Monday, May 31, 2010

Cafe Spiaggia

The reason I didn't cook the food I bought at the farmers market on Saturday (post below) is because my sister surprised me with a visit to Chicago! We decided a special dinner was in order, and went to Cafe Spiaggia. Cafe Spiaggia is the little brother of Spiaggia - it's a more casual and affordable version of the main restaurant, right next door. Tony Mantuano, James Beard award winner and recent Top Chef Masters contestant, is the chef at Spiaggia - one of the best restaurants in Chicago, and one President Obama's favorite restaurants.

First up, a drink at the bar - bellinis with peach puree and a lemon twist.

Once we were seated we got a bread basket, which included parmesan flatbread.

For appetizers, I ordered buffalo mozzarella encrusted with bread crumbs with Calabrian pepper vinaigrette and spring onions. Elizabeth got asparagus soup with cresenza cheese, foccacia croutons, blanched asparagus, and Parmigiano Reggiano.

And for the main course - I went with handmade potato gnocchi with wild boar ragu and Parmigiano Reggiano. Elizabeth ordered the duck special - wood roasted duck leg with creamy white polenta, spinach, and eight year balsamic vinaigrette.

The gnocchi was SO good. They were shaped more like penne than little round gnocchi, and so soft. And the wild boar ragu was amazing.

Last but not least, dessert. We got two things to share - tiramisu, and Valrhona torta with stracciatella gelato.

There were also Italian style doughnuts on the menu. How we didn't order those, I'm not sure...but I'll definitely be back to try them.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Division Street Farmers Market

The Division Street Farmers Market is the one closest to my apartment, stretching along two blocks of Division between State and Clark. It's only open on Saturdays from 7a-1p.

First on my agenda was to find something to eat for breakfast. I stopped by La Provence Imports and bought a chocolate croissant. Can't say no to those.

I bought English peas, asparagus, and fresh pappardelle to make veggie carbonara for dinner. The veggies came from Nichols Farm. Those are snap peas in the front of the picture, the English peas are behind them. I actually didn't end up making it for dinner, but that's a story for my next post.

And North Wichert Gardens had the most beautiful peonies. I couldn't say no to my favorite flower. They smelled amazing.

And last but not least, there were lots of farmers market dogs.

I brought my goodies back home, and had a nice little al fresco breakfast. Those Michigan strawberries also came from the market, and they were incredible. So red and juicy.

What a lovely way to start the day!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Pizza Party

I usually buy pizza dough from Whole Foods, mostly because I usually don't think about dinner more than a day in advance - which is necessary for pizza dough, because it has to sit overnight. But I figured it was about time to be a big girl and learn how to make it myself. Who better to consult on pizza dough than my friend Seth, who made his television debut with Mama's pie on the Today Show last September. Why is it called Mama's? Well, that's another story for another day. Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the video of the Today Show pizza segment:

And Here is Seth's recipe for pizza dough:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, chilled
4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon yeast
1/8 cup olive oil
7/8 cup water, ice cold

Stir together flour, salt, and yeast. Create well in center of dry ingredients and add cold water, incorporating the dry ingredients until the water is absorbed (a minute or two).

Add olive oil and stir until absorbed. Knead the dough by hand for about 5 minutes (not too long or the dough won’t rise enough). At this point, the dough should be sticky, but not wet. Shape the dough into a ball and coat with olive oil or olive oil spray. Store in airtight container (e.g., a Ziplock bag) in refrigerator overnight.

Overnight? But what to do with all that time? Go to a Cubs game!

Remove dough and place on floured surface, dust with flour, spray with olive oil spray, and cover with plastic wrap.
Let rise for 2 hours.

Stretch/form dough by hand so that the pizza has a very thin crust (approx. 1/8 thick) but keep the crust edge much thicker (at least ½ inch thick).

Coat bottom of pizza with a thin layer of olive oil, sprinkle generously with corn meal, then flip to prepare toppings.

Cook pizza, preferably on a pizza stone, at 500 degrees for 10-15 minutes. The crust edges should be browned and crispy. If using a wood or coal burning oven, cook for 5 minutes, or until crust edge is browned and crispy.

After it finished cooking, I added some arugula on top.

Good job, me! The only thing I did slightly differently was instead of coating one side of the dough with olive oil and corn meal and then flipping, i sprinkled corn meal on the baking sheet and just put the dough right on there once it was stretched out. The dough was really easy to work with, and the end result was very tasty. And FYI - I used active dry yeast. I know there are lots of different kinds out there. Yay for homemade pizza!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Yes. Chocolate.Peanut.Butter.Cookies. Not peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Think peanut butter cookies, with a chocolate infusion.

You know how you move into a new place, survey all the cute bars/restaurants/stores right by your apartment, make a mental note to visit soon, and before you know it you're moving out and realize you never went? It's happened to me more than once, and this time I am really kicking myself. I used to walk by Peanut Butter & Co. on my way to and from work when I lived on Thompson Street in the Village. It's a little restaurant that serves only peanut butter sandwiches, and their brand of peanut butter. This isn't your ordinary peanut butter though. Check out the selection they sell in the grocery store in my building:

I'm an idiot for never going. And now I always see their fun peanut butters in the store, but put them in the same category as buying a whole cake - do I really need an entire jar of chocolate peanut butter? The answer was no, until I saw this recipe on, which turns regular peanut butter cookies into chocolate peanut butter cookies just by using Peanut Butter & Co.'s Dark Chocolate Dreams. How could I say no to that?

Here it is:

1 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter
1 large egg, at room temperature

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a stand mixer, beat together the butter, sugars, and peanut butter on medium speed just until smooth.

Beat in the egg. Add the flour mixture and mix just until the dough comes together. It will be a thick, solid mass of dough.

Cover and refrigerate the dough for at least two hours, but up to overnight.

Remove the dough from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350. Break off pieces of dough and roll them into 1-inch balls. Place on prepared (parchment-lined) baking sheets. Leave 3 inches between cookies. Lightly flatten and make a crosshatch pattern on each cookie using the tines of a fork.

Bake, rotating the sheets midway through baking, until the cookies are dull and lightly browned around the edges but still lightly glossy/undercooked-looking in the middle (as they cool on the sheet they'll finish up). The bake time will be between 9-10 minutes.

Let the cookies cool for a few minutes on the sheet (they will crumble if you try to remove them right away) and then transfer to a wire rack using a spatula. These cookies will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

Needless to say, these cookies are delicious. I'm sending most of them with Peter on his weekend trip, while I stay here and work through the weekend. Hear that? Someone is playing the world's saddest song on the world's smallest violin...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ricotta Tart with Graham Cracker Crust

Long ago, in college, a bunch of my roommates decided to try the South Beach Diet. I was never good at sticking to a diet of any kind, but not being one to miss out on a group activity I decided I would do it too. A day and a half in I was driving in downtown Boston, and started to get really dizzy from not eating enough carbs. More likely it was from not eating enough food in general since Phase One of the diet barely lets you eat anything. I went directly home and ate a club sandwich, and that was the end of the diet for me.

The one thing I actually really liked from the diet was the ricotta dessert. It was just ricotta cheese mixed with Equal and vanilla extract. But I added crumbled graham crackers to it. So why not make a real, structured dessert out of it?

Graham cracker crust:
1 packet of graham crackers (8 crackers)
2 Tbl. melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Break up the graham crackers in a food processor, or by hand. I didn't feel like dragging the food processor out so I put them in a big ziploc bag and broke them up by hand.

Next, mix in the melted butter. Next time I make this, I will probably use 4 tablespoons of melted butter. The crust did stick together, but could have been more cohesive. Press into a 9-inch pie dish. If you have two pie dishes, it would be easy to press the second dish into the crust to really get it flat and even.

Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes.

Ricotta mixture:
1 15-oz. container of ricotta cheese
2 Tbl. powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla

Mix ricotta, sugar, and vanilla together and carefully spread into the crust once it has cooled a bit. Add fruit on top - I did strawberries, but you could do whatever you want - raspberries, blueberries, peach slices...

As I said, I should have added a little more melted to butter to get the crust to hold more. It wasn't falling apart, but could have been better. Peter said he wanted the ricotta to be sweeter, but I was happy with it. If you want it sweeter you can always add more sugar. You know what else would be really good with a graham cracker crust? Ice cream pie...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cilantro/Cumin Skirt Steak

Cumin is quickly becoming my favorite spice - I used it in lentil and vegetable soup, and in mojo criollo. It has such a wonderful smell and unique taste. So when Susan Feniger used it on her winning dish on last week's episode of Top Chef Masters, I thought I should give it a try. Luckily since it was the winning dish, there's a demonstration video online of exactly how to make it.

She made a cilantro cumin marinade for skirt steak, then made tacos with black bean salsa, and guacamole. I made the steak the same way but didn't do tacos, and instead made a corn, black bean, and avocado salad to go on the side.

1 cup cilantro leaves
1 serrano chile
2 tsp. ground cumin
juice of 3 limes
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a blender, blend until smooth, and spread over steak. Let marinate for a couple hours. This was enough marinade for one pound of steak. The recipe actually called for toasted cumin seeds, but I already had ground cumin and didn't want to buy another kind just for this recipe.


2 vine tomatoes, diced
2 Tbl. diced red onion
1 jalapeno, very finely diced
1 cup corn
1 cup black beans
1 avocado, diced
juice of 1 lime
2 tsp. white wine vinegar
2 Tbl. olive oil
generous pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

And that's it! Grill the steak for about 7 sides per minute. I had a pretty thick piece of skirt steak, so 7 minutes might be too much for a thinner piece. The marinade is really flavorful. I loved the steak on it's own, but maybe I'll try the taco version next time.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sprinkles Cupcakes Is Coming To Chicago!

Way back in the winter I went to run an errand at Sur La Table around the corner, only to find it had closed! I went to Williams Sonoma instead. Ironically, I think I was looking for some Valentine's sprinkles for cookies. I mentioned that their competitor down the street had closed, and the salesperson said she thought Sprinkles might be going into that location (50 East Walton Street). Walking by there today I saw this, which confirmed it:

Score! I've never actually had Sprinkles. I've had Magnolia, Crumbs, Billy's, and Buttercup in New York...not to mention More, which is pretty much in the lobby of my building. All I know is that Sprinkles is based in Los Angeles, and they claim to be "the progenitor of the haute cupcake craze" - a statement I'm sure Magnolia would debate.

Opening is scheduled for "Summer 2010" and according to the website they'll have key lime cupcakes starting May 28 through September 6. I just hope there are no delays in opening, I'll be very sad if I miss out on that flavor!

Beach Picnic

What a beautiful day to go to the ocean! Clear skies, hot weather...ahhhh. Fooled you! That's Lake Michigan. This is what the view looks like if you turn the other way.

I can't bring myself to call it the beach. I actually like to call it the "fleach" - fake lake beach. But hey, I'm not's just a few blocks from our apartment, and it was the perfect answer to yesterday's 89-degree weather. And of course, with a trip to the fleach comes a fleach picnic. I made one big fat sandwich for us to share - mozzarella di bufala, tomatoes, basil, prosciutto, olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper on ciabatta bread.

Don't sandwiches just taste better when eaten outside on a hot summer day? Especially with salt and vinegar chips.

I think we'll be spending a lot of time at the fleach this summer.