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.


It is decidedly so

Most people focus on one thing when watching Everyday Italian, but Saturday Kris' roommate Frankie and I were distracted by actual food. We scheduled this easy dish for Monday's bad reality television night. The three 8-ball squash I bought at the market made a perfect side dish for Giada's Whole Grain Spaghetti with Pecorino, Prosciutto and Pepper. The pasta was easy and while described as a "fall" dish on the Pasta for all seasons episode, worked out alright for summer. Use a little less cheese than called for and a nice olive oil is a must.

Stuffed 8-Ball Squash

3 eight-ball squash/zucchini
2 medium portabella mushrooms, gills removed, medium dice
2 tomatoes, seeded & diced
1 clove garlic thinly sliced (I used a green garlic bulb)
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons Pecorino Romano
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Boil a pan of salted water (use for pasta afterward!). Barely trim both ends of squash (stem & bottom) so they'll sit easily in the pan. Cut in half (at the equator) and scoop out flesh with a spoon leaving 1/4 inch shell, taking care not to pierce bottom. Toss shells into boiling water for 1 - 2 minutes to soften squash shell, then remove and drain well. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a skillet over medium heat. Dice remaining squash pulp and add to skillet with mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and s&p. Saute 2 - 3 minutes or until mushrooms have released juices. Drain mixture well* and spoon into squash shells**. Put shells in greased baking dish and sprinkle cheese & breadcrumbs evenly on top. If you're into heart health, drizzle olive oil atop. If you're into flavor, put a pat of butter on top of each one and then drizzle the olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes or so, then eat them up.

*skipping this step will guarantee lots of juices running all over your plate, perfect for sopping up with a crusty bread (preferably from red hen bakery).
**There will be extra filling. Please toss this over pasta for leftovers or eat it out of the pan with a spoon while watching the Colbert Report.