Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Sad Day For Cakes

A big story in Chicago this week is about the massive fire that destroyed the Cakegirls bakery in Roscoe Village. Cakegirls is an upscale bakeshop owned and run by sisters Mary and Brenda Maher. The bakery specializes in special order cakes, and has won the Food Network Challenge three times. The fire started in a residence above the bakery and quickly spread through the entire building, causing the roof to collapse.

Luckily they had insurance, and several area bakeries are offering to help them fill their upcoming orders. But they are giving refunds for orders due this week. Send the Maher sisters your good thoughts!

Roasted Tomatoes

Look at what I made for dinner last night!!!

Just kidding, just kidding. I wish. That picture is from a dinner we had on our honeymoon in St-Tropez, in a restaurant on the Place des Lices. As you can see here, there are a few little roasted tomatoes on the vine in the corner of the plate. These tomatoes actually came with pretty much every meal we ate there. They were roasted enough so that they were a little shriveled, and so full of flavor I was sure they must have been injected with something. But they were just roasted. I tried to duplicate it last night:

So...not really the same result. I'm sure the tomatoes I used weren't as fresh as the ones we were eating in France, but also they weren't cooked the same way. The skins on some of my tomatoes broke a little bit, and they didn't shrivel. I cooked them at 450 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, just because that's the temperature I was already using for the potatoes. I think maybe if I cook them at a lower temperature for a long time I might get that slow cooked, shriveled effect. Maybe 350 for 45 minutes? An hour? Anyone have any ideas?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Asian Chicken Noodle Salad

As I write this, I'm wondering why I'm calling it a salad. Maybe because I didn't cook any of the components together, or because some of them are raw, or because I think it would be just as good served cold as it was hot. However you look at it, it was really good and easy to make, and I have plenty of leftovers for lunch today. The dressing is my adaptation of a Martha Stewart recipe.

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 lb. snap peas
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1 package soba noodles
sesame seeds (white or black)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread olive oil, salt and pepper over the chicken and bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes, or until cooked through. Cut into bite size pieces.

While the chicken cooks prepare the rest of the ingredients. Cook the snap peas in boiling water 4-5 minutes. Drain, and make sure all excess water is gone before putting into a big serving bowl. Add the onion, carrots, scallions, and almonds to the bowl.

Wait to cook the soba noodles until the chicken is done - they cook quickly and this should be the last thing added to the dish, while still hot. It's ok if the peas and chicken have cooled off, the hot noodles will heat everything up. Once everything is cooked and in the serving bowl, add dressing (below) and mix to combine. Garnish with more almonds, scallions, and sesame seeds.

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1-2 minced cloves garlic
1 Tbl. brown sugar
1 Tbl. lime juice
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients, pour over salad.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Olive Oil Matzo

I saw this Mark Bittman article in the New York Times about his attempt to recreate a Sardinian-style flatbread he had at Grandaisy Bakery (which is one of my absolute favorite places). The recipe only has 4 ingredients, one of which is water, so I thought I should give it a try.

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
Sea salt, optional.

Heat oven to 500 degrees. Put flour, salt and olive oil in a food processor. Once machine is on, add 1/2 cup water. Continue to run machine until dough forms a firm ball, rides around on blade and is not at all sticky. (If you prefer, whisk together the water and oil and add this to machine all at once.)

Cut dough into 12 small balls — this is easiest if you cut the ball in half, then half again, then into thirds — and flatten each into a 3- to 4-inch patty. On a well-floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll each patty into a 6- to 8-inch circle. The shapes can be irregular, but dough should be so thin you can almost see through it.

Put dough on ungreased cookie sheets, sprinkle with sea salt if you like, and bake for about 2 to 3 minutes, keeping a very close eye on breads — they can burn very quickly. Once they begin to puff up and brown, flip and cook for another minute or so on second side. Repeat with all the dough and let cool completely.

So that's the recipe, and here's how it went for me. I whisked the olive oil and water together and then added it to the machine. It creates an almost milky yellow color:

The dough did not ride around on the blade, but rather was crumbly and stuck against the wall of the food processor. But once i got it all out it was very easy to form into a ball.

And here they are on the baking sheet, and the finished product.

I made them last Friday for pre-dinner snacks with my mom and dad. Peter's review: "They're gross and biscuity. We can be honest with each other, right? I better run out and get some crackers." My mom said that yes they are biscuit-like, but she liked them. I liked them too, but I do agree they weren't exactly matzo-like. And as the article says, Mark Bittman isn't sure if they technically qualify as matzo. I will have to try them again and roll them out even thinner...I already felt like I was rolling them very thin, I could see the pattern on my cutting board through the dough. But next time I'll go even thinner, and add a little more kosher salt than I did this time. If you want to watch Mark make them, check out this short video.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Piccolo Sogno

Last night a big group of us went to Piccolo Sogno, an exceptional Italian restaurant in the West Loop. The menu features Roman and Mediterranean dishes and an extensive wine list of only Italian wines. Peter and I went for the first time a few months ago and decided it would be the perfect place to bring my parents and some of their friends. I wasn't planning on taking pictures or writing about it just because we were with a big group and I didn't want to be a nerd taking my camera out every 5 minutes, but it was too good not to share and I snapped a few pictures with my phone.

We had to wait a bit for our table even though we had a reservation, so when we finally did get seated they treated us to a few goodies to start off the meal - a beautiful antipasto spread of various roasted vegetables, beans, and prosciutto as well as a thin crust pizza with just mozzarella, olive oil, arugula, and topped with reggiano.

For starters Peter and I ordered two things to share - burrata with prosciutto, and grilled boar sausage with white beans. Burrata is buffalo mozzarella stuffed with more buffalo mozzarella and cream. 'Nuff said. Boar sausage is really unique. I don't really know how to explain the taste, other than to say it tastes as different from pork sausage as pork tastes from steak or lamb. It's just an entirely different flavor, and the rosemary they add to this dish really sets it off.

I chose lamb for my main course. It was a really hard decision between pasta and fish/meat, but lamb is special and something I rarely get, so I went for it. This cut is a lamb t-bone, something I have never seen before. They actually give you two little lamb t-bones. It was perfectly cooked, seasoned with a rosemary reduction, and a side of fregola (kind of like a big couscous). The photo is a little blurry, I was in a rush to take the picture and EAT.

Even though the restaurant makes its own gelato and sorbet, everyone was too full for dessert. But you always need a taste of something sweet, and they brought two small plates of chocolate and vanilla mini biscotti. Really, really good.

We drank a great Brunello with dinner, and finished the meal off with a bottle of Brachetto which is a red, lightly carbonated dessert wine that apparently only a handful of vineyards make. Wonderful food, wine, and company.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Last night we went with my mom and dad to Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab. Long name for a restaurant, but it's an offshoot of Joe's Stone Crab in Miami. Peter and I went a couple months ago and have been dying to go back. You might have seen their stone crabs on the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Ate...this was Bobby Flay's favorite (the one in Miami).

Naturally, we had to order the stone crabs as an appetizer. They're pretty to look at - coral color with black just at the end of the claw. They are so soft and meaty, and come already cracked for you. What more could you ask for? The claws come with Joe's Mustard Sauce, which I don't think really tastes like mustard, but whatever it is it's good. Here's how they're described on the menu:

Fresh stone crabs are found in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They are hand harvested, one claw at a time, and thrown back to the sea. Joe Weiss, and his wife Jennie, discovered this unknown delicacy in the early 1920s, and soon after, began serving them in their restaurant in South Miami Beach. Now, the familiar "crack-crack-crack" can be heard here in Chicago and Las Vegas, as we treat you to the finest stone crabs in the world.

My dad also got a crabcake, which I had a bite of - golden, crispy, salty, big pieces of crab, and HUGE.

Next up, my mom and I split a vegetable salad. Yes, on the menu it's just called a vegetable salad. Lettuce, grape tomatoes, radishes, green beans, edamame, corn, onions, and some sort of dry and crumbly mozzarella.

I also split an entree with my mom. The portions are big and last time I went I couldn't finish my piece of tuna. One of the specials last night was bone-in halibut which had been caught within the last 24 hours. Sold! Bone-in halibut sounds weird, but the waiter explained it was like a t-bone rather than little fish bones. The halibut was prepared just with salt, pepper, and lemon. The seasoning was perfect and the fish was so fresh. This picture is just my half of the you can see why we decided to share.

Peter got scallops, and my dad got parmesan crusted flounder which was also a special. No pictures of those, though - I can only hold everyone's food hostage for so long during my photography sessions. For sides we got sauteed spinach and fried green tomatoes. LOVE fried green tomatoes. They're definitely not something you come across often, and we had them the first time we went and it was an easy decision to order them again.

And finally, dessert. They have the option of half slices of pie, so we ordered half a slice of their famous key lime pie (here's the recipe), and half a slice of banana cream pie with foster sauce. Bananas and I are not friends, so I couldn't tell you how that pie was. But the cream part on top with candied nuts and foster sauce was good. I really love key lime pie, and this one is out of this world. It's the perfect balance between sweet and tart, and the graham cracker crust is superb.

To end the night - a nightcap at Bernard's in the newly opened Elysian Hotel. This hotel just opened a few months ago and it's absolutely beautiful. Although I do have a bone to pick with them, last call at the bar is at 11:30. What?! We barely made it in time to order a drink. But it's a really beautiful bar with great service.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pork Chops & Brussels Sprouts Hash

Two posts in the morning! Today will be a busy day. Ok, not really that busy, but for someone who starts the day off by leisurely eating breakfast, drinking tea, writing my posts, and watching The View (I love Sherri Shepherd)...I gotta cut my morning routine short and get a move on. My parents are coming to Chicago this weekend, arriving this evening. I have errands to run and cleaning to do today, and I want to make some pre-dinner treats to enjoy before we go out to eat. I need to be all done with that and ready to go by 6:00 because Ohio State is playing in the Sweet 16! Go Bucks!

OMG Paula Deen is on The View! Ok, focus. Focus. Last night for dinner I made pork chops with marmalade and a side of brussels sprouts hash (and a salad, too). I just cooked the pork chops under the broiler and added marmalade on top when they were done. My mom sent me the brussels sprouts hash recipe in the mail (don't you love getting fun little surprises in the mail?), and it's from the Greener Grocer which is the produce vendor in the North Market. This is the full recipe, but I cut it in half.

Brussels Sprouts Hash with Caramelized Shallots

6 Tbl. (3/4 stick) butter
1/2 pound shallots, thinly sliced
kosher salt
2 Tbl. apple cider vinegar
4 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 lbs. brussels sprouts, trimmed
3 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil
1 cup water

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and pepper. Saute until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar and sugar. Stir until brown and glazed, about 3 minutes.

Halve brussels sprouts lengthwise. Cut lengthwise into thin (1/8 inch) slices. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sprouts; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until brown at edges, about 6 minutes. Add 1 cup water and 3 tablespoons butter. Saute until most of the water evaporates and sprouts are tender but still bright green, 3 minutes. Add shallots, season with salt and pepper.

This was a really great side dish, and a perfect accompaniment to the pork chops. It was nice and salty but the sugar and apple cider vinegar gave the flavor a little more depth with a bit of sweetness. And of course the shallots and butter...well, you know. Between the brussels sprouts and the shallots, this recipe requires a lot of chopping - I recommend cutting everything up before you start instead of going step-by-step like the recipe says.

Set Your DVR

Tonight is the premiere of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on ABC. For the first episode Jamie goes to Huntington, West Virginia - the unhealthiest city in the country. I think it's a short season, only 4 or 5 episodes. I won't be able to see it tonight so I'm recording it, and I can't wait to watch!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Flower Power

It's a cold, blustery day. Boo. WHERE is spring? I just went to the grocery and right as I walked in there were two little bunches of red and yellow ranunculus among all the easter lilies and daffodils. They said to me "please! please take us home with you!" So I did. They should help cheer things up a bit.

Red Snapper with Almonds

This is another recipe from French Women Don't Get Fat. I know I say everything is good, but honestly this is one of the best things I've made since I've started this blog. Actually, going back even further than of the best things I've made in a long time. I think it was partially because the fish was very fresh - they only had whole red snapper at the store so I had the guy fillet it for me. But the flavors are very simple, and the almonds gave it a really nice texture...everything just worked really well together. Here's the recipe which I made a couple minor changes to:

1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 Tbl. olive oil
1 Tbl. butter
2 red snapper fillets (you can also use monkfish, halibut, or cod)
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lemon

In a large skillet, toast the almonds over medium heat for just a few minutes. Set aside.

Warm the olive oil and butter in the skillet. Season the snapper with salt and pepper and cook 4 minutes on each side. Add the lemon juice to the pan to blend with the pan juices. Pour over the fillets, then sprinkle with the toasted almonds.

I served it with roasted potato slices and sauteed spinach. And rice pudding for dessert, of course.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mussels & Clams

I just realized that I forgot to include in my paella post a note about storing mussels and clams. Usually the store will give them to you in a plastic container with a lid - if you're not going to cook them as soon as you get home DON'T keep them in this container because they will suffocate. They really are alive when you buy them, at least they should be.

Check out this link from, it's helpful if you're not familiar with mussels and clams. I don't cook them too often so thankfully Peter remembered that they shouldn't be kept in an airtight container. That first note in the link is in reference to if you get a mussel or clam that's open. They should all be closed, but if you get one that's open tap it on the counter and if it's still alive it will close up. If not, it's dead so don't eat it.

Rice Pudding

I've had the book French Women Don't Get Fat for about 5 years now and have never really looked at it. I got it when I was working as a page in the green room at the Early Show and the author, Mireille Guiliano, came on the show to promote her book...there were a few extra copies floating around. I flipped through the book and was disappointed to see that it was only about 20% recipes and 80% her personal story, so I stuck it in my bookshelf and didn't look at it again until now.

I opened it yesterday because I wanted to see what recipes were in it, and ended up actually starting to read the book. I've only gotten as far as when she goes to Weston, Massachusetts for a year-long student exchange program as a teenager, and gains 15 pounds. She arrives home and her father comes to pick her up and tells her "Tu ressembles à un sac de patates" (you look like a sack of potatoes).

And on that note, one of the recipes in the book is for chocolate rice pudding. I have been wanting to make rice pudding for awhile but kind of forgot about it. Plus I thought it had to be done in a slow cooker. A lot of recipes are for a slow cooker, but this one is on the stove and only takes about half an hour. I made just plain vanilla rice pudding instead of chocolate, but I'll include the instructions for chocolate too. This is a magical French rice pudding that you can eat buckets of and not get fat. Kidding!

2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. dark chocolate, 80% preferred, broken into small pieces (optional)

Pour the milk, sugar, and salt into a sauce pan and bring to a boil over low heat. Add the rice and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the milk is absorbed (if the mixture becomes sticky, add a bit more milk to keep the rice creamy). Stir in the vanilla.

Pour the rice pudding into 4 ramekins or one large bowl. **Optional - insert chocolate pieces into the middle of each ramekin, or into the middle of the bowl, and push them into the rice. Leave at room temperature. The chocolate will slowly melt and mix with the pudding.**

I added just a little more vanilla since I wasn't going to be adding chocolate, and I sprinkled some cinnamon on top and put the bowl into the fridge because I like my rice pudding cold, and because I'm not going to eat it until tonight. But I did taste it, and it was very good - sweet and creamy. I can't wait to taste it again after it's set in the fridge. Make sure you keep an eye on it while cooking, and stir often because the milk will form a skin from the heat.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Got Milk?

Yup, I'm writing a post about milk. Just regular, old milk. Actually, it's not just regular, old milk... A couple weeks ago I realized as I was walking home from Whole Foods that I forgot milk, and stopped at the grocery store in the bottom of our building. I saw Oberweis milk, which I never noticed before - it comes in an old fashioned glass bottle, and only in half gallons. It didn't cost more than any other kind of milk, so I bought a bottle of the 2%. I came upstairs and looked up Oberweis on the computer and realized they also make ice cream, and that they have an ice cream and dairy store in Wicker Park...which led me to this review on Yelp:

If I was on my death bed I would ask for a half gallon of Oberweis 2% milk, no whole milk, I'm dying here, what difference would it make, served to me still in the glass jug. I would like it to be tucked gently into a snow bank outside my window, chilled by nature, the bottle sweating once brought inside and I will drink the entire bottle as I eat various chocolate treats before I expire.

Wow. I knew this milk must be good, and let me tell you - it is. I gave up skim milk a long time ago (too watery) so I was used to drinking lowfat milk anyway, but this 2% tastes like straight up cream. It's so thick and fresh, and something about the glass bottle makes it that much better...I think because it keeps it colder. They ask (printed on the bottle) that you bring back the empty bottle when finished, so I brought it back to the grocery...and you get $1.50 back! Sweet! And if it couldn't possibly get any better, they also do home delivery of milk AND ice cream.

I went to buy my third bottle today, and as I walked up to the refrigerated case I didn't see my familiar red cap...completely sold out of my beloved 2%. It was like a dark Eeyore cloud settled over me. I stood there in disbelief. Should I go for the skim milk? No. Should I buy another brand? NO. The rest of my mornings this week just won't be the same! I asked when the next milk delivery comes...and was told Friday. FRIDAY?!?! I stood there, lost in a sea of dairy...

I finally surrendered to a half gallon of Organic Valley 2%. Ugh. Friday can't come soon enough. Since I don't have any of this wonderful milk to take a picture of right now, here's the sad shelf at the empty space between the skim and chocolate where the 2% should be.

The Goddess and Grocer

I mentioned this cute little gourmet store in a post about Jeni's, but I can't believe it's taken me this long to write about it! It's right on my block, I can actually see the brown and white striped awning from my window. The Goddess and Grocer is a wonderful little market with all kinds of goodies, as well as baked goods and prepared food. They also do catering. And they have two other Chicago area locations.

They have a small but well-chosen wine selection, and best of all they have a punch card for when you purchase a bottle - after you buy 12, you get a bottle free ($12 or less)! I mean...who doesn't like free wine?

And, my favorite, the cheese. You might be able to see in this picture on the middle shelf, second from the right...the Pavé d'Affinois. D'Affinois cheese is my favorite, and it usually comes cut into wedges from a big wheel, like brie. But sometimes you can find it in a little 5 oz. brick form (pavé), which is so cute and delicious.

Here's part of the prepared food case, it's really big so i couldn't fit it all in the picture. They have different kinds of chicken, pastas, salads, and soups. And they make sandwiches and salads to order.

And last but not least, the treats. They have gourmet chocolate bars, Tate's cookies, and lots of other little candies and goodies. And they do have a nice spread of cakes and cupcakes which are in the prepared food case.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Carol's Cookies

Carol's Cookies is a Chicago area cookie company that my friend Abby introduced me to. Abby is a serious baked goods expert, so I took her word for it. They sell them at the cafe at Neiman Marcus on Michigan Avenue, and a few months ago I bought 3 flavors to bring to our dinner hosts that evening - chocolate chip walnut, oatmeal reason, and I forget the third...either toffee chip or peanut butter combo. We cut them up and shared them, and they were great but I wasn't blown away. But I knew from the way Abby talked about these cookies, something wasn't right.

I found out that she will ask before buying them if they're fresh, and if not she'll ask for frozen dough and go home to bake them herself. Ok, I'm not going to put that much effort into it, but I did find that if you microwave the cookie for about 25 seconds that does the trick. And then I had the Carol's cookie I had heard so much about...still crisp on the outside, gooey and melty on the inside. And I haven't even gotten to the most important detail of these cookies yet - they're almost half a pound!

They come in 11 flavors, but I keep going back for the chocolate chip walnut. I've tried the brownie cookie too, which as you would imagine is heavenly. They also sell them at the Whole Foods I frequent, in a basket right by the registers which is way too tempting. You can buy them from their website, and they do sell them at a handful of places in New York (also listed on the website).

And on a totally unrelated note, we had a beautiful sunset last night. Our balcony faces north, but we've been noticing lately that the sunsets are inching slowly northwards and we can finally see the whole sun as it does down. I had to get a picture of it, even though they'll get better and better as it gets closer to summer.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


KRAMER: Oh, you should have gone to the Costanzas' for dinner. Mmm, the paella was magnificent. Have you ever had really good paella?


KRAMER: Oh, it's an orgiastic feast for the senses. The want and the festival, the sights, sounds, and colors and... mmmummumm mumm

Paella really is a feast for the senses. It's one of those dishes that makes you say "oooooo" - the bright colors, the smell of the saffron, shellfish, and chorizo, and the the textures of the variety of ingredients. Look at this gigantic paella we saw at the outdoor market in St-Tropez last year on our honeymoon.

Every time I see it made on tv I think "I should really try this". A few weeks ago I saw a Barefoot Contessa episode where she made lobster paella, and just a couple days ago on the Today show Curtis Stone made his version. But the tv paella that really stuck with me was the real deal - last year there was a show on public television called "Spain - On The Road Again" with Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow, where they drove around Spain to go on eating adventures and one episode brought them to Valencia to watch a paella "zen master" work his magic. For my recipe, I chose the flavors of a Batali recipe but the measurements of the Curtis Stone recipe (Batali's recipe was huge). And I made some changes to make it my own.

Serves 4

olive oil
7 medium shrimp
1/2 Spanish onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
kosher salt
1 tsp. saffron threads
1 heaping Tbl. paprika
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 cups long grain white rice
3/4 cup peas
7 littleneck clams
7 mussels
1-2 links chorizo, sliced into discs

In a large skillet, heat olive oil and cook the shrimp about 3-4 minutes on each side. Set shrimp aside. Add more olive oil if necessary and cook onion about 8 minutes, until soft and starting to brown a bit. Add tomato and stir, then add about 2 tsp salt, saffron, and paprika. Mix together and let cook for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil, then let boil for about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir, and make sure the rice is distributed evenly throughout the pan. From this point on you won't stir the paella anymore. Add the peas, then distribute the clams, mussels, cooked shrimp, and chorizo slices evenly throughout the pan. Let cook for 10 minutes, taste for salt (and add more if necessary), then let cook another 10 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Let cool for 10 minutes, then serve.

If I were to make this again tonight, I wouldn't make any changes to the recipe, which should tell you how good it was. It turned out really well, I was very pleased with the result. If you don't like any of the seafood in this recipe, or chorizo, you can easily adjust it. The Batali recipe called for chicken drumsticks (cooked first, then added to the pot along with the clams, etc.). Some recipes call for scallops, calamari, or lobster. Also, I wouldn't cut this recipe in half, I don't think it would cook properly.

The type of rice that's best for paella is a source of debate. Some recipes say medium grain is best, Batali's called for short grain, Curtis Stone's called for long grain, and many recipes call for a specific type of Spanish rice that I couldn't find. I decided on long grain because I thought short grain might make it too risotto-like. But most would agree that if you can find Calasparra or Bomba rice (both are short grain), definitely go with that.

One minor thing I would like to change would be to use a proper paella pan. Any professional chef or Spaniard would say this is a MAJOR component and paella should not even be made without one. But I don't have one and wasn't about to go buy one last night. If I were to buy one, I would order it from La Tienda. Paella pans are thinner than skillets and allow for that crust on the bottom of the paella, which actually has it's own name - socarrat. You know if crust has it's own special name, that it's a big deal. My paella did achieve a little bit of a crust in the skillet, but it's not the same.

Lastly, in case you're not's a picture of saffron threads. They are kind of expensive (a tiny, tiny jar from Trader Joe's set me back $6), but it's a crucial part of the dish. Saffron threads are the stigmas in the center of a crocus - and there's only 3 of them per flower! Probably more info that you wanted to know, but now you can see why they're expensive. The threads are more potent than ground saffron, which can sometimes be diluted with turmeric or other additives.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tea Time

It's a snowy cold day here in Chicago, a perfect day for a hot cup of tea (no, I'm not bitter at all that it's 70 degrees and sunny in Boston, New York, and Columbus). In the past couple years I've become much more of a tea drinker. I didn't used to really love tea, except the tropical flavored iced tea from the Cheesecake Factory (so good), and the occasional cup in the afternoon when the office was freezing. When I was waking up at 1:30am for work (yes, 1:30am. Not a typo.) I relied much more on coffee. Tea just didn't cut it in those early, early hours.

But a couple years ago Peter got me the blue Le Creuset teapot for Christmas, which I was lusting after. And my lovely British co-worker (hi Sital!) would convince me to come to the cafe at work with her to get tea and chat. And getting my hair cut at the Aveda Institute for years, I always looked forward to the Aveda tea they give you while you sit and wait - this tea is so delicious, it has licorice root and peppermint, and a wonderful naturally sweet flavor.

When we went to Paris for our honeymoon last fall, I definitely found my favorite kind of tea - Mariage Freres. We came upon this store in the Place de la Madeleine (gourmet food HEAVEN. I can't even get into it right now, this post will turn into a 10-page essay.). I wish I had taken pictures of inside the store...but I didn't. I certainly will when I go back in December (yay!).

They have dozens upon dozens of varieties of teas, all with the most beautiful and exotic names - Russian Star, Darjeeling Rose Camelia, Casablanca, Gold Mountain...the list goes on. The walls are lined with black tins of loose tea, and they also have barrels of loose tea so you can fill up your own tin on site. And they do have tea bags - they call them sachets - but only about half the flavors come in bags. Their tea bags are made of muslin and look too pretty to dunk in a cup of hot water.

We ended up buying 2 boxes of tea bags - Vert Provence and Marco Polo Rouge. Just listen to the description of the Vert Provence:

"The hinterland of Provence in southern France explodes with plants, flowers, and fruit that all boast heady scents. Lavender, rosemary, thyme, broom, juniper, heather, and boxwood dot hills and plateaus; forests of silvery mimosa colour the mountains of Maures and Estérel, and roses, tulips, jasmine, and violets blanket Grasse; finally, golden fruit trees (lemon, orange) light up the Riviera."

Now, tell me you don't want to drink that tea. It's not cheap, I think each box of 25 tea bags came out to $23, but it's soooo good. I can't wait to go back and buy more. You can buy it online from the Mariage Freres website, as well as several places in the U.S., I know Dean & Deluca carries it as well as Porte Rouge.

Here's my cup of Vert Provence I'm drinking right now. They even tell you the infusion time on the little tag, so thoughtful!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cod Basquaise

Sounds sophisticated, doesn't it? It's pretty much cod with red pepper jam. I saw an episode of Avec Eric (Eric Ripert's public television show) where he made this dish at the end of the show. It wasn't a "chop one tablespoon of garlic and cook for 3 minutes" kind of demonstration, but more of a "watch me throw this meal together and then enjoy it with a glass of red wine". I found the written recipe online after I already made it by trying to just copy what he did, but it actually looks a bit different. If you want to watch him make it, click here and skip to about 16 and a half minutes in. Without further adieu, my adaptation of Eric Ripert's Cod Basquaise. Or as Eric says it, codfeeeesh.

1/2 white onion
extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic
about 7 sprigs of thyme
1 slice prosciutto
1 red bell pepper
about 1/4 cup red wine
3/4 pound cod fillets
canola oil
salt and pepper

Chop up the onion into a small/medium dice, and cut the red pepper into the same size pieces. Slice up two of the garlic cloves into thin slices. In a medium saucepan heat a few tablespoons of olive oil (more than to just cover the bottom of the pot) and add the onions, add some salt, then let cook for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic and leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme and let cook for another few minutes. Chop the prosciutto into small pieces and add to the pan. After a few minutes add the red pepper. Let all the ingredients cook together until "melty". Add the red wine and let the wine come to a gentle boil, and let it reduce.

Heat a medium skillet until very hot. Cut two garlic cloves in half. Season the cod with salt and pepper on both sides, and coat one side of the fish with canola oil. Put the fish oil side down into the pan, and place thyme sprigs on top of the fish and the garlic next to or between the fillets. Cook until the fish achieves a nice crust and take the thyme off, then flip over to finish the other side and put the thyme back on top. Serve on top of the red pepper mixture, and drizzle just a little olive oil over the fish.

I think everything turned out really well. I don't know if I got the red pepper jam "melty" enough but it was really good. The prosciutto gives it a nice salty flavor without having to add a ton of salt. And next time I think I would just add the canola oil straight to the pan because the fish was sticking a bit so it was hard to get that crust on it. All in all it was great...not exactly like Eric Ripert's dish, but I guess his is allowed to be better since he has three Michelin stars.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

90 Miles Cuban Cafe

Last Saturday we ventured up to Roscoe Village to try the 90 Miles Cuban Cafe (there's also one in Logan Square). It's a tiny little place with just a few seats at a counter. I wasn't really in the mood for a big lunch, but Peter ordered a sandwich and croquettes which I tried and were excellent. He got the "media noche" sandwich - ham, roast pork, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on sweet bread. The sandwich comes with fried plantain chips. The menu doesn't specify what's in the croquettes, or the sauce that comes with them, but who cares...they were amazing. I did get a guava and cream cheese pastry which was so flaky and buttery and sweet. Behold, delicious Cuban food: