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?