerate overnight, then skim off the congealed layer of fat... I tend to go with the impatient version).
8. Pour the mixture into a food processor and process to desired consistency.
9. Serve warm or store in an airtight container, in the refrigerator, until ready to use.

Possible uses: stirred into mashed potatoes or over a baked potato, blended with cream cheese and caramelized onions for a tasty dip, or simply eaten on crackers. I swirled some into a cheesy potato soup last night. it isn't very photogenic, but it's very tasty.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

i forgot that this thing existed

 Okay, so it has been a year and there have been no posts. We have been cooking, I swear. Today, however, I haven't cooked anything, but I wanted to put something here to remind our few intrepid readers that we're here, and maybe we'll even start posting again. 

One of the best meals we had recently was also probably the best wedding food we've ever had. Our dear friends Rochelle and Eli were married in Portland Oregon on November 12 (and they both hyphenated their last names, just like we did! hooray!) - the whole wedding was themed around sustainability and appreciating your community, including its foodways. Their caterer must've gone to the farmers market that day and picked up all of the foods - it tasted incredibly fresh, and was simply prepared to let the ingredients shine.

I don't even remember what all of this is, but it included green salad, gnocchi, mixed greens (maybe some kale, chard, other stuff), a veggie melange of roots and such, and some chicken. and maybe there was soup. and all of the desserts were homemade bundt cakes. and all of the table centerpieces were local produce. we were the parsnip table! over the course of the meal, we liberated veggies from all of the other tables so that there was a giant cornucopia on table parsnip. If all wedding caterers were this locally focused, weddings would be that much more memorable.