22 August 2007

Pregnant Lady’s Still Gotta Get Her Booze On

Well if I can’t drink anymore, I’m going to have to supplement my daily alcoholic beverage(s) with something just as delicious…

Hmmmmm….after much thought, I still have not discovered an adequate replacement for the libations that once brought so much joy into my life. I guess my only option is to add alcohol to my cooking instead of consuming it in liquid form.

This grilled pork with apricot-brandy glaze (recipe below) does just the trick. The small amount of hooch in the glaze is still enough to keep hair on my chest, but not enough to cause the little Nugget to be born with the IQ of a toad.

For those like me who are also suffering from an insufficient alcoholic intake, may I suggest some additional substitutions:
Beer can chicken (beer turns into steam; steam keeps chicken moist while grilling)
Tiramisu (just a wee bit of rum in the syrup!)
Beer sponge baths (no explanation needed)

By the way, I apologize for the long break in Fancy Toast posts. I soon hope to be posting more regularly! The constant nausea of the first trimester has passed, and I can finally look at photographs of food and be hungry instead of queasy. Now when I want to feel queasy I just look at photographs of myself in seventh grade when my perm was halfway growed-out and the top half of my hair was straight and the bottom half of my hair was a holy mess of floppy squiggles.

Pork Chops with Apricot-Brandy Glaze
~ adapted from Grilling by Chuck Williams and Denis Kelly

This is my standby grilled pork recipe. Delicious. Never fails to yield juicy, slightly spicy pork chops with the perfect amount of sweetness from the caramelized glaze.

8 pork chops, at least 1-inch thick (I prefer bone-in for the juiciness)

Spice Rub:
1 tablespoon sweet paprika (I used a combination of sweet and smoked)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the apricot-brandy glaze:
½ cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons brandy or apricot brandy
1 tablespoon dry mustard
juice of 1 lemon

Mix all ingredients of spice rub together in a bowl.
Rub generously on both sides of each pork chop.

To make the glaze, heat the jam in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the brandy, mustard, and lemon juice. Remove from heat and set aside. When ready to use, reheat while whisking contantly.

Grill the pork chops over medium-high heat, turning once, about 3-4 minutes per side. Move the chops to an unheated part of the grill and brush the glaze onto both sides. Cover the grill and cook for 2-4 minutes. Pork chops should be just faintly pink inside. Try your hardest not to overcook them, as they become dry in just a few too many seconds over the coals. (My husband never grills without his trusty digital thermometer. He lets the pork chops come to 150 degrees Fahrenheit and then he lets them rest for a few minutes under tin foil.)

07 June 2007

Death by Granola Bar (Potentially)

While driving to work, hunger strikes.
What should I eat?
Oh yes….there is a homemade granola bar in my lunchbag.
I can totally reach my lunchbag, which is in the backseat.
I lied.
I can’t reach it.
Stretch…..stretch a little further….was that a red light I just ran?
Ah, now I have the lunchbag.
Oh no, the zipper is stuck.
Need both hands.
Look, a curve in the road ahead. This will work out rather well, considering my car’s alignment is off and we will naturally follow the road if I remove my hands from the wheel.
Take hands off wheel, fix zipper, oh no, curve is curvier than I expected.
Wheeeeeeeeee, hey, now I’m in the other lane, surprise! Good thing there weren’t any cars next to me, and now I have my granola bar and I am happy and not dead and not hungry.

Homemade Granola Bars
My new favorite snack (besides eating store-bought icing from the tub). Every bite tastes delightfully different, depending on the particular combination of the various little goodies in each piece.
This is a huge double batch, so it makes enough for two people to have at least one granola bar every day for two weeks. (I suppose I could have done the math for you but then if I was wrong you would get mad at me because your recipe didn’t make enough granola bars but this way I can just say oh you must have eaten them too fast you are such a pig)

3 cups rolled oats (old-fashioned or instant)
1 ½ cups pecans, chopped
¼ cup flax seeds
½ cup sesame seeds

2 generous cups puffed brown rice cereal
2 cups dried fruit, chopped (I used apricots, cranberries, cherries and raisins)

1 cup honey or brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup pomegranate molasses or 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
¼ cup brown sugar (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Spread first 4 ingredients on 2 baking pans and toast for about 15 minutes, or until you can smell the aromas from the toasted nuts.
When oat mixture is toasted, mix in the fruits and the rice cereal.

Meanwhile, heat the honey (or brown rice syrup), salt, sugar (if using), molasses (if using), and butter (if using) in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until ingredients are well combined. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Add the mixture to the oats and mix well.

Spread the mixture evenly into 2 greased/buttered pans. How thick? Your choice.
Press firmly so that everything sticks together.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until the granola turns golden.

When you take the granola out of the oven, only let it cool a little bit before you slice into bars. Wait until the bars are completely cool before you remove them from the pan.

Wrap each bar individually in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container. Mine have lasted 2 weeks, so yours might last longer if you don’t eat them all first.

25 May 2007

My Plans for Sainthoood

Coconut-Braised Short Ribs and Sweet Potatoes

I think I chose the wrong career. I should have gone into sainthood.
The reason being is that I have developed a marketing strategy that is going to help my friends who are smokers live longer: Package every pack of cigarettes with a sweet potato. Everyone who buys a pack of smokes gets a free sweet potato!

Why? Smoking (or inhaling second-hand smoke) depletes the body of vitamin A. Low levels of vitamin A are linked to emphysema of the lungs and several types of cancer, including that of the lung and heart. Sweet potatoes are high in beta carotene, which the liver converts to vitamin A. So if you breathe in a lot of smoke, your lungs will be in better shape if you can replenish your body with copious vitamin A. Read more if you don’t believe me.

As if this superhuman super-vegetable quality wasn’t enough, the sweet potato also is also a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, and iron, and an even better source of vitamin C and manganese.

Are you ready for more?
The beta carotenes in sweet potatoes make these root vegetables a high souce of antioxidants, which boost the immune system.

Should I keep going?
A food containing anti-inflammatory nutrients, sweet potatoes are also very healthy for those with asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

Wait! There’s more!
It hasn’t been proven yet, but there are studies being done that are exploring the effects of sweet potato on people with diabetes. It is hypothesized that sweet potatoes help stabilize blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance.

Enabling my smoker friends (as well as smokers around the world) to live longer is Plan A for reaching sainthood status. If it doesn’t work, fear not, I have a back-up plan:

I will write a catchy, rhyming song to promote the new packaged deal. The melody will ring through the ears of the nation, and everyone will want to sing along, and then the whole country will be singing the same song all at once and it will be so inspiring that all my smoker friends will want to live longer so that they can keep singing the song forever and ever, so then they will all quit smoking and proclaim me a saint. I also hope that they will all give me a percentage of what they would have spent on cigarettes for the rest of their lives, and then I will be a rich saint, because those are the best kind.

Coconut-Braised Short Ribs and Sweet Potatoes
(because beef is better for you than smoking)
~a Fancy Toast original recipe

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 lb. short ribs, bone-in
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, chopped or grated
1 stick lemongrass, cut lengthwise and smashed with the end of a knife
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 15 oz. cans coconut milk (you can use low-fat if you like)
1/2 cup orange juice
2 cups chicken broth
1 handful cilantro stems, bundled together in cheesecloth or in a teaball

3 sweet potatoes, cut into 1” cubes
1 handful of cilantro leaves

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Farenheit.

Pat the short ribs dry with a paper towel. Rub salt and pepper into all sides of the meat.
In a Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Brown the short ribs, taking care not to crowd the ribs or else they will not brown properly. Do in 2 batches if necessary.
Remove the ribs from the heat and set aside (the lid of the Dutch oven works perfectly for this…it’s going to get dirty anyway, right?)

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the onions and let soften for a few minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and pepper, and cook until the garlic is fragrant.
Place the short ribs and any accumulated juices back in the Dutch oven, nestling them in one layer, if possible. Add the coconut milk and the orange juice. Add the chicken broth, until the broth is just barely covering the meat. If you don’t use all of the chicken broth, that’s fine. If you need more liquid, add more chicken broth or water.
Place the cilantro stems into the broth.

Cover the Dutch oven and place in the oven. After ten minutes, check the liquid and make sure that it is not bubbling too aggressively. If it is at more than a gentle simmer, turn the heat down.

Cook for thirty minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and cook for about another hour, until the meat and the potatoes are tender.

Remove the cilantro stems from the broth, ladle into individual bowls, and garnish with cilantro leaves.

16 May 2007

Polenta Flipbook

Flipbook Instructions:

Print out the following photographs.
Use scissors to cut along the edge of each picture.
Stack the photographs into a booklet, making sure to maintain the same order as shown below.
Holding the lower left corner of the booklet with your left hand, use your right thumb to flip the pages quickly from front to back.
Watch the polenta in action, prepared like they used to in the countryside of Northern Italy!

Place a marble slab on the countertop.

Pour hot polenta over the marble slab and spread out evenly.

Spread it good, polenta man.

Spoon the topping over the polenta.

Sprinkle with parmesan shavings.

Painstakingly wait for polenta to harden from the coolnes of the marble slab. Sip wine and pretend to flirt with polenta man, but really, all you can think about is polenta.

The polenta has now cooled enough to be sliced into individual pieces.

Thanks, polenta man.

Behold the polenta at Enoteca Roma, a restaurant and wine bar that prides itself on its rustic preparation of polentaria. The dish is assembled in front of you, and you can literally see the polenta hardening on the marble slab while you wait for it to cool. The main course served atop my polenta was salsiccia e funghi, a savory mixture of crimini mushrooms and sausage...soon I will need to go back soon to taste the corvara (venison Bolognese and parmigiano) and quattro formaggi (Letizia's four-cheese sauce).

Although I do not consider myself a very good tinkerer in the kitchen (generally I need a recipe), I am considering a serious attempt to tinker away and try this technique out at home.

In the meantime, while you wait for me to figure out a decent recipe and post it, visit Enoteca Roma and taste their polenta. You might even see me there. I would be the one sneaking out the door with my new marble slab. Sssssshhh, don't tell polenta man.

Enoteca Roma
2144-2166 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622

13 May 2007

Reasons Why I Haven’t Been Blogging Lately

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Brazil Nut Pesto

Reasons Why I Haven’t Been Blogging Lately:

1. I’ve been on a diet ha ha ha ha ha ha.
2. I’ve been training for space travel.
3. My teleporting skills have been discovered and the government has been dissecting my brain. Meanwhile, the scientists are loaning me a temporary brain. I have a sneaking suspicion that it might be the brain of a monkey because I really can’t think of anything to write lately and I have been resisting strong urges to eat banana peels and hurl turds at people.
4. I have won the lottery and I’ve been making lists of who I like and don’t like and who I will share my money with and who doesn’t get any. Anyone who comments on this post automatically gets $100.
5. I’ve been spending all my spare time figuring out the HTML code for strikethrough.

Truthfully, I have no excuse for not posting regularly. Maybe the beautiful weather has been keeping me outside. But before the weather gets too warm, you need to know about this delicious cauliflower soup from Heidi Swanson's new book. I slurped it up steaming hot, but next time I make it, I just might try it cold.

If you haven’t heard about Heidi Swanson’s new book, Super Natural Cooking, let me tell you a little about it. The author of the blog 101 Cookbooks has created a gorgeous and inspiring cookbook. She teaches you how to use natural ingredients to make delicious and satisfying meals. Instead of being scared away by ‘health food,’ readers can learn about her unique approach to the preparation of vegetables, beans, whole-grains, and other whole foods. The photography is all her own, and the pages are done in a soft, matte finish, which enhances the natural concept of the book. Having made the sweet potato spoon bread, shredded green beans with lemon-lime zest and snipped chives, golden-crusted brussels sprouts, giant crusty and creamy white beans with greens, and this cauliflower soup, I can say that all the buzz her book is creating is well deserved. Yum.

The soup is quick and easy to prepare, and while the flavors are simmering, you can get the pesto ready. The hardest part is making the swirl. In lieu of a swirl, a dollop would suffice.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Brazil Nut Pesto
from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking

For the Soup:
3 tablespoons clarified butter or extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 large potato peeled and chopped
1 ½ pounds cauliflower, coarsely chopped
5 cups vegetable stock or water
1/3 cup heavy cream or Cashew Cream
fine-grain sea salt (I used kosher salt, still good)

For the Pesto:
½ cup toasted Brazil nutes (I only had pine nuts, still good)
2 handfuls spinach leaves, stemmed
4 cloves garlic
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
generous pinch of fine-grain sea salt (I used kosher)

Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium-high heat, add the garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes, until translucent. Stir in the potato and cauliflower and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the stock, bring to a simmer, and cook until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat and puree thoroughly with a handheld immersion blender. Stir in the cream and season to taste.

To Make the Pesto:
Puree all the ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed.

Ladle the soup into individual bowls, drop a spoonful of pesto in each one, and use a knife or toothpick to swirl.

a spoonful of pesto (who needs the soup?)

05 May 2007

Self-Pity Pie

Chocolate Cookie Banana Peanut Butter Pie

I think I read somewhere that when something good happens to a friend, you should be happy for said friend. I can't remember where I read that, but I don't think it's true, because something good is happening to some of my friends, and I am violently fluctuating between being happy for them and insanely jealous of them.

What has happened to my friends that has caused my dark envy to rear its ugly head? They are becoming rock stars, that’s what’s happening. Indie rock stars (the cool kind).

Two of the girls in my string quartet are currently on a U.S. and European tour with the popular indie rock band Bright Eyes. The other one is about to go on another tour with her wonderful Chicago-based band, The 1900s. Two of them have played with Kanye West, one of them with Sufjan Stevens, two with Rilo Kiley, and one with Pinetop Seven. Why haven't I played with these bands, you ask? Well, I play the viola. Enough said. My track to stardom was over the day I learned how to read alto clef.

Quickly working their way up the indie rock ladder, my rock star friends will soon be sporting their own entries in Wikipedia, and Pitchfork readers will recognize them instantly when they walk into any bar or coffehouse across the nation.

OK fine, maybe I have had a small taste of their rock-star status when I got to play on the Oprah show with Il Divo.
But I hate Il Divo.
So it doesn't count.

Getting back to self-pity. Let us compare the life of my rock star friends to my miserable existence. hate them poke them in the eyes with their bows
1. My rock star friends gallivant about the planet, seeing interesting people and places everyday, exposed to the wonders of the world. I gallivant to the suburbs.
2. My rock star friends wake up at noon. I wake up at not-noon.
3. My rock star friends will soon be feasting on Parisian brie and baguettes. I will be feasting on cafeteria tater tots and the occasional Einstein’s Bagel if I am lucky to get out to the strip malls once in awhile.
4. My rock star friends have new MacBooks to check their email while they travel on their state-of-the-art wi-fi tour buses. I have a new toilet bowl scrubber. Suck it, Apple.
5. My rock star friends wear cute indie rock outfits all the time and get to show their cleavage. I am lucky if I can find something cute that's not a mock turtleneck.

So that I don’t collapse into a wallowing heap of self-loathing (which is important to do once in awhile but I like to save that for days where my only clean article of clothing is a mock turtleneck), allow me to list what I perceive to be downsides to the rock star lifestyle.

1. My rock star friends can’t make espresso on the road. When they buy coffee at a coffeehouse, they have no control over the quality of coffee they drink. Meanwhile, I am lucky to have a husband who ensures that I will have a quality cup of espresso every day of my life. Unless he dies before me. Which I’m pretty sure he will. But let us not think about that at this time.
2. My rock star friends can’t do yoga whenever they want. Whereas I can break out into sirshasana (head stand) whenever it suits my fancy. I think my fourth graders would definitely remember anything I teach them if I was teaching it to them while balancing upside-down.
3. My rock star friends aren’t allowed to poop on the tour bus. I can poop pretty much whenever. Can you imagine how awkward it must be when you have to poop on a tour bus and you have to hold a conversation with a fellow rock star while having to poop and be cool at the same time? I am so glad that’s not me.
4. Last but not least, my rock star friends don’t have a kitchen on the bus, which means they don’t get to make pie whenever they want. Which is the opposite from my situation, because I can make/eat pie anytime. Especially if it is chocolate cookie banana peanut butter pie. Or in this case, I can find the recipe online and have my husband make the pie, because I have too much self-pity about not being a rock star that I can't get out of bed to make it myself. My husband is so good at making pie. I hope he doesn’t die before me, because I couldn’t bear to be without pie.

Chocolate Cookie — Peanut Butter Banana Pie
~recipe adapted from Emeril's There's a Chef in My World by Emeril Lagasse (don’t judge me, Tony Bourdain, you have to admit his food is pretty tasty sometimes)

16 cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey-roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 small bananas (My husband thought 2 bananas was enough, whereas I would have liked to add another one for a more prominent banana flavor. But that could just be my government-loaned monkey brain talking.)

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine 16 chocolate sandwich cookies and 1/4 cup of the peanuts. Process until finely crumbled.

Place the crumbs in a medium mixing bowl and drizzle with the melted butter, stirring until moistened. Press the crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie pan, covering the bottom and sides evenly. Chill the piecrust in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the peanut butter and cream cheese. Mix on low until creamy. With the mixer still on low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, mixing until combined. Turn the mixer off, remove the peanut butter mixture, and place in a large mixing bowl.

Clean the bowl of the mixer and remove the paddle attachment. Add the whisk attachment and, in the clean bowl, whisk the cream on medium-high until stiff peaks form.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture, adding the cream a little at a time, and being careful not to overmix.
Peel and slice the bananas, about 1/4 inch thick. Lay the banana slices in one even layer in the bottom of the chilled piecrust.
Spoon the peanut butter filling into the piecrust over the bananas and smooth the top with the back of the spoon. (The filling will be taller than the edges of the piecrust.)
Cover the pie lightly with plastic wrap and freeze for 4 hours or overnight.
Note: If the pie has been frozen for longer than 4 hours, allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.

24 April 2007

Ribs N' Bibs

Rib tips from Ribs N' Bibs are so delicious that I once got caught standing in front of the fridge in my underwear eating them out of a paper bucket at 6:20 in the morning. I giggled, finished my beer, got ready for work, and all day I walked around smelling my fingers, nostalgic for the taste of barbecue sauce.
Just kidding about the beer part. But everything else is true.

I feel no shame about my early-morning indulgence...well, except the fact that I spent a large portion of with my fingers jammed up my nose. And enjoyed it, too. That’s kind of weird. I feel a little embarrassed about that. But who are you to say that you wouldn’t have the same problem? Stop being so judgmental. You’re probably picking your nose right now.

Getting back to ribs, I do wonder what percentage of people eat their leftover Ribs N’ Bibs while standing in front of their fridge in their underwear at 6 in the morning. I bet the number is higher than you think. I doubt that many people have the patience to wait until a proper rib-eating hour of the day to eat their leftover ribs, and then actually take the time to heat them up, let alone put on clothes first.

If you live in Hyde Park, you are probably familiar with the tantalizing aromas that waft from the hickory-burning fires at Ribs N’ Bibs. Their smokestack is but 1/10 of a mile from my house, and every time the wind carries that smell through my windows, I must exercise a considerable amount of restraint to not abandon my own cooking and follow my nose to the South Side Chicago landmark. I wish I could eat there more often! Regrettably, they don’t really serve vegetables, so I can’t justify eating there more than three or four times a year.

Celebrities have been visiting Ribs N' Bibs for years!

It took my husband and I a few years of living in Hyde Park before we ventured over to Ribs N’ Bibs because we had heard so many mixed reviews about it. We had heard that the large slabs of ribs are not the best that you can find in the city. But if you can find a few people to split a bucket of rib tips with, I think that you will be rather pleased. Elated. Addicted.
Rib tips are the tender ends of back or spare ribs that have been trimmed off to make the slabs rectangular. There is a satisfying amount of meat on each small bone, and the perfect amount of fat.
The pulled pork sandwich is a good deal, although I do find myself wishing for more meat on the sandwich. And I haven’t tried the chicken, but people tell me it’s delicious. Someday I will try it. I just can’t bring myself to order chicken when there is the option of rib tips or a pulled pork sandwich!

Good sauce. Good rib tips. Good pulled pork sandwich. Good chicken. Good smells. The only problem is that yesterday was Monday, and already I have had the best meal of the week. What is left to look forward to, if I have already eaten the best dinner of the week?
Why, leftovers, of course!

Ribs N’ Bibs
5300 S. Dorchester Ave.
Chicago, IL

I wish I owned a bib that said Rbn'.

07 April 2007

Parrot, Three Ways

Parrot with Artichoke, Sun-Dried Tomato, and White Wine

Roasted Parrot with Orange Blossom Honey Glaze

Parrot Baked in Coconut Curry Sauce

It is a sunny April morning in Chicago. The outside temperature is below freezing, but that doesn’t matter to me when I am snuggled up in my covers, delighted to be sleeping in past 5 AM.
I listen to the happy songbirds chirping outside, grateful that there are trees outside our bedroom window so that the birdies can hop around and awaken us with their melodies. Insert contented sigh.
Suddenly a deathly silence settles over the morning. Why did the little birdies stop their beautiful song?

“EEK EEEEEKKK EEEEEKK EK EKEK EKKKKKK!” The calmness is shattered. A flash of green darts past the window, and then another, and I know that the parrots have awakened. Once they are up, there will be no more cheerful warbling from the songbirds for the rest of the day...only the incessant squabbling of the wild monk parakeets that live in our neighborhood.

The parakeets are an amazing example of a transplant species that has flourished in an urban area. Originally from Argentina, the beautiful yet annoying birds were transported to the States in large numbers to be kept as pets. Difficult to train, unsatisfied owners released them into the wild, and their population has been growing in Hyde Park and the surrounding areas since the 70’s. Read more about them here and here.

The parakeets are harmless, as there are no wheat fields or vegetable crops to which the birds pose a significant threat. They are a welcome splash of color during our drab winters, and I give the little boogers credit for surviving our tough winters. But come springtime, their inconsiderate clamor really gets on my nerves. If I wanted to feel like I lived in a zoo, I would work at a junior high. Oh wait, I already do. Ummmm.......

Just like the seventh graders I teach, the parakeets get rather ruffled when I tell them shut the hell up because they are annoying the shit out of me, and then they only squawk louder.* But I am smarter than my seventh graders. I know how to outwit them. I can’t just tell them to be quiet and expect them to mindlessly obey me. I need to find a reason for them to be quiet.
The reason is fear.
Fear that I will eat them.

Therefore, I have prepared three recipes with which I can threaten the parrots and strike fear into the cores of their hollow little bones. The first three photographs above have been printed out, laminated, and glued to the end of three long sticks.** Next time the green devils start up their hullabaloo, I will choose one of the three sticks, dangle it off my back porch, and wave it front of their beady little eyes so they can get a close look at their future.

I don’t think the birds are smart enough to know that the photographs are chicken meat, or that I have no intention of capturing them and eating them. As long as they are afraid, they will be stunned into silence, and I will have my peace and quiet.

Message for PETA: Stay away, I’m only joking! I would never eat a parrot or a seventh grader!

Roasted Parrot with Orange Blossom Honey
~adapted from Charlie Trotter, friend of birds
1 cup orange blossom honey
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 3-4 pound parrot (or a few small parakeets, whatever you can catch)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

The honey glaze creates a deliciously crispy skin. Even if you don't eat the skin, prepare it this way, and the meat underneath remains moist and flavorful.

Place honey and stock in small saucepan and whisk over medium heat for 5 minutes, until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place bird in roasting rack in a roasting pan and season with salt and pepper. Generously brush the glaze all over the parrot and roast for 45 - 60 minutes, or until the juices run clear (if using smaller birds, less time will be needed). Brush on additional glaze every 15 minutes during the roasting. Remove from oven, let rest for 10 minutes, then carve.

Parrot Baked in Coconut Curry Sauce
~adapted from Cooking Light Magazine

1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons red curry paste
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless parrot breast halves
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 small yellow squash, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup diagonally cut green onions
4 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 lime wedges

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl, stir with a whisk and set aside.
Pound parrot breasts into even thickness between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over bird.
Spread out 4 (16x12-inch) sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil. In the middle of one sheet, place 1/4 of the the vegetables (not the cilantro or lime). Lay 1 parrot breast half over the vegetables, and cover with 3 tablespoons of the coconut mixture. Fold foil over the bird and vegetables; tightly seal edges.
Repeat with remaining sheet of foil.
Place packets on a baking sheet. Bake for 22 minutes, remove from oven, and let sit for 4 minutes. Unfold carefully to avoid being burned by the steam. Sprinkle with cilantro and lime, over a bed of jasmine rice.

Parrot with Artichokes and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
~Fancy Toast original recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 cup white wine

1 pound parrot tenders (or chicken tenders)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 oz. jar artichokes
4 oz. sun-dried tomatoes, sliced thinly
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper the parrot tenders on each side.
In a Dutch Oven or a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
Cook the chicken until just browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan and set aside on a plate.
Add the shallots to the now-empty pan and cook until tender, about 4 minutes.
Add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the wine and scrape off any browned bits from the bottom.
Return the bird to the pan, along with the artichokes and tomatoes.
Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the bird is cooked all the way through, about 10 minutes.
Remove the parrot/chicken from the pan and tent with foil to keep warm. If the sauce is too thin, increase the heat until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency.
Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.
Spoon sauce and vegetables over the bird. Sprinkle with parsley.

*Disclaimer #1: Lest you think I am a disgruntled and frustrated teacher, I want you to know that I have never told any my students to shut up, or that they were annoying the shit out of me.
**Disclaimer #2: Lest, you think I am crazy, I didn't really print out those photographs and laminate them and glue them to the end of three long sticks. I hope you believe me.

04 April 2007

Mandoline Chronicles, Cont'd

February, 2007.
Purchase mandoline slicer.
Fail miserably while trying to slice cabbage.

March, 2007.
While practicing mandoline skills, accidentally slice finger. Note to self: always use hand guard.

April, 2007.
Become proficient at slicing cabbage with mandoline slicer!
Celebrate by moving on to fennel.

You may remember a distraught post in February when I was desperately seeking online instructions on how to use my new OXO mandoline slicer to shred cabbage. The post sparked a list of comments with people either voicing similar frustrations or offering tips about how to use the mandoline. Contributing to the comments were two employees of OXO, including the president of the company himself. The OXO folks showed genuine concern for the customers who were unsatisfied with their product, gave some suggestions for proper usage, and then posted information about contacting OXO for mandoline lessons.

I would like to say thank you to everyone who offered advice, and thank you to the people at OXO for making the effort to reach out to your customers and make sure we are happy with your product.

I would also like to say that while I am still not a mandoline expert, slicing is getting easier after heeding the advice from readers. After a few months of practice, and only one injury, which was due to my own carelessness, I can now shred cabbage! It turns out I was doing it all wrong. Only an idiot like me would grab the whole head of cabbage and just start slicing it whole. The secret, unbeknownst to me the time, is to cut the cabbage into quarters and then start slicing with the cut side against the blade.

If you reached this post because you did an online search for tips about using a mandoline, I have compiled everyone’s suggestions into a brief list that will save you the time of going through the comments on the other post. If you have anything to add or change, let me know and I will revise the list.

One more thing…Gretchen, the first of the OXOs to respond to the post, has a beautiful 2 ½ year old boy who has recently been diagnosed with a cancer called Neuroblastoma. Liam will have to go through some aggressive treatment with a relatively long recovery period. His family is chronicling his story at Prince Liam the Brave. Visit their site if you have a moment. Or many moments, because you will want to keep reading on and on about this amazing little person and what he and his family are going through. Oxo created a donations page if you are interested in helping the family.

Tips for Using a Mandoline Slicer
1. Experiment with different types of pressure. Vegetables like cabbage will require a lighter touch, while other vegetables like carrots need heavier weight.

2. Keep the pressure consistent as you slide the vegetables through the blade, even though it goes against your instincts to force your hand quickly towards such a sharp edge.

3. Wet the panel that the vegetable slides along. Some vegetables are inherently moist, and they self-lubricate the panel with each swipe, but other foods are drier and may not glide as smoothly towards the blade.

4. If the hand guard is difficult to control, purchase a fish fillet glove at a sporting goods store, or any glove that will protect your fingers against the sharp edge.

5. If you are slicing cabbage (this is the information I was searching for a few months ago), cut the cabbage into quarters and slice the cut side against the blade. If you are slicing fennel, cut off the bottom, slice the bulb in half, and then slice.

Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Fennel-Orange Relish

The pieces of fennel from the above photos were used in a fennel-orange relish, which garnished a filet of olive oil poached salmon. I know it sounds odd to poach something in olive oil, but it results in a wonderfully delicate and tender texture. Supposedly, when you submerge the fish in the oil and cook it at a very low temperature (low enough that you can stick your finger in the oil and hold it there!), not much oil is absorbed by the fish. Instead, the olive oil seals in the flavor and the moisture.

Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Fennel-Orange Relish
~adapted from Bobby Flay

4 salmon fillets, skin removed
Salt and pepper
2 cups pure olive oil*

Fennel & Orange Relish:
Pinch of saffron (I omitted this for financial purposes and it still tasted delicious)
1 head fennel, outer layer removed, halved and thinly sliced (yay, mandoline!)
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
Salt and pepper
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 oranges, segmented
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (can also be used for cocktails)
1 tablespoon honey
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons fennel frond

Season salmon on both sides with salt and pepper. Place in a large high-sided sauté pan and cover with olive oil.
Turn the flame to medium and let the salmon gently poach in the oil until just cooked through, 15-20 minutes. The oil’s temperature should be below the boiling point. You should be able to keep your finger submerged in the oil for a few moments.
Remove the salmon from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve with the fennel-orange relish and top with a fennel frond.

Fennel-Orange Relish:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place saffron in a small bowl and cover with a few tablespoons of hot water, let sit 5 minutes to bloom.
Combine the fennel, 3 tablespoons of the oil and the saffron, along with the soaking liquid in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a roasting pan and roast until just soft, stirring occasionally, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cook slightly then transfer to a large bowl.
(Since I omitted the saffron, I just drizzled the fennel slices with oil and roasted them almost dry. They browned a little bit but I think it enhanced the flavor of the relish.)
Stir in the red onion, oranges, pomegranate molasses, honey, lemon, parsley and season with salt and pepper.

*The oil can be re-used. Since the cooking temperature is so low, the oil's structure does not break down. I plan to recycle mine. I'll let you know if everything I sauté tastes like salmon.

01 April 2007


No-Bake Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge Cookies

A few years ago, I was walking down the street with my good friend Emily, and I said to her, “Emily, I want you to know that our friendship has reached the level in which my love for you is unconditional. So at this point, you can’t f--- it up, no matter what you do.”

Tears gathered in her big, brown eyes, and she said, “Really? That’s the sweetest thing anyone ever said to me.”

A few months later, we were sitting around doing nothing, our favorite activity at the time, and Emily said to me, “Erielle, remember that one time you said my love for you was unconditional? Well, is it really? I mean, what would you do if I killed Nate?” (Nate was my fiancée then. She didn’t have a reason for which she would kill him, she was only pondering the nature of unconditional love.)
I thought about this for a moment, and I said, “Well, I guess I wouldn’t love you anymore.”
We both concluded that perhaps my love for her was not unconditional after all.
After this realization set in, she asked, “So...what if Nate killed me? Would you still love him?”
I thought for another minute. “I’m sorry to say this, Emily, but I think would still love him. I’d be really mad at him, but I unfortunately I would probably still love him. Even if he was in jail and I couldn’t have his babies.”
Emily sighed. “Wow, that’s true love.”
“Yes, I suppose it is,” I agreed.
As the meaning of unconditional love became clear to us though this hypothetical series of wrongdoings, we realized we were hungry from our session of profound thoughts. What could we make to eat?

The answer was obvious: No-Bakies! No-Bakies are oatmeal-chocolate-peanut butter cookies that don’t require baking. They contain wonderful ingredients but lack the permanent chemical bond between them that is created by baking. Just like our friendship, wow!

Was Emily upset that I rescinded my proclamation of a few months earlier? At first, I thought she understood. But today, as I look closer at the No-Bakie recipe that she had written out for me on that fateful day, I realize that she must have been angrier than she let on, having written comments such as:
“Erielle is a big fat slob. Hate her.”
“Tickle her and provoke her.”
“Give blank stares often.”
“Poop on your mom.”

Emily’s No Bake Fudge Cookies of Love
1 stick butter
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cup quick oats

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add next four ingredients and heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil for one minute, then remove from heat. Stir in peanut butter and oats.
Drop mixture by the spoonful onto a sheet of waxed paper, parchment paper, or aluminum foil. Allow no-bakies to cool until firm, approximately 20 minutes.

30 March 2007

Salsa Verde: an Indication of the Status of My Affection Towards my Dinner Guests

Tacos are hard work.
By the time I char/soak/blend the chiles and brown/braise/shred the meat and reduce the chile braising sauce and season/heat the beans and crumble the queso freso and dice the onions and mince the jalepeño and chop the cilantro and fry the tortillas and cut the avocados and slice the limes, I am a sweaty mess and my eyes are burning from the jalepeño oils because I always forget that I am not supposed to touch my eyeballs after I work with jalepeños, even if I have washed my hands seventeen times.
In any case, despite the delights of working with such wonderful ingredients, I will say again that tacos are hard work.

Therefore, I only make tacos for people whom I love. So if you ever come to my house and you get a taco, you know what that means.

Now, if you come to my house and you get a taco AND salsa verde (green salsa), which takes a little bit more effort on my part, then you know that I really do love you but I would like something from you in exchange for my epicurean exertions. Whether it be a meal at your house in the future, a mix CD, a ride on your motorcycle, or cold hard cash, you know that I have material expectations for our relationship.

If you come to my house and you get tacos but no salsa verde, that means that I am content with the status of our relationship and I need nothing from you in return aside from a yum and a hug when you go.

If you come to my house and you just get salsa verde but no taco, the salsa verde is most likely functioning as a snack, as opposed to an appetizer or a taco garnish, which means there will be no main course, which means I don’t want you staying any longer than it takes to eat the salsa verde, which means that I don’t really like you at all and I am subtly letting you know that I can’t wait for you to leave.
However, if you get salsa verde with no taco BUT the salsa verde has avocado smushed into it (YUM!), then you know that I do love you, obviously, because avocados aren’t cheap. The only reason you might not be getting a taco as well is that I am not in a particularly demonstrative mood and I am withholding my affections for the time being.

Now, if you have been to my house at least 14 times and at no point during the duration of your stay have you been handed a taco or salsa verde, I think we might need to re-evaluate our relationship. Probably what’s happening here is that we believe ourselves to be well suited for each other, and we’re really trying hard to make it work. But since I have not befittingly expressed my love for you, either with salsa verde or a taco, my subconscious is telling me that even though I think I love you, I really don’t, and I’m just pretending to love you.
But this is not just my fault, don’t pin this on me. If you wanted me to love you, all you would have to do is ask for tacos or salsa verde and then I could not say no, because I love them, and then since I made them for you, I would automatically love you, sort of like when people pick out marriage partners for their children and even though the newleyweds don’t love each other at first, they eventually learn to love each other out of necessity. It would be like that.

I hope this all makes sense. Let me know if you don’t fit into any of the above categories and I will verbally notify you of the status of our relationship.

Salsa Verde (Green Salsa)
~recipe is from my friend Jaime, who got it from her lover, Rick Bayless

1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed
8 large garlic cloves, peels left on
1-2 jalepeño chiles, stemmed (Taste them first to make sure they aren’t extremely spicy, or you won’t be able to taste the salsa. True story.)
1/2 - 3/4 cup white onion, chopped finely
handful of cilantro, chopped
sugar, white or brown

Spread tomatillos, garlic, and chiles on a baking sheet and put under the broiler.
Broil for about 5 minutes, until you see blackened, charred spots on the vegetables.
Flip them over and roast until they become darkened, juicy, soft and oozy.
Pour the entire contents of the pan into a blender (with juices). Add a bit of the cilantro.
Blend into a coarse purée. Add a little bit of water if necessary.
Add the onion, salt to taste, and the rest of the cilantro leaves, to taste.
(Don’t tell anyone, but I added a little bit of brown sugar for sweetness. Sweet and spicy is quite a pleasant flavor combination.)

~Caramelize onion slices in a pan or in the oven, then chop them and add. Salsa will be sweeter.
~Raw version: Don’t roast anything, just throw everything into the blender except for the onions, which are added at the end. Salsa will be more pungent than the roasted version.
~Mash an avocado or two with a fork, then stir into salsa. Makes a satisfying lunch with leftover tortillas or just eaten with a spoon.

El Milagro tortilla chips are made right here in Chicago. They are the best that I have found since I moved here, and they have a happy song on their website that you can listen to while you eat chips. I buy them at Hyde Park Produce, but their website lists other locations at which you can find them.

24 March 2007

Three Ways to Proscrastinate When You Don't Feel Like Not Procrastinating

1. Make chocolate curls!

Procure a thick chocolate bar from your pantry or grocery store. (Thicker bars are easier to work with; they don't break as easily.)
Melt the chocolate for about 20 seconds in the microwave until it is just warmer than room temperature, but not melting.
Break the bar into manageable chunks.
Holding the chocolate with one hand and a vegetable peeler in the other, slice the peeler towards you. If the chocolate merely shatters and breaks off, the bar is not warm enough.
Reheat and try again.

Once you have made the curls, your only option is to procrastinate some more and make a dessert atop which to sprinkle the curls.

2. Alphabetize your spice drawer!

It might seem like a rather frivolous activity, one for which you may become the subject of polite ridicule from friends/ a spouse /yourself, but I daresay that my overall quality of life has improved since the day that my spices became easier to locate in a pinch.
P.S. Spices are very accessible in a drawer, as opposed to a cabinet. If you ever find yourself scrambling for your nutmeg, only to find you have three canisters of it because you couldn't find it the last two times you looked for it so you bought more at the store, I highly recommend procrastinating whatever you are supposed to be doing right now (you're obviously procrastinating, hello, you're reading a food blog), clean out a drawer, and alphabetize your spices.

3. Practice becoming an expert on your mandoline!
(The slicer, not the musical instrument. )

Stop complaining about how you can't figure out how to the work the stupid thing; just play with it, and you'll get it. Grab random fruits or vegetables in your kitchen and start slicing.
For this procrastination session, I set the mandoline on a very thin setting, ran an apple through its magnificently sharp blades, laid the slices out on a Silpat, sprinkled them with brown sugar, and baked them at 350 degrees until they crisped up. Yum!

Any more ideas on how to waste time in the kitchen? I am always open to learning new strategies in order to avoid what I am supposed to be doing at any given moment.