Dinner Bell

Since I've taken a wee pay cut to spend my days cooking, my budgets for dining out and entertaining in have taken a hit too.  I try to shop sales, cut coupons, and hunt for fixed price dinners.  Today there are two awesome deals available in Chicago that I took advantage of and so should you...

Wine Discount Center's Groupon

You get $30 worth of wine for $15.  If you will need to buy wine in the next six months, and with the holidays approaching you will, you need to get this deal.  Hostess gift for Thanksgiving: done!

 a la card 2011

First, buy a deck today (November 4) or tomorrow and get 20% off.  You can also choose from free shipping or a 2010 deck - 2 months left - free.  Perfect Christmas gift - I bought one for myself.  From the a la card website:

"...each card contains a detailed description of the restaurant and is also a $10 gift certificate to that restaurant. The decks retail for $30, making it almost ridiculous to not own one--who doesn't eat out at least three times a year...Additionally, $1 per deck sold is donated to Common Threads."


Sticky Fingers

You may have seen this little illustrated story wherein "thirteen chefs reveal the culinary battle scars they've received in the line of duty" in Sunday's New York Times.  I saw it and loved it.  Not on Sunday of course, because I usually work a 12-hour shift making dozens of labor-intensive, but delicious chicken pot pies.  These stories from the Times are intense.  Harold Dieterle's tale of cauterizing his wound on the flat top and finishing service before going to the hospital is the stuff of cooking legend.  Something terrible was bound to happen to me in a professional kitchen.  While cooking at home I've cut myself a few times, had a small burn here and there, discovered a major skin-allergy to butternut squash and even dropped an iron skillet on my foot.  I'm accident prone.  But now I work in a tiny, bustling kitchen where an error could mean you burn your co-worker or drop a pot on the dishwasher's head.  So I am careful.  Extremely careful.

Some days I have the luxury of a kitchen assistant or a prep cook to help cut vegetables, but for the most part, I like to do the steady, repetitive chopping myself.  Aiming for hundreds and thousands of little pieces to come out the exact same size, repeating the same task daily, focusing completely on the task on my board. But then came those fucking apricots.  High-quality dried and leathery ones.  Instead of hydrating them first (like I had the previous four times I'd completed this project), I thought I would make less of a mess by chopping the apricots first, then hydrating them.  By the fourth slice, I could tell that this was a stupid idea.  With great effort my knife was barely getting through the flesh of the fruit and yet I soldiered on.  On the fifth downward motion of my right hand, the apricot and knife slipped and sheared off most of my left pointer finger nail and the flesh beneath it.

I could tell as the knife was coming down that I had screwed up, because my mind was going in slow motion but just couldn't make my hands react quickly enough.  I walked to the sink and washed my hands.  I wrapped my gushing finger in paper towels, threw away the bloody apricots and the slice of my finger, and headed to the neighborhood drugstore.  I asked the pharmacist for advice and showed him my finger.  He shuddered and told me to go to the doctor.  Instead I called my nurse friend who insisted I'd be fine since I hadn't cut through the nail bed.  Liquid bandage and a finger cot for six weeks covered the mess, and it grew back.  Now, I have an assistant cut the apricots.


For the next few weeks, I suggest you eat a lot of tomatoes.  It will be months and months before they are worth eating again.

sliced with a pinch of salt
bacon, arugula, tomato quiche   
Caprese salad
French Tomato Tart
barely roasted cherry tomatoes
corn chips and fresh salsa
Hoosier Mama Summer bounty handpies (green city market)

Or can some tomato sauce right now and open it in January when you've had it with roasted root vegetables.


Remembering Bastille Day

An impromptu barbecue or game night can be a great time, but a real party with decorations, food and drinks to match the occasion can be ridiculous and awesome. In planning Kris' Bastille Day birthday party, I enlisted the help of some kiddos I know to make French flags for a garland and to hang all over the apartment (as well as on the building's door to direct friends to our new place).

Kris bought and our friends brought a ton of great records, some French and some funk by request. 

We drank too much French wine and beer.

We ate: five kinds of cheese, crackers, radishes and cucumbers with salted whipped butter, baguettes, ham and gruyere palmiers, blackberries, heirloom tomatoes...

When I attempted to stack my croquembouche, the party-goers insisted on an inalienable right to immediately consume the cream-filled dark chocolate ganache covered profiteroles.   I quickly abandoned the plan and retreated from the plate of pastries to avoid these dessert radicals.

(Super Easy!) Profiteroles:
Ruhlman's pate a choux ratio
Whipped heavy cream, a vanilla bean, a few teaspoons of sugar
Dark chocolate melted with heavy cream, 2 drops of almond extract


Another Sunny Day

With good friends in town, I'd rather wait an hour at Kuma's Corner than slave away at the grill.  Waited only an hour because we got there at 11:30 (when they open).  Arrive early, kids.  Slayer: pile of fries topped with 1/2 lb. burger, chili, cherry peppers, andouille, onions, jack cheese, and anger.  $13

 I don't so much soak up the Chicago Summer sun as much as I hide from it under two layers of sunscreen, a floppy garden hat, giant sunglasses and often an umbrella.  But I do love to eat and drink outside.  Luckily for me (and my fellow fair-skinned dining partner) Jam has a lovely shaded patio. (Three)dom of Choice, except I chose five instead of three options: two eggs scrambled with taleggio, jam & toast, pork belly, fingerling potatoes, fresh fruit and also English breakfast tea.  $17

If you want to eat the best croissant in Chicago, go to Floriole.  The Green City Market sticky bun favorite is now also a beautiful bakery in Lincoln Park. First trip: ham and cheese croissant, quiche, caramel pot de creme, lemon macaron, Hibiscus tea, Limonata. $20 - ish


going pro

I keep planning to update this lonely little blog.  A post on getting kids to eat their vegetables.  A response to Michael Ruhlman's Why I Cook post.  One on how to successfully pack and move a kitchen.  A list of my favorite recipes highlighting asparagus.  Finding the time in my life and space in my brain to write has been nearly impossible.  I moved on May 1st, from an apartment with a dream kitchen into one with very little cabinet space and a washer next to the fridge.  I catered a big party in the suburbs.  I've been doing personal chef work for a family with their third baby on the way.  I landed a new job doing what I love.

I am finally cooking and getting paid for it.  Full-time.

Finding a job in food with no culinary degree has been harder than I thought.  In media interviews, chefs advise people to jump into a kitchen, work your way up the ladder, and learn trial by fire.  On craigslist, their ads sternly warn against applicants without a degree and five years on the line.  I applied for about 150 food jobs before I started getting called back.  I worked for two days in a horrendous kitchen that lacked sanitation and basic respect before quitting.  I was discouraged, but knew I could cook if given the chance.  I staged (worked for free) at a couple of very nice places and got to know my way around a working kitchen - one where I wasn't in charge.  Now I've found a lovely new home cooking at Hoosier Mama Pie Company.  I'm the kitchen's savory cook, making pot-pies, hand pies and quiche, but I'm learning a lot about pastry and sweet stuff too.  I found an awesome chef with a great staff who took a chance on me.  I am now very proud to say "cook" when people ask what I do for a living.

I'm planning to unpack my new apartment, get settled into my new work schedule, and maybe treat myself to a massage and a bottle or two of red wine.  After that, I'll write more.


writing about reading about eating

Some people are up in arms about the way young hipster creative types use their food stamps to buy foodie luxuries like organic produce.  I don't really give a shit how you use your small government subsidy - you qualify based on need and there are rules to ensure you actually buy food, so go for it.  Loved this smarty-pants response to the hundreds of angry judgmental comments making the rounds online.  You're damned if you buy Fritos and Pepsi, You're damned if you buy baby bok choy and salmon.

Speaking of damned...prepare to be horrified by the journal of an anonymous Chicago Public School teacher who's been eating and chronicling school lunches daily.  I qualified for free school lunch and remember little smokies day fondly, but also the disgusting overcooked canned vegetables, cardboard pizza, and the ground meat that passed for nacho topping one day and spaghetti sauce the next.  Gross.  Have you joined Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution?

You should follow RuthBourdain on twitter.  You will laugh at this mashup of Ruth Reichl's poetic twitter posts as seen through the imagined drug haze fogged lens of Anthony Bourdain.  Ruth and Tony think it is hilarious.

Facebook connected me to another blast from my past - this time to Bobbi who I remember being the most friendly, smiley person at my school.  She was even nice to jaded angsty teenage me!  She's a ridiculously talented photographer, the spunky red-headed wife half of bobbi+mike, and blogger extraordinaire/ray of sunshine on the scary internet.  I walked her through making a German chocolate cake for her mother's birthday using twitter, facebook, and text messages only.  I should start a social media food emergency hotline!

If you, like me, missed the Family Farmed Expo, you should check out Martha Bayne's coverage of the event for the Reader.  I enviously followed her live tweets while I was at work.

For some reason, eating while sick has been a popular topic recently: from The Stew What do you eat when you have a stormy stomach? and Epi-Log's What do you eat when your sick?  For the record, I prefer saltines and lemon-lime soda. 

I only share a few stories I find interesting here.  Follow my google profile, where I overshare recipes, food news items, music stuff and the other cultural ephemera that overload my rss feed.


Shop Here: Super H Mart

Browsing the Super H Mart involves a trek to Niles, Illinois.  You must first deal with epic traffic jams to reach the suburban Asian superstore, then face the anxiety-attack inducing parking lot, dodge shopping cart wielding maniacs and avoid the sad, longing gaze of many an unattended child.  Totally worth it and not that unlike a weekend trip to Costco.  Scott, my fellow KC native super-foodie Kendall grad friend, brought me to the jaw-dropping market on a weekday afternoon, but I think I'd avoid this place on the weekends.  It is overwhelmingly big - 19,000 square feet - yet still manages to get crowded.

It seems like every tiny family-owned grocer I've been to on Argyle or in Chinatown could fit into this mega-building.  We went for a lunch of way too much udon, to pick up a set of dishware, and to grab some groceries.  It is simultaneously a food court, housewares store, grocer, and mall with kiosks offering remote control toilets, underwear with matching handbags, and ginseng products from Wellbeing Town.  Wherever that is, I'd like to move there.

There's an entire aisle devoted to hot sauce.  Ditto for rice, noodles, and vinegar.  There are not just several won-ton wrapper brands, they fill an entire deli case.  Imagine you're in the refrigerated dairy section of your regular grocer: yogurt, butter, cheese, sour cream, milk.  Now picture an area that size filled with nothing but kimchi.  I'm not kidding.  The prepared food section is large and free samples are plentiful.

The produce department is insane - not full of pristine goods like a Whole Foods, but dazzling in its variety.  Giant pears, a dozen mushroom varieties, fresh turmeric root and water chestnuts, durian fruit, fresh chiles, a whole wall of green veg.  Not everything looked fresh, but even a choosy shopper could find something to take home and there were lots of organic options.  There were also several meat options that would usually require an extra trip to the butcher.  I got pork belly for less than $2 per pound.  Scott picked up some good looking short ribs which were cut "flanken" style across the bone for a great price too.

The whole fish and seafood is inexpensive.  Some of it, a little too inexpensive.  Be picky, use common sense and look for signs of freshness.  Their dried squid or frozen fish are probably safer choices than fresh shrimp from a giant metal bin with very little ice and a plastic scoop for patrons to serve themselves.  I saw a huge tuna unattended on a cutting table for several minutes and would have tried to steal the damn thing if I could have lifted it. 

Take a field trip and check it out for yourself:

Super H Mart
801 Civic Center Dr
Niles, IL 60714
Hours: 8 am - 11 pm 


black and fake tan corned beef

It is too late to brine your own brisket for a corned beef feast on St. Patrick's Day.  I failed too.  I didn't plan ahead and instead purchased a far inferior corned beef in a bag of salt and preservatives as a hangover cure this weekend.  Like me, you lost out on the opportunity to impart a ton of flavor and control what went into the brine.  Make up for your error by cooking the damn thing in something other than a vat of plain water. 

I was out of cheesecloth to contain the spices.  I used a tea ball infuser.  If you don't have either of these, you can just throw the spices into the pot - just be careful to remove anything that clings to the meat after cooking.  A sharp bay leaf or bite full of chile seeds would not be pleasant.

Some basic corned beef and cabbage tips:
  • Use some beer to cook the hunk of beef. Beer > Water.
  • Boil the potatoes in the corned beef liquid but roast all the other vegetables.  This will provide distinct textures in your final dish and lend a caramelized sideshow to the salty meat main attraction.  This will also prevent your house from smelling of boiled cabbage.
Into the pot...

2 12oz. bottles of Guinness Stout (or sub another beer worth drinking)
6-8 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 - 4 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon peppercorns
2 dried chile de árbol, broken in half (or sub 1 tsp. red pepper flakes)
water to cover the beef

Put your brisket in a heavy bottomed pot along with your spices, beer, and enough water to cover the meat.
Bring liquid to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low (maybe medium-low).  You want it to simmer - bubbles breaking the surface of the water every few seconds, not a rolling boil.  Let it cook this way for about two hours.  You can check it after 90 minutes or so, but cooking it for three hours wouldn't hurt it either.  When brisket is fork tender, remove from pot.

I also boiled in the beef/beer liquid for about 20 minutes:
3 lbs. unpeeled medium red-skinned potatoes, quartered
3 medium onions, peeled and quartered

And roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper at 375 degrees for 40 minutes:
10 shallots, peeled and quartered
2 lbs. carrots peeled

And roasted with 4 strips of bacon at 450 degrees a la the Kitchn:
1 medium head of cabbage, stem removed, cut into 8 wedges

To make up my lapse in meat judgment to my also hungover guests, I whipped up some Irish Soda Bread* inspired by a nerdy 80s actor and a Blood Orange Polenta Upside-Down Cake.  Both were hits.

*The soda bread recipe in the magazine has been amended by bon appetit online.  My suggestion: watch the timing.  My bread was done in 45 minutes (recipe calls for 55 - 60). Also - slather with butter (see picture above) and eat it fast, it doesn't keep well for more than two days.


Restaurant Week: Naha

The top of the menu read: NAHA celebrates Restaurant Week 2010.  And it did feel as if they were glad to be participating.  Despite a strange interaction with the restaurant's hostess, I felt welcome at Naha and they seemed prepared for a restaurant week crowd.  Every table in our section ordered from the special menu excepting a couple with a sleeping infant who wolfed down a shared appetizer and ran for it.  

Jessica, my fashion design student friend and favorite shopping/gossiping partner, accompanied me to lunch.  I am sometimes uncomfortable eating in fancy settings, but I knew she would put me at ease.  I love trying new food and appreciate excellent service, but I sometimes can't get over feeling anxious and out of place in fine dining.  It is usually caused by my perception of snooty front of the house staff and pretentious customers.  Jessica shares my judgmental streak and once we turned the dining room into an episode of What Not to Wear, I was laughing.  Especially about the guy at the bar who thought he was a character in a Bret Easton Ellis novel. 

Once seated, the service was stellar and the food, interesting.  I woke up with a scratchy throat, so I inquired about hot tea.  The list was a bit intimidating, featuring many vintage options and prices similar to a wine list.  I opted for a $6 chamomile, and was delighted when the pot of tea yielded three solid cups of warm tea - not too expensive after all.  The bread service was delicious - especially the raisin bread with fennel seeds - and I was pleased with the generous portion of butter.

I started with: Cannelloni of Butternut and Acorn Squash, Caramelized Winter Root Vegetables of Homegrown Wisconsin Organic Parsnip, Celery Root and Rutabaga with Spaghetti Squash, Apple Cider and Chervil.  I love squash, and here the preparation really honored the naturally sweet flavors of the root vegetables without tipping the scales toward sickly sweet.  I only wished there was more - I actually contemplated ordering another portion to take home.

Jessica ordered the Mediterranean Fattoush “Greek Salad” of Mt. Vikos Feta, Cucumbers, Roma Tomatoes, Chickpeas, Italian Farro, Kalamata Olives and Oregano.  It was crisp and light with the olives and feta adding some salt to punch up the dish.  Then we both ordered the quail.  Usually I like to get something different from my dining partner, to explore as many flavors and options as possible, but it just sounded too good.

A Farm Plate of Roasted Quail, La Quercia Proscuitto and Confit Cockscombs with Lacinato Kale, Carolina Polenta, Glazed Shallot and Thyme. 

The quail was stuffed, and cooked nicely with crisp skin and moist, tender meat.  Though I love the earthy flavor of a small game bird, I almost always regret ordering it because it can be such a pain to eat.  When you're in casual company it doesn't seem to matter though, and I tore into it.  The polenta was loose and creamy.  The cockscombs were new to me: delicious with a dense, chewy texture similar to a lobster mushroom.  Both of our plates were emptied, leaving only a pile of tiny bird bones.

After stalking several plates floating around the dining room, we settled on dessert.  I chose a mountain of stacked items culminating in a peak of spun sugar.  The “Open-Faced” Banana Tartlette, Spiced Rum, Toasted Cashews, Vanilla Chiboust “Custard” and Salted Caramel had texture and flavor, and wore its neutral color scheme well.  Jessica's Dark Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake, “Cara Cara” Oranges and Milk Chocolate Crème was reported to be delicious, but we mutually decided not to share any of our last course.

All of these items are not on the regular lunch menu, but given the prices of similar plates, we each spent $22 for meals that would normally have been priced at approximately $43 per person.  It was a nice treat for a mid-week lunch, and I think I'll keep Naha in mind for a special dinner in the future.

The fun and savings were actually extended into Restaurant Weeks, as many restaurants chose to keep their discounted menus available through March 6.  If you missed out, take advantage of Chicago Chef Week instead, March 22 - 28, for similarly priced three-course menus at a smaller list of chef-driven restaurants.


happy birthday, dear Chicago

I don't like cake.  I avoided birthday parties growing up because I dreaded the inevitably tense discussion with a perky mom who just couldn't wrap her head around a weirdo kid who didn't want any cake.  After politely declining several times, I usually ended up caving and pushing around a dry square coated in a cloying layer of icing with a plastic fork for a few minutes.  Then I pawned it off on another party guest, scraped it into the trash cleverly disguised in a napkin, or hid the plate behind a plant on the kitchen counter.     

For my own birthdays, I preferred to wolf down cheesecake - not really cake - after eating an adult portion of lasagna at Papa Frank's, a neighborhood favorite that was forced to relocate by the massive flood in 1993.  I got older and started celebrating birthdays with friends at pizza places with animatronic bands.  The masses were appeased with fancy (notable themes included NKOTB, 90210, Chicago Bulls) concoctions purchased from a decorator friend, but I did not partake.  For my family celebration, at a restaurant of my choosing, I preferred to order pie or ice cream.  Anything but cake.

                               chubby Allison, age 3, eye on the prize

It took awhile to realize that I only hated bad cake, of which, there seems to be an abundance in the world.  Cake can be good: moist, flavorful, filled, covered with good buttercream, layered to the ceiling.  Strawberry cake my Grandma Georgia makes with the Summer garden's bounty.  Chocolate cake smothered with ganache eaten with my fingers while watching cartoons in bed.  Pineapple upside-down cake to serve 300 people - the first cake I made all by myself as a grown-up.  If a cake has frosting leaping forth like flames from the sides and top, I'll probably like that cake.  If a picture can be scanned onto the perfectly smooth top, I probably don't like that cake.

Last Cinco de Mayo, err dos de Mayo, I made my first tres leches cake.  The architecture of the cake I planned with two thick layers, heavy with milk syrup, covered with fresh whipped cream was not suitable for travel across the city.  Not on a bus or in a taxi, where I probably shouldn't trust the driver with my life and definitely not a cake.  I packed up some springform pans, bags full of dairy ingredients, and fresh strawberries, lugging them to the party to make a mess in someone else's kitchen for a change.  That cake was so damn good.  The hauling of the hand mixer to Kris and Frankie's apartment was definitely worth it, but I immediately began hatching a plan for a commute-friendly version for the future.  Cupcakes, if a little cute and over done, are pretty great travelers.  And they eliminate the need for plates and forks.  They are perfect for tres leches, I figured.

                                tres leches cake, dos de Mayo 2009

Last weekend I confirmed my gut feeling. Successful, wet cupcakes were had by many a tipsy reveler at Jonathan's impromptu birthday party.  One attendee refused, saying he had given up sweets for Lent, but a nearby party-goer branded them "epic" and had another one on his behalf.  You should make these to celebrate Chicago's Birthday.  Or just Thursday.  I have some leftovers and I think tonight I'll celebrate having driven home from the suburbs, during rush hour, without killing anyone.  Provided I accomplish that.

Tres Leches Cupcakes
cake and syrup recipes adapted from Michael Lomonaco,
Epicurious 2002

Spicy Sponge Cake (makes 16 - 20 cupcakes)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2  teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 eggs, separated
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a muffin tin with foil cupcake liners and spray inside each liner lightly with canola oil baking spray.  Whisk flour with baking powder and cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger in a medium bowl.  Separate egg yolks from whites.  Using a standing mixer with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until frothy, then slowly add sugar to tighten whites to semi stiff peaks. Add yolks one at a time. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk until well mixed.  Using 1/3 cup measuring cup, pour batter into cupcake liners, filling 2/3 way up side of liner. Bake for about 20 - 22 minutes or until the middle springs back when touched and tops are slightly brown, turning once halfway through baking to ensure even cooking. Cool thoroughly on a wire rack.

Rum Milk Syrup
1 can evaporated milk (12 oz.)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz.)
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons dark spiced rum (optional)


chicken chili

I spent last week working on a chicken chili recipe request from an old friend.  I haven't seen much of Adam Reisig since 1999, when we sat next to each other in Mr. Winkler's Advanced Composition class, but the internet has a way of bringing people back into your life.  I hate when someone refuses to give up a recipe or claims that some of their ingredients are secret.  I'm good at sharing.  This time, though, I didn't have a recipe.  I usually make chili with chuck or ground turkey.  There are tons of "white chili" mixes on the market like McCormick, but they are creepily sweet and filled with crap:


This process for making chili is not especially conducive for busting out a quick weeknight meal.  I like to spend my Sundays cooking ahead for the rest of the week, but understand if that isn't your thing.  It involves roasting a chicken, cooking the beans separately, making chili powder, chopping veg, and then putting it all together.  A few shortcuts are possible, but there are some disadvantages:

Canned Beans
  • they come already salted and sometimes spiced, so you'll have to rinse them to control the flavor
  • take care not to overcook them or they'll turn to mush 
  • they smell like dog food when you open the can 
  • for this recipe, you'll need 3, 15 ounce cans of beans
Grocery Store Roast Chicken
  • chances are, the breast will be overcooked and rubbery
  • usually too salty
  • your chicken likely led a sad, empty life 
  • the house won't be filled with delicious smells
  • people on the bus will be seriously pissed if the aromas waft out of your grocery bags 
Chili Powder
  • most brands are pretty one-note
  • store bought versions will last only as long as homemade
  • for the price of one jar, you could probably make more than a cup using ingredients from a Mexican grocer
Canned stock
  • use beer instead! Seriously, any beer. Or water.
  • if you must, try for low sodium with as few ingredients as possible

      Chicken Chili
      (serves 6-8)

      12 oz. dry white beans (such as great northern or cannellini)*
      2 medium onions, diced
      4 roasted poblanos, diced
      2 or so chipotles in adobo, chopped (buy a 7.5 oz. can)
      1 28 oz. can whole or crushed tomatoes
      8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
      2 tablespoons canola oil
      2 cups roasted chicken, chopped, skin removed
      2 cups homemade chicken broth
      2 tablespoons chili powder
      2 tablespoons cumin
      salt and pepper
      juice of 1 lime

      For Beans
      Preheat oven to 325.  Place beans in an oven-proof pot with a tight-fitting lid, such as a dutch oven.  Fill with water to cover beans by one inch.  Add 2 teaspoons of kosher salt to water, cover, and bake for 60 minutes.  After one hour, check beans every fifteen minutes until tender, adding water if needed to keep beans covered.  Remove from oven when soft, and drain beans.

      The World’s Most Difficult Roasted Chicken Recipe (from Michael Ruhlman)
      Turn your oven on high (450 if you have ventilation, 425 if not).  Coat a 3- or 4-pound chicken with coarse kosher salt so that you have an appealing crust of salt (a tablespoon or so).  Put the chicken in a pan, stick a lemon or some onion or any fruit or vegetable you have on hand into the cavity.  Put the chicken in the oven.  Go away for an hour.  Watch some TV, play with the kids, read, have a cocktail, have sex.  When an hour has passed, take the chicken out of the oven and put it on the stove top or on a trivet for 15 more minutes.  Finito.

      For Chili Powder
      This isn't very spicy.  I prefer to add cayenne or extra chipotles in adobo for heat, and keep this chili powder flavorful, but accessible.  Feel free to substitute your favorite peppers, add cinnamon sticks or fresh cumin seeds.

      2 Tablespoons coriander seeds
      3 pasilla chiles
      3 guajillo chiles

      Heat a cast iron or stainless skillet over medium-high heat.  Add coriander seeds, shaking pan over heat for 1-2 minutes, until seeds are fragrant, but not smoking.  Remove seeds from pan and add the chiles in one layer to bottom of pan, working in batches if necessary.  Heat chiles for 1-2 minutes on both sides and remove from heat.  Using kitchen shears, cut stems off and shake seeds from chiles.  Cut up the peppers roughly and add them along with the coriander seeds to a coffee grinder, food processor, mortar and pestle, or blender.  Process until ingredients form a fine powder.  Store in an airtight container for up to six months.

      Roast the Poblanos
      This step is not entirely necessary.  It will add a smokiness to the final dish, but if you want to skip it, instead chop the peppers and add them to the pan with the onions.

      Place a pepper on the burner of a gas stove top* directly over the flame.  Using tongs, turn the pepper every minute or so, until all areas of skin are charred.  Place the blackened pepper on a cutting board and invert a medium-sized bowl over the pepper.  Repeat this process until all peppers are roasted.  Keep them under the bowl until cooled, about 10 minutes.  Peel charred skin away and discard.  Remove stem and seeds, then dice the peppers.

      *if you don't have a gas stove, your broiler is an alternative for charring the pepper

      For Chili
      Using same pot from the earlier bean cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat.  Add onions with a pinch of kosher salt and cook until softened, stirring often, around 8-10 minutes.  While onions are cooking, break down the chicken and discard the skin (I recommend eating it with your fingers, but don't forget to wash your hands).  Cut the chicken into bite-sized chunks and refrigerate any additional meat.  Add garlic, poblanos, chipotles, cumin, and chili powder to pot, stirring to coat all the vegetables in the seasonings.  Turn heat down to medium and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Add tomatoes, stock, beans, and chicken.  Once combined, simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.  Add lime juice right at the end of cooking and season with salt and pepper to taste.  This chili always tastes better the following day, once the flavors have a chance to come together, but does not benefit from a long simmer (that will overcook the chicken and beans).

      Garnish with shredded cheese, avocado, or sour cream.  Or all three.  I hope you enjoy, Adam.


      Restaurant Week: Perennial

      Our trip to Perennial for restaurant week did not get off to a good start.  The four of us arrived a few minutes early for our reservation and I made eye contact with the hostess.  She greeted me with a "good evening" and then a pushy customer from the bar stepped between us and interrupted.  The hostess did not acknowledge this or apologize, but instead began to assist the other woman who complained that while she did not have a reservation, "it was ridiculous that she could not be seated at 7:00" on a Saturday night even if it was Restaurant Week.  After several minutes of this exchange, and after eying the four other unoccupied staff members nearby, the hostess disappeared and I was greeted by a different hostess who located our reservation and was quite helpful.  I couldn't shake the feeling that the staff resented the restaurant week crowd.  I would hope any business would be welcome in this economy.

      We waited in the bar, but opted not to order anything to drink since we were only five minutes or so from our reservation at 7:15 and were assured we'd be seated "right on time".  When the hostess summoned us to our seats, she noted loudly that we did not seem to have a bar tab to settle up.  The interior was simple and earthy - modern, but not too slick.  Perennial was described by someone at the table as "looking like every other restaurant".  The layout is unfortunate, forcing one to dodge plates of food and hurried waitstaff in the same hallway as the kitchen on the way to the bathroom located in the hotel lobby.

      Our waiter suggested a red within our price range and the 2005 Grove Street Cabernet Sauvignon was well liked by the table.  There was a single cocktail order, for a wee little pink concoction that was enjoyed, but not deemed worthy of the price.  The pretzel rolls were a nice touch for the bread course, salty and crunchy outside giving way to a fluffy soft interior. 

      Kris and I had:
      • Black Truffle Gnocchi, parsley root puree, hen of the woods mushrooms, frisee salad
      • Farmin Iberico ham croquettes with garlic aioli
      • Roasted Duck Breast, braised savoy cabbage, confit duck and foie gras pithivier, dried cherry sauce
      • Becker Lane Organic "Pork Lover's Obsession" grilled loin, braised belly, trotter ragout, cauliflower, swiss chard, winter fruits, potato puree
      • Roasted brussels sprouts
      • Crispy Hazelnut Bar, milk chocolate, creme fraiche, chocolate caramel, pistachio ice cream
      • The Brazilian, brown butter cake, cachaça pineapple, ginger popsicles, coconut sorbet, piña colada Sauce
      Our friends Marty and Michaela also tried:
      • G.C.M. [Green City Market] Red Kuri Squash Risotto, laughing bird shrimp, toasted curried pumpkin seeds
      • Red Wine Braised Short Rib, celery root puree, glazed carrots, red wine sauce
      • Cheesecake, raspberry custard, cream cheese foam, graham cracker ice cream
      The gnocchi was tasty, but the portion was tiny.  I had very high expectations.  Listed on their website as one of the "Top 10 dishes of 2009", Food and Wine actually named this first course one of 10 Best Restaurant Dishes under $12.  The other two appetizers we tried were delicious too, but more substantial.  I definitely appreciated our familiarity with our dining partners who were anxious to share.  I am glad to have tried it, especially since it was prepared in an unfamiliar Roman-style, but I am not sure I would order it again. We waited thirty minutes between our first and second course, but our waiter did not stop at the table until about 2 minutes before our plates came out, to indicate they were on their way.  It was busy and it is restaurant week.  Our busser was one of the most efficient restaurant workers I have ever seen, keeping our glasses full and our plates cleared.  I should have given him the entire tip.
      Perfectly cooked and well-seasoned duck breast sat atop a sad heap of braised savoy cabbage.  Luckily I predicted this might be the case and ordered a side of brussels sprouts.  They were awesome: roasted to a crisp, still soft inside, and piled into a bowl large enough to share with the table.  I was pleased with such a generous portion, but it seemed incongruous with the other items we ordered.  Kris' plate was huge, but spare.  We were not at the Sizzler and moderate portions are to be expected, but two bites of pork belly? A small ramekin of pork ragout topped with whipped potatoes? Not to say that these items were not well-executed.  I'm sorry: if you call a dish "Pork Lover's Obsession" and charge nearly $30, bring some noise.
      The desserts were over the top.  Enormous compared to our previous plates and rich.  The hazelnut bar was my favorite - dense and almost rice crispy like.  It sat on a strip of tangy creme fraiche, was topped with pistachio ice cream and a huge quenelle of milk chocolate along with a caramel chip.  The Brazillian was full of textures, but also a little too sweet. 

                            The Brazilian | Perennial, originally uploaded by happy_stomach.

      Overall, I enjoyed my evening.  I laughed easily with great company, enjoyed the wine, and was impressed with most of the food.  But the service was uneven.  The pace and portions of the meal were inconsistent.  Each small service slight added up, making me feel less than welcome at Perennial and definitely less important than other diners.  We ordered off both the main and restaurant week menus, though the waiter looked deflated when we leaned toward the latter.  We were dressed in our best estimates of opentable's suggested "smart casual" and fit in (I noticed many athletic shoes and spotted only two men in tuxedos).  We used the correct forks.  Still, I felt judged.  Looking back, the hostess' comment about our lack of a pre-meal bar tab seemed a little snooty rather than matter-of-fact.  While claiming to offer a "casual elegant" atmosphere that highlights the food, Perennial tries too hard and comes off as pretentious and focused on the scene.



      Restaurant Week: Terzo Piano

      "The place is like a museum. It's very beautiful and very cold, and you're not allowed to touch anything."

      The place is a museum.  It is very beautiful, but warms up a bit after a glass of wine.  The Art Institute's Modern Wing houses Terzo Piano, helmed by acclaimed Spiaggia Chef Tony Mantuano.  Afternoon sunlight pours in the dining room through a bank of western-facing windows.  Some sparse colorful elements pepper the room: vases and urns in the center and a green wool rug in the waiting area topped with black leather Mies van der Rohe furniture.  The room is mostly white, wood, and light.  In this minimalist setting, the food needs only to compete with awesome views of the city.

      My lunch date Katherine and I finally managed to coordinate our schedules and I knew this was the spot.  She appreciates the design elements of any good looking room and shares my love of the Modern Wing. We had both neglected this restaurant, probably because we're rarely out to lunch downtown.  Terzo Piano has lunch daily, but only serves dinner on Thursdays when the museum also offers free admission from 5 - 8 pm.  Restaurant Week is a perfect opportunity to try out someplace pricey, new, or outside of your neighborhood routine because the risk is relatively small.  For three courses at lunch you spend a mere $22.

      We looked over the standard lunch menu, but settled quickly on the restaurant week selections:
      • Nichol's Farm potato and parsnip soup
      • Butternut squash filled ravioli with house made Becker Lane sage sausage, caramelized cipollini onions and Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese
      • Chocolate semi-freddo with spanish peanut nougat and salted caramel 
      Based on current prices, we saved $11 from the everyday cost of the menu items.  I promptly spent those savings on a generously poured glass of Zinfandel "East Bench" highly recommended by our server who noted it will not appear on the menu until later this weekend.  Besides the superb wine pairing, our service was attentive and polite, but not at all stuffy.

      I loved the handmade butternut squash filled pasta with sage and brown butter at Cafe Spiaggia.  The version at Terzo Piano suffers only slightly in comparison.  The pasta dough was not rolled out as thinly resulting in dense pockets of pasta rather than the light and pillowy texture that I know possible.  Each ravioli was also on the small side, though the overall dish was sizable for a lunch portion.  The addition of the salty sage sausage to dress the pasta did balance the sweet squash and caramelized onions more than the delicate brown butter I had before..

      The semi-freddo was perfect: salty, sweet, smooth, crunchy, rich, chocolate.  Great company and food.  Eating lunch at Terzo Piano will make you feel like a grown-up.  Even if you talk more loudly than any of the other ladies who lunch.

      It was quiet, a bit too quiet for boisterous friends catching up over drinks and lunch. Might I suggest BTTB, the 1999 album by Ryuichi Sakamoto, as a nice future soundtrack?


      Sweet Sunshine

      I've had a dreary couple of days.  I lost my best purple hat...among other things.  I keep forgetting to eat.  Sinus headaches and financial burdens and CTA cutbacks, oh my!  But something strange has been happening this week around Chicago.  The sun is back and hasn't just been shyly peeking out from behind clouds.  This is bright, sneeze inducing, dont-forget-your-sunglasses sunshine.

      Though it was annoying to wait longer than usual for a bus (especially without a hat), I was glad to be on the sunny side of the street this morning with friends for company and pastries on the horizon.  We arrived at Logan Square Kitchen at 11:00 am, and it was packed.  A smiley kid with pigtails and a cupcake frosting mustache in the doorway indicated what we were in for: attractively packaged cute-sized goodies made by people who care a lot about food.  The lines were so deep, people didn't even know which vendor they were queued up for.  "Are those macarons? I can't see anything!" said a woman shorter than me on her tippy toes.  They were, in fact.  And they were almost sold out even though the event was to continue to 3:00 pm.  It was an overwhelming and successful crowd for the vendors.  It definitely brought attention to a beautiful shared use kitchen and green event space. 

      I knew a lot of the products already, so I used this bakery bonanza as an opportunity to try out something new.  Lots of treats were sampled, but this is what I splurged on:

      2 meyer lemon Chicago Macarons $3
      Rich Chocolates pâte de fruit $6
      Rare Bird meyer lemon rosemary preserves $8
      B True Bakery apricot ginger oatmeal cookies $2
      Porte Rouge black tea $1


      Save the Date: Soup and Bread February 17

      Andrea and I are teaming up once again to make soup and bread for one of our favorite Chicago bars: The Hideout.  We'll be ladling up some meaty chili and handing out cornbread starting at 5:30 on Wednesday night.  If last year was any indication, you should arrive early!  We made an indecent amount of soup and it was decimated in an hour.  We'll make even more this year.  So stop by, donate some cash to the Lakeview Pantry, and fill up. 


      John Lee Supertaster

      Sophisticated Superbowl party be damned - I'm craving melted cheese product and deep fried meat.  I've been inundated with bullshit tips for fancying up a party that, at its core, is about grown-ups slamming in to each other so other grown-ups can watch, bet on, and holler about said violence.  Football is meant to be enjoyed while drinking from a plastic cup and eating with your hands.  Superbowl Sunday is not the time to bring out your grandmother's china or press your antique linen napkins into service.

      Cutting open a bag of pizza rolls isn't mandatory either - you could make your own pizadillas, or homemade pizzas with individualized toppings for your guests.

      I was glad to see Andrew Knowlton come out with some nacho rules to live by this week.

      Serious Eats threatens to piss off all of Buffalo, NY, by taste testing alternatives to the one true wing.

      Bacon Bourbon Caramel Corn sounds amazing, but I haven't tried it yet.  I'm probably going to make another batch of the way better than cracker-jack caramel corn from Orangette this weekend.

      Sometimes it is hard to let go of food snobbery.  I should know.  Kris has a "special recipe" for guacamole that involves a smart ratio of prepackaged spice mixes with expertly chosen ripe avocados, tomatoes, and lime juice.  "Delicious!" is exclaimed by someone every single time he serves it.  Because it is.  I like to make my own with garlic, shallots, cilantro, jalapeno, lime zest and juice, and cracked pepper.  But I also love to eat his version.  So we'll be serving it this Sunday along with:

      buffalo wings: celery, carrots, blue cheese, ranch
      babyback ribs: Gates and Stubb's sauce to satisfy our regional differences of opinion
      chips and "queso": velveeta, rotel, sausage
      potato salad: carbs!
      deviled eggs: if I have time to make them
      18 domestic beers: we're having a taste-test
      caramel corn: with peanuts for protein

      Gussy up your comfort food all you want.  I'm allowing myself a reprieve from my food pretension.  For at least one night anyway.


      she don't use jelly

      Last year I avoided complaining about the weather all winter.  It was a resolution of sorts.  Midwesterners are strong, resilient, and capable of handling whatever the brutal sub-zero wasteland brings.  That was last year.  This week, I don't want to get out of bed.  I find myself still wearing my scarf and goofy hat hours after I get home from work.  I have been turning the dial all the way hot in the shower, conservation be damned.  I've cooked dinner in every night just so I can stand near an auxiliary heat source.  Blerg. 

      I needed a serious pick-me-up today.  Listening to a particularly moving radio show about Vic Chestnutt sent me into a mini-breakdown before 9:00 am.  I opted for creamy peanut butter, sliced bananas, and honey on whole grain bread and a quick dance party.  I'll take these toppings on a bagel, toast, english muffin...pretty much any wheaty bread product over a pbj anyday.

      Peanut Butter Banana Playlist

      The Rainbow - Apples in Stereo
      Mr. Blue Sky - ELO
      Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger - Daft Punk
      Clap Hands - Beck
      Everyday People - Sly & The Family Stone
      Submarine # 3 - Starlight Mints
      ABC - the Jackson Five
      We Got the Beat - the Go Gos
      Shake it Up - the Cars


      riffs and variations on a single note

      Everywhere I turn this winter, I bump into a delicious feature on potato-leek soup.  Both Dave Lebovitz and the Kitchn ran simple recipes that seemed to invite a little experimentation.  I've been trying to decide what to make for Soup and Bread (I'm cooking February 17th), which has been an awesome excuse to order soups out and tinker with old recipes at home.  A bunch of broccoli in the fridge paired with all of the recipes invading my rss feed provided some inspiration for a broccoli-cheese/potato leek mash-up soup.  Next time, I think I'll involve beer and a lot more cheese.  This particular variation combined my love of silky pureed soup, pork fat, and caramelized roasted vegetables. A nice weeknight meal, but Andrea and I are working on something much meatier for the Hideout!

      Potato-Leek Soup with Broccoli and Bacon

      2 heads of broccoli, cut into small florets
      3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
      3/4 lb small red-skinned potatoes, cubed
      2 medium leeks, washed thoroughly and sliced
      3 tbsp olive oil, divided
      5 slices bacon, roughly chopped
      1 cup or so milk/cream*
      shredded aged cheddar for garnish
      salt and pepper

      Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Toss broccoli florets and red-skinned potatoes with 2 tbsp olive oil and spread evenly onto sheet pan.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper.  Roast in oven for 30 - 45 minutes, turning broccoli and potatoes every fifteen minutes until browned and potatoes are cooked through.

      In large pot or dutch oven, crisp the chopped bacon over medium heat.  Remove bacon from pan and add remaining tablespoon of olive oil to pork fat.  Add leeks and a pinch of kosher salt to hot pan and cook over medium or med-high heat for 5 minutes, or until leeks are soft.  Add peeled potatoes to pot and add enough water to just cover potatoes.  Simmer the potatoes and leeks, covered, for twenty minutes or until potatoes yield easily to the tip of a knife.  Remove pan from heat.

      Puree with an immersion blender** until smooth, adding milk or cream if necessary to reach desired consistency.  Salt and Pepper to taste.  You can mix the crisped bacon, roasted broccoli, and potatoes into the soup pot or garnish the top of each bowl individually.  Don't forget the cheese!

      *If you're feeling really decadent, you can drain the water from the potatoes and leeks and mix the veg with only milk or cream and a little butter, omitting the water altogether...like really thinned out mashed potatoes.

      **You can use a regular blender, just please be careful:
      -fill it only halfway
      -leave off the small cap in the center of the lid, covering the hole with a folded kitchen towel


      eating nonfood keeps them mean

      I've been to California before.  San Jose and San Fransisco.  Never southern California - until last weekend when I flew out for a few days to meet Kris who was working from his company's Newport Beach office.  It was a nice opportunity to spend a few days without flannel pajamas in a paid-for hotel room.  Mostly, I wanted to try to find a Kogi truck.  A completely sane reason to fly halfway across the country, right?  Right.  Straight from the airport, famished, we got lost and stumbled upon the garish Trinity Broadcasting Network headquarters as well as several restaurants about to close.  It was only 10:00 on a Friday night, but I was glad to settle into a moon over my hammy at Denny's rather than spend any more time driving.  Apparently that's what LA and its surrounding expensive beachy communities are all about: creeping along in epic traffic, blind curves, slamming on one's brakes, exiting at dangerous speeds at the last possible second barely avoiding slamming the median head on, and leisurely traipsing into the roadway if you happen to be a pedestrian.  The greasy sandwich was awesome, the entire high school drama department that was eating at a nearby table was less than awesome.    

      Saturday morning, we planned to get up early and head to LA in search of my taco truck.  We slept in.  Actually, I woke up at 7:00, read 40 pages from my book club selection, and went back to sleep.  Even palm trees and sun can't inspire me out of a king-sized bed with crisp sheets and a fluffy down comforter.  So I napped before noon.  We finally got ready, but then were in no way willing to wait an hour before eating.  So we hit up a drive-thru for some burgers on our way to get tacos.  It has been nine years since my last, but In-N-Out burgers are still great.  Not the best burger ever, but still a hell of a deal for a couple of bucks.  It was a bigger appetizer than necessary.  They gave us a thoughtful little "lap mat" to catch the dripping grease and ketchup which was a blessing because we were driving the boss' boss' boss' car and I'm a messy eater.  At every meal I use a pile of napkins, while Kris rarely needs one at all.

      In-N-Out Burger
      cheeseburger all the way
      cheeseburger just ketchup & mustard
      vanilla milkshake

      We started on our journey toward LA with less empty stomachs, but tacos were still on my mind.  Kogi has several trucks that set up around the city, with locations updated on their website and via twitter.  Kris found a truck that would allow us to take a meandering trip down the Sunset Strip, through Beverly Hills, and Bel-Air.  We drove to Silver Lake, parked, and headed to the truck.  The guy who sold us our tacos was really helpful, incredibly nice, and gave us some restaurant recommendations we should have listened to more carefully.  He seemed genuinely happy to be working and was excited that we'd heard about what they're doing all the way in Chicago.  By far, the best service experience we had in the city.  Definitely the best food we ate too.  Well seasoned, deep but clean flavors, awesome texture, super colorful.  Dude.

      All of the tacos are served on double corn tortillas with meat and:
      • sesame-chili salsa roja
      • julienne romaine lettuce and cabbage tossed in Korean chili-soy vinaigrette
      • cilantro-green onion-lime relish
      • crushed sesame seeds
      • sea salt
      • lime wedges
      The quesadilla had caramelized onions, cheddar and jack cheese, spicy pork, and was bathed in salsa verde and sesame seeds.  Sitting on the wall in front of an elementary school, for $14 we had a ridiculously delicious meal with the least annoying strangers on the trip.  A guy nearby actually apologized for taking pictures of his tacos to put on facebook.  I admitted that I had already done the same and thought "these are my people!"  Sitting outside, having tracked down fresh simple food, eating with my hands.  Perfect.

      Kogi Korean BBQ Tacos
      spicy pork tacos
      short rib tacos
      black jack quesadillas

      We walked off our fast-food eating marathon at the Getty.  I love art museums, but the exhibitions were totally overshadowed by the extended views, whimsical gardens, and the fun interactive architecture.  I picked up some postcards, we moseyed through the buildings, and I took way too many pictures of cacti.  At every turn we ran into the same obnoxious families.  It is free, so if I didn't believe in family planning, I suppose I'd drag my five misbehaving offspring and shopping bag-laden super stroller too.  We weren't especially hungry, so we headed to Hollywood and checked out the silliness.  A combination of homeless teenagers and black-tie clad power couples peppered the walk of fame.  Mann's Chinese Theater is underwhelming - not at all as grandiose as on television.  We thought about getting out of the car, but didn't.

      Though I'd have loved to try Providence or Campanile, and should have chosen Animal or (the Kogi taco guy recommended) Hungry Cat, I picked a small wine bar with a simple menu.  Nestled into a "classy strip mall" between a laundromat and massage parlor, LOU seemed a lot better on paper (or screen) than in reality. Once inside, the decor is snazzy enough to make you forget you are probably eating in a recently closed Game Stop.  Having my favorite wallpaper doesn't exactly make up for weird service or mediocre wine...at a wine bar.  We were seated a safe distance from the few other diners and ordered pig candy (bacon brushed with sugar and cooked until caramelized, then quick frozen and served cold).  If it was warm or even room temperature, it might have been enjoyable.

      Besides the Armandino Batali salumi and a ten year aged cheddar, the charcuterie plate was unremarkable.  Finally the restaurant got busy, and diners hurried through their meals at a table next to us, chatting extensively about parking issues and whether Whole Foods organic powdered cheese was better than Kraft.  The six of them split a ribeye and a salad.  That's right - one steak for six people.  I took this as a dare and ordered the ribeye for myself.  When our dinner arrived, the server switched our plates, assuming the dainty scallop dish should go to the lady, the hunk of beef to the man.  The steak was cooked perfectly, Kris' scallops too.  The mussels tasted like they'd been steamed in dirty sea water.  After eating most of the day and listening to the waitress go on about a medical ailment, we skipped dessert.

      bacon candy
      charcuterie and cheese platter
      scallops with mussels and rice
      ribeye with fingerling potatoes and brussel sprouts
      unremarkable red and white wine

      Sunday we headed to Long Beach for chicken and waffles, the aquarium, and a haunted tour of a big old boat.  Since the only things we'd heard about the LBC were from early-90s rap songs, we were pleasantly surprised not to run into any drama there.  We were seated quickly, ordered way too much food, and were carbing up within ten minutes.  The Waffle House style small square waffles (which I prefer to the big Belgian kind) were fluffy and covered in butter.  The chicken was good, not the best I've had.  The grits were tasty.  Kris pulled apart the chicken, put it on his waffle, and smothered them both in syrup.  I kept mine separate, but liked the combination.  A hearty, unhealthy breakfast that sustained us through the day's tourism.  Kris tried out their much-hyped (waitress t-shirts, bold type on the menu) Pit Bull energy drink, which was better than red bull, but still tasted like a canned energy drink.  

      Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles
      2 waffles
      fried chicken - dark and white mix
      pit bull energy drink

      Before our trip, I skimmed food blogs, asked for suggestions via twitter, read yelp, looked through hundreds of newspaper reviews and magazine write-ups.  I'm obsessive about menu scouting, keeping to an itinerary and sticking firmly to a specific driving route.  Getting lost turns me into a wreck, so a borrowed GPS prevented a complete mental breakdown.  Kris always has confidence that we'll make it to our destination, views little diversions as adventures, and will eat anything.  A good guy to have around, especially to counteract all of my high-strung lunacy.  On my next trip, I am determined to ask for and accept more local advice.  Having a rough outline of things to do seems more reasonable than an extensive agenda.  I am slowly learning to relax, but I am not ready to embrace the laid back SoCal attitude.


      get on the good foot

      I started off the new year wrong: with a stupid kitchen injury.  It was in the hallway rather than the kitchen and I wasn't even cooking anything.  Like most culinary injuries, mine was completely preventable and totally my fault.  Kris' iron skillet was never really cared for properly, so I've been planning to replace it.  Left with few surfaces during a flurry of baking over the holidays, I chucked the thing on top of a pile of boxes destined for the recycling bin.  Lately we've been enjoying our time off for the holidays, partying late with friends, sleeping in, and avoiding such responsibilities as doing dishes and disposing of garbage.  While putting on my galoshes in the hallway on January 1, the pile of cardboard shifted, and the damn rusty skillet fell on my heel. 

      After cursing myself loudly, I continued on with my evening.  This was the first of probably many 2010 culinary abuses to come.  Last year I avoided burning myself, but several cooking marathons left me bleary-eyed with wounds to show for my tired knife skills.  And I always manage to cut through my nail bed.  While catering for a wedding, I reached into a soapy sink full of dishes to find a pile of broken glass in the drain left by the kitchen's previous occupants.  And I'm a gusher.  I have a bleeding disorder that makes it difficult to clot.  Last year also brought me a concussion, broken toe, and nearly broken nose from co-ed athletic pursuits.  I'll try to be more careful in the new year, but I'm just accident prone. 

      What kind of nightmare kitchen battle scars do you have?