Archive for January, 2011

By now, you know that I love food, cooking and traveling, but one thing you might not know is that I love music, too.  Big time.  (I play fiddle with the Bob Dylan group at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music and my head almost pops off every Saturday at how much it is.)  And I’m a Stones fan.   So when Keith Richards’ autobiography, “Life,” came out in late October, I ordered it immediately.  It’s a fantastic book, through and through.

And while we all know that Keith can play the guitar and do drugs like nobody’s business (tho he’s been clean for 30 years now), who knew he could cook?  Yes!  And he can cook more than a spoonful of smack, too!  On page 525, Keith shares his recipe for Bangers & Mash, and I just have to share it here, because it’s freaking hilarious:

Well, what’s a food blogger/musician to do, but make the damn thing?  And you know what?  It’s good.  Really good.  Look!

So herewith, I share with you how I did it, using Keith’s basic instructions, above.  Tto round out this rockin’ dish, I suggest “Exile on Main Street” for dinner music, and a nice British stout to drink.   Thank you, Mr. Keith Richards, for sharing your Life with us, and your recipe for Bangers & Mash.  You’re the man.  You are invited over for dinner any time.  Just email me.


The Bangers

2 good-quality sausages (I used a chicken/pork sausage)

2 strips of bacon

1/2 a large red onion, sliced

About 1 C chicken stock

Splash of Balsamic vinegar

Salt, pepper, fresh thyme – anything you want to season with, really.

A bit of cornstarch


1) Put the onion and bacon into a 10-12 inch straight-sided saute pan and fry it up on medium heat for about 10 minutes, until everything’s cooked through and soft.  I had to use a bit of chicken stock to deglaze the pan mid-way through.  Add your sausages and let them cook;  Turn them with tongs every few minutes.   If your onion and bacon are getting over-cooked (aka, burnt), remove them to a dish and you can return them to the pan later, for a little onion-bacon gravy business that I sort of made up.  More on that in a minute.

2) So after about 15 minutes, your sausages should be cooked.  Remove them to a dish and return the onion-bacon muck to the pan.  Deglaze the pan with chicken stock (that is: just pour in a bit of stock and all the delicious brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan will magically come up and you’ll get all that flavor into your gravy.  I added maybe a teaspoon of corn starch to thicken up the whole shootin’ match, and tossed in some fresh thyme leaves, salt and a splash of Balsamic vinegar (maybe a Tablespoon’s worth).  And you know what?  This gravy is BANGIN’!  Alright, leave it on low, to keep warm, and move on to “yer mash,” as Keith calls it.

The Mash


About 5-6 small-ish red skin potatoes (but really any kind of spud’ll work; use whatever you’ve got)

1 carrot, diced

About 1 Cup of frozen peas

About 1/4 quarter of a red onion, diced

Salt, pepp, butter and milk or half-and-half


1) Put a large pot of water on to boil and add a splash of apple cider vinegar (about a tablespoon).  When it comes to a boil, add a hefty dose of salt (at least a couple tablespoon’s worth; come on, these spuds need some flavor!)

2) Chop yer spuds in half and add them to the boiling water.  Cook for 15 minutes. Stick a fork into a potato half; if it goes in easily, you’re right on course.

3) Add the carrots, peas and red onion and cook 5 more minutes.  Dump the whole lot into a colander and then dump it back into your pot.

4) Add some butter – a couple of Tablespoons – and some milk or half-and-half  (maybe 3 Tablespoons) and mash the whole thing up into as smooth or chunky a mixture as you like.  Taste.  Add salt.  Maybe some pepper.  Taste again.  Good?  Ok.  You’re ready to plate.

Put a blob of mash onto the plate, top with diagonally sliced sausages and either top with gravy or put it on the side – your choice.  Keith likes HP sauce, but he’s British and I’m not, so you’re on your own there.

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And a tagine is also the name of the dish, too.  It’s really any kind of baked meat stew – primarily chicken, lamb or beef – sometimes goat  – cooked with Moroccan seasonings and sometimes dried fruits like prunes or figs and sometimes olives and hopefully, if you’re me – preserved lemons!

I didn’t buy a tagine in Morocco because it broke my rule of two, and that is: I will happily buy anything that meets two of these three features:  a) heavy; b) breakable; c) bulky/odd shaped.  But this one broke the rule – it was heavy, breakable and bulky.  Plus which, you can buy them at Macy’s or wherever.  And also, guess what?  You don’t even need a tagine!  You can use any kind of clay baking dish such as this one, that I have:

This is a terra-cotta thing my sister gave me years ago, and I hauled it out of the cupboard and it worked great!   I mean, does this look delish, or what?

And you can’t believe how easy it all comes together.  Here’s all you do:


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 preserved lemons (please see earlier post – it takes a month for these to cure in the fridgeroo)

juice of one fresh lemon

2 white or yellow onions, chopped

2 Tbl parsley (curly or flat; either works), chopped

1 heaping tsp salt

1 heaping tsp fresh ground pepper

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cumin

2 pinches of saffron (you can use turmeric if you don’t have saffron)

3 Tbl olive oil

What You Do

1) Soak your clay dish for a couple hours in cold water (the lid nests in the bottom; I just fill as much water as I can in bottom and lid and leave on the counter for a while) and then dry it well.  NOTE: do not preheat the oven — these pots have to go into a cold oven or else they can (and will) crack.

2) Put olive oil in bottom of pot and toss in the chicken breasts.

3) On top of the chicken throw in: minced garlic, chopped onion, salt, pepper, ginger, cumin and saffron (or turmeric).  I do not even mix it up – I literally just dump the stuff in – it all somehow gets mixed up in the oven, like magic!  Add the parsley, juice of one lemon and preserved lemons, too.

NOTE ON THE PRESERVED LEMONS: after you fish out two preserved lemons from your jar, get a grapefruit spoon, if you have one (a regular spoon if not) and scoop out and chuck all the lemon pulp inside, leaving you with just the peels.  Then run some cold water over the peels to rinse off the salt they’ve been sleeping in, and then chop them into whatever size pieces you like (maybe 1/2-inch pieces).  Your dish will look like this:

4) And now you put the hat on the pot and put it into your cold oven.  Fire it up to 450 degrees, Fahrenheit and cook for one hour.  NOTE: Half an hour in, remove the pot, take the lid off and add 1/2 C or more of water.  The water will give you more sauce, so I add at least 1/2 C, sometimes 3/4 C.  Put the hat back on, and back into the oven.

5) Remove the pot after 1 hour and place on a stack of dish towels on your counter (so you’re not plopping it onto a cold, granite counter, for instance, where it could break from the temperature change) and test doneness of chicken with a digital meat thermometer – it should be at least 150 degrees F.  Leave it to rest, covered for about 15 minutes, and it’ll keep cooking a bit, bringing the chicken up to 160 degrees for perfect doneness!

And that’s it!  Serve the chicken and spoon sauce over each serving, making sure everyone gets some of the DELISH preserved lemon.  If you’ve never had it, you will be amazed by the sweet, tangy, intense lemon-ness you get.  It is crazy good!

I serve this alongside some simple cous cous that I cook in water infused with a saffron bouillon cube (procured in a grocery store in Casablanca … use chicken stock or bouillon if you don’t have saffron bouillon).  And while your tagine is cooking, you can also slide in an aluminum tray of cut-up carrots and zucchini to roast for about 30 minutes, to serve alongside, for the perfect Moroccan feast.  A nice dry white, like a Spanish Albarino, complements this nicely.

Left-overs keep great in the fridge for a few days, too.

This dish is an especial favorite of mine in winter, as the light, lemony flavor is most welcome on a frosty Chicago winter night.   Hope you enjoy as much as I do!

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This week, I was invited by my friend Billy Dec (co-owner of Rockit Bar & Grill and all-around wonderful guy) to a chili tasting  in anticipation of Chicago’s Rockit Bar & Grill’s Third Annual Chilifest, Jan. 17 – 21.   Two words: GO. EAT!  If this doesn’t tempt you, I don’t trust you:

Chicken Enchilada Chili at Rockit Bar & Grill

Yeah – good stuff.  So my friend Melinda and I settled in on a chilly Tuesday night, me with a glass of Goose Island’s Matilda , she with a glass of Cabernet.  And the chili parade commenced!  First up: Chili Cheese Fries (Rockit’s incomparable French fries topped with their signature turkey chili and cheddar and jack cheeses; $9) and Chili Mac (Rockit’s turkey chili atop their signature Four Cheese Mac and Cheese; $12).

Rockit's Chili Cheese Fries


Big Bowl o' Chili Mac at Rockit Bar & Grill...mmmmm.

Oh, boy.  Clearly we need to pace ourselves here.  Because here comes our delightful server again, laden with two more bowls of red: Three Wild Hogs Chili.  It was amazing: hearty chili with an appealing, but not nuclear, spicy kick studded with tender shreds of braised wild boar (it was almost like pot-roast style meat), bacon and pork cracklings (which normally make me go, “eww”, but for Billy, I tried them.  And guess what?  They were GOOD – really good:  thin-cut, crispy, greaseless, and full of smoky, pork flavor.   Some creamy, white gigante beans added great texture to the whole dish.  Uh huh.  Really good.   For $10, this is one amazing dish.  

Wild Boar Chili with Pork Cracklings

Next up: Chicken Enchilada Chili (shredded white-meat chicken, pinto beans, queso fresco, cilantro and enchilada sauce; $10).  THIS was our overall favorite – a nice spicy kick, amazing fresh flavor.  They need to either serve this all year, or bring it to me on demand whenver I ask for it (deal?).

Our #1 Fave, Chicken Enchilada Chili

But wait, there’s more!  Aside from what we tasted, Rockit will offer a different chili each day of the Fest – here’s the schedge:
* Mon., Jan. 17: Bison Chili (ground buffalo, buffalo sausage, pinto beans, apples; $10)
* Tue., Jan. 18: Three Wild Hogs Chili (see above)
* Wed., Jan. 19: The Locavore – featuring ingredients supplied by Chicago’s Green City Market farmers and vendors; $10)
* Thurs., Jan. 20: Ghost Chili (hotter than the Guatemalan insanity pepper, featuring black angus beef, red kidney beans, horseradish cheddar and chili threads; $10)
* Fri., Jan. 21: Chicken Enchilada Chili (see above)
It’s fun – and it’s winter.  And winter in Chicago is every excuse you ever needed to eat whatever you want, as long as it’s delicious.  Chili Cheese Fries?  Eat ’em.  Chili Mac?  Eat it.  And enjoy your own trip to Rockit’s Red Planet this month.  (Maybe squeeze in an extra run or a yoga class to combat the effects.)
 Thank you, Billy and the entire staff of Rockit Bar & Grill, for the deliciousness, awesome service and all-around fabulousness! 
(Full disclosure: all food and beverages were comped by Rockit, but this post reflects my own opinions, regardless.)

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Hi Everyone!  Sorry we’ve been AWOL lately, but between camera problems (got a new one and figured out how to work it!) and actual, paying work, we had to go on a bit of a hiatus!  But ever since I acquired not one, but SIX new cookbooks over the holidays, inspiration is exploding all over the place!  To be specific, I am the proud owner of 19.5 POUNDS of cookbooks including:

19.5 Pounds of New Cookbooks!

I am already having a hard time deciding which one to dive into first, but here are my first impressions in case you are thinking of getting any of these – or were the lucky recipient of any over the holidays.

Tartine Bread: Whoa – this is one serious and comprehensive bread book.  Yes, it asks you to make your own starter, which takes up to 7-10 days, but once you make it, you can save a bit to keep going again and again.  I’m definitely going to do it. 

Complete Indian Cooking: This was given to me by my friend Kate, because she knows I am thinking of going to India later this year, so I can get a jump on the food.  It came from World Market, and has a great summary of all the regional styles of cooking throughout India – yippee!

Arabesque: My friend Susan lent me her copy after I returned from Morocco in late October, and I used the recipe for Preserved Lemons, and they were divine!  Author Claudia Roden is the consummate expert on many Mediterranean cuisines, and this one is all about Turkish, Lebanese and Moroccan food.  I’ll do a separate post on making them (they take a month, minimum, to fully cure in your fridge) and the chicken tagine I made with them, evoking sighs of happiness!

Around My French Table:  Anyone who knows me well knows how much I ADORE France and all its food, and since I friended Dorie on Facebook, it makes it extra fun.  So many delicious-sounding recipes and none are terribly difficult.

 Bon Appetit Desserts: My sister Vickie gave me this one and I got so excited about having one go-to book for sweet stuff!  It’s organized really well and even features a tear-off flap on the back of the book jacket to redeem for a free subscription to Bon Appetit!  Fantastic!

 One Big Table: My friend Susan gave me this for my birthday in December.  Molly’s always been one of my favorites in the New York Times food section, and this is a great compilation of recipes from all over America.  Fun stories accompany each recipe.  Love.

So I’m armed and ready! Official thank-yous to everyone who gifted me with cookbooks!  I even cleared out a whole shelf on the big living room book shelf for cookbooks.  They join some of my other faves from Nigella, Ina, Julia and Giada.  No excuses for not being inspired this year!

While I’m at it, I’ll share a preview of coming posts from some recent succulent successes:

The Thanksgiving Turkey Show-down with my brother, Rich.

We followed up on last year with the second Turkey Show-down.  He does a deep-fried turkey, and I do the herb-roasted turkey and everyone votes.  I have to say, I think I won.  The flavor you get from stuffing all that herb-oil under the skin the night before roasting is awesome.  (Sorry, bro: yours was good, too; just not as good!)

The Famous Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons!

Here it is: a preview of the Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons I made with, well, the preserved lemons I started on Nov. 11.  Complete post on this to come, but suffice it to say, it was heavenly.  I swear, I’d eat a wrench if it had preserved lemons on it.

And this is a sunchoke (also known as a Jerusalem artichoke).  While a little ugly, its flavor is divine – reminiscent of artichokes, but a little sweeter.  And while they are a bitch to peel, I did just that to make a pureed soup featuring them, with apples, onions, a bit of white wine, some turkey stock and a tiny bit of half-and-half.  Sautéed some cremini mushrooms and had myself a feast!

And while I would love to show you a finished picture of the bangers (sausages)and bubble-and-squeak(big mash-up of potatoes, parsnips, carrots and onions) that my friend Katy and I made for New Year’s Eve dinner, my camera went haywire and I didn’t capture it. 

There you have it.  Thanks for sticking with us, and sorry about the absence, but I promise lots of delicious posts coming right up!  Will gladly take requests, too!  The Crazy Cook and the Lazy Cook are back (well, Lazy Cook is still a bit lazy, but she’s on the rebound and will be back soon, too!)  Happy New Year and Happy New Cooking and Eating!

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