Archive for September, 2010

Being the rather-obsessive, enthusiastic foodie that I am (they don’t call me the Crazy Cook for nothing, you know), I bring to you today the tale of one very foodie fall weekend here in Chicago — possibly my foodiest weekend of the year!   Friday’s night’s opening of the first-ever Chicago Food Film Festival kicked things off, and Sunday’s outing at Chicago Gourmet  wrapped things up. 
First the Food Film Festival: as most of it took place in the dark (we were watching films, after all), it was hard-to-impossible to take pictures, but I will try to bring it to life for you in words!

The concept is this: eat what you’re watching.  How cool is that? 

The two-night event took place at the MCA Warehouse, which is where they store all the art from Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art when it’s not on display.  Killer space.  One open space was purely for socializing and tasting before the films started, but the coolest thing was that all the tastings were themed to the films of that evening!  Hence the Harvest Moon produce station Jarlsberg cheese station, the Shaw’s Crab House oyster station, Hoosier Mama Pie station, and Dry Soda station. 

At about 8 or so, everyone was herded into the next room for the films.  The first film (13 minutes long) was called “Eat Your Fill,” one man’s tale of an eating trip to the Wisconsin State Fair (everything on a stick, everything fried!).  During the film, servers passed trays of … fried cheese curds and deep-fried Oreos!  Then during the next film, “Obsessives: Soda Pop,” trays of cucumber Dry Soda were passed, and so forth.  So you were eating what we were watching – just like they said we would!  It was really cool and fun.  My favorite film was called “Mr. Okra,” a 12-minute documentary about a man in New Orleans who drives a produce truck ’round town, selling local produce, making friends and really impacting the soul of the community (shown at Sundance, New York’s Food Film Festival and multiple other juried festivals).  Other films included “Perfect Oyster,” “Celeriac” (a horror film starring a bunch of celery and a sharp knife), “Pie as a Lifestyle,” and “Death & Life of Ice Cream.”

Overall, it was really fun, really creative and well put-together.  I can’t wait for the Second Annual Chicago Food Festival next year!

But wait – the weekend was far from over!  Yesterday was Day 2 of the third annual Chicago Gourmet Festival!  Yes, I was one of hundreds who snagged an $89 ticket from Groupon (a considerable savings off the $169 regular price).  Set in Millennium Park, the event was sponsored this year by Bon Appetit magazine.

Wow – apparently that Groupon thing tipped them over the top and the day was sold-out.  So, yes, there were lines and some confusion as to what line you were in, but I didn’t care – if there was something to taste at the end of it, that was ok.  Here’s a sampling of what we sampled: 

Sea Bream from Henri


Filet Mignon and Pork Sliders from Gibson's


Adobo tacos and guacamole from Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill

There were dozens of pavilion tents of food and wine tastings and there were also food demonstrations, book signings and seminars by noted chefs and foodies including Bon Appetit magazine’s Andrew Knowlton and Barbara Fairchild, Cat Cora, Table 52’s Art Smith, Marcus Samuelsson, Tony Mantuano and many more.  We attended one food demo by Sunda’s Rodelio Aglibot and Todd Stein, formerly of Cibo Matto and now of the soon-to-open The Florentine.  They made spaghetti Carbonara, which we foolishly said we were totally going to make for dinner that night – hah!  We hadn’t yet gone on our tasting binge, silly us – the only “dinner” I wanted last night was a glass of water and a cup of tea.  

After the demo, our appetites took over, sending us on a whirlwind of tastings.  I think we tasted about seven or eight different food items and approximately 500 wines – maybe more (Seriously!  Everywhere you looked there was wine!)  between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m.  My fave?  This one:

Calcaire 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay

It was big and buttery, awesome and oakey.  Yes, many wine experts say this style of wine is passe, but I don’t care – my palette never tires of it!   But this was my last sip and at 5 p.m., it was time to give it a rest.  (It’s now 7 a.m. the next day and aside from a Diet Pepsi and a cup of tea last night, I’ve given my stomach a much-deserved break!). 

And this photo sums up the food and wine fun and excess that was the weekend of Sept 25-26, 2010:

After sampling so many others’ food this weekend, I now look forward to getting back into my own kitchen and cooking something crazy this coming week!  Hope you enjoyed the tale of the Very Foodie Fall Weekend!

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Crazy? Yes, for Tomatoes!

Here it is: the first Project Food Blog Challenge!  The premise of Lazy Cook, Crazy Cook is this: I, the Crazy Cook, love to cook. The bigger the challenge, the more exotic the ingredients, the bigger the pay-off, I say!  The Lazy Cook hates to cook.  But she’s got RD and PhD credentials in health and nutrition up the wazoo, and she wants to eat well, so she finds lazy ways to turn simple ingredients into, well, food. Yes, we bicker and argue, and it’s torture for her to spend four hours in my kitchen doing videos, but we have fun.  And sometimes she turns out something that’s actually pretty good!  So with this post, I bring to you tomatoes – ones she grew, in fact.  (She may lack chops in the kitchen, but man, can she grow tomatoes!)

Here’s what I made:

Tomato Tarte Tatin

And here is what she made:

This is the Lazy Cook’s “Caprese Salad” – a “sandwich” of tomato, mozzarella and basil.”  No salt or olive oil, naturally, because she likes it that way.   Whatever.  That’s why we get along — opposites attract, right?

A Bowl of Red

While staring at this rich, red treasure trove of summer beauty, my mind spun with the possibilities.   Knowing that Romas take better to cooking than to eating raw,  I indulged in two tomato treats: oven-dried tomatoes and a Tomato Tarte Tatin.   Neither are that hard or time-consuming, but both are fun to make and deeply satisfying.  Ahhh. 

Oven-Dried Roma Tomatoes

This is fun, because you just put sliced, raw tomatoes on a cookie sheet, blitz them with a bit of olive oil, kosher salt and fresh, chopped basil and then put them to bed in a 200 degree oven for about nine or 10 hours. Yes! You leave your oven on overnight, which freaked me out at first, but the success of the first batch got me over that quick. Oven on all night?  Yes!   They go in all rosy red and fresh and they come out all deep crimson, chewy and intensely flavored. 

Oven Dried Roma Tomatoes

I chopped them and added them to some mini-penne pasta with olive oil, capers, cauliflower florets and a storm of Parmesan and it was… DELICIOUS!   I could not stop eating it.  There’s really no recipe, per se, for these, because they are so easy. Tip: halve the tomatoes lengthwise (the first time I did it, I sliced thick coins of tomato; the halves work  better!) 

 The Tomato Tart Tatin took a bit of research.  I couldn’t get my friend Susan’s son, Daniel’s, recipe, so I hit the World Wide Inter-Web-Super-Highway.  I found recipes for a sweet, dessert-style one and another for one with a lot of caramelized onions.  I used bits of each recipe to create a savory, tomato-y delight that I ate for days in a million ways – fresh out of the oven with an arugula-watermelon salad, heated up the next morning, topped with a poached egg, even cold out of the fridge topped with a frisee salad and a bit of balsamic and olive oil.  Get out. 

Tomato Tarte Tatin


1 sheet store-bought Puff Pastry

8 or 9 ripe, gorgeous Roma tomatoes

Scant 1/4 C sugar

3 Tbl butter

1 clove minced garlic

3 Tbls grated Parmesan

Fresh basil leaves

What You Do

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Make sure your puff pastry is thawed (chilled, but not frozen) according to package directions.

1) Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Cut a shallow “X” thru the skins, on the bottom of each tomato.  Drop about four tomatoes at a time into the fiery depths, for 1 minute – no more!  Fish the tomatoes out and plunge them into a refreshing bath of cold water and ice cubes to stop cooking.  Slip the skins right off with your fingers.

2) Using a cast iron pan, melt the butter and sugar over medium heat, until the sugar dissolves.  OPTION: if your tomatoes are very ripe and sweet, use less sugar.

3) Halve and core your tomatoes.  Put them into the pan, round-side-down in a cute, concentric circle, like so:

4) Don’t stir so much as move them around gently with a wooden spoon and/or shake the pan.  The goal here is to cook them, but not burn them.  A bit of crispy char is a delight, but more than that, not so much.  Sprinkle the minced garlic on top.  Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes or so.

5) Meanwhile, roll out one sheet of puff pastry and trim into a circle the same diameter as the rim of your cast iron pan (usually anywhere from 9 to 11 inches).  Dust with flower to keep your rolling pin from sticking.

6) When tomatoes are cooked, remove pan from heat, and sprinkle with Parmesan.  Carefully drape puff pastry over the whole lot, tucking the edges into the sides of the pan, like this:

7) Pop your lovely creation into your screaming hot oven and bake for 25 minutes.

8) Now, time to flex your muscles! Find a large, flat serving plate.  Get your oven mitts on.  Heave that beauty out of the oven and rest it on the stove top while you summon the courage and fortitude for the next step.  Ok, ready?  With your mitts on, place your serving platter upside down on your cast iron pan.  Concentrate.  You are going to flip that cast iron pan over, with the plate, and your “work of tart” is going to wind up looking like this:Taa dah!!  You did it!  If you have to retrieve a piece of crust or a tomato from the pan, and piece it together, fear not.  You just made a Tomato Tarte Tatin and your friends and family are going to be impressed and deeply satisfied.  Sigh. 

And this is but one example of how the Lazy Cook and the Crazy Cook roll.  Enjoy!

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As part of our Chicago Green City Market haul, we brought home a bevy of beautiful beets and a mess o’ tiny microgreens — pea shoots, sunflower shoots, sprouts of every variety.  They were so cute, we couldn’t resist!  And honestly, they taste amazing.  Teeny tiny basil shoots pack a WALLOP of fresh basil flavor, who knew?  And I could snack on sunflower shoots all day long – they’re delicious!   Tiny Greens Organic Farm is one of the only growers of these mini marvels in the Midwest area, and they supply a ton of restaurants in the Chicago area.   They grow the greens in an underground facility with special lighting, so they can grow and harvest all year long.  

And the beets!  A rainbow of gold, red, purple.  I adore beets, especially dolloped with goat-cheese mousse and a shower of tiny, fresh chives.   They have an earthy flavor that just tastes so good to me.  Plus, beets are a good source of fiber and Vitamin C and a very good source of folate.  And they’re colorful!  Check it out!

To roast the beets, just wrap them in aluminum foil and roast at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes.  Remove from oven, remove foil (be careful, they’re hot!)  Let cool a bit and then slip the skins off, and slice into wedges or round slices.

To make the dressing for the beets, here’s all you do:

Goat Cheese Mousse

Combine in a blender:

1/3 C Champagne vinegar

1/3 C olive oil

About 4 ounces plain goat cheese, softened to room temp

1 tsp sugar

Whirl at medium speed until it all comes together.  Do not overblend or it will break apart and be a gloppy mess (believe me I know this).  Alternatively, you could create a regular vinaigrette with 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 Champagne vinegar, some salt and pepper and crumble the goat cheese on top.  But I love the creamy consistency and rich flavor of the Goat Cheese Mousse.  Try it – you might like it!

Of course, the Lazy Cook really doesn’t use recipes – all she did was pile up her microgreens, sprinkle on some feta cheese and some raw pine nuts and she called it a ” dish.”  I gotta give her credit on this one, though – it was delicious, even without any dressing.

Let us know what you think!

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