snacks!

I am hungry! Every since I got back from Florida, I haven’t set foot on the CTA and have been biking all around the city thanks to Gerard getting my bike fixed. However, my appetite has gone through the roof! All I want to do is bike and take snack breaks! This morning, I ate my lunch for breakfast!

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clearing out the larder

Many people have mixed or negative feelings about one of the most delicious treats ever, sardines. Maybe you had a bad experience with them when you were a kid. Maybe you think they smell bad or are too salty (you might be thinking of anchovies which are packaged in a similar way and just as delicious but less versatile.) I’d urge you to take another look at sardines. Not only are they fairly inexpensive, they are also full of healthy fats and considered a “brain food”; you can learn more about sardines here. There’s also this cool blog of a chef based in San Fransisco.

Anyway, on Monday night we were hungry but not starving. After a long day of spring cleaning, I was ready for a delicious snack. Luckily I snagged this cookbook, Dave’s Dinners, a Fresh Approach to Home Cooked Meals, the last time I went to say hi to my mom in Evanston. It’s one of my dad’s favorites, and I’ve been consistently impressed by the quality and simplicity of the recipes. This time we decided to try the fried sardines. I know! I know! It sounds questionable. Imagine tiny fresh gourmet fish sticks and you’ll get a good idea of what fried sardines taste like when prepared correctly. Delicious! I modified the recipe as follows:

Ingredients:

1 can sardines
1/4 and 1/3 cups flour (to be used seperately)
1 egg
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 cup oil

For Sauce
1/2 cup mayo
1/4 cup dill relish
juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
10 grinds fresh pepper

Directions

For the sauce: squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lemon into a bowl. Mix in mayo,relish, and pepper. Place in fridge while you cook the rest,so it tastes delicious and cool when you use it as a dip!

1. Gently remove sardines and place on plate.
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2. Take 1/4 cup of flour and sprinkle over sardines- flip sardines over so both sides are covered.
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3. Mix cornmeal and remaining flour in bowl. Lightly beat egg in different bowl.
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4. Dip each sardine in egg, then dredge through cornmeal/flour mixture. Place on plate to prepare for frying.
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Heat up oil for about 5 minutes so it is sputtering. Gently slide each sardine into oil. Fry for about 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove from oil and place on paper towel to absorb excess oil. Let cool for a few minutes and place on plate with sauce in seperate bowl. Squeeze fresh lemon over fried sardines and enjoy!
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back to reality…

It can be jarring to come back to Chicago after a week in a tropical paradise, especially when you are eating goodies like this:
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Here’s a picture of the Asian inspired chicken salad I made last week at my grandparents’ house. Isn’t it pretty?
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Returning home means lots of good things. Quality time with my main man, bike riding around my hood, and regrouping are all wonderful reminders of why I love my city. One thing that isn’t fun, however, is a lack of funds and a lack of groceries. Has this ever happened to you?

Now, we all know that the economy isn’t the sunniest right now. We also know that these things go in cycles, but while I was out of town, I did a little computing an realized that I’m going to have to put myself on a pretty strict budget through the summer. This isn’t as bad as it seems- summer time is prime for saving funds- the beach is free, gas bills aren’t as expensive, and taking a cab is out of the question when you’ve got a helmet and wheels. With my move coming up in July and a few weddings over the next few months, I have to be serious about watching my pennies.

One of the first ways to make this possible is to organize yourself and get rid of things you don’t need. Over the past few months, my bedroom has become a glorified locker. A clean room/ space always makes it easier to focus, which is what I need when planning out my spending habits. Spring cleaning seemed to be in order, so I started doing a massive clean-up this morning, and already have 2 bags of clothes and 2 bags of books that I don’t need anymore! It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s that I don’t need them, and someone else will be able to put them to better use. After all that cleaning, I more than a little hungry and decided to take a break.

Not as easy as you might think… After being out of town for 8 nights, my larder is seriously depleted. Normally, I would run to the corner store and get the ingredients for a wonderful feast. However, I did have a few things handy, and my cilantro plant was looking mighty tasty.
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I grabbed some cilantro from my plant, a clove of garlic that wasn’t quite bad yet, and a few carrots that looked almost past their prime. Luckily I had a can of pinto beans, and can of tomatillo salsa, and a bag of rice. It might not be the most luxurious meal, but rice and beans can be super tasty and is really good for you if you don’t load it with cheese and lard.

I sauteed the beans with carrots and garlic
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Cooked up some rice, and topped it with half a slice of Munster cheese, some salsa, and fresh cilantro.
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Not so bad for having “nothing to eat”

As a side note- with all the food shortages and droughts going on in the world, it’s really important to remember that you are lucky if you have “extra food.” While my lunch might have been better with a fresh avocado and some limes, I am full and happy and ready to do stage II of spring cleaning ’08. The more I read about what is going on with food supply, the more I realize how lucky I am.

so long sarasota

The last few days have been utterly relaxing and very worthwhile. You might recall that I roasted a whole chicken. With the leftover chicken, I made an Asian influenced chicken salad.
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Ingredients:
1/2 roasted chicken (from the fridge) ripped into small bite-size pieces
3/4 cup low-fat mayo
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup finely diced red pepper
1/2 cup finely diced celery
5 green onions chopped (just the bottoms)

Combine all ingredients, put in container, place in fridge for a few hours so flavors marry, eat for lunch.

We had a lot of fun.
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At the Cabaret, where we saw Outlaws and Angels, a musical revue
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We went to Ophelia‘s for dinner on Friday. It reminded me that, as Sarah has noted before, butter is not always the answer.

Back to my city where it’s a brisk 42 degrees.

senior living

I have read 4 books since I arrived in Florida. Some good, some bad; The Year of Magical Thinking, Itty Bitty Lies, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Killing Yourself to Live. I understand that these books have little in common besides the fact that they are written in English . I love Joan Didion, but after breaking my heart, I really needed to read a caper about loose Southern Women. I digress.
I love living the life of a senior citizen. Asleep by 11:30, awake by 7:30. This is the life. Going to the beach and eating 3 square meals a day. I, for some reason, know that I will not feel this way when I return to my fair city, especially since I hear rumors of warm weather and repaired bikes, but for now it is perfectly wonderful.

On Sunday we had lobster ravioli from the farmers market with a sundried tomato cream sauce. My grandma made it, and it was tasty.
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I made the salad, it makes me excited for fresh midwestern produce. The tomatoes down here are amazing!
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On Monday we had steak and potatoes. No, really.
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When I decided to come down here for vacation, I told my grandparents that I wanted to make them dinner. I gave them 2 choices: a French Menu or a Mexican Menu. They decided on French. The menu was as follows:

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Cocktail: Citrus Cooler
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Salad: Orange, Fennel, Olive, and Baby Greens w/ a Citrus Mustard Vinagrette
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Soup: Cauliflower Thyme Brie Soup
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Main Dish: Lemon Thyme Roasted Chicken with Mustard Gravy over Garlic Roasted Fingerling Potatoes. As a side note, I have never roasted a chicken before. I was really nervous. This recipe was easy, although time consuming– well not exactly time consuming but demanded a fair amount of planning and foresight. Also, did you know that the chicken comes with its gizzards and heart in a bag? I think I might have to write a song about it.
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Dessert: Grapefruit Granita… Which I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of. It was really pretty, and easy, and you’ll just have to trust me on this one.

We had a great time!
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Tonight we’re going to the Florida Studio Theatre!

we set the table for breakfast

Currently on location in Siesta Key, Florida. Surprisingly, there is wireless internet AND a platform for uploading pictures to my computer. Hanging out with Clara Lou and John (Grandma and Grandpa, respectively) They picked me up from the airport yesterday and we went to Barnacle Bill’s Seafood for a quick “soup and salad.” Tamiami Trail might not be the most attractive street, but it does have the coolest name. After a that meal, we drove back to the condo and chatted for awhile.

This is my Grandpa, relaxing on a Saturday night:
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I was in bed by 11:30 (10:30 Chicago time!) and awake by 8:30 (7:30 Chicago time, you get the idea) When I woke up, Grandma was in the kitchen cooking bacon and pancakes, and the table was set.
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I had 2 kinds of juices, and coffee, just like at a restaurant.
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The blueberry pancakes were amazing! My Grandma apologized for using pancake mix, which I can only see a woman from her generation OR some weirdo foodie (ahem) apologizing for. She used way more blueberries than Cozy Corner and it tasted that much more delicious, also probably because my grandma made them.
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Recently, Grandma and Grandpa have found they prefer bacon cooked in the microwave because it is crispier. Sometimes, I agree
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We also had a long discussion regarding their switch to real maple syrup as opposed to the kind you get in the plastic pitcher. I have to say I am very happy with this switch.
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to the beach!

sitting on the dock of the bay

Yes. I am leaving my fair city for warmer climes on Saturday, but only for one week via Delta to Sarasota, Florida; specifically Siesta Key, which has smelled the same since I can remember. I will be staying with my grandparents and working on a tan (while protected by sunscreen) and not doing much else besides eating and making food. I am most excited about local produce! It’s Florida! Oranges and Mangoes ACTUALLY grow there!

One of the funnier things about going on vacation to the same place since I was born is that I usually go to the same places. Favorites include: Mar Vista Restaurant , Anna’s Deli, Surfrider (which has closed but is delicious). There are tons of other places, but those have been my favorites since I was 4. Wow! That was 21 years ago.

My grandparents condo development is on the beach. Their unit isn’t featured on the website, but you get the idea. It’s a roll out of bed, put on a swimsuit, slap on some sunscreen and lay on the beach kind of place. Last time I was there I read some reallllllly good books (ahem, Dan Brown). Go to the beach with the biggest tumbler of iced tea you can carry and relax.

I haven’t been on a vacation for 2 years. It is about time!

pretty cookies

Last fall, when Sarah and I threw our epic dinner party, complete with signature cocktails and an impeccably edited cheese plate we made lavender cookies for dessert. It was my friend B’s birthday this weekend. B is a lovely person, so for her birthday she obviously needed something pretty, unique, and tasty. Lavender cookies were the first thing that popped into my head. I based my recipe off of one I found online. I added an extra teaspoon of vanilla and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. I didn’t use any milk, because the dough was moist enough as it was. Also, I prefer a thin cookie that is crispy on the edges and slighty chewey in the center to a thick cakey one. I believe the milk would have made it more cake-like, so I was happy to leave it out.

The ingredients are:
3 tablespoons dried CULINARY lavender
1 cup butter or margarine
3 eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Culinary Lavender is a delicious addition to your spice cabinet. You can find it at the Spice House in Chicago, or at any number of spice stores. It lends a delicate and fresh floral bouqet to whatever it is added.
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It’s also worth noting that the Spice House is a GREAT resource for anyone in Chicago. Please don’t buy your herbs at Whole Foods. They are not nearly as fresh or as cheap as the ones at the Spice House.

Once you measure out the sugar, use your food processor (or in my case, coffee grinder) to powder the sugar with the lavender. It will smell really good.
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Cream the lavender sugar with the soft butter
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Add the eggs
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Add the flour and stir.
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Roll into balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.
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(I topped the cookies with a lavender-vanilla-sugar mixture)

Unfortunately, my camera’s memory card was full, so I do not have a picture of the finished product, but they can be seen on Sarah’s blog that I linked at the beginning of this entry. These cookies have a uniquely pretty taste, perfect for a spring birthday treat.

two pounds of asparagus

It’s springtime in the Midwest, despite the fact that it doesn’t feel like it. Every April that I have lived in Chicago it snows. This week, I was deeply saddened to look at the weather and see that snow, as usual, was in the forecast for the weekend. To cure these early spring blues, I figured that a nice warm bowl of soup would be the perfect antidote. However, I didn’t want another hearty bowl of deliciousness, I wanted something light, pretty, and reminiscent of the spring that I am supposed to be experiencing; cream of asparagus soup proved to be the perfect solution. I adapted the recipe from this one that I found on epicurious.com.

The recipe calls for

2 lb green asparagus
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 to 6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

I used vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, added garlic, a tablespoon of Adobo seasoning, and another tablespoon of butter due to using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. For the garnish, I also added some blue cheese.

Spring Asparagus
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To begin, chop the heads of 12 asparagus off and set aside in a bowl. Later, you’ll use these for garnish.
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Chop the remaining asparagus in to 1/2 inch pieces
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Next, chop up your onion and saute it with 2 talbespoons of butter until the onions are soft. I added the garlic and 1/2 tablespoon of Adobo after the onions had been cooking for about 5 minutes
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Once the onions are soft, add the asparagus and cook for 5 minutes.
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Next, add the broth, cover and let cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the asparagus are very soft. Meanwhile, boil two cups of water with lots of salt and toss the asparagus heads in the boiling pot for about 3 minutes. Strain and set aside. After 15-20 minutes, carefully blend the asparagus-broth mixture in your blender.
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Put the blended asparagus soup back in the large pot and add the heavy cream. Bring it to a boil. This is where I added the other 1/2 tablespoon of Adobo, a little salt, and some pepper. Pour the soup into some bowls and garnish with the cooked asparagus heads, and some blue cheese. I think it would be good with some goat cheese too.
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All Gone!
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