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Hi Food Friends:  I’ve been away for a while — in the Caribbean!   It happens every single March:  I am overcome by an immediate and powerful craving for a get-away.  To a beach. With blue, blue water, soft sand, palm trees and colorful cocktails.  And since I’ve becom such an avid food freak, I also need a place that has FANTASTIC FOOD.  Not always so easy in the Caribbean, where most food has to be imported and the focus is often on other things.  But then.  I found it!   CuisinArt Resort, on the beautiful island of Anguilla!  Did I have to get up at 3:30 a.m. for a 5:45 a.m. flight to get there?  Yes. Did it take almost 12 hours to get there, door-to-door?  Yes.  But I am happy to report it exceeded every expectation — especially the food!  I mean, look at this place!

It is indeed owned by the Cuisinart company (reportedly the CEO wanted to build a private home on Anguilla but there was some mix-up with local laws and Cuisinart Resort is the result).  So – with an owner like Cuisinart, the place comes with certain expectations, right?  Especially when it comes to food and bev.   And I’m happy to report that it delivers .

First of all, many Caribbean island are made of nothing but molten lava, so they can’t grow fruits and vegetables.  So everything winds up getting imported from North America or Europe, via St. Maarten.  And it takes days to get it to these remote islands.  So to solve that, Cuisinart has its own 18,000-square-foot hydroponic farm, where fresh tomatoes, lettuces, peppers, eggplants, herbs, cucumbers, bok choy, microgreens and more are grown – and harvested daily.

Knowing how excited I was about this mash-up of Caribbean paradise with first-class food,  my fabulous travel agent, Julie, at Rex Travel, talked to the people at Cuisinart and and they very generously arranged for a private tour of the hydroponic gardens and a Japanese cooking class at their newest restaurant, Tokyo Bay!

After breakfast on Monday morning, we met up with Dr. Howard Resh, who is a world-renowned pioneer in hydroponic farming.  The man is extremely knowledgeable and has really changed the way that food can be grown locally in arid and often non-arable Caribbean islands.  If something is grown hydroponically it means it is grown in water, without actual soil.   So Dr. Resh and his team tend to hundreds of plants, feeding them with nutrient-filled ocean water that they desalinate through reverse osmosis.  Below you see Dr. Resh lifting one of the rafts that the hydroponic lettuces grow in.  They harvest 125 heads of tender, delicious butter lettuce a day for salads.

In fact, when we arrived in our junior suite, there was a lovely spread of meat and bread and tomato tapenade and a bowl of sweet, sweet cherry tomatoes from the hydroponic farm – SO GOOD!  I have to say, it was really fun to meet Dr. Resh and get a first-hand look at how hydroponic farming works.

But time was passing and we were due at our sushi-making class at 10:30!  We hadn’t even gotten to the beach yet and I was having so much fun!

We met Chef Ken Lin, who joined Cuisinart just recently, when it opened Tokyo Bay in early 2012, which serves authentic Japanese fare, including sushi and teriyaki dishes and they also have a teppanyaki table, where chefs cook on the flat-top  right in front of you.  We ate dinner there twice (once at the teppanyaki table and once we just had a sushi festival.  Oh, and those wok-seared edamame, with a fiery chili heat – divine!)

I was excited because I’d never made sushi, and I’m starting to like sushi more and more.  Chef Ken was super nice, and somehow we managed to turn out some pretty decent California rolls, using amazingly fresh and beautiful ingredients.  Then we made teriyaki sauce (soy sauce, mirin (sweet Japanese sake), chicken or vegetable stock and corn starch) and chose the protein we wanted (I picked salmon, Suz picked Wagyu beef).  Then we made the weirdest thing: mochi.  It’s this funny, super-sticky dough made of sweet rice flour, coconut milk, water and sugar.  You microwave it and stir the hell out of it and then, while its warm, shape it into dumplings or ravioli-type shapes and pop a piece of filing in the center (we used chocolate, green tea gelee and red bean paste) and wrap ‘er up,  Then you let them cool and you eat them!  That dough was one of the weirdest textures I’ve ever worked with — stretchy, hot, SO STICKY – but it was good!

While devouring the results of our class, we met Food & Beverage Director Fabio Petrone, who is one of the most charming staff members we encountered at Cuisinart.  So friendly, so funny, always wanting to know if we were enjoying ourselves, always offering us something or other.  He oozed charm and  hospitality!

After our lunch, we finally hit the beach.  Seriously?  This is real – it’s THIS beautiful.  The staff will set you up with an umbrella, lounge chairs and towels and chilled bottled water, and every afternoon about 3 or so, they stroll the beach with trays of sorbet and these amazing little pistachio biscotti.  Aahhhhh.

And I think you know we got THIRSTY on that beach!  My drink of choice wound up being the Frozen Mojito, made with tons and tons of fresh mint, from the hydroponic farm.  And it wasn’t over-sweet, either (the downfall of many a Mojito).  And the bartenders at the Beach Grill, Sam and Karen, were terrific (sometimes sharing “over makes” with us from the blender, so we could try different drinks).

I will say we took yet another cooking class on our last full day, with a lovely Caribbean chef named Diane, and we made a delectable lunch of Punpkin Soup, Creole Mahi Mahi (normally she uses Red Snapper, but that was out of season) and Pineapple Upside Down Cake, and while it was fun, it was a four-hour endeavor and we were kind of jonesin’ to get to the beach, but we did have fun.

Overall, I give Cuisinart Resort one  million stars, for getting it all right: a beautiful, beautiful resort on one of the most gorgeous and friendly Caribbean islands I’ve been to AND a fantastic focus on food.  You should go. Like, now.  Thank you to everyone at Cuisinart for a perfect vacation (which I paid for – full disclosure – with the exception of the private hydroponic tour and Japanese cooking class, thank you very much to Cuisinart for those two special experiences.)


Greetings, Food Friends.  I write to you today about my current obsession: cookie spread.  “What,” you ask, is that?  I will tell you: it is a delectable and amazing product made from ground-up cookies, blended with canola oil.  But it’s not made from just any cookies.  Oh no.  Who’s flown Delta Airlines?  Who knows those little Biscoff cookies they give out?  Uh huh – those little rectangular toasty brown beauties that taste like gingerbread, with a hint of cinnamon.  Crispy, crispy, crispy and rich with butter.  Sooo good with coffee.  Sooo good dunked in milk.  They’re delicious, and I want to hijack the flight attendant’s entire supply of them.  Until recently.  Why?  Because they started showing up in some stores a few years ago.  Just the cookies.  I’d buy a package of them and ration them out – one at a time, for a special treat.  I’d have to make them last because they were hard to find.

And then.  I was at Central Market in Austin, Texas last June (what a fabulous store).  And I saw it.  Biscoff spread!  WHAT??!!  I quickly put it in my basket.   And I got it home, and I opened it and I stuck a spoon in and tasted it.  HEAVEN!

It’s creamy, sweet but not too sweet, ginger-bready, cinnamon-y.  Sigh.  I checked online and it wasn’t available at any retailers in the Chicago area.  So sad.  But then – a miracle!   I was in Aix, France last October, and I happened upon the Belgian original version, called Speculoos (they call the cookies Speculoos, too.)  So I smuggled that home.  And then, this holiday season, I saw the Biscoff brand of spread at Cost Plus World Market!  I happily bought jars for several food-loving friends, and was still enjoying my own little stash of the stuff.  And then last weekend, I saw a version at Trader Joe’s!  Yes – they have their own brand!


So I had to do taste test, having just a little of my smuggled Speculoos brand left.  The verdict: the Trader Joe’s version is really good – but falls just a tiny bit short on creaminess.  It has a little stiffer texture, but excellent flavor.

So, what do you do with the stuff, besides lick it off a spoon? Following are some of my favorite ways to savor this creamy, ginger-bready delicacy:

* With fruit  – apples, pears, bananas are some of my favorites

* On top of Biscoff cookies!  Yes – cookie spread on top of cookies!  Or graham crackers (the plain kind, not the cinnamon covered kind).  Sugar cookies.  Hell, any cookie, probably.

* Potato chips!  Yes!  The salty, crunchy potato chip with the sweetness of this stuff – a magical little salty-sweet explosion of happiness!

* Ice cream!  I’ve only tried it with vanilla (I’m somewhat of a purist), but I wonder what it would taste like with chocolate ice cream, or pecan or coffee (because Biscoff cookies are so damned good with coffee!)

Since it looks so much like peanut butter, people are tempted to spread it on toast – but I’ve found that only so-so, on the cookie spread scale of deliciousness.  I haven’t baked with it yet – but I’m guessing it would make a ridiculous frosting for a cupcake – or a brownie or blondie.

So, that is my current food obsession that I share with you.  Find some!  Quickly.  And eat it!  It’s good!!


Hi Foodie – and Farmie – Friends: As some of you know, I joined a CSA in the summer of 2010 – Harvest Moon Farms – and became friends with the farm owners, Bob & Jenn Borchardt.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  You pay money upfront ($580 for a single share, this year), or $895 for a double share) and then, starting in June, you get a weekly delivery of farm-fresh produce.  They deliver at my office building (the Aon Building, in downtown Chicago), so every Wednesday afternoon, for  20 weeks, I go downstairs and pick up a beautiful box of whatever they harvested that week.  It is SO MUCH FUN!  For a food person, it’s like Christmas every week!

But farming’s not easy, and Bob & Jenn need help.  So they are doing a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for cold storage and a new loading dock.  Kickstarter is a very cool site that was started in 2009 to help musicians raise small amounts of money to fund projects.  And it’s grown into a crowd-sourced financing platform for all sorts of small businesses.  The goal needs to be reached before any money changes hands.  Anyone can go to their page and donate any amount – even $10 helps.  And you can choose your thank-you gift, too – seed packets, cool t-shirts or hats and other stuff, depending upon size of your pledge.  They are trying to raise $25, 865.

So I’m asking you, my food friends, to consider helping them out.  And if you’re in the Chicago area, consider joining their CSA.  And if you don’t want to commit to a whole 20-week stint, they even do a 10-week share for only $375.  A full share is enough food for at least two people.

My Harvest Moon haul from a box this winter.

There are lots of delivery points downtown and in the suburbs:

  • Northwest Suburbs (Palatine area)
  • Lake Forest
  • Glenview

Chicago

  • South Loop/UIC
  • Downtown Loop
  • Wicker Park
  • West Town
  • Roscoe Village
  • Wrigleyville
  • Lincoln Square
  • Edgewater

So – I ask you to visit their Kickstarter campaign here – and to please share it with your own food friends and family.  Since I joined Harvest Moon’s CSA and met Bob & Jenn, my whole food life has changed.  Who knew I would love Chard so much?  Or bok choy?  Sure, sometimes you get something you might not care for – give it to a co-worker, a neighbor or a friend.  Or can’t eat it or cook it all? Share it!  It’s what a CSA’s all about – you share ownership of the farm, with the farmers, and you can also share your food with others if you want to or need to..

Thanks for reading this – and thanks for any community sharing you can do!


For a couple of years now I’ve been part of an awesome cooking club called The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pans (uh huh).  We get together every couple of months at one of our homes to cook, eat, drink and talk food, food, food.  It’s so much fun to hang out with a bunch of fun and funny foodie friends and talk about almost nothing except food.  Whether it’s a restaurant, an ingredient, a new food shop, killer recipe, food show, food book, chef news, or a recent food flop or obsession, the nights are always fun and delicious. We usually have a theme or a goal – it might be ethnic or it might be something like “Chicago Neighborhoods” or it might revolve around a key food group, like vegetables.   On March 11, our theme was “Unusual and Surprising.”  So it could be a mix of unusual flavors or ingredients or an unusual use of an ingredient.  And the Sisters did not disappoint!  So I share with you what was brought to the table – because it was truly extraordinary!

We met at Tina’s and sat in her cozy kitchen, nibbling on – get this – roasted cauliflower and dark-chocolate “jam” that she made with 85% dark chocolate and agar, a seaweed-based thickening agent.  And while cauliflower and chocolate might make you go, “What the hell? GROSS!” do not be so hasty in your judgment, my friends.  It was good!  Really good!

And how ’bout this: roasted radishes!  I’d read a lot lately about sauteing or roasting radishes, so I was super-excited to try them – and they are amazing!

The roasting takes away any bitter flavor the radishes might have and makes them tender and flavorful.  All Tina did was pre-heat a sheet pan in a hot oven (about 400 degrees) and toss the trimmed radishes in olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  When they hit the hot pan, they get an instant sear and she cooked them for about 20 minutes, tossing once to get a sear on more than one side.  She let them cool and served them at room temperature and we popped them in like candy!  And she also had a divine cocktail!

This is basically a gin and tonic, with a generous splash of Champagne and a loquat (and a little bit of the juice from the loquats).  What’s a loquat?  It’s a Chinese fruit – kind of a hybrid of a lychee and an apricot.   Fabulous!  Beautiful!  Bubbly!  But wait, there’s more!  How about Pringles potato chips topped with Brie cream (she mixed the Brie with a bit of the agar to thicken it and piped it onto the chips and dressed up with a bit of vanilla oil – just olive oil infused with a vanilla bean – and a sprinkle of ground coffee)?  Uh huh.  Subtle, salty, creamy and delicious.

So, cocktailed and hors d’oeuvre’d, we were ready for the main course.  Emily made roasted rabbit (yes! rabbit!) stuffed with prosciutto, salami, fennel, and sorry, sorry other things that I cannot remember, and while it did indeed look just like a bunny rabbit, that didn’t stop us from devouring it.  I can’t lie – it tastes a little like chicken – it’s a white meat – it was delicious!  And Sue made a phenomenal sumac bread salad (sumac is an herb that has a slight lemony tang – it’s delish) with roasted chicken, roasted onions, cucumber, tomatoes, some salad greens, just tossed together – no additional oil or vinegar – it was so good!

And then it was on to dessert!  Amy made luscious stout ice cream (stout being a rich beer) and I made Snow Pudding (search this blog for the recipe), which is a light and fluffy situation involved gelatin infused with lemon zest and juice and then you add two egg whites and whip the hell out of it in a stand mixer, to be topped with a dollop of vanilla creme anglaise).

And so another evening with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pans ended with a sweet sigh and so many good bites and good laughs.  It’s so much fun to have a group of friends who are so passionate about food (and wine – we enjoyed two fantastic bottles of Shiraz with the entrees).  I’d love to know if you have your own group of friends who get together to share food, fun, recipes and food talk!  Leave a comment and let me know!  Until April 29, Sisters!


First of all, let me say that if my mom is reading this, and I’m sure she is (Hi, Mom), she is one of many who think I am certifiably crazy as a mad bat, for having done this, but I did it.  I ate at Next last Wednesday, Feb. 22, succumbing to the undeniable and almost out-of-control allure of the El Bulli menu.  Yes, it was expensive.  Crazy-expensive.  Hundreds and hundreds of dollars.  But it was hands-down the most amazing food experience I’ve ever had.  The creativity, the imagination, the “think outside the plate” concepts absolutely blew me away. I sum it up in four words: inspiring, magical, fun and absolutely delicious.  Also, a little drunken.

If you’re not familiar with Next, visit their Facebook page.  The entire menu changes every few months, and the current menu, which started in early February, is an homage to the famous El Bulli, in Roses, Spain, where chef Ferran Adria broke barriers like no one else.  El Bulli closed in July 2010, so Chef Grant Achatz and Chef Dave Berans of Next decided to recreate the experience, Next-style.   Along with the amazingly crafted food and the wine pairings, I have to say the staff at Next is simply amazing.  The atmosphere is fun, the servers look like they are really enjoying bringing this experience to diners and they know everything about every dish, every wine — they’re amazing.  And nice as can be!

Now, I’m not a football fan, a Hollywood actress or a politician, but this was like the Super Bowl, The Academy Awards and the presidential elections of dining all rolled into one amazing 5 and 1/2 hour evening.  Behold the “Carrot Air:”

Yes, it looks like a brilliant orange bubble bath – but it was the purest, most intense carrot flavor EVER!  The combo of the light, airy foam and the flavor and the aroma was  just amazing.  Definitely in my top five dishes.  Of the 29 courses.  Yes, 29.  But some are just literally one bite, like these:

Clockwise from top left: trout roe tempura, a quail egg in a “toffee” shell, liquid chicken croquettes and El Bulli’s famous “spherical olive:” a molecular gastronomy first, with olive brine and oil magically (yes, magically!) transformed into a liquid-y slurp of briny olive goodness!

And how can you not love a black sesame sponge cake with miso?  “What?” you say? Yes – it’s sweet, it’s black, it’s shaggy-looking, it’s salty from the creamy miso and it looks like it was made by a Muppet chef.  And it was delicious.

OK, onward.  Here you have some of the more substantial courses.

From top left, clockwise: savory tomato ice on almond milk custard, cauliflower “cous cous” surrounded by a ring of ingredients that you mix together as a sauce (peanuts, Campari gelee, I don’t even know what all, but it was damn good), shrimp “bisque” (my description, not theirs) and get ready – because it sounds gross, but it was amazing– hot crab aspic with mini-corn cous cous. Deeelicious.

Okay, ready for more?  Here it comes…

From top left, clockwise: Trumpet mushroom carpaccio, Red Mullet “Gaudi” (a bite), Nasturium with eel, bone marrow and sweet cucumber.  Sigh.  That red mullet was served on a sheet of glass, which was placed onto a “place mat” that was a big bag full of hot water and sea shells.  Shut up.  So clever!

Okay, by now we had quite a few wine glasses on our table:

All told, I think there were about a dozen different wines, all of them fabulous.

And then there was the civet of rabbit with hot apple jelly:

And here was the one thing that I did not care for, since I am (inexplicably) a life-long blue-cheese hater.

This is the gorgonzola balloon.  A cold orb of (strong) Maytag blue cheese sprinkled with nutmeg.   I don’t know how they do it, but I don’t like it (and I did try it!)

And now for the finale!  Sweets!

Top left was the Mint Pond – a giant glass plate with another “plate” of ice perched on top.  They sprinkled on dried mint and two other things (sorry, I’d hate rather a lot of wine at this point) and then you smacked it with your spoon into shards.  And ate it!  Fun!  Then came tiny chocolate donuts, filled with liquified coconut, a chocolate plate with gold leaf, cafe Cortado with a tequila gelee you dropped into your cup and finally, a whimsical plate of gloves waving goodbye.  Under one was a dish of passionfruit marshmallows.  Sigh.

If you want to go to Next, my suggestion is to join their Facebook communty; they offer same-night and next-night tables and you have to act fast, but it can be done.  The way I went was through a new friend I met on the Facebook page last June, looking for two people to share her four-top for the Paris 1906 menu.  She needed to fill her table for this one, so we made it happen!  The El Bulli menu runs through May and will be followed by menus inspired by Kyoto and Sicily.  (The other menus are considerably less expensive than the El Bulli menu.)

Yes, it’s expensive and excessive in every way, but to a food-freak like me – and many others – it is a simply unforgettable experience.  I’m an official Next groupie at this point.


So I was eating up a recent issue of Fine Cooking magazine and I saw a recipe for Braised Leeks. I luuuuuuuv leeks – oniony, but mild, with a touch of savory sweetness.  And they’re so pretty!   Dark green tops fading down into light green and then white.  So I made it, and then I was like, “WAIT! This is just begging for a poached egg!”  If you know me, you know I’m all about tossing a poached egg on top of something and calling it dinner.  This recipe is SO EASY and SO DELICIOUS.   Look how yummy!

You’ve got the warm braised leeks that are both tender and a little chewy because of the slight char and caramelization, you’ve got a luscious poached egg with a golden yellow yolk and two cute little pieces of toasted baguette brushed with some of the olive oil-thyme mixture in which you braised the leeks.  It’s a perfectly satisfying light dinner.   And a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc or a California chardonnay makes it even better!   Want to make it?  Come on!  It’s so easy.

Braised Leeks with Poached Eggs

Ingredients:

4 big leeks, with the dark green part trimmed off (you could zip-bag and freeze them for making veg stock later, if you want – or chuck ’em; your choice)

1/4 C. extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbl white wine (any kind works, except for a sweet wine, like a Riesling, or white zin – which should be outlawed, but that’s another story)

1 Tbl water

A bunch of thyme sprigs, or dried thyme, whichever you have

Sea Salt

What You Do

Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit.

1) Slice the leeks lengthwise, in half, and trim off  the root end.  Rinse them under cold water, splaying the leaves a bit to make sure there’s no grit or sand (leeks can contain sandy grit – ick)

2) Put the leeks cut-side-down into a 9″ x 9″ baking pan. Nestle your little thyme sprigs in.   Mix the olive oil, wine and water in a little bowl or measuring cup and drizzle that all over the leeks.  Sprinkle the whole lot with a generous 1/2 tsp of sea salt.

3) Put a tight tin foil hat onto your pan and slide ‘er into the oven for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes, take the foil off, and braise for 15 more minutes.

4) Poach an egg (bring 4 inches of water to a bubbling simmer, not a crazy boil and slide in an egg; cook undisturbed for 2 and 1/2 minutes, ’til the white is set; use a slotted spoon to retrieve the egg and rest it on a paper towel for a minute so it’s not all wet.)  Slide that baby onto your leeks, season with salt (I luuv Maldon sea salt) and pepper and enjoy!  Add a couple toasted baguette slices rubbed with some of the olive oil and you’ve got a pretty nice dinner!


When my friend and farmer Bob Borchardt called a couple of weeks ago to tell me about the Harvest Moon CSA member party and chili cook-off, his first question was, “Do you want to cook or judge?”  I immediately said, “I wanna cook!”  And then I asked, “Wait – who else is cooking?”  That’s when I found out I’d be putting my bowl o’ red up against not only a number of passionate home cooks, but several top Chicago restaurant chefs.  Yipes.  Well, it was too late now.  I had to rise to the Red Challenge! 

My friend Tom, who also happens to be a farm owner, found out about the event and offered to bring me several pounds of fresh ground beef from his own farm.   Then I found two big jars of Harvest Moon’s own heirloom tomatoes in my cupboard.  I figured I could do this.  So I turned to my battered and splattered page from Nigella Lawson’s “Feast,” which is all scribbled with notes, tweaked the recipe just a bit, and whipped up a huge batch of chili.  And guess what?  I was the runner-up!   I about fell over with surprise!  First place went very deservedly to Chef Rick Gresh, of David Burke’s Primehouse (everybody was talking about his chili, rich with braised beef shoulder and toasted spices – that was some damn good chili.)  Here we are with farmer’s Jen and Bob Borchardt.

The judges included Chicago food photographer extraordinaire Grant Kessler, Chicago Foodies editor Josh Brusin and Families Farmed founder Jim Slama.  The judges judiciously tasted each chili and while they figured out the winners, everyone ate chili, drank some good Goose Island beer and even got to do some farmer’s market shopping from Harvest Moon.  And now that I’ve got one cook-off under my belt, I’m a little hooked! 

So I share with you my recipe, adapted from Nigella’s (love her).  It’s a little untraditional, in that it does not contain chili powder (which I’m really not wild about), and it does contain some warm spices like cardamom, coriander and cocoa powder!  Instead of chili powder, I used ground Turkish Aleppo Chili (available at the Spice House), and I even added some brewed coffee, which, I think, lent it a depth of flavor that brought out all those spices.   

I  hear there is a big football game this weekend, so maybe it’s the perfect time to try it!   Ready? Come on, I’ll show you how!

Warm Winter Chili – Serves up to 15 people (just halve the recipe to make a smaller batch, but it does freeze beautifully if you make a whole lot of it.)

Ingredients

3 large sweet onions, chopped

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 C. olive oil

3 red peppers, cored, seeded and chopped

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp ground cardamom

2 tsp ground Turkish Aleppo chili

2 Tbls cocoa powder (the unsweetened kind; I used Hershey’s)

2.5 pounds good-quality ground beef

6 C. canned, chopped tomatoes, with their juices

1/4 C. ketchup

1/4 C. tomato puree (I used the left-over tomato sauce from a recently used can of San Marzano tomatoes, which I’d frozen)

3/4 C. water

3 14-ounce cans of black beans (you could use kidney beans if you prefer); drained and rinsed (a colandar is handy for this)

1/4 C. brewed black coffee

What You Do

1) Chop your onions and garlic – and I recommend going straight to the Cuisinart for this to save time.  Toss in the garlic cloves while you’re at it.

2) Heat the olive oil in a BIG pot.  Big.  Saute the onions and garlic for about 15 minutes, until they’re almost caramelized. 

3) Add the Turkish Aleppo chili, coriander, cardamom and cumin and stir it all about.  Cook for five more minutes while you chop your red peppers (again, the Cuisinart does wonders here, with the thin slicing blade).

4) Add your chopped red peppers to the onion-garlic mixture.  Stir.  Confession: This is when I realized I was going to have to split the recipe between two large pots.  I just took half the veg and transferred it to a second pot, and split the ingredients between the two pots for the rest of the recipe.

5) Add the ground beef, breaking it up with your hands and two wooden spoons.  Brown the meat – yes, it’s a lot, all in one pot (see my confession above!), so just do the best you can.

6) Add the chopped tomatoes, the beans, ketchup, tomato puree and water, stirring carefully so you don’t slop it all over the stove and yourself and the floor.

7) Bring the whole lot to a boil, and sprinkle the cocoa powder in, stirring it in well.  Add the coffee and stir again.  Now, turn down the heat, and let the chili simmer, partially covered, for 90 minutes to 2 hours, over low heat, stirring every so often. 

And that’s it!  Serve right away, or let it cool down and refrigerate it and re-heat it the following day.  I actually find chili improves a day after you make it, as the flavors really develop with a little time.  I like to serve it with, yes, Jiffy corn bread, or corn or flour tortillas.  And yes, Fritos are also a divine accompaniment for chili!  You can also serve it with classic chili condiments, like sour cream and/or shredded cheese if you like. 

Enjoy!


So back in December (uh huh), OXO, one of my favorite brands of kitchen stuff, sent me two really cute Cookies for Kids cookie spatulas – one for me, and one to give away for holiday baking.  Now, the cool thing here is OXO’s Cookies for Kids Cancer program.  They ran a national bake sale campaign to raise money to help support research for new therapies for kids cancer – and I thought it was great, because cookies, bake sales and kids – they all go together!   And now it is January, and while I’ve already confessed to them that I missed their Dec. 31 deadline for holding bake sales, they said I could still give away the spatula and you can still buy it at Bed, Bath & Beyond, too (although I think you have to go a store; I didn’t see it online).  Hurray!

And then I saw my friend Ellise’s recipe for Flat & Bumpy Chocolate Chip Cookies on her blog, Cowgirl Chef, and I finally found time to make cookies, et voila,  the Oxo “Be a Good Cookie” spatula give-away is finally happening!  Hurray again!

So instead of sharing my own recipe, I’m sharing my friend Ellise’s from Cowgirl Chef  from Jan. 15.  Look how yummy they look!

These cookies are easy to make.  Ellise (who has a cookbook coming out in May chronicling her adventures of moving from Dallas to Paris and cooking her head off, adding a Texas twist to French recipes – more on that as May approaches) uses  chopped chocolate; I used chocolate chips (I did hack a knife through them just a bit to chop them, but not too much – I went a bit lazy on that).  And I used walnut chips (who knew you could buy so damn many sizes and types of walnuts?), and I liked them.   The cookies come out flat, bumpy, crispy, chewy and delicious.  I might have one for breakfast, since I got up at 5:45 this morning to write this (when inspiration strikes…).

And here’s a tip: if you don’t need or want to make the entire batch, you can freeze the dough.  I just put cookie-size blobs of raw dough into zip-top freezer bags, and then whenever you want or need fresh, warm chocolate chip cookies – voila! – you can pop them into the oven, straight from the freezer.  Just add a couple of minutes to the bake time.  It’s like money in the bank, especially next time you have friends over.

To win this super cute (and functional) cookie spatula, comment on this post by Feb. 1 and I’ll pick a random winner and send them their spatula.  And Ellise’s Flat & Bumpy Chocolate Chip Cookies are a great recipe to give your spatula a test drive!

Let me know how your Flat & Bumpies come out.  And thanks to OXO for sharing Good Cookies spatulas and helping fund kids cancer research!


So I was devouring the February issue of Food & Wine magazine and I came across a recipe from Rick Bayless, one of my favorite Chicago chefs.  Having spent more than a dozen years living in Texas, I regularly have huge cravings for Mexican food – the spicier, the better!  So I said to myself, “Self, let’s make that!”  Off I marched to pick up a pork shoulder and assorted other ingredients and I got to work.  I have to share this with you because it’s just so damn good!  And it makes a lot, so if you have a small household, like me, you can share it with your neighbors and you can also eat it for a week, because it’s so versatile, and you can also freeze some of it for later enjoyment.  It’s basically a spicy, Mexican-style pork stew that you can eat in or on tortillas.   Look how yummy!

Ready?  Ondole!

INGREDIENTS

1 1/4 pound of pork shoulder, cut into stew-sized cubes (about an inch or two in size)

1/4 tsp dried marjoram

1/4 tsp dried thyme

3 bay leaves

3/4 pound red potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (I used russets; it’s what I had, and they worked fine)

2 Tbl vegetable oil

1 fresh chorizo sausage (the Mexican kind; not the Spanish kind. Mexican chorizo is like a bratwurst or Italian-style sausage; Spanish is the hard, cured kind you can eat sliced up)

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced up

One 28-ounce can of peeled Italian tomatoes, smushed up and drained

2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, minced, and 2-4 tsp of the adobo sauce, depending how spicy you want it

Salt and sugar, to season (yes, a pinch of sugar!)

WHAT YOU DO

1) First you ask yourself why you didn’t buy pork shoulder already cut up (sheesh!) and you get your sharpest knife out, along with a big box of caution, and butcher that pork shoulder!

Yes, I plowed through this 3 1/2 pound bad boy and wound up with a little more than 1 1/4 pound of chunks.  Hurray!

2) In a large saucepan, simmer (uh huh) the pork, marjoram, thyme and bay leaves in 4 cups of salted water (I put in 2 Tbl of salt), partially covered, about 45 minutes (the meat should be tender).  I tossed the bone in, too, because Ifigured it would add flavor (I chucked it after I fished the meat out).  Now, the meat is going to look all gray and not that pretty (hence no photo),and that is ok.  After 45 minutes, use a slotted spoon to put the meat onto a dinner plate. RESERVE 2 CUPS OF THE PORK BROTH!!  Do not chuck it!  Let the meat cool for about 10 minutes, and then cut it or tear with your hands if you’re feeling primal, into smaller bits (the size that would work in a taco or burrito type of situation). 

3) Cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling, salted water, for about 8 or minutes (drop the spuds in once the water comes to a boil).  Drain the potatoes and just let ’em sit for a bit in the colander.  (Chuck the potato water.)

4) Now: get a large, high-sided skillet out.  Heat the veg oil over medium heat.  Take the casing off the chorizo (yes, it’s a yucky job, but you just gotta do it), and crumble it into the pan.  Cook the chorizo until it’s really well-browned — about 10 minutes over medium heat.  Put that on a plate (you can put it on same plate the pork is living on).

5) Keep the yummy chorizo fat that is in the skillet and add the pork and onions to it.  Cook about 10 minutes and stir it about, browning it as much as you can (given the size of the skillet and amount of meat and onions).  Now add the minced garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the tomatoes (I just smush ’em up with my hands, from the can, and leave the sauce; you can freeze that tomato sauce, tho, and use it for something else down the road.)  Add the chorizo.  Cook for 5 minutes.  Add the spuds, the chopped-up chipotle and the adobo sauce.  I used 2-3 tsps and that was plenty hot for me.  TASTE AS YOU GO, so you get the right amount of heat.  Add 1 1/2 cups or a little more pork broth.

6) Let the whole lot simmer uncovered (or sans sombrero, as I like to say!) for at least 10 minutes.  Taste it.  Add some salt.  And a pinch of sugar!  Maybe a 1/4 tsp , max.  This is Rick Bayless brilliance, as it lets everything really sing, flavor-wise. 

EAT!  You can pile this into a flour tortilla (I found low-carb ones, just to experiment, because my ass does not need any more carbs, and you know what?  They’re good.)  But you can also use corn tortillas.  Or you could eat this with rice.  Or beans.   It’s so versatile!  Rick suggests some very thinly sliced red onion, sliced avocado and crumbled queso fresco (a Mexican-style farmer’s cheese – a cow’s milk cheese that’s kind of the texture of feta; salty and delicious). 

And for your beverage enjoyment, may I suggest a nice, fruity rich shiraz — or a nice, cold beer would do as well!  Enjoy!  And many thanks to Chef Rick Bayless for the delicious inspiration!


You know how when you watch “Next Food Network Star” or “Master Chef,” they throw some crazy task at the contestants, like, “Make a souffle: your time starts NOW!”?   Well, to kick off the new year, I’ve decided to learn how to make all the elusive dishes that I know I’ll be faced with when I make it onto one of those shows.  That’s right: I’m going to apply.  On my list of “never made this:” fried chicken, lobster (kill & cook), duck, meringue, ribs, a fancy potato dish, a roast.  And souffle.

So yesterday, I dropped $20 on a pound of fancy cave-aged Gruyere.  Yep, a pound.  And I came home and promptly turned to page 151 of Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table – hands-down my favorite cookbook for all things French.  Yes, I read the recipe TWICE before I dove in.  But somehow I had programmed “a pound of cheese” into my brain – when it is really a half pound.  Sigh.  So – my first attempt was just that – a first attempt.  It wasn’t a disaster, per se.  But it wasn’t a howling success either.  So now I know – and you can bet I won’t make that mistake again (I’ll make some other mistake, probably!) 

I’m going to share some pictures with you – notably of the finished thing – so we can all compare it with my next attempt, alright?  Here she is:

It’s maybe is a little too brown, and it didn’t really rise enough – because of the weight of all that damn cheese.  And here was my other mistake: I set the timer for 40 minutes … and then FORGOT TO PRESS START!  Argh!  So I had to guess when 25 – 30 minutes had elapsed because Dorie says, “do not even think of opening that oven door for at least 25 minutes!”  Jeez. Really? Yes, really.  So when I took it out – at what I thought was 40 minutes — it wasn’t cooked through.  All that stupid cheese had really mucked up the works.  So I popped her back into the oven for another 10 minutes, with a sheet of foil on her head to keep her from getting even more brown, and she cooked through.  She was just too cheesy, though.  I ate some of it.  And it was … good.  But not great.

Alright, if you want to try this yourself, let me know how yours comes out.  And by all means, go to Amazon and get Dorie’s book if you love to cook French food.  Her recipes and directions (when you pay attention to them!) are the best.  Here’s what you need:

INGREDIENTS

fine dry bread crumbs

2 1/2 cups whole milk

3 Tbl unsalted butter

6 Tbl all-purpose flour

salt and freshly ground white pepper (couldn’t find mine; used black pepper; same flavor, but more visible)

freshly grated nutmeg (I’m not a nutmeg fan; I used a pinch of Turkish Alleppo pepper)

6 large eggs, separated

8 ounces of grated cheese (I used Gruyere, but Dorie says you can use Swiss or Emmenthal, too)

DIRECTIONS

1) Position a rack in the lower 1/3 of your oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.  Get a 6-7 cup souffle dish and coat it thickly with butter, and then dump in some bread crumbs and shake / roll the pan to get the crumbs to stick to the butter all over, like this:

2) Time to make the bechamel sauce! Get two medium  sauce pans out.  In one, boil the milk, and set that aside.  In the other, melt the 3 Tbls of butter and add the flour and cook, stirring, for at least two minutes, over medium heat, to make a roux (a thickening thing).  Slowly pour the hot milk into your roux and whisk, whisk, whisk over medium heat, for about 8 or 10 minutes, until it’s really thick (as Dorie says, “the whisk should leave tracks”).  It might be a little lumpy (mine was) – and that’s okay.  Because then Dorie has you pour the thick bechamel through a fine-mesh sieve, into a big bowl, to get rid of the lumps – brilliant!  Before you sieve it, season it with salt, pepper and nutmeg (or Alleppo pepper).  Taste it to make sure it tastes like something besides just plain cream sauce.

3) Egg time!  Okay – let that bechamel cool off a bit (10 minutes) while you separate your eggs.  Put yolks in one bowl; whites in another (clean, dry glass bowls are best here).

You can also grate your cheese now – the 8 ounces.  I used the Cuisinart, for this (so easy).  When the bechamel’s cooled off a bit, whisk the egg yolks into it, one at a time.  Then stir in the grated cheese.  Let that sit while you attend to your egg whites.

4) Put the egg whites into a clean mixing bowl (I used my Kitchenaid stand mixer, with the whisk attachment).  Beat those suckers at pretty high speed for maybe 3-4 minutes til they hold beautiful, shiny peaks, like this:

5) The Home Stretch!  Take 1/4th of the egg whites and gently fold, using a rubber spatula, into your cheesy bechamel.  Then gently fold in the rest — do not manhandle your batter here — be gentle.  Dorie says it’s better to have a few streaks of unincorporated egg white than to over-stir here.  You want this whole situation to be light and airy. 

6) Now – gently pour the batter into your prepared souffle dish.  Put the dish on a parchment- or silicone mat-covered  baking sheet and slide ‘er into the oven.  SET A TIMER AND PRESS START!  40 to 50 minutes.  You can peak in the oven window, but don’t you dare open that oven door for at least 25 minutes.  If it’s browning too quickly, you can open the door at 25 minutes or later, and slide a sheet of foil onto the top.

7) Remove when it’s golden brown, and still a little jiggly in the center.  Ooh and ahh over it a bit.  Soak up the praise from your guests.  Take photos.  And then serve immediately!   If mine had turned out better, I would’ve eaten it for dinner, with a side salad of arugula, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice – and a nice glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc.  Next time!

Bon chance, and merci to Dorie for the constant inspiration!