Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Risotto, easy as ABC

Not only can it be cumbersome to stand over risotto, but it can also be intimidating to get the right consistency. As a multi-tasking, type A, this is especially difficult for me! I've been intrigued by recipes for risotto that are made in a rice cooker, a slow cooker and the oven. Tonight, I tried Real Simple's method of baking the risotto. I am pleased to say that baking risotto yields winning results! The consistency was perfectly creamy and toothsome. Since I didn't have a shallot on hand, I used green garlic and red onions. I also served it with a slice of lemon for some acidity, which provided the perfect spring, finishing twist at the end. Blanched asparagus would be a fine substitute for the spinach as well. 

Baked Spinach and Pea Risotto
Adapted from Real Simple, April 2011
Serves 3-4


  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 green garlic stalks chopped, white parts only
  • 2 tbsp chopped red onions
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups low-sodium vegetable 
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 3 large handfuls of fresh spinach 
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino, divided
  • lemon slices


  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Heat the butter in a medium Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the green garlic, red onion, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring often, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook for about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until almost evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil.
  2. Cover the pot and transfer to oven. Cook until the rice is tender and creamy, 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Add the peas, spinach, half of the grated Parmesan or pecorino, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper to the pot and stir to combine. If the risotto is too thick, stir in up to ¼ cup hot water. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan and a lemon wedge before serving.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pretzel Rolls!

I stumbled upon the Stresscake blog while following David Lebovitz's tweets during his recent Chicago visit. As I read more about her and her blog, I immediately added her to my Google Reader. Stresscake writes about how it all started with her inability to sleep at night: she would bake scrumptious creations and present them to her colleagues in the office the next morning. This became an increasingly frequent habit, and her coworkers dubbed it "stress-baking", and so the end result came to be known as "stress cakes." I never really thought I had much of a sweet tooth, but I also find something very cathartic about baking. Sometimes, I feel like my beloved mixer is an extension of my body.

Given that Stresscake had these adorable little pretzel rolls on her banner, it was only appropriate that it would be the first recipe I tried from her blog. I don't know a single person who doesn't like pretzel rolls. There are definitely good pretzel rolls and bad pretzel rolls. These did not disappoint! Soft, chewy, not too dense, salty and just a little sweet. Since we were going to be using these for sliders, I decided to make them into 3 oz dough balls, which were a little big for the small patties I formed. Next time, I will probably make bigger patties. Go make these! They're so easy and rewarding!


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Baked Oatmeal

Growing up, I would have oatmeal prepared one of two ways by my mom: sweetened condensed milk or savory with a pinch of salt and diced deli ham. These are probably considered unusual add-ins for oatmeal, but I love them.

Oatmeal was always made from rolled oats, none of that gross artificially-flavored instant stuff. The texture on instant oatmeal reminds me of overly sweet baby food. For the last several years, I have been preparing steel cut Irish oatmeal and experimented with different add-ins: maple syrup, pumpkin butter, brown sugar, dried cranberries, nuts, apples,  and fresh berries. I always make a week's worth and portion it out to be reheated for breakfast at work. 

In spite of my love for steel cut oats, I always have a large supply of rolled oats on hand for granola, cookies, pancakes or as a binder for meatloaf and chickpea patties. 

Baked oatmeal has been on my list to try for a couple of years now, but I never got around to it until now. With all the fruit in our household, I finally picked Heidi Swanson's baked oatmeal recipe posted by Lottie & Doof. I can't believe this delicious goodness was breakfast! It's wholesome, scrumptious, slightly sweet, and pretty healthy! Baking the oatmeal with the added ingredients imparted so much more flavor versus cooking oatmeal by itself on the stove-top and adding fruit and sweetener at the end. 

I made a few adjustments by adding 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed, reducing the maple syrup to 1/4 cup, layering blueberries and bananas on the bottom and keeping the strawberries for the top. Serve with additional sweetener or Greek yogurt if you would like. 

I look forward to making a tropical version with banana, fresh pineapples or mangoes, shredded coconut, and cashews/Macadamia nuts.

Before being baked:

After being baked and cooled for a few minutes:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Green Grocer CSA Week #4

With each week, I am thrilled that more and more of our CSA continues to be sourced by local area farms....a sure sign that the weather is warming up and more exciting crops are just around the corner! Given that three out of the six items this week are long and skinny, this was a difficult week to "pose." Everything this week was sourced from Nichols Farm except for the cantaloupe, obviously. Pictured below are asparagus, green garlic, rhubarb, cherry belle radishes, arugula and cantaloupe. 

Dim Sum at MingHin

For many years, there seemed to be little turnover of restaurants in Chinatown...until this past year when several restaurants opened. The owner of Chi Cafe opened Minghin last fall and created a niche by specializing in Chinese BBQ. It's been on my list to try for several months now, and I was finally able to try their dim sum with my parents.

Top row:
Rice crepe with Chinese fried donut - Nicely thin rice crepe, but this still does not meet my gold standard , where Congee Wong in Toronto still reigns as the best

Macau pork belly - very distinct layers of crispy skin, melting fatty goodness; it was interesting to have sugar available on the side of dipping

Middle row:
Lotus wrapped sticky rice

Pan-fried noodle roll with XO Sauce - I've always been a fan of XO sauce because of the added heat it provides. This was one of my favorite dishes

Bottom row:
Honey glazed short ribs
U-Choy - one of my favorite vegetables, perfectly cooked to the precise tenderness

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rhubarb: Two ways

For those of you that have been following my blog and know me in real life, you're probably surprised by the lack of desserts. Here are two for you!

One of my favorite things about spring? RHUBARB! I fell in love with rhubarb after purchasing it from the farmer's market a few years ago. This strawberry rhubarb crumble is what made me smitten with this fruit (not a vegetable as declared per the New York courts in 1947). This is my favorite spring dessert: the rhubarb provides a tart contrast to the sweetness of the strawberries and sweet, crisp topping. Paired with a side of homemade vanilla ice cream, I am in spring heaven.
Given that Smitten Kitchen's crumble made me such a rhubarb fan, I knew I could count on her again when she recently posted these rhubarb muffins. I made these with a little ground flax seed and white whole wheat flour. If I make this again, I would add more rhubarb for a total of 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups. Happy Spring!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An order for truffles

On September 12, 2010, a sweet and strong little girl entered the world. Today, she was surrounded by loved ones at her baptism. I was completely flattered and honored when her aunt (my friend) suggested that I make favors for their family and friends attending the baptism. I provided them a link to my Picasa album containing pictures of most of the things that I have made in the last few years. They decided to go with the dark chocolate caramel truffles. I've only made these once earlier this year as a holiday favors for my immediate family. They were a huge hit, so I had hoped that these would turn out successfully again.

The truffles have a soft, caramel chocolate center and are enrobed in dark chocolate. The dark chocolate shell is thin, crisp, and rich. The sea salt on top brings the truffles to another level making the caramel taste especially rich and buttery.

Four+ pounds of dark chocolate, 100+ truffles, and 50 little kraft boxes later...
Cute tags made by the aunt and mom of the baby girl. Thank you for your support and encouragement by being my first order! :)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Portobello burger and shaved asparagus salad

Even though we are a small household, we still decided to join Costco a couple of years ago. We find that the savings pay for the annual membership in the form of rebate checks. Like Trader Joe's, I like that Costco stands behind their product offerings. They carry a lot of favorite items in bulk for very reasonable prices and also carry some specialty items that aren't sold at regular stores. My husband, lover of focaccia, came across these "flat rolls" recently. This is our third bag in a month! Focaccia can sometimes be overly dense, thick and obviously high in calories. However, with the recent trend in sandwich thins, bagel thins, etc, I was really happy to see focaccia thins. At only 130 calories, 1.5 g fat, 25 g carbs, and 2 g fiber, I can enjoy these with less guilt. We've made mini pizzas, sandwiches, and breakfast with these.

With the portobello mushrooms in our recent CSA, I knew that a portobello burger was in order. I marinaded the portobello for 20 minutes before grilling them. For condiments, I used ramp pesto, roasted red peppers, spring mix and sliced provolone. To make it a complete CSA sourced vegetarian dinner, I made shaved asparagus salad on the side. I kept the salad simple so we could enjoy the fresh asparagus. I dressed it with the juice of 1/2 lemon, freshly grated pecorino, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper.

Portobello burger marinade for 2
Adapted from Allrecipes.com
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tsp fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 fat garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • salt and pepper to taste
Mix ingredients well, pour over portobellos. Marinate for 15 min, flipping once at the midpoint. Baste the portobellos with any remaining marinade as you grill.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Nuevo Leon in Pilsen

Chicago is fortunate enough to have a thriving neighborhood with a bounty of authentic Mexican cuisine. The area is known as Pilsen, which is on the South Side, just west of Chinatown. There are several options to choose from, but I regularly develop a hankering for tacos de sabinas from Nuevo Leon. The focus of the restaurant is the Nuevo Leon region in northern Mexico, which is the native land for the owners. Tacos de sabinas are filled with ribeye steak, grilled onions, jalapeno peppers, refried beans and melty chihuahua cheese. Once the tacos are filled, they get a quick flip on the griddle creating a lightly crisped flour tortilla. The contents of the tacos are always piping hot making the cheese stringy and gooey. These tacos are a little different from what you might find at an average tacqueria due to the flour tortilla and beans. They so good, I have never even tried anything else on the menu!

I didn't get pictures, but while you wait for your food, you are brought fresh tortilla chips, red salsa, tomatillo salsa, pickled jalapenos, and homemade chicken soup or pork and beans with a corn tortilla. In anticipation of the spicy tacos, I always order an horchata. Since it's a rice milk spiced with cinnamon, it provides a cool and refreshing reprieve in between spicy bites. 

Nuevo Leon is very affordable and cash only, but they have an ATM in the restaurant. They also sell freshly made tortillas and gorditas at the counter. You may have seen their tortillas in the Chicagoland supermarkets. It has a very festive atmosphere given all the families and large parties enjoying themselves and the food. I hope you'll give it a try!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Green Grocer CSA Week #3

Hooray! Our CSA finally included some locally grown items this week: portobello mushrooms and asparagus from River Valley Ranch. If you've visited any of the Chicagoland farmers markets or gourmet specialty stores, I'm sure you have come across some of River Valley Kitchen's products. I especially like their Spinach Artichoke Dip Mix and 5-Cheese Garlic Spread.

Pictured below are 4 peaches, 5 bananas, 3 portabello mushrooms, asparagus, and an eggplant.

We turned down a bunch of fresh oregano for 2 additional peaches because the refrigerator door is overflowing with dill, parsley and cilantro. (Tip: Treat your fresh herbs like fresh flowers by trimming their ends regularly and keeping them in a little water. They will stay vibrantly green for weeks!) 

I am expecting a basil plant from my dad later this weekend. I'm looking to add to my herb planter when I visit the Daley Plaza Farmers Market during lunch on Thursday. Any suggestions for other herbs that are easy to grow? I have a black thumb. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Caramelized onion and kale pie with potato crust

After making lemony kale pasta, we still had 1/2 of the bunch leftover. With the Yukon Gold potatoes from our CSA, I remembered coming across a recipe for a Potato, Spinach and Goat Cheese Pie on the Local Beet. I loved the idea of a potato crust in lieu of a pie crust.

Instead of frozen spinach, I sauteed the fresh chopped kale until wilted. Otherwise, I followed the recipe to a T. We were amazed at how much flavor the caramelized onions provided. This is a really nice, healthier alternative to a traditional quiche - less eggs, less cream, less buttery crust. Making the crust is a little work, but well worthwhile.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mango Panna Cotta

I was thrilled to learn that a sorority sister of mine started blogging earlier this year. I'm really looking forward to following her blog especially given her rainbow diet philosophy. I will probably become envious of her access to the variety of locally grown, fresh produce in Northern California.

On the day that I found her blog, Rice Kernel, she posted a mouth watering recipe for mango panna cotta made with yogurt. I've never made my own panna cotta, so I was intrigued. Conveniently, I already had the required ingredients. This is a light and refreshing dessert for a warm summer night, which we have not had yet.... The lime zest adds the perfect punch.

The last ramps of the season

As soon as ramps hit the farmers markets, people go wild! Ramps are wild leeks that make a brief appearance in the spring. Due to the high demand and short season, they don't come cheaply. I'm embarrassed to even say how much I paid for these, but I like supporting the local farmer vs. Whole Paycheck. 

I prepared the ramps two different ways: per Babbo's website and a pesto that I threw together.

For the spaghetti with ramps, I recommend toasting the bread crumbs in the same pan used to cook the ramps. Top the plated pasta with freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. 

Ramp pesto is lovely with pasta or eggs. Here, I've spread it over a smear of goat cheese on a toasted foccacia thin.

Ramp pesto: 
bunch of ramps
handful of walnuts, toasted
handful of freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/3 to 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil

1. Clean and rough chop the ramps
2. Combine everything except for the olive oil in your food processor and pulse until nearly homogenous
3. Slowly stream in the olive oil as the food processor is running until you reach your desired consistency. 
4. Serve with pasta or eggs for breakfast

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Longman and Eagle

Last night, we finally dipped into our a la cards. This is our third year in a row to buy a deck, which we find easily pays for itself.  The deck of cards contains $10 coupons for 52 restaurants around the Chicagoland area. Each year, we try to prioritize the ones we want to hit, and our target is always around 20 or so, but we are lucky if we make it to half of them. Last year was a little difficult with the wedding planning and all our traveling, but now that we live together in the city, I am hopeful that we will come close to hitting our target. 

We like going out for dinner on weeknights because the crowds are a little thinner, and sometimes, we're just too tired to prepare dinner after work. With this in mind, I suggested Longman & Eagle, which has been known to have 2+ hour waits. Longman & Eagle is located in the heart of Logan Square. They have an outdoor dining area and a back patio just for those ordering from the bar. It was quite humid out, so we opted for the first available table hoping to be seated soon given all the unoccupied two-tops. 

A enjoyed a Half Acre Daisy Cutter at the bar while we waited to be seated and later a Three Floyds Robert the Bruce. 

The menu is broken up into appetizers, small plates, sandwiches, and entrees. The small plates were calling my name. After placing our order, we received an amuse bouche of a crostini with olive tapenade.

Pretzel, Welsh Rarebit

Roasted Marrow Bones, Red Onion Jam, Sea Salt, Sourdough Crostinis - Aaron's favorite: salty and rich 

Slagel Family Farm Pork Belly Confit, Sunchoke Veloute, Pickled Ramps, Redwood Clover, Fiddlehead Ferns, Ale Foam - this was a spring party in my mouth!

Pastrami Cured Sweetbreads, Gruyere, Pumpernickel, Saurkraut, Thousand Island Dressing - tasted like a deconstructed pastrami sandwich, but so much better

Tete du Cochon, Sunny Side Up Duck Egg, Pickled Shallot, Parsley Salad, 5 Spice Mustard Sauce - another rich dish, perfectly complimented with the duck egg on top and delicious mustard sauce

Terrine of Madagascan Chocolate, Espresso Cream, Salted Peanut Custard, Translucent Caramel Glacage, Baton of Genois, Honey Foam, Coffee Jelly - the newest dessert item on the menu and sooooo good. As an avid baker, I'm pretty picky about the desserts I order and will never order something that I could easily make at home. This dessert was no exception. The terrine was a wonderful combination of different textures and flavors. The server said that some other dinners complained that there was too much going on, but I didn't find that to be true at all. I loved it. 

When our bill arrived, we were given salted mango bites.

We really enjoyed our dinner at Longman & Eagle and certainly concur that they deserve their Michelin Star. We look forward to returning in the near future.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Quinoa with Salmon, Feta, and Dill

Still working through the cucumbers in our CSA, I decided to make this quinoa with salmon, feta and dill. I love it when I stumble across a recipe with ingredients that I already have on hand. Again, it's not much to look at, but this is so good! This came together really easily and quickly, which makes it a great weeknight meal. I thawed the frozen wild salmon from Trader Joe's overnight so that it'd be ready for cooking after work. Rather than using salt and pepper for the salmon, I used this seasoning from the Spice House. The quinoa was really easy to prepare and much quicker than brown rice. The lemon and dill brought the freshness of spring, and the cucumber   provided a nice contrasting crunch. The recipe provided enough for 4 servings. I highly recommend you make this ASAP!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Summer Couscous Salad

I've had a box of Trader Joe's Israeli Couscous in the cupboard for months now but couldn't decide how to use it. With the cherry tomatoes from our most recent CSA and some leftover ingredients from our Greek Friday dinner, I decided to make a colorful couscous salad for lunch today. This would make a great side for a grilled protein. This combination really reminded me of summer and look forward to making it again throughout the summer.
Summer Couscous Salad
1 package of Israeli Couscous
10 oz cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cucumber, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1/4 c dill, chopped
1/4 c feta
2 tbsp red onions, diced
2 tbsp parsley, chopped 

1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tbsp cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/4 c olive oil
1 fat clove of garlic, minced
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

1. Prepare couscous per package instructions and allow to cool
2. Whisk dressing ingredients 
3. Mix vegetables with the cooled couscous; Pour dressing over salad
4. Refrigerate before serving to allow flavors to marry

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Green Grocer CSA Week #2

Like last week, CSA #2 was sourced from vendors outside of our immediate region. Pictured below are 3 oranges, parsley, cherry tomatoes, and blueberries. Not pictured are the beets and radicchio that my husband exchanged for more tomatoes and blueberries. I love the Green Grocer is so flexible about the CSA and lets us trade for other items. Looking forward to making some slow roasted cherry tomatoes later this week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sautéed Bacon, Mushrooms, and Lentils

This is one of those dishes that tastes a lot better than it looks. Green lentils, brown mushrooms, specks of green parsley and topped with bacon. I halved the recipe, used less bacon and only used cremini mushrooms. Don't forget the acid at the end! If you don't have a fresh lemon, red wine vinegar is a suitable substitute. Lentils are delicious superfood and a little bacon won't kill you!

The recipe can be found on Leite's Culinaria.

Sweet Potato & Spinach Curry

When I first met my husband, he was a pick eater when it came to vegetables and seafood. I'm happy to say that over the years, he finally started to enjoy things like salmon and asparagus, for example. However, I am still working on getting him to like sweet potatoes. With plenty of organic spinach still remaining from Costco, I made this sweet potato and spinach curry for dinner. I would recommend adding a minced garlic clove when you add the curry and finish with salt to taste. This is a winning combination of two superfoods and makes a complete meal when served with naan or basmati rice.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Italian Subs from JP Graziano's

We had to pick up Bailey in River North after he participated in the Anti-Cruelty Society's Bark in the Park fundraising event. It was around lunch time, so we swung by J.P. Graziano's in the meatpacking district to pick up some subs.

I first learned about J.P. Graziano's in 2005, when there was some discussion of it on LTHForum. It was known as one of the more authentic sources for Italian groceries, more specifically for its meat and cheese selection. J.P. Graziano's has been around since 1937, and the store is still thriving even more today under the leadership of his grandson. More recently, the selection has expanded to include sub sandwiches with the bread supplied by D'Amato's. The meats are all handsliced in house, and the ingredients are always fresh. 

I ordered the Mr. G, a house specialty made with provolone, prosciutto, salami, truffle mustard balsamic, hot oil and artichokes. It was a lovely marriage of flavors with a spicy punch.

My husband ordered the spicy sub: hot capicola, pepperoni, hot soppresatta, and provolone. This sandwich was right up his alley. 

While we waited for our sandwiches to be made, we were pleasantly surprised to see our friend's parents enter the store. They were in town from Grand Rapids, MI, visiting family in the Chicagoland area. They recently launched an e-commerce site for their cookie business, Lomonaco Sicilian Cookies. I recommend you check them out. The Cucidati is my personal favorite, but all of the flavors are a wonderful accompaniment to your cup of coffee or tea.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Greek Friday!

With our bounty of cucumbers, Greek salad naturally came to mind. We marinated boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a Greek inspired concoction and grilled them for our salad. To supplement the salad and to use more cucumbers, I made tzatziki sauce for zucchini fritters. We love this vegetarian dish from Cook's Illustrated and make it a part of my regular menu planning rotation.

Greek Vinaigrette (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)
6 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp dried oregano or 2 tsp fresh oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced

Whisk ingredients together until well combined.

First Spring/Summer CSA of 2011

As of May 4, 2011, spring in Chicago has been fickle. I can’t tell if it’s just hinting and teasing us, or if it’s actually here to stay. Back in March, I anxiously anticipated Mother Nature’s bounty in the warmer months. I started shopping around for a local CSA subscription, which was not an easy task given the seven dozens of options in the Chicagoland area.

I loved that a CSA subscription would help us to adapt a flexitarian diet, introduce new and varied produce into our diets, and challenge me to try new recipes. Eating seasonally also provides the added benefit of crops being picked at the height of their season, which meant lots of flavor and perfect ripeness. Supporting local farmers and businesses would also reduce emissions and the added cost and bureaucracy of the middle man. The idea of eating produce that was freshly picked the day before or even the morning of our pick-up seemed so quaint in our modern, urban lives.

After a couple of weeks researching, I finally decided to go with the Green Grocer. I chose it due its close proximity, the option of three different pick up days until 9pm, and the mix of 4 fruits and 2 vegetables supplied by two farmers: Genesis Growers and Seedling Farms. The tipping point was the 10% discount for ordering before April 15, which resulted in a weekly price of less than $16.

As I had mentioned previously, since it has been a late spring, our CSA consisted of organic produce from suppliers outside our immediate area.We picked up our first CSA this week, which consisted of ½ lb of kale, 1 mango, 1 lb strawberries, 4 potatoes (19 oz), 19 oz broccoli, and 2 large cucumbers.
For our meatless midweek dinner, I made lemony kale pasta from Annie’s Eats blog. It tasted very much like a leafy pasta salad with lots of lemon flavor, and even better when it's still a little warm.