Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October: A Fireplace, A Glass of Wine and Bring On The Comfort Food

When the weather turns cold, I start thinking about cooking comfort food or sitting inside a dark bar sipping Merlot and passing the afternoon away with friends.

Here are the recipes that will warm you up when you partake in some of those winter indulgences.

Just don’t forget to light the fireplace before you settle in.

Bon Appetit!


 Slow cook a pork roast all day and top with fresh ingredients. How easy is that?

Pair with a fresh margarita, homemade flour tortillas and salsa verde...and don’t forget your salt shaker and a side of Cotija, a few onions and a little avocado.


I’m very picky when it comes to eating mushrooms. I don’t like mushrooms in most dishes but I love eating them all on their own.

Gourmet created this dish that I devour it with a large, crusty loaf of bread and an oversized glass of red wine…a lot like polishing off Escargot.

Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms

1 pound mushrooms such as cremini or white, halved lengthwise if large
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle. Toss mushrooms with capers, garlic, oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper in a 1 1/2- to 2-qt shallow baking dish. Top with butter and roast, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are tender and golden and bubbly garlic sauce forms below, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and parsley. Serve immediately, with crusty bread on the side for swiping up the juices.


This easy brown butter sauce the French call "beurre noisette"is simple and fast to put together. It’ also great served over chicken or grilled veggies.

Serves 4.

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
2 tbsps chopped nuts
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Put the butter in a small saucepan and melt over medium heat. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the butter begins to take on a light-brown color and gets a nutty aroma. Add nuts and cook for one minute. Pour in the lemon juice, turn up to high heat, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, and add the tarragon, salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Pour over tilapia.
Vietnamese Eggrolls

Ask me what my favorite eggroll is and I’ll tell you without any thought at all that it comes out of a Vietnamese kitchen.

Two tips: Make sure you use peanut oil and it is really hot when you fry them.

The best part? Nuoc Mam. I often drown my rolls in this tasty sauce whose base is fermented fish sauce. I always used Squid based fish sauce which you can find at any Asian market or online.

1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fermented fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon minced jalapeño chili with seeds

Whisk all ingredients in medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Let stand at least 30 minutes.


Two of my favorite, easy recipes that never fail to impress. Pair with a vegetable laden Bloody Mary, your favorite breakfast potatoes and fruit and you snag the perfect winter brunch.

Bacon and Egg Savory Cupcakes

16 slices bacon
1 can (16.3 oz) Pillsbury GrandsHomestyle refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
8 eggs
Salt and pepper, if desired

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In 10-inch skillet, cook bacon over medium heat about 4 minutes or until cooked but not crisp, turning once. (It will continue to cook in the oven.) Set aside.

Spray 8 jumbo muffin cups or 8 (6-oz) glass custard cups with cooking spray. Separate dough into 8 biscuits. Place 1 biscuit in each muffin cup, pressing dough three-fourths of the way up sides of cups. Place 2 bacon slices in each biscuit cup, and crack an egg over each. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until egg whites are set. Run a small knife around cups to loosen. Serve immediately.

Baked Egg With Prosciutto, Asparagus and Tomato

Cooking spray
1 slice tomato
1 generous slice prosciutto
1 small stalk asparagus, cooked
1 egg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat the ramekin with cooking spray; line with asparagus stalk, tomato and prosciutto. Break egg into ramekin, then put on a baking sheet.

Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until egg is set and white has solidified. Because the cup retains heat, egg will continue to cook after you remove it from the oven, so it is best to undercook it slightly. Precise time, in a good oven on a middle rack, is 12 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, Parmesan and serve. Yield: 1 serving

Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins

Wild Flour Bakery out of Milwaukee gets the seasonality nod for their delightful Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins.

I like that there is just a bit of cream cheese which makes it the perfect taste of sweet.

Wedge Salad

My new favorite wedge salad is dressed with a Merlot Vinaigrette and sprinkled with pancetta and sugared almonds.

You can pair it with a steak or a chop but I like to eat mine as a main dish.

It’s truly magnificent with a cold glass of my favorite buttery Chardonnay – Franciscan.

1/4 head iceberg lettuce
Crumbled blue cheese
Crispy pancetta
Chopped Roma tomatoes
Fresh basil
Salt & Vinegar

Sugared almonds

Top With Merlot Vinaigrette:

Merlot Vinaigrette
1/4 cup Merlot vinegar
1/2 tsp honey
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
Ground black pepper
Sea salt
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk all ingredients together and stream in the olive oil.

Green Beans with Potatoes and Ham
This recipe, from Martha Stewart, is a cold weather treat for sure.

I use really meaty hocks because I like more ham than veggies in my meal.

I would also cook hocks overnight in a slow cooker to intensify the flavor of the broth and then put the soup together that next day.

Chopsticks you ask?

This soup has large chuncks of goodies so practice makes perfect for anyone who is still trying to master them…like me.

2 meaty ham hocks
1 onion, peeled and quartered through root
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 celery stalk, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 jalapeno or serrano chile, intact with a split down 1 side
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
3 1/2 quarts water
1 pound small red potatoes, halved
2 pounds green beans, stem ends trimmed, halved crosswise

Combine ham hocks, onion, garlic, celery, thyme, bay leaf, chile, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and the water in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 1 hour 30 minutes.

Transfer ham hocks to a plate. Discard chile, and add potatoes to pot; simmer until just tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
When ham hocks are cool enough to handle, pull meat off bones (discard bones), shred into bite-size pieces, and return to pot. Add green beans, and return to a simmer. Cover, and cook until beans are just tender, about 8 minutes. Season with pepper. Serve vegetables and meat with a slotted spoon; reserve broth for another use. If storing leftovers, store in broth.

At 130 East Randolph, I always go for the signature dish which in this case was the WB Signature "Berry Bliss" Pancakes: AKA - Buttery Pancakes Stuffed with Fresh Maine Blueberries & Layered with Wildberry Mascarpone. Topped with Fresh Blackberries, Strawberries, Vanilla Cream Anglaise and a Fresh Blackberry Coulis.

Way too sweet for my taste – I only took 3 bites – but the 7 year old at the table next door ate through this stack in a matter of minutes.

Never been a fan and doesn’t it look a little bit like this artificial surface that it was exhibited on?
I try and sometimes I eat it anyway because I know it’s good for me but if I ever learn to love brocolli I have to find a recipe that makes it taste just like bacon!
A Teeny Tiny Bar

Like Slims Elbow Room in Cabo, the world’s smallest bar with 4 seats and standing room on the sidewalk , I found the smallest bar in Chicago – The Alcove at 512 Main Street which measures just 420 Square Feet.

With just 13 seats, the bartender mixes the Martinis with Few Spirits gin which is distilled down the street. I love it when they make it all in the neighborhood.

This place reminded me of the little bar we fell in love with in Paris and is the most intimate spot to grab a glass of wine and a one-on-one conversation.

Asparagus Ravioli
This recipe is so easy because you use thin won ton wrappers to make the ravioli.

You can change up the ingredients all the time depending on seasonality. I love these with both chicken or seafood.

Sea salt
1 lb. thick asparagus, trimmed, spears cut into 1-inch pieces, tips reserved
6 Tbs. mascarpone
1/3 cup whole milk ricotta
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano; more for serving
1 tsp. anchovy paste
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
Pinch cayenne
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
36 wonton wrappers
4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped
Finely grated lemon zest to taste

Bring a medium pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Have ready a medium bowl of ice water. Boil the asparagus tips until tender but still bright green, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to the ice water. When cool, transfer with the slotted spoon to a small bowl and set aside. Cook and cool the asparagus spears in the same manner; dry them on paper towels. In a food processor (or by hand), chop 1-1/2 cups of the spears very finely and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remaining spears to the tips.

Add the mascarpone, ricotta, Parmigiano, anchovy paste, garlic, and cayenne to the chopped asparagus; mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Arrange 18 wonton wrappers on a work surface. Put 1 level Tbs. of the asparagus filling in the center of each wrapper. Using a pastry brush, moisten the edges of each with water. Top each with another wrapper and press the edges firmly to seal, expelling any air bubbles as you seal. If you don’t plan to cook the ravioli immediately, cover them with a damp cloth.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add the almonds, shaking the pan. Cook until the butter turns light brown, about 6 minutes, and then immediately transfer to a small bowl.

Add the ravioli to the boiling water. When they rise to the surface, after about 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to warm plates or pasta bowls. Spoon the brown butter mixture over the ravioli. Top with the reserved asparagus pieces, a grinding of pepper, a sprinkle of Parmigiano, and a little lemon zest, and serve.

Cheese Fondue
When I was in my twenties, I use to make cheese fondue for a lot of dinner parties. Making it again today reminded me of all the magnificent times with old friends.
This variation will make 10 mini-servings so you can double the recipe and invite a huge crowd.
This is why fondue is always the perfect dish to share stories over.
1 garlic clove, halved
1 cup white wine, dry
3/4 pound grated Gruyère cheese
3/4 pound grated Emmenthaler or Appenzeller cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 to 2 tablespoons kirsch
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
Crusty bread cubes

Rub garlic on the entire inside of a cast iron Dutch oven.

Add wine and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss the cheeses with cornstarch. Add a little at a time to the wine, stirring until first bit melts before adding next.
Reduce heat to medium and stir until cheese is completely melted.
Add kirsch and heat until bubbling, about 1 or 2 minutes.
Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Serve with crusty bread.
Bop N Grill
At 1903 Church Street in Evanston and 6604 North Sheridan in Roger Park, this mile high burger is the ultimate stick-to-your-ribs cold weather feast and if you finish this, you’ve earned that long winter’s nap.

Bon Appetit!

The Last Taste of Summer


A NYC Food Adventure

If I could live in any city other than Chicago, New York would be it. I would never run out of places to write about would I? Yes, NYC Food Bloggers have it made.

Honestly, there are so many places in NYC, even a month or two or three is not enough time to scratch the surface of what culinary adventures await you.
Despite some of the polls, I consider NYC to be the best food destination in the world and I can’t wait to get inside the city limits of Brooklyn to find out.
This is one foodie trip I’m not even attempting to fight the food demons on and with friends and family along for the ride, the indulgences – note they are plural - will be well worth making a 2013 New Year’s Resolution over.
Stay tuned and Bon Appetit!

Saturday In Chicago

Breakfast at Gramwich and brunch at Testori… the perfect recipe for skipping Saturday dinner.

Bon Appetit!

A Slow Cookin Sunday

Your’re in the mood for a appetizing feast but you don’t really feel like cooking? Short of pulling out your slow cooker, this is the recipe for you.

Published in Bon Appetit, this recipe is from Chef Marc Vetri’s menu at his Philadelphia restaurant Alla Spina.

Pop a pork shoulder into the oven and let it go while you take in a Bear’s game (a dramatic 23-22 comeback ) or an Audrey Hepburn movie marathon (wake me up for Breakfast at Tiffany's).

The result?

A beautiful roast that’s glazed to perfection. In fact, it’s so good, don’t count on having a single leftover for sandwiches on Monday.

Bon Appetit!

Slow Roasted Glazed Pork Shoulder

1teaspoonfennel seeds
1 teaspoonwhole black peppercorns
1/4cup kosher salt plus more
¼ cup sugar
1 7 lb. skinless bone-in pork shoulder (Boston butt or picnic)
¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
¼ cup(packed) light brown sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large carrot
1 apple (such as Granny Smith or Fuji)
4 cups stemmed mustard greens
1 tablespoon olive oil

Crush fennel seeds and peppercorns with the bottom of a heavy skillet, or use a mortar and pestle. Transfer spices to a small bowl; add 1/4 cup salt and sugar. Rub mixture all over shoulder. Place in a large glass baking dish, cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 325°. Brush off spice rub from meat and place pork in a deep roasting pan; discard excess spice rub and any liquid in dish. Add 1 cup boiling water to roasting pan; cover pan tightly with foil. (Create a tight seal to lock in the steam and juices.)

Transfer pan to oven and roast until meat is very tender and falling off the bone (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center without touching the bone will read 195°), about 5 hours.

Remove pan from oven; discard foil. Increase heat to 500°. Stir 1/4 cup vinegar and brown sugar into juices in pan. Return to oven and roast, watching closely to prevent burning, until pork is browned and liquid begins to reduce, about 12 minutes.

Transfer pork to a rimmed baking sheet; set aside. Pour liquid in pan into a small saucepan. Bring liquid to a boil and cook, occasionally spooning off fat from surface, until a thick, syrupy glaze forms, about 10 minutes (there will be about 1 1/2 cups glaze and up to 1 cup fat; discard fat). Season glaze with salt and pepper; set aside.

Using a peeler, peel carrot into thin ribbons. Core, quarter, and thinly slice apple. Mix carrot, apple, greens, oil, and remaining 1 Tbsp. vinegar in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange on a platter. Top with pork; pour reserved glaze over pork. Serve with tongs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I've Learned A Lot About Chicago Weather...

Last Week:Lovin These 80 Degree Days in October.
Flip Flops + Leaves = More Fun Than You Ever Had As A Kid.
This Week: The After Effects of Hurricane Sandy.
Next Week: Chicago weather unpredictable...
no matter what Andy Avalos tells you tomorrow morning!
Bon Appetit!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October Shorts...

Farmer’s Markets

I love the magnificent fall veggies, the ever-so-filling breakfast tacos and the fleeting farewell to summer. That I can take.
Crazy however that I don’t get good Tomatoes again until next spring!
Bon Appetit!
Red and Yellow Breakfast Salsa
2 medium-sized tomatoes, 1 yellow and 1 red, seeded and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup diced red onion
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
Salt to taste

Combine tomatoes, garlic, jalapeño, scallion, cilantro, red onion and lime juice in small bowl. Sprinkle with salt, and let salsa sit at least 15 minutes to blend. Taste, and adjust salt, if necessary.
Crumb Bakery – Green City Market

Every Saturday night, I put away some of my great finds from the Green City Market that morning. Needless to say, we have a lot of amazing Saturday night dinners.

Today? It was cold and rainy so I made a big pot of Zuppa Toscana and served bread purchased from Anne Kostroski. She turns ordinary loaves into exquisite works of art by using organic flours from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Kansas, Wisconsin cheeses, and the variety of produce found at Green City Market. In fact, her Lardo Taralli and seasonal focaccia are market favorites.

I hardly make bread anymore (except Jim Lahey’s No-Knead bread) when I can buy it this good at the market!

Bon Appetit!

Day of the Dead

This is one of my favorite holidays in Mexico and I celebrate it every year no matter what country I am in.

I gather all the things I kept from the people I love who have passed (in death or separation) and celebrate their life.

Where will you put your altar? Mine is in my kitchen because nearly all of the people I love truly respected both cooking and eating.

Isn’t it remarkable how your culinary style has been defined by the great chefs of your past?

Celebrate this month by creating the dishes they taught you to love to cook.

Bon Appetit!

Turkey Burgers

Isn’t it nice to know what goes into your burgers?

I love my kitchen aid grinder attachment and have made a delicious burger mix with turkey breast and chicken thighs and beef and pork.

In fact, there is such an huge difference in taste I swear you’ll never buy a package of ground meat again.

Bon Appetit!


When I think of BBQ, I’m dreaming of Alabama white sauce, Memphis dry rub, Texas bigger and better, Kansas City slow smoked meat dripping in sweet sauce and North Carolina… where pulled pork mopped with a spice and vinegar liquid and topped with slaw is often breakfast for the genuine BBQ fanatic.

OK – I’m officially hungry.

I don’t just BBQ in the summer. In fact, I’ve got my smoker and my fur coat ready to survive this winter no matter what... that is until I think of the BBQ chef in Texas who is standing outside grilling in her bikini.

Bon Appetit!
913 Chicago Avenue, Evanston
With paper-thin gyros and the best Greek French fries I’ve ever tasted, I understand why this neighborhood Greekrestaurant is always packed.
If you are into the social aspect of eating, eat here. People who dine here on a regular basis report that they are always treated“just like family.”
My bill: $10.00 including tip.
The huge steak fries are topped with white wine, lemon and an herb sauce. What really amazed me is when I took a bite they were so crispy.
What did I know about good fries? I am use to drenching mine in ketchup.
Bon Appetit!
La Fournette
1547 North Wells was an accidental find on my morning walk from the Green City Market.
From the Kouglof to the Streusel Brioche, this was such an inviting way to start my day.
After taking pastry classes, I’m totally convinced that not a soul does bakery better than the French.
Pastry in Paris? A serious thought for my next vacation.
Bon Appetit!
Few Spirits

While I was sipping my Divino at Testori (Vodka instead of Gin, june, dimmi, lemon and a few grapes floating around for focus) the staff were all raving about Few Spirits, a small batch distiller in Evanston.

We took the brewery tour ($10) on Saturday and fell in love with the distillers and the entire operation, thriving and soon to outgrow the little garage where they started 18 months ago.

During that time, they impressively won a Double Gold at the Spirits competition in New York and two silvers at the esteemed World Spirits Competition in San Francisco.

If you friend them on Facebook, you’ll likely find out when you can go down and volunteer to help out. A session just wrapped up earlier in the day with 8 volunteers showing up to bottle.

Few Spirits makes three types of gin. I’m not a gin drinker at all but owner Paul Hletko replaced some of the juniper with citrus and pepper flavors, and used a base spirit of whiskey. One sip of the American Gin and I was a fan. I actually thought that it’s light flavors would make a great martini which in the past I had only associated with vodka. They also make white, rye and bourbon whiskey.

The newest specialty? Grappa, an Italian brandy made from the pressed skins and seeds of grapes – in other words a winemaker’s leftovers.

Here are a few recipes from their vault and their growing list of restaurants are bound to mix some double magic too.

Bon Appetit!

The White Manhattan

2 oz FEW White Whiskey
1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters

Garnish with maraschino cherry

Cosmo “Not”
Bartender Josh Rew
Watermark, Nashville, TN

1 1/2 oz Few White Whiskey
3/4 oz Pama liqueur (pomegranate)
3/4 oz Lavender syrup
1/4 oz Lemon juice

Shake, strain into martini glass

American Trade Winds

2 oz FEW American Gin
1/2 oz Orange Curacao
1/2 oz Lemon Juice

Garnish with lemon twist

The Big Green Egg

OK – I’m convinced. Real Urban BBQ is using them to smoke some of their meat so I am now a full-blown aficionada.

That along with my friend Mark who talks a good BBQ every day on the train and has shown me enough photos to be convinced…especially with his turkey.

The Big Green Egg is the superstar among backyard chefs. I love the fact that the egg can hit temperatures over 600 degrees or you can hold it as low as 200.

If I had an extra $1000 , this would be it. Just think of the money you’ll save because you don’t have to buy that $10,000 pizza oven.

Bon Appetit!

Silver and Gold Treads

I found these beautiful threads. Don't they look like you can start weaving whatever dream you happen to have.

Last night, I dreamt that Julia Child took me to her kitchen to show me how to make a Big Mac.

Back to the box for another dream and P.S. …knock off all the ice cream before bedtime!

Bon Appetit!