the great pumpkins

I love u-pick it orchards and pumpkin patches, but in a pinch we city kids made for the grocery store on Sunday in search of some pumpkins to carve. Frankie planned an entire day of Halloween activities that began with some awesome dessert-like pancakes at the Bongo Room for the guys and a huge croissant sandwich for me. We bought way too many pumpkins (and too much pumpkin beer) and headed back to listen to Frankie's spooky Halloween mix and make a mess.

Phil and I were brought to fisticuffs at one point. I spent over an hour just separating seeds from pulp before I even started carving. Our four large and two small pumpkins yielded nearly ten cups of seeds. I rinsed them in hot water and spread them on a few pans to dry while we watched It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Here Frankie lights the candles so we can see our finished products. From left to right: Frankie's Sully, Allison's Pac-man, Kris' Haunted House, Allison's Stripes, Kris' Lenny, Allison's Freckled Cyclops.

Ideally, you should let your seeds dry out overnight. But I used a shortcut: some paper towels. Last year, we baked our seeds two ways (candied and with garlic & olive oil). This takes a while and involves stirring and turning the seeds often. I'd read a bunch of reviews on Epicurious and Food Network that indicated pan toasting the seeds would yield a smokier flavor and would be faster, so I tried the new approach on the stove instead of in the oven.

Three approaches to Pumpkin Seeds

-Dry roasting. Simply throw a cup or so of seeds into a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat. Stir often and watch closely. They'll pop and turn golden brown. Once browned, mix in a bowl with a little olive oil or melted butter (a teaspoon or so) along with salt and/or spices. This worked well, but required a lot of attention. They need to be cooked until they are almost burned to elicit a good crunch.

-Cooking in a small amount of oil. Add a tablespoon of oil and a cup of seeds to a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat. Stir often and watch closely. They'll pop and turn golden brown. Once browned, mix in a bowl with salt and/or spices. This was also successful and required a little less attention.

-Cooking in caramelized sugar and butter. Add butter, sugar, and spices to a saute pan until sugar is caramelized. Add seeds and stir until puffed and golden. This method failed on two different attempts. The seeds never really cooked enough and stayed slimy with a chewy texture no matter how long they cooked at different temperatures. The spicy sugar was tasty, so a better method might involve dry toasting the seeds and mixing them with the caramelized sugar afterward.

Don't walk away from the stove and stir or shake the pan regularly. I got distracted by a story about Emily Dickinson's love life and scorched a cup of seeds. But I'm still swimming in them.

Four different flavor batches were made (in addition to the failed candied ones mentioned above).

olive oil, curry powder, kosher salt

olive oil, kosher salt

melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice

olive oil, cumin, season salt

Perhaps I will set aside some time for a trip to an orchard in the next few weeks. I love filling up my whole crisper drawer with apples to make sauces and pies. We could also pick up some more pumpkins to carve when ours get kicked in by the drunken Bucktown hipsters (or hopefully just shrivel).



Last week I whipped up banana oat muffins from scratch and steamed organic broccoli to go along with a veggie lasagna I made before Project Runway. Sometimes I feel like superwoman with all of my kitchen efficiency. But I had chips and salsa for dinner last night. I also have not baked a single cookie from a tray of pre-made Pillsbury Sugar Cookie dough I bought and yet half of them have mysteriously disappeared. When my Tivo or Blockbuster queue beckons, I can barely muster up the energy to place a call for takeout, let alone can and store fresh produce for the winter's sad squash-filled blues. But this project is simple, requires no cooking at all, and will guarantee you antioxidant filled months without paying to have blueberries shipped to your grocer from the Southern Hemisphere.

Saving Blueberries for Winter

1. Buy a bunch of blueberries.
2. Sort* and gently wash the blueberries (or just sort).
3. Dry blueberries and spread in a single layer on a sheet pan.
4. Put sheet pan in freezer for an hour or two.
5. Transfer blueberries to freezer bags, label, and freeze.
6. Eat blueberries (if you skipped #2, wash before eating):

-Drop a handful in your morning oatmeal to cool it down quickly and make it taste like something other than cardboard.

-Stir into a bowl of applesauce for a snack.

-Throw into the blender with yogurt and OJ for a smoothie.

-Mix into your favorite muffin recipe.

Blueberry Mix

Blue Eyed Soul - Wilco
Reno Dakota - The Magnetic Fields
Bottle of Blues - Beck
Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain - Willie Nelson
Hanging Blue Side - Son Volt
Blue Clouds - Daniel Johnston
Carey - Joni Mitchell
Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again - Bob Dylan
Blue Arrangements - Silver Jews

*sort = pick out the stems, leaves, and smashed/weird berries.


market surprise

The sweet corn supplies are dwindling and apples are taking over. I used Saturday as an opportunity to stock up on blueberries for freezing and cooked the rest of the goods for some parties over the weekend. Arriving at 7 AM by car, I had my pick of produce and even angered some shopping chefs when I got dibs on the beautiful purple cauliflower. I got plenty of exercise carrying all of the veg back to the car three blocks away.

Total $52
16 ears sweet corn
27 corn ear worms
5 lbs. broccoli
3 heads purple cauliflower
4 boxes blueberries
5 boxes heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 bunch garlic chives
2 bunches basil
1 bunch spearmint

The corn would have been used for some lovely corn pudding, but while shucking it at 5:45 AM Sunday morning, I found it infested by corn ear worms. Not just one or two worms - which is a given when buying organic, but multiple worms on each ear with little corn left to eat. I left the worms outside in the courtyard, where a family of birds made a quick breakfast of them. An early morning trip to the frozen section saved the day and I didn't mind grocery shopping at all when the only aisle obstruction was a crew doing inventory.


the quiet american

Andrew Knowlton has dubbed it "the next great sandwich," so when I read The Quiet American for a newly minted book club, I had to make bánh mì for our discussion. Set in Vietnam during the French War, the book lent itself beautifully to mingling European and Asian flavors on the plate.

Endless permutations exist with a myriad of toppings, but the basic bánh mì starts with a baguette and is topped with pate, mayo, pork (meatballs, tenderloin…), pickled vegetables, hot peppers, and fish sauce. Our Quiet American menu consisted of edamame with kosher salt, spicy noodle salad, bánh mì, and dark chocolate éclairs (though we were too stuffed to attempt dessert).

Our Bánh Mì Toppings

pork liver and mushroom pate
ginger pork
spicy pickled mushrooms
mild pickled banana peppers
dijon mustard
shredded carrots
red cabbage
mini-cucumber slices
fish sauce

Ginger Pork

1 ½ lbs. pork shoulder (cut into 1-2 inch pieces - or ask your butcher!)
Ginger root
4 cinnamon sticks
4 kaffir lime leaves
24 oz. vegetable or chicken stock
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Peel ginger and chop 2 or 3 inches off the root – and cut into 4 or 5 pieces. Generously season all sides of pork with salt and pepper and sear in pan careful not to overcrowd pan (I did two batches). If pork sticks to the bottom of the pan, leave it for 30 more seconds and try to turn it again. Once all of the pork is browned, put back into pan and add ginger, cinnamon sticks, lime leaves, and stock. If needed, add water to just cover pork. Bring liquid to a boil, cover, and bake in oven for at least 2 hours, but up to 4 hours, adding water or stock to keep pork covered. Shred or slice pork and serve.

Some of the Quiet American mix

Good Morning Heartache - Billie Holiday
Let's Fall in Love - Diana Krall
Colours - Donovan
Sea of Love - Cat Power
Between the Bars - Madeleine Peyroux
Au Fond Du Temple Saint - David Byrne & Rufus Wainwright
Reversing - Ryuichi Sakamoto
Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Nina Simone
Summertime - Angelique Kidjo
Love Will Tear Us Apart - Nouvelle Vague
Look at What the Light Did Now - Little Wings
Change Parnters - Harry Connick, Jr.
Help the Aged - Pulp


leek confit from BA

I'm a Molly Wizenberg devotee. I obsessively check for updates on her blog (an rss feeder rescued me from stalking) and look forward to Cooking Life, her column in Bon Appetit. I happened to jealously read about her trip to Belgium and discovery of the fine European approach to leeks on the same day that I bought a bunch of leeks having no idea what to do with them.

It was an easy enough recipe and I had plenty of butter on hand(surprise!), so I tried my hand at the leek confit. It became more of a spread atop some garlic sesame flatbread cracker things we had. Pretty darn good, but not quite complete, it needed some parmesan and romano cheese. Kris thinks it needs something saltier so next time I'm going to top a baguette with the confit, goat cheese - which Molly (yep: inappropriate first name basis) recommends, and some crisped pancetta.


kitchen essentials

Moving into my latest apartment prompted me take stock of all of the crap I own. Well, all the friends I talked into helping me move (again!) forced me take stock. The groaning about carrying all of my books and weird furniture started weeks before the actual move date. The boxes marked "kitchen" and "books" far outnumbered the others so I paired down a bit. I ditched three full boxes of books, a bunch of old ugly pyrex and a few stock pots. Some take it really far, but I just wanted to unclutter. The trusty kitchen items I won't live without:

-5 1/2 quart Cobalt Le Creuset round dutch oven. I even take it with me when I cook at my friends' houses. My friend Andrea at Forkable has quite eloquently summed up the love affair cooks have with Le Creuset.

-My great great grandmother's colander. I clean veggies, drain pasta, and store fruit in it on the counter. Not simultaneously.

-My Mom's Mom's Settlement Cookbook: The Way to a Man's Heart. It is my culinary connection to a fiery petite woman I never got a chance to meet. Special thanks to my GM Adele for stowing it safely in her attic all those years.

-The teapot from my mom and dad's (early 70's) wedding. I still have the creamer and sugar bowl too. OK - I have most of the set and have been eating off of these blue and white flower dishes my whole life.

-Global 8" Chef's Knife. Kris signed us up for the Chopping Block's knife skills class last year. It was really helpful to try out a lot of high end knives in a kitchen setting before investing in one. Global knives are light (but not flimsy) and the handle fits well in my tiny hands.

-A super heavy cast iron grill pan/griddle. It is so heavy that it has taken up permanent residence on two of my burners. I can grill (well, create grill marks) year round.

-A tea kettle on the back burner. I drink way too much tea, effectively rendering a single burner available. It works only occasionally.

-Ikea stainless steel workstation. My last apartment had no counter space, so this filled in. It is especially nice for rolling out dough (notice all the flour?). I keep it in my dining room and use it as a bar when I'm not cooking.

-Salt Cellar, olive oil drizzler, cutting boards. The things I use most often are right on the counter. I picked up this glass dish in a Crate & Barrel clearance bin - saving myself $6 off the price of their real salt cellar. I've had this stupid pepper machine thing since my first apartment. At 18, I apparently decided that a hand exercise squeeze motion was a fun way to grind pepper. Someday I'll upgrade to the real thing.


last minute market

I accidentally tried a new trick this week at the market. I arrived within an hour of closing time and haggled for deals. The farmers don't want to drag anything back with them and are also easily swayed by produce flattery. This saved me close to $10 and allowed me to treat myself to a house full of fresh flowers. I didn't have my pick of the most beautiful veggies, but what I found was still high quality and delicious.

Total damage $35

1 bunch leeks
2 rutabagas
6.5 lbs green beans
1 jar spicy pickled mushrooms
20 stems various flowers
3 sweet green peppers
2 bunches watermelon radishes
2 lbs long Tropea Onions

I plan on...

pickling the radishes for Vietnamese sandwiches
blanching and freezing most of the green beans for winter (if they last that long)
researching what the hell to do with rutabagas
blogging about the leek confit I made last night



I was convinced to buy these berries last week because they looked so intimidating. This little son of a bitch does not want to be eaten. The really sharp spines are quite effective deterrents for anyone who might want a taste of this "sweet tomato-like berry" (according to the guy at the farmers market). In actuality, these berries have the acidic, tart flavor of a kiwifruit and only look like a tomato inside. The small seeds are really hard to chew and eat. It was a pain in the ass to remove the stems and small leaves from these berries without stabbing myself repeatedly with the tiny spines or wasting half of the fruit to avoid injury. It wasn't worth it (the $4 or the time). But maybe my sad story will prevent others from falling prey to the evil lynchberry. Google doesn't have any helpful information about the existence of this fruit. I'm betting the farmers:

1. found some wild bushes by the side of the road
2. forced their kids to pick the berries as punishment
3. named them for their bloodletting tendencies
4. sold them to shoppers like me as punishment for naivete


labor of love



We joined the masses and cooked outside on Labor Day. Kris bought a grill at a nice end of season price and we did the standard hot dog and hamburger feast right. I grilled up most of the veg from the farmers market and what didn't fall through the grate tasted pretty awesome. Frankie and Kris took care of the meat since my tongs skills were obviously lacking. In addition to watermelon, we stuffed ourselves with grilled peaches. I am addicted to that balsamic glaze, so I drizzled it over the peaches and ice cream.

Grilled Sweet Corn with Chili Butter

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter softened at room temperature
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon chili powder or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon cumin
cayenne pepper for heat
1 or 2 garlic cloves minced
generous pinch of kosher salt

Mix butter and other ingredients in a bowl until combined and uniform. Can be made ahead and kept refrigerated. There are two basic methods for grilling corn:

1. Shuck the corn, wrap it in foil, throw it on the grill or underneath with the coals to save space. Turn often. Slather with chili butter and eat.

2. Remove the outer husks and silks, replace the inner husks around the corn. Soak for 15 minutes to 1 hour. Throw the corn on the grill and turn often. Slather with chili butter and eat.


wicker park market

I slept in Saturday, missing my regular Green City Market trip. The Wicker Park & Bucktown Market (Sundays 7am - 2pm) is very small, but shares three big vendors with my usual haunt. Seedling always has perfect fruit, Nichols Farm has the largest selection and most variety, and Iron Creek Farms has the most gorgeous tomatoes and more. I've found most of these smaller neighborhood markets (Edgewater!) to be decent and less crowded than the Green City Market. If you find yourself in desperate need of seasonable vegetables, check out your local schedule - you might find one just down the block.

Three bags $30

9 red African eggplants pictured above
4 yellow and red peppers
1 huge zucchini
1 gigantic yellow squash
1 bag garlic dill cheese curds
10 ears of sweet corn
1 bottle raspberry vinegar
1 box of lynch berries/tomato berries


music for kitchen sinks

Suds up a bunch of dishes, put on your yellow gloves, pour a glass of wine and press play.

Re-Arrange - The Gladiators
Do Right Woman, Do Right Man - Aretha
Tears for Affairs - Camera Obscura
Waddlin' Around - The King Khan & BBQ Show
Cathy's Clown - Everly Brothers
Teenage Love Affair - Alicia Keys
Knock that Door - Enon
Why Do You Let Me Stay Here - She & Him
Fist City - Loretta Lynn
Dancing With Myself - Nouvelle Vague
Modern Girl - Sleater Kinney
Our Lips Are Sealed - The Go Gos
These Days - Mates of State
Finite = Alright - David Byrne
Green Shirt - Elvis Costello
Los Angeles I'm Yours - The Decemberists
Israelites - Desmond Dekker and the Aces
Wave Goodbye - Kelly Stoltz
Fear of Trains - The Magnetic Fields
Take Me to the Pilot - Elton John
Everybody's Gonna Be Happy - The Kinks



For my uncle Moon's birthday last year, I helped my aunt throw him a surprise party. We invited 70 friends and family and I contributed the food. Have you ever made 150 meatballs in one night? Along with bruschetta, caponata, white bean hummus, gorgonzola popovers, marinated olives, herbed pickles, prosciutto cups with goat cheese & figs, and spicy crab & shrimp dip? I did, survived, and was apparently successful. People enjoyed the food and some even assumed I was a caterer by trade. I took the compliments to heart and am starting culinary school soon.

Last weekend, some guests of that party invited me to cook at a small gathering at their house and it went remarkably well. It was a very laid-back garden party involving lots of hibiscus margaritas and lovely ladies. The main event featured various kebabs, but much of the night was spent munching on appetizers.

Rose and Geraldine have playful serving trays. Here's my giant version of shrimp cocktail.

Another favorite was the heirloom tomato flatbread. Well it was supposed to be a flatbread, but after quite a few failed recipes, I used a tried and true focaccia recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook recommended by Andrea.

Heirloom Tomato Pizza

For crust:
1 cup wrist temperature water
1 ½ tsp. (half a ¼ oz. packet) active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
Approx. 3 ½ cups flour
2 – 3 tbs. dried rosemary
Olive oil for the bowl, dough and baking tray
Extra flour for handling the dough.

On Top:
3 heirloom tomatoes thinly sliced
Fresh mozzarella
Basil - a handful thinly sliced
Herbed olive oil* or just really good olive oil

Place the water in a medium sized bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes – it will become foamy.

Add sugar and salt. Stir until everything dissolves.

Add 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time, mixing enthusiastically with a whisk. As the dough thickens, switch to your hand. Knead the dough in the bowl for a few minutes, adding up to ½ cup more flour, as needed, to combat stickiness. When the dough is smooth, oil both the bowl and the top surface of the dough. Cover with a clean tea towel, and let rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in bulk.

Punch down the dough, and transfer to a clean floured surface. Adding small amounts of extra flour as needed, to avoid stickiness. Knead the dough for about 5 to 8 minutes –until it is smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball, and roll it into a 10 – 12 inch diameter circle. Let it rest for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a baking tray.

Transfer the circle of dough to the baking tray and brush the top surface of the dough with a little more olive oil. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Let cool slightly and layer the fresh toppings. You can add the toppings from the beginning, but to preserve the clean tomato and basil flavors, I find it best to add them toward the end of baking. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 400 for 10 - 15 more minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbling.

Once cooled, but before slicing, I like to drizzle some balsamic glaze** for an extra punch of flavor. The sweetness works well with the roasted tomatoes.

*Herbed olive oil: simmer 1 1/2 cups olive oil with several smashed garlic cloves on low until your house smells awesome. Not just your kitchen. Your entire house. Cool olive oil, discard but make good use of garlic. Add a handful of flat leaf parsley, a handful of basil, and a few pinches of fresh oregano to your food processor and process it. Add the garlicky olive oil and presto - herbed olive oil.

**Balsamic glaze: Simmer 1 cup balsamic vinegar, the zest and juice of one orange, and half a cup of pomegranate juice until the mixture coats a spoon and is reduced by more than half. Stir in a few teaspoons of sugar or honey until dissolved. Pour over almost anything and it is guaranteed to taste better.


Worst. Sandwich. Ever.

I made a terrible mistake. I was bogged down with menu planning (I'm suddenly flooded with catering jobs - YAY!) and starving. My apartment is full of distractions: the neighbor lady condescendingly barking orders at her dog, a stack of unwatched movie mailers, a big comfortable bed, and a sink full of dirty dishes begging to be washed. For some stupid reason, I settled on using the free Starbucks wi-fi nearish my house to do the work and ignored my stomach's pleas for a fill up.

[A quick defense of my decision to patronize Starbucks for all of you hippies: I like Intelligentsia coffee better and I LOVE Metropolis which isn't in my neighborhood anymore, but I also am attempting to slow my growing addiction. I dig chai which has a little less caffeine - the Tazo Chai at Starbucks is consistent and I don't drink weak-ass tea. I could also buy a giant jug of the stuff at Jewel for $5/week instead of $5/cup, but that is another stupid decision for another blog.]

Halfway through my venti non-fat chai latte, the tummy grumblings got so loud I swear I could hear them over Sleater-Kinney* screaming on my ipod. I sauntered over to the counter and this is where it got ugly. I've had several Starbucks food items in the past - usually hasty grabs at airports or quick breakfast items on the way to work. Egg salad sandwich, fruit & cheese plate, veggies & evil dip, flax braid. I have not really enjoyed these food experiences, but I also wouldn't characterize them as awful. I also always tip my barista. Really well. Looking back, a tip back from her would have been nice, "I would think twice about purchasing that nearly $6 tasteless brick of a crappy sandwich that you are considering."

The Tomato & Mozzarella Ciabatta also contains "pesto butter" and spinach. Somehow they squeeze 22% of my daily value of sodium in there, but you wouldn't know it by the complete flavorlessness** contained between the massive squares of dry bread. The pesto butter is just unsalted butter with little specks of green. This might be basil or just chopped blades of grass. The tomato slices are those unspeakable grainy wet messes served in cafeterias everywhere. The few baby spinach leaves are healthful enough. They are super skimpy with the mozzarella which is all the same because it tastes like nothing. Next time I'd prefer a piece of cardboard soaked in 17 grams of fat.

*The Woods (Sub Pop '05). This album is guaranteed to help you get down to business.
**The spell checker is suggesting "humorlessness" here. That would work as well.
***The lovely sketch of the first Starbucks in Seattle (where I've been on a few occasions) is from Idle Minutes. It is a lovely little "illustrated Journal Featuring The Artwork of Don West".



Bon Appetit's July issue featured inspired new burger recipes and a mouthwatering cover. I read it cover to cover on my morning commute the day after it arrived and then filed it away. After mopping my floors and doing too many loads of laundry on Sunday, I felt like eating a burger. I didn't want to make the same boring turkey burger with muenster and mushrooms and I had ground lamb from the market. I found myself too lazy to climb the kitchen footstool to look up the recipe. Despite already being at my computer checking email and catching up on podcasts, I didn't really feel like looking up the recipe online either. I decided to wing it. What came together ended up being a combination of the Moroccan Spiced Lamb Burger from BA July 2006, the Minted Lamb Burgers from BA February 2006 and my own turkey burger recipe. I used bulgur wheat instead of breadcrumbs because that's what I had in the cabinet.

Lamb Burgers
1/3 cup bulgur wheat prepared with chicken broth
1 large shallot minced
2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
a few pinches of cayenne
10 - 15 mint leaves finely chopped*
6 oz. finely crumbled feta cheese
1 egg
Kosher salt & coarse ground pepper
1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb (I added 1/2 lb. ground pork)

Prepare bulgur wheat according to package instructions. Mix ingredients 1 - 10 in large mixing bowl, add lamb to bowl and mix to incorporate, taking care not to over mix. Divide into patties sized according to your appetite, but no more than 1 inch thick. Cook in pan over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes per side for medium rare to medium. Grill if you are so inclined.

We ate them tucked into pita pockets with veggie hummus. On the side: a spinach salad with lemon cucumbers**, red peppers and more feta and some Israeli cous cous with raisins***.

*Chiffonade is the fanciest sounding, but easiest way to prepare big leafy herbs like mint and basil. Just stack all of the leaves, roll them up tightly and slice through to make thin ribbons.

**Lemon Cucumbers are bumpy, yellow, and shaped like lemons. They are a slightly crunchier variety than your everyday cuke, but really just have more seeds and are harder to peel.

***The store I lazily stopped into only had regular raisins which resembled some sort of rodent dropping when cooked into the light hued cous cous, so I suggest golden raisins to avoid dinner table potty humor.


eating august

I bought these weird speckled beans instead of my normal green variety.

One Bag $22.50
dozen eggs
1 lb. shelly beans
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 box blueberries
1 tube frozen ground lamb
4 lemon cucumbers

I found the "White Satan Carrots" again and took some photographic evidence this time.


being there

I don't think I opened my fridge over the weekend. Actually, besides a brief apartment tour, I didn't step inside my kitchen at all. My friend Julie came in from DC for Lollapalooza and we didn't really schedule time for sleeping, let alone a trip to the market.

Friday evening, while perched on a hill waiting for Radiohead, we shared a benevolent burrito and spinach quesadillas from Crescent Foods. They were tasty, but the helpings weren't exactly generous. The carrot salsa was quite fresh and kudos for having both guac and sour cream on the side. We crashed a backyard birthday party after the concert that had an amazing spread with veggies, dips, and burgers. Marty, the birthday boy, generously showed off his garden. I love the cucumbers climbing the stairs (pardon the tipsy night photography).

Saturday we managed to get up and moving for lunch at Cafe Iberico, a tapas restaurant with really reasonable prices and generous portions that defy the distinction "small plate". We went a little crazy, sharing:

-Jamon Iberico. a cured ham and cheese plate
-Pincho de Solomillo. beef tenderloin with fries and caramelized onions
-Croquetas de pollo. chicken and ham puffs
-Pulpo a la Plancha. grilled octopus with potatoes
-Veggie Paella.
-Queso de Cabra. goat cheese in tomato sauce with garlic toasts
-a pitcher of sangria

But a few hours later, after expending too much energy for Okkervil River, I required reinforcements from Adobo Grill:

We split up for the headliners of the evening, Julie boldly braving the pit of Rage Against the Machine while I safely swayed and sang (probably too loudly) along with Wilco. Afterward we reconvened on the el and hit up Clarke's on Belmont to carboload for Sunday. The place was packed and they might as well have required lolla wristbands for entry, as the entire crowd reviewed the days bands and photos from each other's digital cameras. Julie had the skillet eggs and I had silver dollar pancakes.

Sunday brought us to The Bluebird for a tiny breakfast and the highly recommended bloody marys made with organic cucumber vodka. The food was impressive and not too expensive, and the drink (besides the garnish) was both not good and overpriced. Julie and I split the spiced pork belly with toast, kris had ham & gruyere crepes, and Frankie had an open faced croissant with chips. The bartendress didn't know the ingredients in the bloody mix, but something was off there. However, the garnish was crazy good:

-a peel and eat shrimp
-an orange wedge
-a skewer of cheese, olive, pepperocini, and a slice of mortadella with pistachios

We went straight from breakfast and an impromptu stop at a moving sale to Greektown for lunch. We settled on Venus because they specialize in Cypriot cuisine and I had been meaning to stop in since seeing a feature on Check, Please! We shared all of the food which was was fresh and had a lot of bright flavors - helped along by the plate of lemons on the table that I squeezed onto everything.

I managed to work off lunch dancing to Girl Talk, ending up hungry again. Here Greg Gillis crowd surfs on an inflatable raft to end his set.

A slice of sausage pizza and a cat nap during a particularly xylophone-heavy Nine Inch Nails song capped off the weekend. I also snuck in an oreo ice cream sandwich from 7-11 on the way home.


Pitchfork 2008

As far as music festivals go, Pitchfork is reasonably priced and the food vendors don't gouge excessively. There are tons of healthy options, like the veggie options from the Chicago Diner to go along with the heart attack inducing Connie's pizza or the spicy chicken andouille sausage from Wishbone. Fresh stuff was available from a Whole Foods tent, but I opted to sneak some from the farmers market instead. It was less expensive, avoided all the wasteful packaging, and was local. We had friends in from out of town, so I was trying to provide snacks for eight people for two days. Angie accompanied me to the market in a heavy rainstorm and we bought the following for $23:

2 boxes sweet cherries
2 boxes green beans
1 box gooseberries

We separated the goods into several baggies to disperse the contraband. All of us made it through security - snacks intact - save a bag of Angie's raspberries that was smashed by an overzealous volunteer bag checker person. I supplemented the produce with a few bags of walnuts and wasabi peas.

Here Christie & Kyle react to the gooseberries:

They were described by the group as:






We also ate a lot of food from the festival. Kris and I had one meatalicious meal. He had Cevapcici - a sausageish combination of lamb, pork, and beef with a red pepper sauce.

I had an Italian Sausage with the best condiment ever conceived: Italian beef with sweet peppers.

The festival had recycling and city trash bins all around, but my favorite was this one housing Les Savy Fav's frontman Tim Harrington:



I over analyze most things, making multiple lists and outlines for things as simple as going to a Friday night movie or cleaning my apartment, tending to get overwhelmed when plans change. I used to cook in a rigid, recipe-based, methodical way with a little OCD for good measure. Dinner was never ready before dark and when something didn't go according to the instructions of the experts, I fled the kitchen a failure. This is slowly changing (at least when it comes to cooking).

I'm figuring out how to riff off of recipes or just make them up myself. Once you have some basic techniques down, you can make anything. Kris' dad cooks this way for every meal. I'm not quite there yet, but it was nice to share a kitchen with such a laid back cook. The quarters were a little close, so we danced around each other a little.

I was inspired to use what was on hand to make another version of 8-ball squash. I used this super cool cutting board to chop the eggplant, sweet purple peppers, cippolinis and portabellas. I also added red pepper flakes this time.

A few ways I've broken out of the bad habit of cooking rigidity:

Keep a pantry/fridge stocked with versatile basics. (I'm working on a master list!)

Divide your shopping list into sections of the store (Dairy, Produce, Meat, Frozen, Canned goods). This will serve two purposes: disallow you to meander into sections filled with high-fructose corn syrupy items and allow you to creatively work within the confines of a family of like-items. If your recipe (or spontaneous idea) calls for something too expensive or not available, look in the same section for something similar.

Epicurious.com has a database of recipes from Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and SELF magazines. Instead of hunting for ingredients for a recipe, you can use the advanced search to plug in ingredients you already have and recipes will appear that match your criteria. Don't forget to read the user reviews for suggestions and substitutions.

Seek out alternatives to your supermarket: the farmers market, specialty shops, ethnic groceries. Ask sellers about their favorite ways to prepare unfamiliar items.

Be aware of nearby take-out and delivery options for epic failures.


Beer Battered Squash Blossoms

Sunday morning Kris and I headed to Branson, Missouri, to visit his dad. This was my favorite non-Yakov Smirnoff-related sign along the way.

Our contribution to the week's dinners would be the market produce from Saturday. I've been eagerly awaiting squash blossoms all summer, so that was the first thing I wanted to make. A recipe had been supplied with the blossoms, but the local Walmart had a limited selection, so I went with what looked fresh and sounded tasty. Most online recipes call for a combination of ricotta and goat cheese, but fontina and cream cheese substituted just fine.

Beer Battered Squash Blossoms

14 male squash blossoms
juice of one lemon

for batter:
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup beer (I used Boulevard Dry Stout)
1 egg white
pinch of salt & pepper

for stuffing:
1 cup cream cheese (I used whipped) at room temperature
1/2 cup shredded fontina
2 tsp. chopped chives
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt

Combine dry ingredients for batter in a medium bowl, then add beer* & egg white. Mix with fork taking care not to overmix - some lumps are OK. Refrigerate batter. Combine all ingredients for stuffing in another bowl. Gently open the petals of each flower, removing the stamen and any creatures (I found 2 ladybugs) inside. Spoon** roughly 1 teaspoon of cheese mixture into each blossom and twist the petals closed.
Dip each blossom in batter and fry in 350 degree oil for approximately 3 minutes or until golden brown. Don't crowd the pan or fryer - do them in small batches. Drain on a brown paper grocery bag or paper towels, sprinkle with lemon juice and eat as soon as possible.

*I used a stout which ended up pairing nicely with the slightly sweet cream cheese. Use whatever is on hand.
**Piping with a pastry bag would be a fancier pants option and probably less messy for your hands. But it would also create more dishes to wash later and eliminate the finger licking option. Eat raw eggs at your own risk.

Farmers' Community Market at Brookside

After my laziness last week, I was determined to get to the market this weekend. I grew up in Kansas City, but we got all of our produce from the garden or an occasional roadside stop for sweet corn or watermelon. I've only been to the City Market before, but Andrea (my badass chef friend) suggested we go to a smaller market in her neighborhood. She knows what she's talking about: the city market has quantity, but everything was especially nice at the Farmers' Community Market at Brookside. Kris and I slept in and then visited my grandparents before picking up Andrea to head to the market around noon. Luckily it rained all morning, so there was still great veg and no crowd.

Total spent: $20.75
3 eggplants: one dark purple, one white, one lavender
2 cipollini onions
14 male squash blossoms
2 purple sweet peppers
4 eight-ball zucchini

Most of the veggies I bought were from the Kansas City Community Farm. I couldn't get over how beautiful the eggplant was:

We checked in at the Green Dirt Farm, but they didn't have the cheese Andrea wanted. Recently, she placed an order for an entire lamb from Green Dirt and is hunting for a freezer to house the animal. She's going to guest write about it here and promises some awesome recipes when it arrives.


Meat Market

I have excused myself from my weekly market trip because I've got plenty from last week. Also, I'm going on vacation and need lots of time to transfer all of my toiletries into TSA sanctioned containers. Instead: strange stories about meat.

Big Joe's is a bar stumbling distance from my apartment. Famous for turtle races on Friday nights and having many dart boards every night, Big Joe's is a nice place to watch the game and listen to stories from regulars with names like Wild Bill. My friend Katherine and I met for drinks there around 8:00 Wednesday. Suddenly it was midnight, way past my bedtime and I needed to finish my drink. Then the truck pulled up:

A large mustachioed man in a lab coat opened the door and shouted "Sgt. Slaughter has arrived!" He then moved a table into the center of the bar and chopped some meats and cheeses on a paper towel for the drunkards to sample:

I wondered aloud, if these products were handled according to food safety regulations. "Screw that", said the many patrons wolfing down the free eats. I tried a slice of sausage, but winced when Sgt.* Slaughter used several choice prepared phrases about "jerking jerky", etc. Katherine, however, purchased one of the giant sausages for a mere $10, ate it, and has lived to tell the tale.

This Slaughter guy claimed to have made roughly half of the menu items himself for Perl's Sausage Company, but the truck he drove said he worked for a company called Deli Direct. I guess he's got his drunk market targeted - the bartender said he stops by every month or so. Have you ever witnessed the bar turned meat market?

I think they may be on to something with the whole salty meats for late night bar flies. But I'm a little weary of the methods of delivery. So I think I'd like to try Whiskey Road on Mondays:

Kris & Frankie below my favorite sign in Chicago

*Though he was wearing a Vietnam Veterans t-shirt, I have not verified Mr. Slaughter has actually attained the rank of Sergeant.