Thursday, June 28, 2012

No Boundaries. No Borders.

The distance around the world is about 25,000 miles but the Internet, ever-evolving technologies, and the freedom and ease of travel have made contacts with faraway cultures a reality. In fact, since I started this blog, I have friends in over 100 of the 196 countries in the world, many who are in my e-club.

The world is full of foodies who are anxious to share their little corner of the world. I am mine and I divulge the growing culinary side of Chicago every chance I get.
Today, with a simple click of the mouse, you can travel anywhere. I have discovered free cooking classes in the markets in Paris and ethnic market tours in Vietnam through a woman I met on Craigslist.
Of the diverse 20 in my multicultural club in Chicago, there is little difference between us besides the fact that they want blonde hair and blue eyes and I want to come back in my next life with the strikingly, exotic good looks they were born with.
They always come dressed up. I always come in my flip flops ready to eat!
We are all different but when it comes to the kitchen, it’s never easy to differentiate between us. We all have a love of cooking.
I have a passport to just about anywhere when we get together. Do we share our trade secrets? Well, that’s another narrative.
Ramani thinks that I cook better Indian food than she does. I think that if my Roomali Roti comes out anywhere close to hers, I am a genius. She is so good at this bread she can make it with her eyes closed.

Badria believes that every woman needs a veil to cook a healthier mantu. I agree but the last time I cooked mantu, to me it tasted a lot like won tons. We laugh about that. It’s another thing we share.

She recently bought me a veil. It also looks a little Asian but I’ll wear it and see what my cooking style is afterwards.

Nomusa reasons that if we all cook Hoender Pastei Hoender together, we are sister’s for life.

She is right you know because it’s great friends and good food that binds us to countries and cultures all for the sake of sisterhood… and some killer Hoender Pastei.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

So Many Reasons Not To Cook

I had good intentions of sharing a lot of recipes this week but it was just too hot to be in the kitchen. In fact, two weekends in a row I took a pass and wandered into the city finding plenty of good reasons not to cook.

Bon Appetit!

West Randolph
Ask me to pick one neighborhood in the city that is the ultimate foodie destination and it has to be West Randolph.
With restaurants like The Girl and the Goat, Maude’s Liquor Bar, Nellcote, the new G.E.B. and soon- to- open Belly Q, there is no other area of the city that has so much energy.
The Taste of Randolph was reason enough to be in the city and out of the kitchen. So what were my favorites?
Onion rings from Grange Hall Burger Bar. The best onion rings I’ve ever and I thought I had the corner on beer-battered onion rings. What I did find out from the chef? Half corn starch and flour and American beer.
Chocolate covered grapes by the Great Grape. This was the bite of the day and so easy to devour. Really loved the white chocolate ones.
Watermelon Lemonade from Wishbone. So Simple.Dice watermelon and pour lemonade over the top. Really refreshing on a hot summer day and it isn’t even summer yet.
Belly Q’s Beef Sandwich.
This restaurant - Michael Jordan and Cornerstone Restaurant Group join forces with one of my favorite chefs, Bill Kim – does beef with a whole lot of pickeled something to make me think that Belly Q’s opening in late July can’t come soon enough.
A stop at Graham Elliot’s Bistro (G.E.B.)for brunch.
Showing up when they open is key so I have the recognition of being the first person for their first day of brunch.
The menu is limited and three ingredients are listed for each dish. Mine was the eggs+rasher+crumpet.
This is what I love about Elliott. Every time you think you know exactly what you are getting you are amazed.
The dish was the lightest version of Egg’s Benedict that I’ve ever had. A ideal portion and the service was nothing short of exceptional.
A religion-meets-rock 'n' roll theme, Elliott’s brother, artist Brian Balls, created the candles in homage to the celebritys and chefs who will undoubtedly come just  to get seated at the chef’s table.
Me, I just wanted to grab one of the koozies that seperates G.E.B.’s beer from the rest of the suds on the block.
Mia Francesca at 3311 N Clark, was my stop off for a quick summer brunch.
The Pollo e Vovo was actually the dish that gave me the idea for the chicken hash with the eggs and salsa verde I made the next day. In fact, the only dish I cooked both weekends.
With a great menu, I loved the atmosphere and pictured myself there in the dead of winter sipping red wine and chatting about cooking lessons in Florence. What a great way to waste an afternoon.
The atmosphere inside is definitely winter so on a day like this, don’t miss the al fresco dining on the cobblestone terrace.
Better Homes and Garden’s Chill and Grill, the celebration of outdoor grilling cosponsored by Weber, featured some of Chicago’s best restaurants.
The tastes included two of my favorites: Mindy Segal’s frozen hot chocolate and Chicago Cut’s steak with a spicy, avocado side.
Grilling demos and celebrity chefs made this event one of Chicago’s best entertainment values of the summer.
Summer Fest In Andersonville, where a wide variety of booths selling food, photography and the perfect taste of summer made me happy once again that I didn’t have to cook.
Along with the intense heat, there was plenty of people watching and great music to cool things down.
John des Rosiers' new restaurant in the old Rosebud space in Highland Park (1850 Second Street) is my go-to spot for one of my summer favorites  –The PLT.
Ask for it on toast not a bun. The bun was too heavy for this summer combo. Doesn’t a PLT belong on toast?
Pancetta, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich
3 cups arugula
3 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 slices country-style bread, each 1/2-inch thick
Pancetta, cooked
Sea salt, preferably gray salt
Basil Mayonnaise, recipe follows
Before putting together sandwich, make a plate of arugula and sliced tomatoes and set aside with unsalted butter.
Butter 1 side of each bread slice, then put 4 slices, buttered side down, on a work surface. Top the bread slices with the pancetta, distributing it evenly. Top each with a second slice of bread, buttered side up.

Heat a cast iron skillet or grill pan until hot. Place the sandwiches in the skillet and top with a weight, such as another skillet. Cook until nicely browned, 2 to 3 minutes, then turn the sandwiches and replace the weight. Cook until the second side is well browned, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the sandwiches to a work surface and remove the top slice of bread from each sandwich. Spread the underside of those slices with the basil mayonnaise. Top the pancetta with the tomato slices, pepper to taste, and arugula leaves.

Replace the top slice of bread, cut the sandwiches in half, and serve immediately.
Basil Mayonnaise:
16 large fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
Fresh ground black pepper

A trip to the farmers market had me in the kitchen later that day but I never turned the oven on. Didn’t have to with all the produce I hauled home.
This summer salad is beautiful to look at with the deep, red cherries. It is also one of my favorite fruit salads.
Adding agave nectar to the dressing gives it a slight sweetness and was remarkable combination blended with the olive oil and lime juice.
Summer Salad
1 large yellow peach
1 heirloom tomato (I used the pineapple variety for their color and flavor)
1 cup cherries, halved and pitter
2 tablespoons basil, chiffonade (rolled up and chopped into ribbons)
2 tablespoons cilantro, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon mint, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon agave nectar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Slice up the peach into thin slices, roughly cube the tomato into one inch chunks, and combine with the cherries in a bowl. Add the herbs. In a small lidded container or with a whisk, combine the lime juice, agave nectar, olive oil, salt and pepper until mixed together. Pour over the herbs and fruit and combine to dress.
A cool summer drink that uses just the right amount of honey to sweeten, I combined the wine, orange liqueur and peach liqueur and got the ingredients ice cold in the refrigerator before I made this drink.
This was a really good summer drink but use frozen peaches if peaches. That was the mistake that I made and it would have helped to keep the slushie semi-frozen.
Peach and Sangria Slushie
Serves: 2

1 cup cold white wine (such as Riesling or your favorite variety)
2 tablespoons orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier)
2 tablespoons peach liqueur (such as Hiram Walker Peach Schnapps)
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups frozen peaches

Place the wine, orange liqueur, peach liqueur, orange juice, lime juice, and honey in blender. Add frozen peaches.
Process until smooth. Pour into glasses.
These Strawberries were not super sweet but with the help of a little sugar and a lot of half and half, this made a really good homemade Strawberry Ice Cream.
Strawberry Ice Cream
adapted from

1 lb strawberries, stemmed, hulled and halved
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups half and half

Combine the strawberries in a large bowl with the sugar, lemon juice and salt.
Use a potato masher to mash them until coarse. Let the strawberry mixture stand for 10 minutes.

Transfer the strawberry mixture to a blender and add half and half. Puree until smooth, then pour the mixture into a large bowl.
Cover and refrigerate until very cold – at least 6 hours.
Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts
Scrambled Eggs and Salsa Verde
I love Mexican anytime, especially for breakfast.
While many people put Ketchup on their eggs, for me it’s salsa verde or nothing at all.
I added poblano and habanero to my salsa this time. It gave it an extra kick that I really liked and will encorporate this into my basic salsa recipe. What a difference in taste.
I used flour tortillas to make the chips instead of corn which is the way I use to eat it for breakfast in Mexico. Flour tortillas were always hard to find but my favorite breakfast cart made them up fresh when I religiously showed up hungry at least three mornings a week.
Any way you make it, it’s a great recipe to throw leftovers into. I added chicken and potatoes and made a hash which served as the base for this dish.
Bon Appetit!
Mexican Scrambled Eggs with Corn Tortillas and Salsa Verde
Serves 2
1 cup salsa verde or green enchilada sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 corn tortillas
4 large eggs (preferably organic)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Sea salt
Black pepper

Optional garnishes: hot sauce (Tapatio!), minced cilantro and white onion, charred scallion, avocado, sour cream, cotija cheese, lime wedges

Preheat two serving bowls, and heat the salsa verde in the microwave.
Place a large, well seasoned or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil. When it is shimmering, tear each tortilla into 6 wedges and add them to the pan, along with a pinch of salt. Cook, flipping occasionally, until they are quite well browned. Pull out and reserve 6 of the wedges.
Reduce the heat to low. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, 2 tablespoons of water, cumin, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and several grinds of black pepper.
Pour the eggs over the tortillas that are still in the pan, and cook, stirring frequently, until the eggs are as set as you like them. Remove from the heat.
Put about 1/4 cup of the heated salsa in each bowl. Spoon in half of the egg and tortilla mixture. Pour the remaining salsa over the eggs. Sprinkle on a bit more salt. Add the reserved fried tortillas on top, and finish with some or all of the suggested garnishes (or offer them at the table.
No secret that Margaritas and cherries are two of my favorites and this summer drink was a perfect blend of flavors.
Cherry Margaritas
Margarita Mix:
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup water water
2 Tbsp sugar (or the equivalent in your favorite sweetener)
Margarita mix (above)
20 cherries
5 Blackberries
3 oz tequila
2 oz orange liqueur

Stir together sugar and water over medium heat, just until the sugar has completely disolved and the mixture is clear.
Stir in lime juice and pour into a blender.
Pit cherries and place in the blender. Add Blackberries.
Add tequila and orange liqueur
Blend 15-20 seconds and pour through a fine sieve into a pitcher.
Use a rubber spatula to work the mixture around, getting as much of the liquid out as possible.
Pour the strained margarita over ice and enjoy.
I found plenty of peaches and nectarines at the market today. These salads were great sides for the delicious Hosin-glazed burgers because in this weather, the outdoor oven is the only route to go!
Fresh Peach and Basil Salad
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large peaches, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Whisk together first 5 ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Whisk in olive oil. Stir in chopped peach and basil. Serve immediately.

Fresh strawberries and nectarines were a great mix with this dressing. Another summer favorite. I used crumbled blue cheese because that’s what I had.

Strawberry Field Salad
4 large nectarines, cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
3/4 cup Lemon-Poppy Seed Dressing
1 (10-oz.) package gourmet mixed salad greens
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1 (4-oz.) package crumbled feta cheese
1 large green tomato, diced*
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 (3.5-oz.) package roasted glazed pecan pieces

Toss nectarines with 1/4 cup Lemon-Poppy Seed Dressing.
Layer gourmet mixed salad greens, nectarines, strawberries, and next 4 ingredients in a large glass bowl. Serve immediately, or cover and chill up to 8 hours. Toss salad with remaining 1/2 cup dressing just before serving.
1 1/2 cups halved miniature heirloom tomatoes may be substituted.

Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 teaspoons finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt

Process vegetable oil, sugar, fresh lemon juice, poppy seeds, finely chopped onion, Dijon mustard, and salt in a blender until smooth.
Store in refrigerator up to 1 week; serve at room temperature.
Use the egg. I didn’t and my burgers fell apart but were still delicious.

Hoisin-Glazed Salmon Burgers with Pickled Cucumber
Cooking Light Magazine

1/3 cup water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
24 thin English cucumber slices (~1/2 cucumber)

1/2 cup panko
2-3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp lower-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp lime rind, grated
1 (1-lb) skinless wild, fresh or frozen, Alaskan salmon fillet, finely chopped
1 large egg white
1 1/2 tsp dark sesame oil
2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
6 slider-sized hamburger buns, toasted, if desired

Combine the first 6 ingredients for the cucumbers in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat; add cucumber. Let stand 30 minutes. Drain.
Combine panko and the next 7 burger ingredients (through egg white) in a bowl, and stir well. Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions, gently shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over the BBQ. Add sesame oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add patties; cook patties for 3 minutes on each side or until done. Brush tops of patties evenly with hoisin; cook for 30 seconds.

Place 1 patty on bottom half of each bun; top each patty with 4 cucumber slices and top half of bun.

Yields 6.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Timing Is Everything

Did you know that professionals use touch to gauge doneness?

Touch your index finger to your cheek - when the meat feels this way, the steak is rare.

Touch the tip of your nose - that firmness equated to medium.

Your forehead is well done.

Bon Appetit to whosever nose you are using!

A Not So Typical Holiday BBQ

With the kickoff of summer, we fired up the BBQ and spent most of the day eating and then walking it off.

These little non-alcoholic drinks were a great match for the 93 degree heat.

From brunch to a late afternoon BBQ, these dishes were not your typical Memorial Day chow.

Maybe that’s why it all tasted so good!

Bon Appetit!

Smoked Ribs and Blue Cheese Brioche

Something southern did rub off on me last weekend when I came up with this dish for our Memorial Day brunch.

Yesterday I was disappointed that I smoked my ribs but not today.The combination of flavors with the smoked meat was amazing. I don’t have too many OMG moments but this was one of them.

Combine a Brioche, a slice of Blue Cheese Brie and leftover smoked ribs. Heat until cheese melts in the microwave.
It’s pretty simple and now I know: Smoked meat goes perfectly with brioche and BBQ works with cornbread.

Pair it with an ever so cold mini bottle of good champagne and you’ll have an easy brunch that you can put on your “A” list.

Chinese Char Siu Grilled Lamb Chops

We decided to try something different and made BBQ lamb chops with an oriental twist.

Typically used on pork, this Chinese marinade called char siu gives a memorable influence and sweetness to these chops.

These are also wonderful with a little steamed bok choy.

3 tablespoons hoisin suace
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine) or dry Sherry
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 lamb chops or lamb riblets
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon water

Whisk first 6 ingredients in small bowl. Transfer to large resealable plastic bag. Add lamb; seal bag and turn to coat. Marinate in refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight.
Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Drain lamb, leaving some marinade clinging. Grill lamb until slightly charred and cooked to desired doneness, about 2 1/2 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to platter.
Stir honey and 1 tablespoon water in small skillet over medium heat until warm. Brush over lamb chops.
I love my ice cream maker. It is so easy to whip up a batch of ice cream and you can really taste the difference when you make it fresh.

I bought the ice cream maker with two bowls. I always have one in the freezer if I am suddenly in the mood to indulge.

This Myer’s lemon ice cream was delicious with raspberries and with the Italian cherries I wrote about last week.

This is a quick and easy recipe you can do in less than a half hour.

Lemon Ice Cream

1 Cup Milk
½ Cup Sugar
2 Cups Heavy Whipping Cream
½ Cup Myers Lemon Juice
2 TBSP Lemon Peel

Wisk milk and sugar together until sugar dissolves.

Stir in rest of ingredients. Do not chill in fridge or lemon juice may curdle the milk.

Pour into ice cream maker and mix 25-30 minutes. Freeze 3 hours.

Stir fried shrimp is an impressive appetizer but half the fun of this recipe is peeling the shells and licking the garlicy mess off your fingers.

Maybe we’ll call this a fun recipe instead of an impressive one!

Fried Chinese Shrimp

1 pound large shrimp
1 Tbsp soy sauce
½ Tbsp sherry
½ tsp fresh grated ginger
2 Tbsp peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp Sesame oil

Marinate shrimp in their shells for at least ½ hour in the soy sauce, sherry and ginger. Drain. Stir fry in a hot pan with the peanut oil and garlic until color changes. Add green onions. Add sesame oil and a dash of salt. Toss until onions are barely wilted.

Serve hot and let guests remove shells.

Buy fresh tomatoes and avocado at the Farmers market and that’s all you’ll need in this salad.

Topped with a little olive oil, this is a light and healthy compliment to any meal.

Tomato and Avacado Salad

2 pounds assorted tomatoes (any color), sliced or halved if small
1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper

On a large plate or platter, arrange tomatoes and avocado. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Destination: Bahamas

If you had a choice between the popular Bahamas breakfast of boiled fish and grits or a quick swim with the dolphins, which would you choose?

Vacation Rule # 1: You can do anything you want including skipping breakfast.
Bon Appetit!

Glazed and Infused

At 1576 N Milwaukee Avenue, I thought the Maple Bacon Long John: “the bar of golden goodness layered with real maple glaze and maple bacon” was the donut that was going to keep me coming back. It was good but then all of them were.

The genius behind this operation is Francesca’s restaurateur Scott Harris with the help of chefs Christine McCabe (Charlie Trotter’s) and Tom Culleeney (Lettuce Entertain You and Krispy Kreme) and in my opinion, is the best donut joint in Chicago. Trumps the Donut Vault by leaps and bounds and not sure who is doing the baking but I seriously need to take a lesson or two on how to make a perfect one myself.

Half the fun was getting the staff to recommend what they really liked because they loved everything. Funny thing was so did I so don’t get me near this place anytime soon. Seriously, I was totally addicted with just one bite of the lemon.

Bon Appetit!


At 1072 N Milwaukee Avenue, Frontier was set to open at 10:00 AM and I got my pick of a tables because I was the second party to arrive.

I always go to a restaurant when they open to get a spot near the window (for the light) and ask the waiter a million questions. Nearly all the time, I get great service.

Had the chargrilled oysters, the pancakes with brittle and maple syrup and the rabbit and waffle. All were really good and beautifully presented but every dish came cold. How did that happen with only two parties in the restaurant?

I never review a spot that I don’t have good things to say about but honestly I love this place. The outdoor space is a real high point on a sunny Saturday morning in Chicago. Seriously it has all of the components of a really great restaurant…just needs to get some things worked out in the kitchen in order to shine.

Bon Appetit!