Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I was kept from my blogging duties because of a business excursion to New York. While I had originally planned to post a delicious find from my trip, I became terrified of all-things-food, due to a nasty bout of food poisoning the night before my return (which was further delayed by a snowstorm). Instead of fond memories of sushi in the East Village and soup in the Park, the entire trip is clouded by one dreadful night of heaving between episodes of When Animals Attack, my face pressed to the hotel room’s bathroom floor. Lesson learned: poached eggs on the island of Manhattan are to be avoided.

With poorly days behind me, I turn this week’s focus to upcoming festivities of the Irish-persuasion. I’m not a huge celebrator of St. Patrick’s Day, as it generally is the first occasion for novice drinkers to shed their Bud-Lite training wheels and spend the morning vomiting Irish car bombs in the street. But as a resident of a city that goes to the lengths of dying its river green, I am compelled to pay a morsel of tribute. Plus the recipe is simple and delicious.

True, traditional Irish Soda Bread limits ingredients to flour, baking soda, buttermilk and salt. The 19th century innovation of adding baking soda to bread had two major advantages: it did not require kneading—the less you mess with it, the better the texture—and it did not require an oven. You could pour it into your cast-iron pot and set it directly on the coals before going out to lie between sheep and watch leprechauns jump from the Cliffs of Mohr.

This version includes the luxuries of butter, egg, raisins and caraway seeds, which were added by bastardly immigrants upon arriving to America, but make the bread taste just plain delicious. If you’ve never made bread before, this is a good starting point as it involves mixing a few things and tossing them in the oven.

Happy Boozing!

Irish-American Soda Bread

  • 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups raisins
  • 2 tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (more % fat=more % delicious)
  • 3 tbs cider vinegar (this is in lieu of having buttermilk on hand, which normal people never do)
  • 1 large egg

Set the oven to 350ºF

Butter a 10-12 inch skillet (if you have it, cast iron improves the aesthetic) or a deep, round cake pan. Whisk first five ingredients, then rub in the butter (it won’t be dough at this point, just crumbly.) Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Separate from the flour mix, whisk milk, vinegar, and egg, then incorporate into dough.

Pour dough into skillet, then make a large x over the top with a floured knife (this will help the interior to cook evenly). Bake 1hr15 to 90 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cool a few minutes, use a knife to loosen the sides, and transfer to a cooling rack.

Enjoy with butter and wash down with whiskey.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

I'm a bit embarrassed to post desserts two weeks in a row, having professed no serious interest in this category of food. However, when you have promised snacks to a class of feisty improv-ers as a salute to a session well played, cookies and their relatives are the only things that pack up nicely and behave.

Bored of chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin which, if I had made them would have been nothing more than the back of the package, I wanted something more fun and whimsical. A friend recently made Snickerdoodles and I’ve been thinking of them ever since. All I could remember was their role in a period of my childhood when I ate nothing without cinnamon and sugar. At home we had a separate shaker to host these two fine ingredients. Toast was the most common vehicle for enjoyment, but as a seven-year-old I extended the privalege to waffles, untoasted bread (sugar sandwich), and my favorite, a buttered flour tortilla (Mexican sugar sandwich).

This may be a suitable choice when the only thing greater in the world is mixing shampoo bottles in the bath and wearing socks with lace on them, but I like to think my taste and sensibility has matured since that time and I must therefore, confine cinnamon and sugar to the limited scope of the cookie. The Joy of Cooking claims the name “Snickerdoodle” came from a mispronunciation of the German word Schneckennudeln, meaning snail noodles, (does anyone else get an image of a lederhosen-clad Fraulein baking Schneckennudeln in her Bavarian Küche?) German or not these are the finest of all sugar cookies, lightly spiced and doughy with a slightly crunchy exterior.

I accompanied the Snickerdoodles with Coco Choco Clusters to offer the other end of the spectrum in portable desserts. The recipe comes from 101cookbooks, one of my favorite food blogs and is an inviting resource for vegetarians and vegans. The clusters are an absolute cinch with only two necessary ingredients (coconut and chocolate) but a few others that make them delicious (like salt sprinkled on top).

SNICKERDOODLES (makes 18-20)

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • generous pinch salt
  • generous pinch cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract


(For the sugar coating)

  • 2 tbs sugar
  • generous pinch of cinnamon

Combine dry ingredients, set aside. Cream butter and sugar, once fluffy add egg and vanilla, beat until well mixed. Slowly add dry ingredients until combined. After the dough comes together let it “rest” in the fridge for 45-60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

Remove dough from fridge and form balls of about 1 tbs of dough. Roll the balls in the cinnamon/sugar mix and place on baking sheet. Give each ball of dough a bit of a squish to flatten. Bake 10-12 minutes until slightly cracked, then transfer to cooling rack.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Peanut Butter Brownies

This weekend I failed to buy the necessary ingredients for the beet risotto I had aspired to replicate from a recent restaurant trip but was itching nevertheless, to muck about in the kitchen.

Stress, listlessness, anxiety, despair, boredom: all treatable with idle time spent amongst ingredients. I find that when other areas of life are less than superb, happiness and passion are only a chop, boil, julienne, sauté or roast away.

Fresh out of delicious cooking ingredients, and devoid of any will to propel me out the door to buy these things, I was left with sad, rejected baking accoutrement and a sprawl of free time. No doubt, the next few hours were more messy experimentation than tidy or gourmet.

But the afternoon produced varying results, some tasty and others questionable, with these chocolate peanut butter brownies taking center stage. Intensely chocolatey but without any cakiness, the peanut butter frosting draws them away from a “death by chocolate” situation to a more well-rounded treat.

I suppose when a cold Hop Devil and a sun drenched patio are not available, the next best combination– chocolate and peanut butter– can offer a suitable substitute.

Yields 9-12.


  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate (baker’s), coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • pinch salt


  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (needs to be full of junky preservatives, like Skippy)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

OR 3/4 cup Nutella

Preheat oven to 350.

Drag out that muffin tin you used last week for baked eggs and lightly spray the muffin cups (12 unless you’re a batter freak in which case, I only made 9). If you’re lacking a handy bottle of “Pam” you can also butter and lightly flour the cups, OR just use paper cupcake liners. In a double boiler (just a glass bowl on top of a saucepan of simmering water– heating the chocolate directly usually burns it,) melt the chocolates and butter gently. Once combined, set aside to cool.

Beat sugar, eggs, and vanilla with a mixer on high for a few minutes until slightly thickened. Slowly mix in flour and once combined, fold in chocolate. Fill muffin cups with about 2 tbs. batter each, until halfway filled. Bake brownies 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick, inserted, comes out clean. Let cool for a few minutes, then gently (avoid a fork) lift brownies out of pan.

While the brownies are baking blend your frosting ingredients together until smooth (or just whip out that jar of nutella). After they have cooled, simply frost the brownies and refrigerate until set (about 20 minutes). If you’re going for fancy, decorate with nuts and a sprinkle of powdered sugar

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fancy Baked Eggs


Breakfast. Such a lovely, comforting word. A hearty and satisfying conclusion to the night’s hungry tired hours. The promise of energy, and the first sensory indulgence of the day.

People’s breakfast habits tend to say a lot about them. Skipping the meal altogether could, I suppose, simply express a lack of appetite, or the incapacitation of fatigue, or some sort of ill-advised determination to cut calories. The morning person is more invested, with their protein juice smoothies to-go, or egg white omelets (get a job!), or my favorite, the yogurt-berry-granola concoction that so very much pins one into the corner of athleticism and general health consciousness. I, however, am a pillager of all things leftover. I have little interest in sweets, having retired pancakes with whipped cream to the basement of my elapsed youth next to jelly sandals and Fraggle Rock.

Hailed as “the leftover goblin” by someone who has seen my morning antics first-hand, I hanker for the Thai food from last night, maybe spaghetti or chicken cacciatore or, dare I admit it, that spinach dip from last weekend. Protein and a bit of grease, already assembled and begging to be consumed instead of wasted. This is what I can muster after coffee-making strips me of the only energy available on a Tuesday morning. That is, until the weekend.

Saturday morning arrives and I make an about-face, putting forth the effort to get up at a reasonable hour and hit the cutting board with Nina Simone at my side. The result of these mornings is always in egg form. Poached, scrambled, fried, benedicted, omeletted, boiled, or my new favorite—baked—there is no finer food.

Unwhisked baked eggs are similar in consistency to fried eggs, and can be cooked to different degrees of runniness. Particularly practical if you are serving a group, they are all finished cooking at once and retain heat, as they are contained. Ramekins make easy work of baking eggs, but I was turned on to an edible cup and then created a baked egg all-in-one breakfast with potatoes and red pepper. Sliced ham served as the cup of choice but I’ve also seen suggestions of tortilla and pita bread.

To the recipe…

Figure two cups per serving

  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 or 4 new or red potatoes, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbs. sour cream
  • fresh tarragon or chives
  • 8 thin slices of ham
  • 8 eggs

Preheat oven to 400F degrees

Heat oil in a pan and sauté shallots, pepper and potato until cooked through, 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in salt and pepper, sour cream, and 1 tbs fresh chopped herbs.

Lightly oil 8 cups of a full size muffin tin, and fit one slice of ham into the mold. Divide potato-pepper mixture into ham cups, then crack a single egg on top of each cup. Bake 12-15 minutes until egg whites have become opaque but yolk is still runny. Remove gently with two spoons, garnish with fresh herbs, season and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

CSA: Community Supported Agriculture


Last week I came home absolutely giddy because I had finally taken the plunge and signed onto the CSA program. Perplexed by my announcement, my boyfriend thought I was admitting to be a secessionist. Not quite. In the 21st century “CSA” more commonly refers to Community Supported Agriculture, and can basically be described as a network that connects consumers (of food) with the local farming community (take that Jefferson Davis!)

The way most CSA programs work involves “shareholders” or “subscribers” buying into a crop before the growing season begins. In return for the investment, consumers are supplied with a share of fruit and vegetables that the farm produces, which is chosen by the farmers based on which crops have ripened. Depending on the farm, they often deliver to neighborhood businesses, institutions, or even established subscribers’ homes. Shares of different sizes and intervals are available. For instance, from the church two blocks from my apartment, I will be receiving a share every other week, (as I only need enough for two people), over a 20-week span. Usually the growing season begins in June and lasts through September, sometimes with extensions into Fall and Winter. CSA involves more than produce farmers, but also meat and poultry, eggs and cheese, even nuts and flowers.

The value of establishing grower/consumer relationships through networks like CSA is enormous and beneficial to both parties. You can know exactly what you are eating, where it is from, and the conditions in which it was grown. Local food tastes better as it is more fresh and seasonable, with no need for long-term storage and over-packaging. Pollution is reduced by food traveling minimal distances, and farmland remains farmland, resisting needless urban and suburban sprawl. A step up from frequenting farmers’ markets, the grower is paid in advance, and energy is focused on food over fundraising.

I wanted to sign up last year but did not think I could afford it and was wary of moving apartments and being without a kitchen. So this is the year when I can test all the good things I’ve read—the only complaint I’ve come across is that there are too many vegetables, and you have to get creative cooking things you may not know about.

One of the struggles I never foresaw about urban living is the loss I often feel in not being a part of a tight-knit community. Growing up my world was small, as I’m sure it was for everyone, but it always felt like the people around me were there for a reason, that we all shared something much greater than proximity. I didn’t know what an advantage I had being raised within walking distance of Fairview Gardens, which remains today one of the finest small-scale urban food sites. Knowing now that my summer meals will be based on fresh food that came from southern Wisconsin and benefited a wonderful and underappreciated part of the community, for me, will be the best damn part of the summer

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama Bison Burgers

Overwhelmed by information and updates from the inauguration yesterday, I decided to turn my attention to dinner preparations as an outlet, a way to channel the media-frenzied energy that was beginning to make me feel listless and patriotically chaffed. Off my mind wandered to thoughts of Red, White and Barry Parfaits or a Barry Obama Pie, or perhaps an Onion Obama Frittata. It was about seven seconds later I realized that all of these possibilities were down-right obnoxious, crossing the line to overkill, and that I needed to regroup and plant my feet on solid ground.

Something simple, hearty, with just a dash of national pride was required. I recalled seeing a recipe for bison in a food magazine recently and thought there could be nothing better suited than burgers for a celebration of our 44th President. Having recently read about the benefits of bison in lieu of beef, it was a topic I felt compelled to research more thoroughly.

The nutritional benefits make a strong case for integrating bison, or American Buffalo (even though it isn’t technically buffalo), into your diet. Whereas beef cattle are often injected with hormones and drugs, and are subjected to over-handling, bison deliver quality meat with no intervention. It is substantially lower in fat and calories than lean beef, while providing more protein, iron and B-12 to your system. But if you, like the rest of us, are not into calorie-counting, the environmental impact of bison versus beef cattle may be more resonant.

While grass-fed beef is now widely available, cattle still require grain to supplement their diet, the cultivation of which eats up prairie land and emits enormous amounts of fossil fuels from crop processing machinery. Most of the environmental benefits of bison can be attributed to the fact that they are non-domesticated and therefore require as little human influence as possible. Prairies and grass pastures naturally provide a sustainable food source, simultaneously reducing soil erosion, and allowing other species a habitat in which to thrive.

There is a downside to bison (though it took me a while to uncover), which is that they are very temperamental and sometimes dangerous, which is exactly why indigenous populations never domesticated them. I came across a statistic that claimed you are about 4 times more likely to be injured or killed by bison than bears. Though, if you provoke a bison, which is the only reason they would attack, you deserve what’s coming to you.

In closing, bison are rad and look prehistoric so stop eating cows, you terrorists, and get your fix with the true American beast.

To the recipe!

  • a few glugs of olive oil
  • 2 onions (sweet or yellow), sliced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 pound ground bison (you can buy it at Whole Foods and it’s the same price as their ground beef)
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • large pinches of salt and pepper
  • a few splashes or Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • enough white cheddar (or provolone or pepperjack) for the burgers, and snacking while you prepare the burgers
  • Dijon or stone ground mustard
  • a few handfuls of whatever greens you have on hand (spinach, arugula, romaine)

Sauté onions with a bit of oil and salt over medium heat until golden brown, turning to prevent out-right burning, and lowering heat if necessary. Add the wine and reduce until the liquid is absorbed, set aside.

If you have one, fire up the broiler which will come in handy for bun toasting and thawing the interior of your kitchen. Combine the meat with the shallots, garlic, S&P and Worcestershire. I made four patties with the pound of meat, but they were a bit scrawny so three may be better. Heat a well-oiled skillet on high and cook until well-browned (about 2 minutes per side will be med-rare.)

Cover the bun-tops with cheese and broil both tops and bottoms for a few seconds until toasted (turning your back to the oven will inevitably turn them to charcoal briquettes, as I well know). For easy assembly, spread mustard on the bottoms, top that with greens, then the bison, and finally the cheesy bun-top.

(See Bon Appétit for a similar, yet less refined recipe.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lamb Kebobs for Winter Blues

Chicago is approaching 26-year record lows, and has already topped out its snow average for the year. Lining the streets are discarded papers that read “60 Hours Below Zero” and “Brace Yourself”. As a California transplant, hearing news like this can drive me into an unforgiving pit of despair. All of a sudden I’m pulling out my hair and smacking my forehead against the frosted-over train platform screaming expletives as I curse that fateful day I decided to move. These hopeless winter moments are further agitated by messages left from loved ones who are enjoying record highs with their barbecues and short-sleeves and stupid walks on the beach.

One must have an arsenal of tools and activities to combat the winter blues. My trenches are outfitted with new kitchen instruments, recipes, challenging ingredients, and many bottles of wine. A common defense on a January night takes the form of stew or roast, but like anything else, these too lose their appeal after weeks of repetition.

A fresh approach occurred to me that instead of concocting a warm dish, I could create a dish that originated in a warm place. Turning to inspiration from the Middle East and the frozen pound of ground lamb I had on hand, all the elements fell into place for spicy lamb kebabs. (this recipe is an adaptation from Jamie Oliver)

1 lbs. ground lamb (you can get neck or shoulder and have it ground by the butcher)
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground red pepper (chili)
1 large lemon (zest and juice)
pinch of salt and pepper
handful of shelled pistachios
1 red onion, peeled, half thinly sliced, half finely chopped
couple handfuls of romaine and/or arugula, shredded
small bunch of mint
small bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
4 large tortillas (flat bread or pita would be more authentic)
small container of Greek yogurt

Serves 4.

If you have access to a barbecue and the temperature isn’t 11 degrees, these kebabs would be ideal on the grill. That being said, when your lovely barbecue is piled with 6 inches of snow and frozen shut it is necessary to find alternative means. A griddle pan or a good old large sauté on the burner will do the trick.

Also if you are working with wooden skewers be sure to soak them for 30 minutes before use, or if you have neither, just work the lamb into little patties and cook through.

Combine the spices and lemon zest (hold the juice) and set aside a few pinches to dust the final wraps. In a food processor or with sufficient elbow grease combine the lamb, spices and zest, large pinches of salt and pepper, pistachios, and the chopped onion until well mixed.

Divide the meat into fourths, and mold each piece around a skewer, like corn-on-the-cob, maintaining an equal thickness (no thicker than two inches) so the meat cooks evenly. Set aside.

Mix the lettuces, parsley and mint leaves with the sliced red onions, and squeeze the juice of one lemon to cover. Toss these with salt and pepper, and set aside as the acid will slightly pickle the onion taking the bite out of them.

Get the barbecue or pan hot and cook your skewers about two minutes on each side until golden brown all over (cut through to make sure they are evenly cooked). While the lamb is cooking, warm or toast the tortillas. Dress the tortilla with salad leaves, break pieces of lamb off the skewers, dollop with yogurt, sprinkle on the reserved spice mixture and enjoy!
(And tell Clarice the lambs stopped crying.)

I didn’t have my camera on hand while cooking, so this is taken from my lunch left-overs today (not a great photo but tasted delicious.)