Thursday, August 24, 2006

Keeping a Promise

A month or so after I quit my job, I noticed a new store that had opened in the neighborhood as I was walking home from the knitting shop--an artisanal bread and cheese shop. I didn't dare go in because I knew I would be tempted and had no business spending money on such luxuries as imported olive oil, gourmet cheese and freshly-made bread.

So I made myself a promise. As soon as I was working again and could afford it, I would buy something wonderful for myself there.

And I got the job and I started working about a month-and-a-half ago. And in all the stress and excitement of settling into a new office and learning the ropes, I completely forgot about my promise.

Until a couple of weeks ago when I was walking down the street and passed the shop. And remembered my promise to myself.

It's a beautiful little shop, called Pastorale. It's small and narrow and packed full of all kinds of goodies. There were several kinds of olive oil, traditional balsamic vinegar, lots of wonderful varieties of mustard, and an amazing array of wonderful cheeses, most of which I had never heard and through which I eagerly look forward to making my way.

And there was also lots of wine. I'm not much of an aficionado, but I might have to try a bottle or two of that as well.

I decided to start small. They had the same bread that I fell in love with at the Green Market, so I had to get a loaf. And to go with it I found a beautiful round of roasted garlic-infused goat cheese (that's the clove right there on the top), wrapped in grape leaves.

Isn't it beautiful? I'll be biting into it soon.

It's good to keep one's promises. I'm happy I was able to keep this one.

Monday, August 21, 2006

What's for Dinner?

I made a couple of things yesterday that I could take to to work for lunch, but I hadn't planned all that well, so I didn't really have anything I could use to make dinner. I half thought I would stop at the Big Apple on the way home from work and splurge on some pork or chicken, but I spent more at the grocery store yesterday than I had planned and I've almost used up my week's allotment of grocery money, so I decided to make do and scrounge around the kitchen.

I guess it's no surprise that I decided to make absorption pasta. I had one more jar of chicken stock in the freezer so I took it out and defrosted it. I already had the broccoli cooked up, but I didn't have protein. I looked to see what I had on my pantry shelves and my eyes were caught by a can of albacore tuna I've had hanging around for a while.

It may have been reading Kate's Tuna Casserole post over at the Accidental Hedonist that influenced my decision to go with the tuna. I used to make the ubiquitous casserole quite often when I was poor and Mac and Cheese was cheap. Over the years I refined my version, though. I never knew what to do with the cheese packet, so I started throwing that in along with everything else. It tasted good for what it was, but there are so many reasons why I will probably never ever make that again.

So it was a pleasant surprise when this came out tasting like a cleaner, healthier tuna casserole. I think it has to do with the way the pasta absorbs the stock--it's silky and creamy and somewhat reminscent of a cream sauce. It was very tasty.

But it was so much easier to make. I just sauteed some onions and garlic in olive oil for a few minutes, added a cup of pasta and stirred constantly for 2 minutes, then poured in about a cup of the chicken stock that I had heated up. I added some thyme and basil, lowered the heat, covered it and let it simmer for 10 minutes, then I threw in the broccoli and let it warm up for about 3 minutes. Next came the tuna, which I heated up for about a minute.

It made enough for 2 servings. Dinner tomorrow, too.

And I have some drumsticks thawing in the fridge. Time to make more chicken stock, and I can use the meat for dinner Wednesday night.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Progress is Progress

So I wrote one more post this week than last. That's ok, I'll take it. I did take my lunch to work every day and I'm sticking to my budget so far.

Here's what I took for lunch last week:

Monday -- Pinto beans and rice, Fuji apple and red grapes.
Tuesday -- Pinto beans and rice, Fuji apple, red grapes.
Wednesday --
Senegalese lemon chicken and brown rice (did I forgot to point you to this post I wrote this past Friday for Fitfare for this recipe? It's really really good and I'm going to make it lots), summer squash, apple, red grapes.
Thursday -- Turkish Eggplant and Tofu Curry, summer squash, and red grapes.
Friday -- Pinto beans, summer squash, Fuji apple, and red grapes.

I'm eating lots of red grapes because they're in season right now and it does't last long. They're really good with oatmeal in the morning instead of raisins and they're super sweet right now.

Here's the patty-pan summer squash I had for lunch almost every day. I just steamed them and ate them plain. They were much bigger than I usually get, but they were full of flavor.

I just got back from the grocery store with lots of goodies. I didn't go to the Green Market yesterday because the Air and Water Show is in town and I didn't want to fight the crowds around Lincoln Park.

Later today I'm going to make a Mediterranean Lentil and Couscous Salad to write up for Fitfare next weekend. Then I'm going to cook up some green beans and broccoli with basil to take for lunch.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Different Kind of Turkish Delight

These little gems are called Turkish Eggplant--a variety I had never seen before this Saturday when I ran across them at the Green Market. They're almost psychedelic they're so bright. I saw them and I just had to bring them home.

And the serrano peppers are just a few of what I have left after using eight of them to make some salsa. I put one in some pinto beans I made Sunday but I have to find something to do with the rest of them.

Putting one into some Turkish Eggplant Curry seemed like a good idea. Ever since I used the Madras Tamarind curry powder last week I've been thinking about how I can use it again, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I also had some tofu that was getting too close to my comfort level to the use-by date, so I decided to add that. This time my little pictorial has a happy ending.

Cut an onion into quarters and slice the quarters. Heat oil in a large skillet and add the onions, followed by a serrano pepper chopped fine. Saute until the onions are soft and golden. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, until all of the pieces are soft. This means that some of the pieces will start to look like they're disintegrating. That's what you want to happen. There's nothing worse than eggplant that isn't cooked all the way through.

Add the curry powder and cook for one minute more, stirring constantly, to release the fragrance of the spices. Be careful not to burn the spices. Add the tomatoes and stir everything together really well to get all of the stuff up off the bottom of the skillet. Lower the heat, cover, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Throw in the tofu and let it simmer for another 10 minutes.

Serve over brown rice. And watch out--with the added serrano pepper, this is one super hot curry!

If my casual instructions aren't clear enough, here's the recipe:
Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Beans and Vegetables

Turkish Eggplant and Tofu Curry

2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 onion, quartered and sliced
1 serrano pepper, chopped fine
8-10 Turkish Orange eggplants, halved and sliced.
1 Tbsp Madras Tamarind curry powder
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 lb. extra-firm tofu with water pressed out, sliced into 1 x 1/2" pieces.

Heat oil in skillet. Add onion and pepper and saute, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and golden. Add eggplant and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add curry powder and cook for 1 minute until spice is fragrant. Add tomatoes, lower heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add tofu and simmer for another 10 minutes.Serve over brown rice.

Makes 6 servings.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Tasty Taco Treat

Thanks to Jessica at the Knitting shop, I have fallen in love with tortillas. And not just any tortillas, either. At the grocery store down the street they carry a package of 3 dozen corn tortillas--count 'em 3 dozen!--for just 89 cents. Yep, less than a dollar. And they're really good. Soft and moist--they're most excellent when they're heated up and filled with something good.

The microwave will do in a pinch, but it's even better to heat them in a cast iron skillet (a comal would be ideal, but how many people have a comal just lying around their kitchen?) and let them get just the teensiest bit crispy.

I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them when I bought them, but Jessica has been talking about them for a while and she just made them sound so good I wanted me some. And I almost always have some kind of beans around, so I figured I'd be able to eat them with beans.

A while ago I wrote a review of a Black Bean and Walnut Salad from the 12 Best Foods Cookbook by Dana Jacobi. Black beans, walnuts, parsley and basil are mixed with a red wine and Dijon mustard vinaigrette for a salad that's light, refreshing, and really brings out the nutty flavor of the beans.

And as it turns out, it makes a killer taco. Heat up two corn tortillas for each taco, put them together, fill them with the cold Black Bean and Walnut Salad, and you have a winning combination. I put a little cheddar cheese between the tortillas, mainly because I had it on hand and was looking for ways to use it. The sharpness of the cheese didn't really work that well with the black bean vinaigrette, but some brie or camambert would be awesome.

I realized I never posted the recipe for the Black Bean and Walnut Salad, so here it is. Try it, you'll definitely like it.
Black Bean and Walnut Salad


1/3 cup walnuts
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained
1 scallion, white and green parts, chopped
1 Small clove garlic, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 Large basil leaves, rolled and cut into thin strips (or 1 tsp dried)


4 Teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 Teaspoon Creole or Dijon mustard
1 Teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Toast the nuts in a shallow pan for 10 minutes, until they are fragrant, stirring 2 or 3 times. Set them aside. When they are cool, use your fingers to break them into small pieces. Place the nuts in a medium mixing bowl.

Add the beans, scallion, garlic, parsley, and basil to the nuts. Using a fork, toss to combine.

For the dressing, combine the vinegar, mustard, and salt in a small bowl. Season to taste with the pepper. Whisk in the oil. Pour the dressing over the bean mixture and stir with a fork to coat evenly. Let it sit 30 minutes before serving, to allow the flavors to meld. Check the seasoning and serve.

Makes 4 servings as a side dish, 2 as a main dish.

12 Best Foods Cookbook, by Dana Jacobi (Rodale, 2005)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

TSIR 5: Semi-Local Lamb-Apricot Stew (with very little spice, to speak of)

The Green Market is in full swing down in Lincoln Park these days, so it was a pleasure to wander around trying to decide what I was going to make for Barbara's next Spice Is Right event over at Tigers & Strawberries. The theme for August, recognizing the abundance of locally grown fruits and vegetables, especially here in North America, is to use a locally grown spice, and then if possible make a meal with as many other locally grown products as possible.

The irony here is that I found some absolutely beautiful serrano peppers yesterday that I bought to make some more salsa (local tomatoes, garlic and cilantro as well for that), but since I used that as my theme dish last month I wouldn't feel right using it again, and it wouldn't be any fun either.

Which left me excited but stumped. I've so been enjoying my exploration of Indian-themed dishes that I wanted to continue in that direction. And as soon as Barbara announced the theme, I decided I wanted to find a way to use lamb in some kind of curry or spicy dish. Every week I've been eyeing a stall run by Liberty Family Farm, LLC out of Hart, Michigan. That's the place that had the cool yarn Larry bought me for my birthday on my first trip of the season to the market. In addition to yarn, they have beef, lamb, poultry and eggs.

Lamb is my favorite meat. Most of my friends know that if lamb is on the menu, that's what I'm going to order. So I thought this would be a good reason to splurge and finally buy some. I had the idea that I might make some kind of lamb curry, but I was hard pressed to come up with a locally-grown spice I could use for it. I also didn't have time to look up any recipes for ideas, so I had no real plan when I woke up yesterday and headed down to Lincoln Park.

Luckily, they had a little lamb left. When I first decided to use lamb for this event, they had already sold out by the time I got there so I knew I had to get there earlier. They didn't really have anything that would work well for a curry, but I had my heart set on it, so I bought the last shoulder cut they had. I figured I could cut the meat off the bone, then make stock with the carcass.

The one-and-a-half-pound cut yielded maybe three-fourths of a pound. That was fine, though, because I didn't want to make too much, and I wanted the focus to be on the vegetables, with the lamb being present, but not the main ingredient.

The place right next to Liberty Family Farm had fresh herbs for sale. The minute I smelled the rosemary I knew I just had to buy it to use with the lamb. All thoughts of curry flew out the window, and I decided to make lamb stew instead.

I found some beautiful enormous shallots and gigantic sweet carrots at another stand. I still had some garlic and fingerling potatoes I bought there last week, and maybe the parsley I got at the herb stand was still good as well. My stew was definitely shaping up.

And then, as I was making my way out out of the market, I passed the fruit stand that has some glorious peaches and blueberries, where I had gotten the last of the cherries a few weeks ago. I stopped to check out the blueberries and noticed the blushing little golden gems sitting next to them.

It was the last apricots of the season, and they were perfect. And they were the perfect last ingredient I needed for my stew. So of course they came home with me.

I dredged the lamb in flour (non-local) and seared it in canola oil (also not local). The shallots, garlic, carrots and potatoes I added were all local. The roasted vegetable broth I then poured in was not, nor were the salt and pepper I seasoned it with, but the rosemary was. And the parsley and apricots I added in at the end came from the market. The whole wheat couscous I served it over were not local either, alas.

But all in all, I was quite pleased with the result.

Until I realized that, in all my excitement at putting together my semi-local lamb-apricot stew, I completely forget about finding and using a local spice in it. I got so excited with the rosemary that I forgot it was a herb, and not a spice, and I was so caught up in finding as much as I could at the green market that I forgot it was supposed to focus on the spice, and not just on the local.

So the only spices in this dish are salt and pepper, neither of which are local. But my heart was in the right place, so I hope Barbara will still accept my entry.

Lamb and Apricot Stew

After I made this I realized it would have been delicious with pistachio nuts added to the couscous. Next time . . .

2-3 Tbsp canola oil
3/4 lb. lamb stew meat, cut in 1/2" cubes
1 Tbsp flour
6-8 large cloves garlic, sliced
2 large shallots, coarsely chopped
4 large carrots, sliced 1/2" thick
3/4 lb. fingerling potatoes, sliced 1/2" thick
1 quart vegetable, chicken or lamb stock
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped, plus some for garnish
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
3/4 cup chopped flat parsley
1 pint apricots, quartered (slice 2 thinly for garnish), or 1 cup dried, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Dredge lamb in flour. Heat oil in large stock pot. Add lamb and sear until well-browned. Remove
to a plate. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 2
minutes. Add carrots and potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally,
approximately 5 minutes.

Add stock, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Lower heat
and simmer on low for about an hour and a half, or until meat is tender and stock has

Add apricots and parsley and cook for another 10 minutes.

Serve over whole wheat couscous, garnished with apricot slices and a spring of rosemary.

Servings: 4

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Six Days in One Post

This is some beautiful yu choy I bought last week at the Asian grocer that opened down the street. It's owned by the same people who own the restaurant the other direction down the street from me, which closed without warning the other day. I fear the grocer isn't long for the neighborhood, either. Which is too bad, because they have all kinds of interesting things I was just beginning to have the chance to explore.

I'm really bummed that I only wrote one post last week. I'm determined to do better from now on.

On the plus side, I took my lunch to work every day last week. Let's see if I can reconstruct what I took:

Monday -- Gemelli with Gailan, cherries, and some red grapes.
Tuesday -- 2 hard boiled eggs and some curried Japanese eggplant and yu choy. I used the Madras tamarind curry powder I got for my birthday and it was delicious. The spices tasted really fresh and it was pretty hot. I cooled it down with--surprise!--red grapes and cherries.
Wednesday -- Pretty much a repeat of Tuesday.
Thursday -- 2 hard boiled eggs, black bean and walnut salad with corn tortillas, red grapes, and cherries.
Friday -- Black bean and walnut salad with corn tortillas, red grapes and cherries.

I have some pictures of the eggplant and yu choy curry in production, but I forgot to take a finished picture. I made it totally on the fly so I could have something to take for lunch, so I never plated it. It wasn't until I took the last of it to work on Wednesday that I remembered I hadn't ever taken a picture of it. So if you just have to see how things end, you might want to look away now.

First, I was just going to have a vegetable saute, so I threw some garlic into some oil and let it saute for a minute or so. Then I added a sliced japanese eggplant and let it saute for about three minutes. Next came the stems of the yu choy, which I cooked for another two minutes or so. It was about this time that I realized I could make a curry out of it with the Madras tamarind curry powder I've been eager to try ever since I got it for my birthday in May. So I added that next.

And then I thought it would be really good with some chicken stock. Didn't I have some in the freezer? Yes, but it was frozen solid (you know, being in the freezer and all). Ok, throw it in the microwave to defrost and hope it will become liquid enough before the eggplant burns. And of course, this all occured after I had already added the curry powder, so I had to worry about that burning, too.

But I lowered the heat as much as I could and counted the seconds until the chicken stock was defrosted enough for me to throw it into the pan, and luckily nothing burned or overcooked too much. I covered the eggplant and yu choy stems and let the mixture simmer for around 10 minutes.

Then I threw in the yu choy leaves and let it simmer for another five minutes.

For such an impromptu mess, it turned out pretty good. I wish I could show you the finished product. The curry was rich and dark and had a lot of heat. It made a nice lunch. Next time I'll plan ahead enough to make some rice to go with it. I'm eager to use the Madras tamarind curry again.

Last night I met a friend for dinner at Koryo, a Korean restaurant that opened up a little while ago. I splurged and had an OB lager, a Korean beer. It was $7.00, which I thought was pretty steep, but I figured it was imported and ordered it anyway. When it came, I saw that it was about half again as big as my friend's beer, so it really wasn't that much more expensive after all. It was very good--light and crisp.

We had kim-chee and beef dumplings for an appetizer and they were amazing. With the first bite you get the sharp sourness of the kim chee, followed by the richness of the beef complemented by the slight sweetness of the dipping sauce. I could have made a meal out of those.

My friend ordered Chap-Chae, clear vermicelli noodles stir-fried with beef and vegetables that she said was very good. I ordered Yuk Gae Jang, which sounded similar to my friend's except for the red pepper, because I was in the mood for something spicy. Unfortunately, the menu didn't mention that it was served in a bowl with a soupy broth, rather than as a stir-fry. It tasted good, but I was more in the mood for stir-fry.

They served several small bowls of side dishes. There was a white pickled radish that was tasty and refreshing, some cucumber, potatoes (pickled, I think), fish cake, zucchini, and kim chee. Can you tell the radish was my favorite?

They also had sushi on the menu, which surprised me considering it's a Korean restaurant. The waiter exlained that, while the sushi is Japanese, they serve it with sauces that are Korean. Sounds interesting.

It was a little fancier and a little more expensive than I was expecting. From the outside it doesn't look like much, just a neighborhood restaurant. But when you walk inside you see that the floors are beautiful black stone, the tables and chairs are metal and chrome, it's fairly austere and aesthetically pleasing. It was a lovely way to relax and unwind after a busy weekend for both of us. I will definitely go again. I'm keen to try that sushi.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I'm Getting Pretty Good At This

I had a grand old time Sunday. In addition to the hard boiled eggs, I cooked some. I made a black bean and walnut salad and bought a big old bag of corn tortillas to go with it. I bought bananas, cherries and grapes. And I wandered over to the Asian grocer down the street and bought some gailan, some other leafy green thing, and a japanese eggplant.

For dinner I cooked up some gemelli and gailan with the Italian garlic I got at the green market a couple of weeks ago. I'm really mastering absorption pasta. Because the gailan is a little bitter, I decided to keep to an asian theme instead of using oregano, thyme or basil. I had some frozen chopped ginger that I added to the garlic, and I seasoned it with some Chinese five spice Yam left with me when she moved to Hong Kong. And for a final flourish, I topped it with some toasted sesame oil I also inherited from Yam. I cooked the pasta in chicken stock. It definitely tastes better, and comes out a little smoother and creamier, with stock instead of water. Someday soon I'm going to try it with the juice from a can of stewed tomatoes.

And true to my word, I took food to work with me. I had a peanut butter and whole wheat bread sandwich with milk for breakfast, followed by a banana. For lunch I had some red grapes and the pasta. Cherries made a lovely after-work snack.

Black bean and walnut salad with corn tortillas was dinner, along with--oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I made Gazpacho too!

We'd better not have another heat wave because I'm on a roll.

Oh, and has anyone else climbed another rung up (or is it down?) the geek ladder by watching "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" It's like the stupidest thing in the world, and I'm totally hooked on it. Kind of like "Mr. Romance." These people are totally serious about their alter egos in a way that, when I'm not making fun of it, I'm kind of envious of. Passion is passion; we just each express it in our own little ways.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Priorities, Y'all (and Spicy Bits)

I had hoped to be food blogging more regularly by now, but I still haven't been cooking that much. I do have some hard-boiled eggs cooling in the fridge, which is a result of the thought I've been putting into Nicole's request for ideas for quick meals when you fall into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich rut. And I started thinking about hard boiled eggs.

Hard boiled eggs are a very good thing to have in your refrigerator when you're not really cooking, don't want to buy your meals, and don't want to put too much thought into what to eat. An egg, as you know, is a complete protein all by it's little old lonesome. Add a piece of fruit and some carrots and celery and you have a quick little lunch right there. If you want to go to a little more trouble, you can chop the eggs, add some celery and onion, salt, pepper, and a little mayo, and you have the perfect egg salad that you can spread onto some whole wheat bread for a lovely sandwich. If you have any lettuce in the fridge, or better yet lettuce and tomatoes, you can add those to make your sandwich pret' near perfect. It goes down nicely with a glass of milk.

One thing I like about eating them whole is that they travel well. They make a quick take-to-work lunch.

I have very little in my refrigerator right now. I went to see Little Miss Sunshine with friends last night so I did not go to the grocery store, as I had planned to do. I will do that later today. I liked the movie all right, but I thought it was a little predictable. By the way the audience (full house) reacted, we'll be hearing a lot about it
. The acting was good, but how could it not be with Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, and Greg Kinnear (boy have I changed my mind about him in the last few years)? Steve Carrell, whom I have not seen in either "The Office" or The 40-Year-Old Virgin, was also good.

But as a result of my spending last night at the theater instead of the grocery store, I have to go later today and decide what I want to eat for the week. Because I'm determined to bring my own lunches to work starting tomorrow.

Which leads me to the subject of this post. Rather than spending my time working on the blog or cooking, I decided it was time to work out a budget. Moving from steadily dwindling resources to a seemingly perpetually refilling pot (thanks to direct deposit) can be a bit heady when you've been unemployed for a while. The desire to spend is strong, let me tell you. Coming fresh from a period of realizing just how little money it can take to support oneself (if one can keep one's focus away from all those little "must-have" distractions that are thrown at one every day), I am determined to set a budget for myself and stick to it.

Which can take quite a while, if you are as compulsive obsessive as I tend to be. What started out as a little exercise in allocating funds became a day-long self-tutorial on the wonders of Microsoft Excel. I'm finally mastering that sucker, though, and have come up with a budget that I can live with, and that will hopefully allow me to start saving some money.

Now for the spicy bits. You didn't think I meant those kinds of spicy bits, did you? I mentioned last week that Mary and I went to the Spice House in Old Town, so I took a little picture of the goodies I bought.

What you see is (clockwise from the left) blue poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dill weed, coriander seeds, aleppo chili peppers, and a new pepper grinder in the middle. I have three kinds of pepper and only had one grinder. This way I can keep the four-pepper mix in my old mill and use the new one for straight black or white pepper.

And that new little toy is part of why I decided I had better move on setting up a budget for myself.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I've Never Been So Glad to See So Much Rain

After some record-breaking highs (hoo-whee!!!), our heat wave has finally broken and the heavens have opened up.

Don't know how long it will last, but I'm hoping it will be long enough for me to do some more posting.

In the meantime, my review of Herbs & Spices went up on Foodbound a few days ago and I forgot to point you to it.

Silly me.
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