the most wonderful time of the year.

I’m not kidding.  This is the most wonderful time of the year. I’m extra happy about the holiday season this year because it’s extra long.

We hosted our first holiday open house this past weekend and it was so fun. I enjoy a late night and a dance floor as much as the next lady, but sometimes it’s nice to have a deviled egg and some sparkling wine at 5pm with all of your best friends, know what I’m saying?

Some highlights from the past few weeks include homemade fudge, Henriot Brut Rosé, cute Christmas ornaments, wreath sightings around Chicagoland, latkes made from leftover potatoes,a beautiful holiday floral arrangement from Larkspur (who just happend to celebrate its 8th anniversary in Bucktown) & homemade cranberry relish.

Homemade Cranberry Relish (for when you realize you don’t have any applesauce for your latkes, but have a package of cranberries)

Ingredients:

1 120z package cranberries

1 shallot, minced

1 clover garlic, minced

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

1/2 tsp ground ginger

Method:

1. Melt butter and saute shallot and garlic until fragrant

2. Add vinegar & cranberries, simmer

3. Add sugar, salt, pepper, and ginger. Simmer until thickened.   Remove from heat and serve with whatever you like.

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gluten free clafoutis

I’ve made claufoutis(es?) many times before, but this time I took a different approach. Mostly because, cough, I have an awesome mixer that I got for Christmas. Having a standing mixer has really changed my life. It seriously reduces the time of making most anything. It might seem stupid and like I am exaggerating, but if you spend a lot of time cooking, it is an investment worth looking into. Plus, with my NEW (double lot) BACK (no garage) YARD, I am going to use it to make SAUSAGES. I am a nut. I realize that making sausages sounds unappealing to most people. However, if you are reading this, you are probably my friend or Mom/Aunt and either agree with me or find my stance amusing.

Photobucket (Image courtesy of the Spice House website)
I’d also like to give a shout out to Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean paste. This product is amazing and convenient. As I re-stretch my muscles in my home kitchen and remember how to enjoy making food for pleasure’s sake & sustenance, I’m remembering that the simplest way is often the best. I also don’t have to hand whip my eggwhites to stiff peaks or get all esoteric and weird about taking logical and tasty shortcuts.

Strawberry Claufoutis
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Ingredients:
2 eggs, whites and yolks separated
1 cup sugar
2 cups almond flour (gluten-free, I use Bob’s Red Mill)
3/4 cup browned butter
1 T vanilla bean paste
1/4 t ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
1/2 cup strawberries, sliced
Oven preheated to 350
1 pie pan, greased, lined with greased parchment, & dusted with almond flour.

Method:
1. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks are formed, using a whisk.
2. Add egg yolks, mix until combined.
3. Add sugar & vanilla bean paste.
4. Add browned butter. It should be cool, not hot, so it doesn’t make the eggs curdle. If it’s still warm, temper the mix, just add a bit at a time. When it is done, it will kind of look (and taste) like the most delicious marshmallow fluff. Hey, you know what, you just made a “kind of” Italian meringue! Congrats!
5. Switch to a paddle if you have a mixer, switch to a wooden spoon or spatula if you don’t.
6. Add almond flour, mix batter until well combined (but some lumps are ok)
7. Line your greased/parchmented/floured pie pan with sliced strawberries. If you are using cherries/blueberries/raspberries, you don’t need to chop them up. You don’t have to cut up your strawberries either, I was just trying to make my product stretch. If you decide to not chop them, you will need more than 1/4 cup.
8. Gently pour the almond batter over the tiled strawberries. Be careful not to move the berries around.
9. Tap the pie pan on a hard surface to remove any significant air bubbles.
10. Bake at 350 for about a half hour, until the top is golden brown.
11. Let cool. This is important folks. If you don’t let it cool completely, it will not hold its shape and it will be a tasty disaster.
12. Once it is cooled, you get a plate and gently flip the pie pan onto it. If you’ve greased it properly, it will come right out. Remove the parchment paper, slice up and eat.
13. Try not to eat the whole thing in one sitting, maybe save some for your boyfriend.
14. This is really really good with coffee, a perfect gluten-free breakfast pastry.

Mexican Potato Chowder

Huh. It appears that the only thing I have been eating for the past month is soup. That statement is mostly true. Soups are easy to invent, delicious, and time friendly. Today, we’re taking a departure from the Indian food, and taking advantage of the Mexican grocery stores that are abundant in Chicago. It should be noted that this recipe is not vegetarian, kosher, or particularly healthy, but it is delicious and perfect for evening when your plans include watching Gossip Girl and complaining about your period. This recipe is also nearly impossible without an immersion blender, but use your brain and improvise something! It doesn’t need to be blended, I just like building my base that way. I’m serving it with some tortillas.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup ground Chorizo (preferably fresh)
3 carrots, grated (about 1.5 cups)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 large onion chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 large can of peeled whole tomatoes and their juices. (28oz size)
28 oz. water (use the can from the tomatoes)
1.5 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 jalapeno, chopped and seeded
4 pickled serrano peppers, chopped (EXNAY!!! After further thought and taste, this makes the recipe nearly too spicy to enjoy, without the aid of A TON of sour cream. If the dish isn’t spicy enough, each taster can add her own hot sauce. )
2 peppers, chopped (I used red and orange, don’t use green)
5 large potatoes, chopped
1.5 cup cream cup cream
1 lime
Sour cream
Tortilla Strips
Large pot for cooking

Recipe:
*Please read all the ingredients first. Chop them up accordingly. It’s very important to do this because it will make your life much easier.

1. Simmer olive oil in pot until it is shimmering.
2. Add chorizo and cook until it is no longer raw.
3. Add carrots, onion, celery and garlic to the cooked chorizo. Its ok that it is still red- chorizo is prespiced with red spices.
4. Cook this for about 5 minutes, or until the onions get soft. Adjust the heat as needed so that nothing burns.
5. Add your tomatoes and water.
6. Take your immersion blender and blend everything in the pot until it is smooth.
7. Add your cumin and oregano, stir.
8. Add your jalapenos and serranos
9. Add your potatoes, cook until tender.
10. Add cream, cook until it it’s to the temperature you desire.

Serve this with a dollop of sour cream, a squeeze of fresh lime, and tortilla strips on top. It pairs well with quesadillas, but then you’ll have to work out tomorrow.

curry enchiladas and mashed cauliflower

Indian and Mexican cuisine are a great example of (nearly) opposites attracting. I apoligize, I am still camera-less, but still excited about Mr. Obama being my (nearly) president, so I’ll forgive my camera being dead. Earlier in the week, I had my friend Lisa over for dinner and Gossip Girl (a must watch for Monday nights). Lisa is a vegetarian and I am not. Most people in my life try to be vegetarians most of the time (see my roommate) so, it is not hard for me to cook vegetarian food. It’s an enjoyable challenge, met with vigor and enthusiasm on my part.

I served some vegetable soup (a variation on a previously posted recipe, unfrozen), mashed cauliflower, and curry enchiladas. I’ll detail the recipes below.

Since I am trying extra hard not to eat wheat these days, sometimes things feel pretty grim. I wanted Indian food. My friend is in India right now, and it’s been on my mind as well as in the news. Is it tacky that a crisis gives me a craving? Probably, but what’s a better way to express concern than through sharing a meal with someone you love? All the good energy we shared during our meal was directed towards India, so I’ll try not to feel too guilty about it.

Mashed Cauliflower
Ingredients:
1 large head of cauliflower
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup half and half
2 different teaspoons of salt
As much pepper as you like
1 8×8 pan
An oven preheated to 350 degrees
Hand blender (makes it easier, a regular blender or potato masher will do well if you don’t have this amazing appliance)
1 large/medium sized bowl

Recipe
1. Clean your cauliflower.
2. Chop off the green parts
3. Dice the remaining parts of cauliflower into smaller pieces (all this should fit in the previously mentioned 8×8 pan)
4. Place the chopped cauliflower in the pan, drizzle with olive oil
5. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt
6. Place in oven
7. Roast for 30-45 minutes (everybody’s oven is different)
8. After it’s roasted, the cauliflower should be soft. Move the roasted cauliflower into the bowl (if you’re using a blender, place it in the blender… if you’re using a masher, place it in the bowl)
9. To the bowl (or blender) add the half and half and butter. The cauliflower should still be quite warm, so the butter will melt without a problem.
10. With your hand blender, (or masher, or regular blender) mix up all the ingredients until they are blended and smooth. Add the remaining salt and pepper when you feel like it.

This dish is great. Cauliflower is very nutritious and this is a fantastic way to incorporate it into you diet along with butter and half and half. Just kidding. It’s better than mashed potatoes, but still not super healthy. I must note, this dish is not for people who do not like cauliflower. I happen to love it, so it worked out well, but not so much for Lisa.

And now to the big shebang: Curry Enchiladas
As I mentioned before, not eating wheat totally blows. There’s no other way to get around it. So, instead of mourning the loss of naan with my Indian food, I decided to just let it be and make Indian style enchiladas. This recipe has a few parts: Filling, Sauce, and Corn Tortillas. Read the whole recipe before you begin because it has several parts that need to be happening at the same time.

Filling for Indian Enchiladas:
Ingredients
1 large potato
2 tablespoons Tandoori Masala Spice
1 tablespoon Curry Spice
1 teaspoon crushed Coriander
1 small onion
1 clover garlic
1/2 cup olive oil (separated into 4 1/8 cups)
As much salt as you like- I used Kosher Salt
1 large pot
1 large pan
1 small pan

1. In the large pot, boil your peeled potato until it is tender.
2. While the potato is boiling, saute the onions in 1/8 cup olive.
3. Combine the curry, tandoori, and coriander with the remaining olive oil into a paste. Once the onions are sizzling and fragrant, add this paste into the onion and olive oil already on the pan. Let that marinate for a minute or ten.
4. By this time (about a half hour) the potato should be soft. Strain the potato and chop it into small square pieces. After that, combine it with the curried onions.
5. Cook the potatoes in the pan with the onions until they get caramelized on the edges. Since you’ll be cooking the sauce at the same time, you can let the potatoes brown. I let the brown for about 45 minutes.

CONCURRENTLY: Curry Sauce
Ingredients
1 15oz can Coconut Milk
1/4 cup curry powder
1 tablespoon tandoori spice
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, chopped
1/4 cup water
Salt to taste
1 medium sized sauce pan

Recipe
1. Open the coconut milk and pour it into the sauce pan. Make sure you get all the solids from the can into the saucepan. I put the water needed for the recipe in the can, caught all the remnants and then poured that into the sauce pan.
2. Add all the spices and ginger.
3. Bring mixture to a boil, turn down and let reduce. You can taste test it now and decide how much salt you want.
4. When it is reduced to a thickness similar to mole, you are finished!

Once your filling and sauce is done, you are ready to roll the mix into tortillas.

Curry Enchiladas:
Ingredients
Potato/ Onion Filling
8 Corn Tortillas
8 slices Chihuahua Cheese
Curry Sauce
4 x 9 Pan
Oven preheated to 350 (f)

Recipe
1. Prepare your tortillas by laying them flat and placing half a slice of cheese in the middle of each.
2. On top of the cheese, place the potato/onion filling.
3. Roll the tortillas so that the filling will not come out.
4. Place the stuffed tortillas in the pan, again so the filling is not coming out (I did this one at a time and had some help from toothpicks to keep things closed)
5. Once your pan is filled, cover the stuffed tortillas with the remaining slices of cheese, halved so that everything is symmetrical.
6. Once the cheese is in place, pour all of the curry sauce on the stuffed tortillas
7. Place in the oven and let cook for 30-45 minutes (everybody’s oven is different)

These are really tasty. Too bad I don’t have a camera at the moment. bah humbug.
It’s worth noting that without the cheese, this recipe is vegan, so that’s a plus if you are one or know some.
Also, these keep really well in the fridge and are easily reheated in your oven.

PS: Not everybody has such immense access to cheap specialty ingredients in the town where one resides. A quick Google search informed me that there is an immense variety of authentic Indian food available on the internet for much less than typical grocery store prices. I’m sure that shipping makes it more expensive, but Garam Masala from McCormick’s isn’t nearly as tasty (and is 5x more expensive) as the real deal.

PPS: We paired this with a variation on a gin gimlet.
St. Germain Gimlet

Ingredients
1.5 oz Hendricks Gin (Plymouth would probably be better)
.75 oz St. Germain
1 oz fresh Lime Juice
.25 oz simple syrup
Ice
Shaker

Recipe
1. Place Gin, Germaine, lime juice, and simple syrup in shaker over ice.
2. Shake.
3. Serve in a martini glass.

clear broth soup

I know it’s a weird title. Most soup seems to be broth based, and I believe you’re correct in thinking so. However, I take a less scientific approach. Cream based soups don’t seem very broth-y. I feel, a broth is a clear substance. Once you add cream or a starch, it becomes something different- a chowder or a bisque. Tonight, I had a successful experiment. It’s too bad my camera is broken, or I would be posting some lovely pictures of an easy weeknight soup. (FYI, you can make it on the weekend… the weeknight description implies its low levels of effort)

Ingredients:
2 cups Mushroom stock (you can find this at Trader Joes or Whole foods, I’m sure you can also make your own, but I was feeling lazy, so I used Better than Bullion)
1 cup tomato juice
1 large carrot, grated
1 12 oz. package of chopped baby portabello mushrooms
1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes
1 chopped shallot
2 tbs. unsalted butter (I am totally loving Plugra right now)
1 package of frozen sweet corn
1 tbs poultry mix spices (I live in an Ukrainian neighborhood, and have been enjoying the spice mixes that the local stores carry. If you don’t happen to live in a neighborhood of people still bitter about the USSR, I believe a mix of rosemary, thyme, tarragon, dill, and a pinch of mint will work well)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 half teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 large pot
1 small pot
1 small pan

RECIPE
1. Boil your mushroom stock however you need to.
2. In a separate, (larger) pot, melt 1 tbs. of butter. Add the shallots and garlic.
3. In a different pan, on lower heat, melt the left over butter. When it is melted, add your herb blend. Turn it to a very low heat. You don’t want to burn the herbs.
5. Once the shallots and garlic release their glorious perfumes, add the grated carrot to the very large pot.
6. When the carrot starts to steam, add the cup of tomato juice to the large pot.
7. After your mushroom stock is ready, pour it into the larger pot.
8. Let it blend for a few moments, until it boils
9. Add the buttered herbs, from the pan into the larger pot.
10. Add the corn, tomatoes, and mushrooms to the larger pot.
11. Turn the heat on the large pot onto low, and let it simmer for about an hour. Take a shower, do your taxes, surf the net. Write another draft of that email to your friend who you miss but don’t know how to talk to. Whatever, I’m sure you’ll find a way to occupy your time.
12. Serve your soup! (I found it worked well with a grated apple, Mahon cheese, arugula, and raspberry salad) Also, try this ginger liquor as a pre-dinner treat!!!

It was good and pretty. I wish my camera wasn’t dead.

hits and misses

Generally, I try to post items that reflect my untrained and moderate culinary successes, or things other people make that I find tasty and pretty.

This is not one of those entries. Last night;s menu was meant to snub the current weather. It was summery! and light! and (supposed) to be delicious! It even looks pretty…
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But you know what? Until you taste it, you don’t know if it is good or not. I was in the mood for ceviche. I have made it before using this recipe. I have had great success with that recipe. It is tart and sweet and spicy and everything that a ceviche should be. Yesterday, when I was writing up my grocery list, I was in the mood for ceviche. I then made a fatal mistake. I remembered a recipe that I saw in the NYTimes a few weeks ago. It was about using vodka to cook fish. I thought it sounded interesting, and decided to try it myself.

The recipe calls for a lot of citrus vodka and scallops, avocado, cumin, and cilantro. I followed the directions, and the results were dismal. It looked so pretty and tasted like…. fishy vodka… fish flavored vodka… vodka flavored fish. Now, I’m not one to knock a gimlet or a bloody mary, but vodka isn’t something I really want to chew. Maybe my palette isn’t developed enough, or maybe I just don’t enjoy raw-fish orange-vodka stew. I’m sticking with my main man Mark Bittman, over at the Times. Whenever I stray, I seem to end up with something really gross.

In other news, the watermelon salad (1/2 watermelon diced, 1/2 jalepeno chopped, 1 teaspoon salt, chill for an hour) was delicious and is proving to be a perpetual summer favorite. The combination of hot, sweet, and cold, is refreshing without being boring ( a big problem I have with cucumbers, although I do like them)

Gerard also made some Salsa Verde!
We roasted 2 Serrano peppers:
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Used a pound of tomatillos and a clove of chopped garlic, cooked it down with some olive oil, salt and adobo.
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Blended it with 1/2 cup of cilantro and one more clove of garlic
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We let it cool, and then we enjoyed it. With chips, not ceviche. Then we had passionfruit sorbet. I have never like passionfruit until recently. I hate the scent in chemical products, but in real life, it is great to eat!

*As a side note, we are trying to salvage the rest of the ceviche by straining out the vodka and covering it with lime juice again. I will have to see how it looks after work.

persimmon murder

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The other day, Gerard and I did all of our grocery shopping in our general neighborhood. My friend Sarah has written well about the glories of small, local non-corporate groceries, so I won’t expand too much, but I will second and applaud paying a fraction of what one pays at Whole Foods or (gasp) Trader Joe’s to get better, cheaper, and more authentic ingredients; while at the same time participating in a worthwhile local economy.

The plan was to go to Kurowski’s Sausage Shop at Milwaukee and Kimball and the Chicago Food Corp at Kimball and Belmont. On the walk up there, we discovered an awesome Hispanic market, whose name I can’t recall. It was on Milwaukee between Kimball and Central Park and had amazing produce (normal sized, not huge) organic greens (!!!) and a wide selection of other goods. We picked up some pipian, a couple of delicious lemons, and some sardines which we’ll eventually use for savory fritters.
When we got to Kurowski’s, Gerard was impressed (or grossed out) by the vast selection of goods including sausages and many root vegetables. Among other things we got beets, sauerkraut, horseradish, my favorite Amish Butter, and a pound of Polish rye bread. I also bought two sausages which I am eager to try. Our bag was starting to get heavy, but at this point we had only spent about twenty dollars. This is fantastic seeing as when I go to Whole Foods, it’s depressing to find both my pocketbook and grocery bag lighter than I’d like.

After our adventure in Poland we walked over to Kimball and Belmont. On our way we discovered a mystical sandwich shop/ bar that apparently stays open until 4am. Some hot night in the summer, it might warrant a date post midnight, provided that said sandwich shop has air conditioning. We arrived at the Chicago Food mart with a mission- we were making curried squid over coconut rice for a late lunch (unfortunately, I did not have my camera that day). We got all the necessities for that culinary adventure (who knew that the butchers at the Chicago Food Mart spoke Spanish? Not me!) While there, I spotted two things I knew I needed to have: Kewpie Mayonnaise (which we will find our more about later- I know it’s been featured in a lot of popular food press for the past few months, but my curiosity has been piqued and I’m jumping on the bandwagon) and Persimmons.

Persimmons are that weird looking orange tomato-ish thing that you’ve probably seen a few times and wondered or worried about.
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I get a lot of flack for growing up in the “land that time forgot,” ahem. But the food in Indiana is good. Persimmons became popular in Indiana for some reason. I do believe one of Indiana’s founding fathers had a penchant for all things Asian, specifically Japanese, because the state tree is a ginkgo and the state flower is a peony, go figure. Persimmons are also Japanese. I imagine his wife making persimmon pudding for the first time back in 1818, when Indiana was a young state. This is probably entirely false, but it sounds cool. Anyway, my friend’s mothers were not pioneer women, but they could make food that stuck to your ribs. My parents are not native Hoosiers. Seeing as my parents were foreigners in a strange land and their only daughter was really skinny, I was always fed by people who take skinniness as a personal affront, which most people in Indiana seem to.

Persimmons might be an acquired taste, but it is one worth getting. The fruit is sweet and when ripe the taste is not unlike that of a plum with a more drippy texture. On the package, persimmons are called “Nature’s Candy”. On another rocking Friday night with the most happening young woman in all of Chicagoland, I decided to make some persimmmon pudding in honor of my Hoosier roots, thorugh truth be told I was born a southern bell in Charlottesville, Virginia. Whatevs, Indiana is a state of mind.

I based my recipe on one I found in the “Joy of Cooking” except that I halved it and tweaked the ingredients.
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I used:

1 cup persimmons, skin removed

2 eggs

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup cream

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and took the persimmons out of their skins
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Then I mixed the ingredients
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Then I put it in a casserole dish
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Next I placed it in the oven
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In 45 minutes I had a a delicious persimmon pudding!
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It was pretty tasty, and everyone who had a piece confirmed it.

Next up, party, which I am getting ready for momentarily!