Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chicago Gourmet 2010

A Post On Chicago Gourmet 2010 Later This Week.

Bon Appetit and Missed You Madly!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Go Ahead...I'm With You...It Was One Of Those Days!

                                                                        A Strong Martini...followed by

                                                                           Triple Chocolate...

You so deserve it after this day!

Bon Appetit!

The Chicago Over-Indulgence Tour

                                                                  Tommy, Bret and Jason at Navy Pier
Fact of the matter is, I love to eat and I love Chicago so coming off back-to-back meals at two of my favorite Chicago restaurants -The Purple Pig and XOCO – and…

a Double Decker Bus Tour of the city

a mega dose of Fox and Obel

a fantastic mix of food and drink at Navy Pier with an extended stay at Harry Caray’s. Well…this was the ultimate Chicago ride. The Chicago Over-Indulgence Tour.

I ate so much but I didn’t feel the least bit guilty. I still don’t. Once in awhile you just have to blow it all out and focus on the fun instead of the calories.

Saturday was all about eating and my willing participants – son Tommy and his friends Bret and Jason – are genuine foodies. Chicago is the equivalent of food heaven for them. There are no Fox and Obel’s in Oklahoma.

Bret is such a foodie that his solution to ordering off a menu at a restaurant that he hasn’t been to before is simply to order everything. And he did.

Here are the dishes we shared.

I can’t pick a favorite because I loved them all and each dish stood out for its individual flavor and ingredients:

                                                           Tommy, Jason and Bret chowing down at XOCO
Lunch: XOCO
When I think of great Mexican street food I no longer think of the carnita cart down the street from my apartment in Guadalajara (it was amazing) I think of XOCO!

The simple combination of fresh ingredients made the start of our culinary day a delight. From now on, whenever I eat here, I will always remember this indulgence.

Ahogada: Golden pork carnitas, black beans, tomato broth, spicy arbol chile sauce, pickled onions. – This classic was served with a sauce that sunk its teeth into your taste buds and just wouldn’t let go. This was a medium and it was super hot!

Pepito: Braised Tallgrass shortribs, caramelized onion, artisan Jack cheese, black beans, pickled jalapenos – this had delicious flavors and was the perfect combination with the caramelized onions and pickled jalapenos.

Pibil: wood-roasted suckling pig with achiote, black beans, pickled onion, habanero salsa – one of my favorite dishes at XOCO and love it with a slather of habanero salsa.

Cubana: Smoked Maple Creek pork loin and bacon, black beans, avocado, artisan Jack cheese, chipotle mustard. – A real surprise, I first thought that the pork loin was chicken it was so moist. Devoured in an instant and when Tommy wasn’t looking, I took a bite of his.

Milanesa: Crispy Gunthorp chicken, black beans, artisan Jack cheese, pickled jalapenos, tomatillo-avocado salsa. – This was the premium sandwich of the day. All of us were blown away by the flavor. I will certainly order this again…and not share it with anyone!

Goat Barbacoa: Oaxacan pasilla-tomato salsa, avocado, onions and cilantro – This was Bret’s first taste of goat and he was amazed at how good it was.

Goat is very common in Mexico and I still crave the cabrito al pastor at El Rey del Cabrito in Monterrey.

Guacamole & Chips: Frontera guacamole, just made chips – Don’t need to say a thing – one of the Bayless oh-so- heavenly classics.

Hot Chocolate: Xoco’s bean-to-cup is a process that starts with raw cacao beans from the state of Tabasco. They’re toasted, ground and sweetened before ending up in your cup.

We tried the Ultra: chocolate shot + whole milk and the Barcelona: thick, rich and say thick again. I would come here just for another cup it was that amazing.

                                                           Tommy, James, Bret and Jason at the Purple Pig

Dinner:The Purple Pig

Communal outdoor tables, a hilarious gathering of fraternity brothers (and foodies), flawless food and service (Kelly) and remarkable fall weather made for the height of celebration.

Pork Fried Almonds with Rosemary & Garlic – My least favorite but still truly delightful, these almonds were fried with a long, lingering hint of rosemary.

Lardo Crostini - Lardo is a type of salume made by curing strips of pig fat with rosemary and other herbs and spices. It is taken from the layer of hard fat along the pig's back.

Forget that the kids called you Lardo in school---this lardo melts in your mouth and is so delicious.

Pig's Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg – this is one of my favorite dishes at PP. The pigs ear is thinly sliced and fried with Kale then topped with a fried egg. Mix them together and you have a remarkable rendition of PM breakfast.

White Bait "French Fries of the Sea" with Lemon Aioli – This fried fish was presented as thin onion rings with an appetizing lemon aioli. It was surprising and had no fish taste whatsoever.

Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs – This was the star of the meal and Bret didn’t have to suck the bone to prove it.

Bones have been used in cooking for centuries to flavor soups and stocks, and the marrow inside a beef bone is where all the flavor is at. I’ll be trying to recreate this recipe in the coming months. Remember why I repeatedly snatched the bone the minute the beef roast hit the table when I was a kid.

Morcilla with Fava Beans & Bread Crumbs –Morcilla is a sausage made of pig's blood, rice and spices. We had this tapa in Spain but I think the Purple Pigs version of the recipe was even better.

Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes – Kelly (our server extraordinaire) said this dish was just like butter. I think Jason satisfied every food fantasy he ever had on the first bite.

Pork Blade Steak with ‘Nduja & Honey – This recipe in Bon Appetit was the one I cooked and posted on my blog a few weeks back. This version tasted just like what I made in my own kitchen. Love chefs who spill all of their secrets. Thanks Chef Bannos!

Espresso and Strawberry Soft Serve Ice Cream - I loved the Strawberry with an interesting topping of balsamic drizzle. I remember when my dad made homemade strawberry ice cream. This had that same creamy, light taste.

Sicilian Iris –Ricotta cheese and chocolate chips are the filling for this fried brioche. Warning: This dessert is SINFULLY delicious and my new favorite.

Died and gone to culinary heaven? Close.

Round II this weekend (Gourmet Chicago 2010)!

Bon Appetit!

Year 1 - Photographs

As a photographer, I never thought about shooting food until I started Cupcakes and Crablegs.

It’s great to be photographing something I am so passionate about. Practice makes perfect as you can see my steady improvement this past year.

              Photo March, 2010

           Photo September, 2010

I’m excited that I have so much more to learn. Going back to school last year made me realize how much I love to learn new things. That’s also what I love about cooking…every new recipe is an adventure.

Capturing the moment is more than just making a great photograph. It’s all about the memory you had when you took the photo. Being in that specific place at the right time with authentic people (or food) and ideal light – well, that’s a great recipe for a perfect photo every time.

In fact, I look back at a photo and can often remember the smells associated with that particular shoot. While everyone is admiring the photograph, I am sniffing.

Bon Appetit and thanks for being a reader. It’s been such a fun year.

Year 1 - My Favorite Posts

Here are three of my favorite posts from this past year. They have special memories for me and hope you enjoy them… again!

Bon Appetit!

Can The Little Guy Survive? A Case In Point...Your Neighborhood Restaurant

Over 3,000,000 people live in Chicago. Over 59,000,000 live within a one-day drive. 30 different ethnic groups populate 215 unique neighborhoods illustrating Chicago's diverse culture.

What I love even more about these numbers is that in a city this large, the little guy can still survive. How, you ask? A case in point…the neighborhood restaurant.

So what defines a neighborhood restaurant anyway? These smaller, unique eateries, set apart not only by the chefs and their menus but also by the neighborhoods and the people they serve are what makes Chicago’s culinary influence so significant.

I love the fact that there are hundreds of neighborhood restaurants where chefs stroll though the dining room each night chatting with their customers.

Comfort foods from the kitchen carried quickly to your table so as not to alter the perfect temperature at which they were cooked. Hundreds of unique dishes created especially for guests who the owner knows by name…a regular that comes to eat at least a couple times a month and brings his friends because the food is great and he wants to support his local establishment.

This regular has been in the kitchen before…after hours for a glass of wine or a newly created culinary chapter from a pastry chef who has since long gone home. Not to worry…someone told her you were stopping by the kitchen to visit with the chef tonight so she added some extra fruit because she knew you liked strawberries. You make a mental note to say something special to her the next time you are in. Wow -they take exceptionally good care of you don’t they?

First off, you don’t really worry if this place has been written up by the food critics or even if they had a not so favorable review. What do the critics know anyway? This restaurant consistently gives you what you need…great food and value for your money and an intimate relationship with the people who work here. They let you in. They are an extended part of your family. You love to eat in their dining room and they love to have you.

Even in the dead of winter, they come. Isn’t it amazing? When nobody else risks venturing out in the snow, ice and cold, a regular shows up at your front door asking if you have a table and saying so very sorry they did not call in advance for a reservation. A regular respects your operation even though there is 12” of fresh powder on the ground and only 10 people in your dining room. You respect them too. It’s never discussed. It’s mutual and in simple terms it’s just the way it is.

The regular loves it here because it’s so easy to relax. This is the place where you can take off your tie and settle in to a good drink, talk about the kids or make plans for a get-away from the certainty of another long Chicago winter. You can let down your hair and dig into the pros and cons of the new boss or talk about the menu for a special dinner party this next weekend. This is a place where the atmosphere is savored and appreciated almost as much as the food.

It’s here where every waiter is also a sommelier and can suggest the perfect glass of wine for the food you just ordered or to knock off the stress of the day. Isn’t it great that they always bring your drink before you ask for it? You love that about this place.

This is the spot that you go to when you need to chill. It’s that kind of place and you appreciate that it is in your neighborhood. You enjoy the fact that you can mosey down the street and be there in a matter of minutes. It’s so simple. You really love simple!

The chef has been known to change up the menu and thinks about his regulars when he is creating something new. You often try something different because you know him personally and appreciate that whatever he cooks will be brilliant. And it always is. You reward him with well deserved praise and when he thanks you and gives you a smile and a huge bear hug, you have sealed the deal…you will be back again next week. It’s the unspoken code that binds the two of you and makes you a regular. It’s the episode that makes this place different from all of the other places that you go to eat.

Your neighborhood restaurant can be a place for breakfast where the dining room is so small that everyone is on a first name basis before the food is even served.

It is forever intimate, slightly informal and explicitly comfortable. Whatever words you use to describe it, it is welcoming and you feel so lucky to have found it.

Do you tell people about it? Me…I tell everyone. Like good recipes, amazing restaurants are meant to be shared with friends and family… and anyone else who will listen.

More than just a statistic, your neighborhood restaurants is what has earned Chicago the reputation of being an astonishing food city and will continue to tell the story of why supporting your local restaurant is a huge bonus, not only for the restaurant but also for “the regular”.

Become one and I guarantee that you will no longer be just another number in a restaurant’s long list of visitors.

Isn’t it great to be home?

Bon Appetit!

Cooking Therapy

Sometimes, things get too crazy and I just want to flee to the refuge of my kitchen. Yep - nobody here but me and the cookbooks. Is this the ultimate escape or what?

I take the first left when I walk in the door and I can be anywhere between the outskirts of Louisiana cooking a great cajun etouffee or in Paris whipping up a quick chocolate ganache. There is little distance between me and anyplace in the world in my kitchen.

I will sometimes take a short trip to hometown Minnesota and fry up a walleye (sorry, they have to be fried) or be across country and serve up some Maine live lobster. And just when you get tired of the road, you can make up some of your great local dishes to remind you why you live here in the first place.

One of the few places I have not been to is Asia and when I am cooking great Vietnamese food, I am there…even just for the duration of my meal.

Cooking is my passport to the rest of the world and it's great because I don’t even have to pack my bags.

I can always picture what I find irresistible about a location by its food. Yes, recipes tie me to countries and bind me to cultures…some of whom I do not know but can unexpectedly appreciate because I have just tried a great curry or a simple Ragù alla Bolognese.

I have discovered so many things about the world here inside my kitchen.

Bon Appetit!

Tales From The Catholic Kitchen....

It’s no secret that growing up in a huge Irish, Catholic family can give you control issues when it comes to sitting down at the kitchen table.

Even though I was one of eight kids, I refused to battle my brothers for the last pork chop at dinner. It simply was never worth it.

Now, fighting over a big, huge chunk of chocolate cake? …that was another issue that I care to discuss before I put my dukes and prepare to fight them.

Life is all about chocolate. My mama told me so!

Bon Appetit!

Year 1 - My Favorite Dinner

I picked these recipes at random off the internet one day and they were all winning recipes. It’s for that reason alone I selected this as my favorite dinner this past year year!

Bon Appetit!

Southern-Style Baked Beans

8 slices bacon, halved
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
1/2 medium green pepper, cut into small dice
3 large cans (28 ounces each) pork and beans
3/4 cup barbecue sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup distilled or cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Fry bacon in large, deep sauté pan skillet until bacon has partially cooked and released about 1/4 cup drippings. Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels. Add onions and peppers to drippings in pan and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add beans and remaining ingredients bring to a simmer. (If skillet is not large enough, add beans and heat to a simmer then transfer to a large bowl and stir in remaining ingredients). Pour flavored beans into a greased 13-by 9-inch (or similar size) ovenproof pan. Top with bacon, then bake until beans are bubbly and sauce is the consistency of pancake syrup, about 2 hours. Let stand to thicken slightly and serve.

I got this rib recipe from a very sociable guy I ride the train with to Evanston each day. These ribs were absolutely delicious. I love the smell of the coke caramelizing as it slow cooks in to the ribs. The smell made me enormously hungry all afternoon.

Coca Cola BBQ Ribs

2 racks of ribs
1 2-liter bottle of Coke

Cut ribs and put in a large, shallow pan. Pour coke over the ribs. Tent loosely with aluminum foil. Bake at 250 degrees for 3/12 hours. Finish them off on the BBQ grill over a hot flame for about 5 minutes on each side.

Korean Style Spicy Slaw

1/2 a head of cabbage, thinly shredded
2 mini cucumbers, julienne
1/2 onion, (red or white) thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped (optional)


3 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame seed
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
2 tablespoons Korean red pepper flakes (gochugahloo-고추가루 )

Mix all the ingredients of the dressing together. It gets really thick so do not be shocked. (I like to use an old jar to mix the ingredients for the dressing.) Place the vegetables in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and carefully mix them together. Serve. Serves 4-6.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chicago's Best Burger: 15 Chefs Compete For The Title

Bon Appétit opens Chicago Gourmet 2010 with The Hamburger Hop at the Harris Theater Rooftop overlooking Millennium Park on Friday, September 24 from 6 – 9 PM.

Chefs will all be using the same meat supplied by Allen Brothers Steaks so no advantage there. Chicago chefs competing for the title are:

Brian Wright, Rosebud Restaurants, Chicago locations

Carol Wallack, Sola, 3868 N. Lincoln

Chad Starling, Aria, 200 N. Columbus Dr.

Dirk Flanigan, The Gage, 24 S. Michigan Ave.

Eddie Lakin, Edzo's Burger Shop, 1571 Sherman Ave., Evanston

Federico Comacchio, Phil Stefani's Steakhouse, 437 Rush

John Coletta, Quartino, 626 N. State

John Hogan,Keefer's, 20 W. Kinzie

Kevin Hickey , Seasons at Four Seasons Hotel, 120 E. Delaware Place

Meg Colleran-Sahs, Terzo Piano, 159 E. Monroe

Radhika Desai, English, 444 N. La Salle

Ryan LaRoche, NoMI, 800 N. Michigan Ave.

Stephan Lawhorn, Palmer Place, 56 S. LaGrange Rd., La Grange

Stephanie Izard, The Girl & The Goat, 809 W. Randolph

Stu Zirin, D.S. Tequila Company, 3352 N. Halsted

The judging panel is headed up by Chef Thomas Keller, chef/owner of the renowned French Laundry and Per Se and will be joined by five other culinary celebrity judges.

Press the link below to get your tickets.

Chicago Gourmet 2010

Note: Burger above is from Edzo's. Eddie always delivers the goods including the best malts ever!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thanks For A Great 1st Year!

Press on the link below for highlights of Year 1!

Love Chicago

Click on the link below to see some of the many reasons we love Chicago!

Sweet Home Chicago

Monday, September 13, 2010

Farmers Markets Speak To The Season

Does it look like fall? Farmers Markets are a sign of the changing season.

I somehow can't get beyond summer because the produce was so beautiful. What's this all about? UGH!

Bon Appetit and trying to get into fall...just haven't gotten there yet!

On Turning 1…

Thanks to our readers who made this first year fantastic - 10,000 hits in 3 months is amazing!!!

In honor of our 1st birthday, we are marking the event with a recipe contest called “What Are You Passionate About Cooking?”

So many of our readers are passionate chefs so send us your story and your recipe.

One per reader and mail to Send by the end of the month and put in the subject line: 2010 Recipe Contest.

An independent panel of hungry chefs will pick the winner (anyone can enter because I am not a judge) who will receive a $100 American Express Gift Card.

Are you celebrating your win already? Now that’s what I like – a confident chef!

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

From Mama’s Kitchen…

I had my final “End of Summer” ride with my bike club today. We did 60 miles and the weather was perfect! PERFECT and you can’t say that about Chicago weather too often.

After our ride, my friend and co-rider Lourdes surprised me with chicken mole from her mother’s kitchen. It was so remarkable.

The “on the edge of being burned” mole had that chili – but not too hot – and chocolate – but not too sweet - thing going on.

Mole made from scratch is rare these days because so many cooks use the paste but it’s just not the same.

I am going to “old school” it and when I finally learn, I’ll cook for Lourdes mother.

Mamas deserve a break from the kitchen just to sit back and enjoy the food they have been cooking all these years. When was the last time you cooked for your mama?

We also piled on some impressive refried beans and fresh pineapple salsa. That salsa was the best part - the cold kick to the spicy chicken mole.

Bon Appetit!

Pineapple, Mango and Pepper Salsa

1 fresh pineapple

2 large mangos

1 red bell pepper

1 cucumber

1 small onion

1 hot pepper

1 green bell pepper

Lime Zest

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 TBSP Lime Juice

Dice pineapple, mangos, peppers, cucumber and onion to the same size.

Mix together lime zest and lime juice.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Bring On The Kalbi

I love this recipe for Korean short ribs that my coworker Andrew gave me. I modified it a little and know that you’ll want to share this meal with all your friends once you’ve tasted it.

Andrew marinates them for 3 days. I have tried two but I like the flavor that an extra day gives. I cooked them on my indoor grill and also again on the BBQ. Both were really good.

So Kalbi is beef short ribs, cut into thins strips and marinated with Ponzu – a delicious soy sauce with citrus in it, garlic, fresh ginger root, Korean style red peppers (with no seeds), sesame oil, and brown sugar. Kalbi is grilled over a hot flame.

Once you get the balance of sweet and savory flavors, I would recommend some additional ingredients as well such as sherry. This is a good base recipe you can change up.


1 1/2 cups Ponzu

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup water

1 TBSP. sesame oil

4 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed

Korean red pepper to taste

1 large, fresh ginger root finely grated

4 pounds Korean-style short ribs

Combine the soy sauce, sugar, water, sesame oil and red pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add garlic and stir together. Put short ribs into large sealable freezer bag. Pour marinade into bag and turn bag over several times to ensure all meat pieces are covered. Refrigerate and turn frequently for 3 days.

Heat grill to high heat before adding the meat. Drain excess marinade off short ribs and grill them until medium, about 6-8 minutes. Serves 6.

Note to Serve:
My friend Kim told me this is best served the way Korean restaurants do: wrapped inside a fresh, crisp leaf of lettuce with one finger of steaming white rice, a dollop of spicy red bean paste (gochichang), a few slivers of grilled garlic, and shredded strips of fresh green onion.

Bon Appetit!

Deerpath Art Show

Last weekend, I enjoyed some of the beautiful work done by the artists at the Deerpath Art Show in neighboring Lake Forest. For once, they had beautiful weather.

Here are some of the things that you missed.

And last but not least all the great food from The Daily Grind and Southgate Cafe. Bon Appetit!
         Rick of The Daily Grind
      Ribs by the Chefs at Southgate Cafe

Edzos Revisited

Do you remember my post on Edzos? Around the corner from my new office? Trouble with a capital T.

Forget that this place has the best burgers, malts and French fries (truffle) on the planet. Is this place too close for comfort? So much so I have to step up my game plan and run an extra 3 miles each week. I am seriously addicted to this place.

Bon Appetit just named Edzos one of the great cheap eats in Chicago.

What I discovered at Edzos this week?

The maple malt I split with my boss was sinful.

Chef swears that the old machines blend more slowly than modern blenders, yielding a smoother, creamier malt as less air is whipped into it. I don’t remember ever having a malt this good…and I love malts and have consumed plenty of them.

I thought that I would lighten up and get a turkey burger…mind you I had a maple malt and hand cut fries extra crispy and this was a weekday.

This turkey burger was like none other I had ever had. It was as good as the burger and I have never compared the two of them in the same breath. Eddie tells me he grinds fresh turkey every day.

We especially love Eddie for his signature line…

“After working in Barcelona, Bologna, and way too many fine-dining kitchens, I decided to try and create a situation where I could carve out a living and still make it home by 6:00 so I could eat dinner with my family every night”

Congrats and Bon Appetit to Chef Eddie and the staff of Edzos.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Drops

My friend Sarah made these delicious chocolate peant butter cookies the other day and brought me a dozen. Yikes – I love these things and promptly passed them out to all the kids in the neighborhood so I wouldn’t eat them all myself. The minute the weekend hit, I would have been into them with an obsession.
Bon Appetit!

• 2 cups creamy peanut butter

• 1/2 cup butter

• 3 cups confectioners' sugar

• 3 cups crisp rice cereal (optional)

• 3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1. Melt peanut butter and butter in saucepan, over low heat. In large bowl, mix crispy rice cereal and confectioners' sugar well. Pour melted peanut butter and butter over cereal and sugar and blend together thoroughly.

2. Form into 1 inch balls, spread on cookie sheets, chill till firm in refrigerator.

3. Melt chocolate chips in double boiler. As you dip them place them back on cookie sheet and keep chilled till firm.

Grilled Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwiches with Green Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

This is a good variation on a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s especially great with cold, green tomato gazpacho.

I will definitely miss good tomatoes this winter. I’ve consumed a lot of varieties this summer and heirlooms are one of my favorites. This recipe is from Noca in Phoenix.


• 1 pound ripe green heirloom tomatoes, cored, cut into large chunks

• 1 6-inch piece unpeeled English hothouse cucumber, diced

• 1/2 cup chopped onion

• 1/2 cup chopped celery

• 1/2 cup salted roasted Marcona almonds

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 large garlic cloves, peeled

• 1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar or other white wine vinegar

• 1 teaspoon (or more) coarse kosher salt

Combine first 8 ingredients and 1 teaspoon coarse salt in processor. Blend to almost smooth puree (some texture should remain). Season with pepper and more salt, if desired. Transfer to medium bowl. Cover; chill at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.


• 8 1/3-inch-thick slices brioche or challah, trimmed to 5x3 inches

• 1 8-ounce package smoked mozzarella cheese, cut into 1-inch-wide by 1/8-inch-thick slices

• 2 large heirloom tomatoes (preferably Brandywine), cut into 1/4-inch slices

• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

Cut each bread slice into rectangle (about 4 1/2x2 1/2 inches). Arrange 4 bread rectangles on work surface. Top bread with half of cheese slices (trimming to fit) and 2 tomato slices. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and pepper. Top with remaining cheese, then remaining bread; press to compact.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add sandwiches. Cover and cook until bread is golden, turning once, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer sandwiches to paper towels. Cut each sandwich in half.

Divide gazpacho among 4 bowls; place on plates. Arrange sandwiches alongside.

Bon Appetit!

Blue Cheese and Grilled Meat

I like the taste of blue cheese and have found that adding a little bit to grilled meat really brings out the flavor of the meat.

I usually use fresh blue cheese and a little milk…nothing complicated or fancy.

Bobby Flay serves it with homemade potato chips. No feeling guilty after this…you’ll just have to cut a few hundred calories out of your diet this week. Love the homemade potato chips!

Bon Appetit!

Blue Cheese Sauce:

• 2 1/4 cups whole milk

• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

• 1 small Spanish onion, finely chopped

• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

• 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

• Pinch cayenne pepper

• 1/2 pound crumbled blue cheese

• Homemade Potato Chips

Place the milk in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the warm milk, and continue whisking until thickened. Season with salt and cayenne pepper. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, whisking occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a little extra milk. Serve sauce warm with potato chips for dipping.

Homemade Potato Chips:

• 6 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/8-inch thick slices on a mandoline

• 2 quarts peanut oil

• Salt

Place the potato slices on a baking sheet between layers of paper towels to make sure they are very dry before frying.

Heat oil in a large, heavy saucepan until the temperature of the oil reaches 400 degrees F on a deep-fat thermometer. Fry the potatoes in small batches until golden brown on both sides, turning once. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a brown paper bag or another baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain. Season with salt immediately. Serve hot with the blue cheese dipping sauce.

Fresh Peaches and Ice Cream…

One thing I will miss this winter...

Nothing like the taste of a fresh, ripe peach!

Bon Appetit!


When I lived in Mexico, I could not get enough of fresh baked bolillos. A base for tortas, they are stuffed full of fresh meats, vegetables and condiments and make for a pretty hearty lunch.

They are so great right out of the oven piled high with ham, pickled vegetables and grainy mustard. I also like them for breakfast.

So many recipes have lard in them. Here is a recipe that is lighter and still preserves the great taste.

Bolillos With Breakfast…

Bolillos are terrific with a large plate of scrambled eggs and chorizo. Another great breakfast I make is the Portuguese version of Chorizo and Eggs. Add diced pre-cooked potatoes, sautéed onions, and a diced green pepper to the chorizo and then when heated in a skillet, add the eggs.

Bon Appetit!

Mexican Bolillos

2 1/2 cups of flour

1 cup of warm water

1 teaspoon dry yeast

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup of canola oil


Mix together one cup of flour, yeast and warm water. Add one more cup of flour, sugar, salt and oil and stir until ingredients are combined but dough is still wet and shaggy. Let dough rest for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of flour on a clean surface and knead dough until it shapes into a ball, about 10 minutes.

Place into a greased bowl, cover and let it rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

After dough has risen, divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Take each piece and flatten it into a circle. Take one side, and fold it in half into the center. Take the opposite side and do the same. Roll folded dough with your hands until it’s spindle shaped, wider in the middle and tapered at the ends.

Place shaped rolls on a greased or parchment-paper lined cookie sheet that’s sprinkled with a bit of cornmeal, cover, and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

Twenty minutes before baking, heat oven to 425 degrees. Five minutes before baking, place an oven-safe pan filled with water on the bottom of the oven.

Mix 1/2 cup of warm water with 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and brush on each roll. Then, with a sharp knife, razor or lame, make a slash lengthwise through each roll.

Place rolls on bottom rack of oven (be careful when opening oven as steam might come out) and cook for 15 minutes or until the bolilllos are light brown in color and make a hollow sound when you thump them.

The Club des Chefs des Chefs

                                    Photo from The Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong

The Club des Chefs des Chefs is a small group: Only 30 people in the world, all executive chefs who cook for a head of state, are members. This group operates under the motto “politics divides men, but a good meal unites them.”

Bon Appetit!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sicilian Sunday Gravy and Other Stories From The Kitchen

I am so lucky to have met two great Italian chefs at this year’s Italian fest. It has led to many triumphs on a plan to improve my Italian cooking skills.

Vinnie and Gaccio are both first generation Americans and go back to the homeland a few times a year.They both have girlfriends back in Italy and I suspect they also have girlfriends here. I would say “typical Italian male” but these two are anything but typical.

They were best friends growing up and love to eat. They are a product of their mother’s kitchen.

I happen to think that this qualifies them as a new BFF. If someone is as passionate about food as you are - and these two clearly are – all the other prerequisites are called off.

Vinnie made this recipe today and I was almost embarrassed because I had visions of licking my plate clean but I did with the backside of the homemade Italian bread instead. Hey – it’s the weekend. No guilt trips here. Vinnie also made the bread. Anyone who makes great bread is golden in my book.

It’s Sunday and you don’t have to cook Sicilian Sunday Gravy on Sunday but Vinnie thinks that there is a little magic in the pot if you do!

Bon Appetit…Italian somewhere in my past!

P.S. I happen to think that this recipe is all about the neck bones. How about you?

1 Large cooking pot (all cooking is done in one pot)

4 cans of Tomato puree - (28 oz.)

1 1/2 to 2 Pounds Italian sausage (Hot & Sweet sausage - or all hot or all sweet)

1 1/2 to 2 Pounds Pork Neck Bones

1 Pound of cubed Veal or Veal bones

4 Tbs. Olive Oil

1 Medium red Onion sliced very thin or diced

4 cloves Garlic sliced very thin or diced

1 tsp. each Salt & fresh ground Pepper

1 Tbs. fresh Parsley

1 Tbs. fresh Basil

1 Tbs. Sugar

Red or Burgundy wine to taste

Put 4 Tbs. of olive oil in your pot, set heat to medium-high. Add meat (sausage, pork bones, veal) and brown on all sides, turn as needed. The meat will stick to the bottom of the pot, but that is good. When meat is brown on all sides remove from pot and set aside.

Lower heat to medium, add more olive oil if needed. Add garlic & onions, and saute stirring as needed until softened but not burnt - this won't take long.

Add the Tomato puree, salt, pepper, parsley, basil, and sugar. Cover and bring to a boil. Then set heat to low and let simmer. Next, add the browned meat to the gravy and stir gently. Let simmer at least 2 hours, stirring frequently - for better results simmer for 3 to 4 hours.

Actually, the longer the simmering time the better. An old Sicilian secret is to let it simmer all day, this allows the gravy to become infused with the flavors of the meats. Taste often, and add additional spices to adjust to your taste. The best way to do this is to dip a piece of Sicilian bread into the gravy. Vinnie also likes to sample while he is cooking.

Remove the meat and a little gravy from the pot and place in a large bowl, set on table. Next, spoon red gravy over cooked pasta of your choice, top with shredded or grated fresh Parmesan cheese or any cheese you like. Serve and enjoy!

This recipe will make enough red gravy to serve 12.

Gaccio came armed with his family recipes. I awed over every one of them. These two are always in a battle to outdo one another. Me – I’m not choosing sides because both of them are great chefs.

The boys say that their recipes are best prepared as you drink a nice glass of red wine. Works for me!

Bon Appetit!

• About ½ cup olive oil – about because he just eyeballs it…we need to learn to do that!

• 3 lbs sweet or hot Italian sausage (or mixture), sliced into 3-inch pieces

• 2 lbs your favorite meatballs (about 24 formed meatballs*) – See previous recipe for meatballs.

• 3 lbs country-style pork ribs on the bone

• 2 lbs pork neck bones

• 2 medium Spanish onions, finely chopped

• 8 garlic cloves, minced

• 1 12-oz can tomato paste

• 5 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) with juices, crushed by hand until no whole tomatoes remain

• 3 bay leaves

• Hefty pinch sugar

• Salt to taste (about 2 to 3 tsp)


Coat cooking surface of large heavy-bottomed stockpot (at least 12 qts — we're talking about a huge pot) with olive oil, place over medium-low heat, and brown all meats on all sides, working one at a time in this order: sausage, and remove; meatballs, and remove; ribs, and remove; then pork bones, leaving these in the pot. (Add more olive oil as needed.)

Add onions to pork bones and slowly brown, stirring occasionally, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and lightly brown, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add tomato paste and stir to coat onions and pork bones. Slowly cook until paste begins to thicken and turn deep reddish brown, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, bay leaves, and sugar. Stir well, making sure you get down to the bottom, and bring to a low boil.

Lower heat and simmer uncovered until sauce begins to thicken. After an hour, add ribs; two hours, add sausage; three hours, add meatballs. Continue to simmer until a layer of oil forms on top, about another hour. Season to taste with salt.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer meat to serving platter. Ladle sauce over your favorite pasta.

Yield: 16 cups sauce and meat for 8 to 10 people.

Bon Appetit…The Magazine

I have a lot of cooking magazine favorites but I am seriously addicted to Bon Appetit.

The September restaurant issue is exceptionally good with so many inspiring recipes from restaurants all over the country. I rank this issue in the top 10 ever.

Included in the issue are several of my favorite places in Chicago:

In the top 10 New Restaurants, Chicago’s Purple Pig made the list and I was not surprised. I tried their recipe - Pork Blade Steaks with Nduja and Honey and Arugula Salad – and it was to die for! The recipe is posted below along with all the others I tried and loved.

It’s so great not to have one failure in the bunch. Wow – that rarely happens. Something always needs tweaking. If all these recipes were so good, I can’t wait to try the others. There are so many in this issue that look absolutely remarkable.

There is a terrific article on Delicious Cheap Eats in Chicago and Evanston’s Edzo’s Burger Shop was listed ( I had the most amazing Maple Shake there the other day) along with two of my other favorite spots - Bill Kim’s Urban Belly and Rick Bayless’s XOCO. We are so lucky to have access to so many great restaurants here in Chicago. That’s one of the main reasons I continue to live here.

Bon Appetit is the leading sponsor of Gourmet Chicago 2010 which will take place in Millennium Park at 201 E. Randolph Street on September 24-26th.

Bon Appetit Bon Appetit!

Pork Blade Steaks with Nduja and Honey and Arugula Salad

This is the best pork steak I have ever made and it’s all in the brine and the flavor of the spicy salami.

I cooked it on high on my indoor grill but the grill is not hot enough so I finished it off on the BBQ. Have to look at a pan that will do the trick on my gas stove.

Nduja, a spicy spreadable salami, is incredible with the pork. This recipe is by Jimmy Bannos Jr., The Purple Pig, Chicago an was featured in the September issue of Bon Appetit.

Bon Appetit!
• 3 cups water

• 6 tablespoons coarse kosher salt plus additional (for sprinkling)

• 3 tablespoons sugar

• 4 1/2-inch-thick pork shoulder blade steaks (each about 10 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide)

• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

• 4 ounces nduja (soft, spicy salami), cut into very thin slices

• 2 tablespoons honey

• 1 5-ounce package baby arugula

• 1/2 cup coarsely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Special equipment
Large griddle

Ingredient Info
Nduja is available at some specialty foods stores, Italian markets, and online from

This size of pork shoulder blade steaks may be hard to find at the supermarket, so you may have to ask the butcher to cut them for you. I used smaller ones and they worked just fine.

• Combine 3 cups water, 6 tablespoons coarse salt, and sugar in 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Place pork steaks in brine in baking dish. Cover and chill at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours.

• Remove pork steaks from brine; pat dry. Brush both sides of steaks with 1 tablespoon oil; sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Heat griddle over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Place steaks on griddle and cook 3 minutes. Turn steaks over on griddle; immediately top each steak with nduja slices, dividing equally. Cook until pork is cooked through, about 3 minutes longer (nduja will soften).

• Transfer steaks to platter, nduja side down. Spoon 1/2 tablespoon honey over each.

• Toss arugula, cheese, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons oil in bowl. Season salad with coarse salt and pepper; serve with steaks.

Lamb Spareribs with Pomegranate Sauce

This recipe is from Paul K in San Francisco, California. I thought that these ribs would make a delicious and unusual appetizer. The first time I made them I used molasses and added 100% pomegranate juice. It was good but worth the hunt for the pomegranate molasses – made all the difference and I seriously ate them for breakfast this morning.
Pretty sure I’m addicted!

Bon Appetit!

Makes 4 servings


• 1 cup pomegranate molasses

• 1/3 cup fresh orange juice

• 1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

• 2 shallots, thinly sliced

• 1 bay leaf

• 1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel


• 5 pounds lamb spareribs

• 1 carrot, thinly sliced

• 1 lemon, thinly sliced

• 4 garlic cloves, peeled

• 1 1/2 tablespoons salt

• Ingredient Info

Pomegranate molasses is a thick syrup available at some supermarkets, at Middle Eastern markets, and from Lamb ribs are sometimes labeled "lamb breast spareribs."



• Bring all ingredients to boil in medium saucepan, whisking occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.


• Place all ingredients in large pot. Add enough water to cover. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer until ribs are tender, adding more water as needed to keep ribs covered, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Remove from heat; let ribs cool 30 minutes in broth.

• Preheat oven to 375°F. Transfer ribs to work surface. Cut between bones to form individual ribs; trim excess fat and membranes. Turn ribs in sauce to coat; arrange on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with pepper. Bake until glazed, about 35 minutes. Pass remaining sauce alongside.

Baked Eggs with Bacon and Spinach

This is a 5 Ingredient Recipe from Bon Appetit. It was quick and easy and you can make it in less than 30 minutes. It’s a great put together if company shows up at your door for breakfast.

Next time around I would add more spinach. I would also top with the shaved parmesan in the last five minutes. I added it from the start and it was a bit crispy.

Use your imagination if you don’t have an ingredient. I used pancetta because I did not have bacon. I also toasted rounds of French bread instead of using the English muffins.

This is definitely a recipe you can play with. Use your imagination when it comes to ingredients because the list of possibilities is endless.

4 servings

• 6 slices applewood-smoked bacon

• 1 5-ounce bag baby spinach

• 2 whole wheat or sourdough English muffins, split horizontally, well toasted

• 4 large eggs

• 4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp; transfer to paper towels. Pour off drippings from skillet; reserve drippings. Add spinach to pan, sprinkle with pepper, and toss over medium heat, 1 minute. Transfer to strainer set over bowl to drain. Brush four 1-cup ramekins with drippings. Crumble bacon.

Place 1 toasted English muffin half, split side up, in each ramekin. Divide spinach among ramekins, then sprinkle bacon over, dividing equally. With back of spoon, shape well in center of each ramekin. Gently crack 1 egg into well in each ramekin, keeping yolk intact. Drizzle 1 tablespoon cream over each egg. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake eggs until whites are just set but yolks are still runny, recipe said 14-16 minutes but my yolk was set. I would check after 11 minutes.

Bon Appetit!

Rib-Eye Steak with Blue Cheese Butter and Walla Walla Onion Rings

 Photograph by Elinor Carucci

This was our send off to summer and it was… when I woke up this morning it was 50 degrees. Yikes – way too early for that!

This recipe is from Laurelhurst Market, a restaurant in Portland that is part steakhouse and part butcher shop.

I have always been a fan of onion rings and these were no exception. Sad to say it’s just another weekend cheat…but you have this great recipe to look forward to next weekend.

Bon Appetit!


• 2 1-pound rib-eye steaks (each about 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick)

• Coarse kosher salt

Blue Cheese Butter:

• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

• 3 tablespoons crumbled American blue cheese (such as Maytag), room temperature

• 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

• 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

• 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper

Walla Walla Onion Rings:

• 1 cup cake flour

• 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

• 1/2 cup beer

• 2 tablespoons vodka

• Canola or peanut oil (for deep-frying)

• 1 large (about 12 ounces) Walla Walla onion or other sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Maui), cut into 1/3-inch-thick rounds, separated into rings



• Sprinkle steaks on both sides with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place on plate; cover and chill overnight.

Blue Cheese Butter:

• Using fork, mix all ingredients in small bowl. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

• Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Grill steaks to desired doneness, 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer steaks to cutting board; let rest 5 minutes.

Walla Walla Onion Rings:

Meanwhile, whisk flour, coarse salt, and baking powder in medium bowl. Add beer and vodka; whisk just until blended. Pour enough oil into heavy large pot to reach depth of 2 inches. Attach deep-fry thermometer to side of pot; heat oil over medium heat to 350°F. Working with 2 onion rings at a time, dip onion rings into batter; shake off excess. Gently drop onion rings into hot oil; fry until deep golden, adjusting heat to maintain temperature, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer onion rings to paper towels. Repeat with remaining batter and onion rings.

Cut steaks in half across grain. Place 1 steak half on each of 4 plates. Top with blue cheese butter and onion rings.

Heirloom Tomato Salad With Buttermilk Dressing and Blue Cheese

Did you know that you can grow heirloom tomatoes all season long…that is unless you live in Chicago. It blew my mind to find out that there are over 7,500 varieties of tomatoes.
I got a first-hand education this summer when I saw so many different ones at the farmers markets in Evanston and Lincoln Park.

My neighbor and I grew Gold Medal Tomatoes this year, and they are magnificent. They really did live up to the description "sweetest tomato you ever tasted".

Before this year, I’ll must admit that I was not a connoisseur of a good tomato. Now – I’m a snob. I’ll go out of my way to get good tomatoes and I’ll even carry them around all day if I have to.

This appealing recipe is from Bon Appetits selection of Ellerbe Fine Foods in Fort Worth, Texas.

Bon Appetit!


• 1/2 cup mayonnaise

• 1/4 cup buttermilk

• 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

• 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

• 1 1/2 tablespoons minced shallot

• 1 small garlic clove, minced

• Coarse kosher salt

Whisk first 6 ingredients in small bowl. Season dressing with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.


• 6 assorted large heirloom tomatoes, cored, cut into 3/4-inch-thick wedges

• 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

• Coarse kosher salt

• 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

• 2 green onions, thinly sliced diagonally

• 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley leaves

Place tomatoes and shallots in large bowl. Add oil and lemon juice; sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper and toss. Divide among 6 plates. Drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle with blue cheese, green onions, and parsley.

Green City Market and Evanston Farmers Market

I love the images and sounds of these two markets and every Saturday morning I am reminded why. They both photograph beautifully and have a capture the moment calling.

I am always surprised by the seasonal produce I see every week. I will be anxious to follow Green City’s indoor market this winter. Did I just say winter – UGH!

Stephanie Izzard of the Girl And The Goat was the guest chef at Green City Market this week. So many of the city’s great chefs support this market.

Evanston was voted the best suburban farmer’s market in Chicago by Chicago Magazine. I think the produce at this market is hard to beat.

You don’t really need a reason to go to the markets but the chef demonstrations and the food alone is reason enough.

I always look forward to something new for breakfast and the market chefs never fail to deliver both quality and great flavor.

Bon Appetit!