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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Quick and Easy Pork Panini

Leftovers. You either love them or hate them. I love them and happen to be the leftover queen. The running joke is that I could feed small countries with leftovers because I have this ability to create even more leftovers out of the leftovers I start with. This drives Dave crazy, especially because he is not a fan of leftovers. So there are times when I try to ease up on the excessiveness - like tonight. Simple, quick and easy panini sandwiches did the trick. Simply take what ever bread you have available, I had a nice garlic bread from Costco (they do make a nice bread, really), then sliced left over pork quite thin; spread a layer of cream cheese and a layer of fig spread or fig jam. Pop this into the panini grill (using a fry pan on the stove top works too) until crunchy. My preference for sandwiches is to always slice the meat thin; there is nothing worse than not being able to bit into your sandwich without having to tear it from your teeth. One other note is that you can butter the outside of the bread, or you can use a good olive oil, but if your watching the calories feel free to skip this step. The creaminess of the cream cheese and the fruity fig compliment the pork quite nicely.

Leftovers aren't so bad, its just finding the right use for them!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Festivas Dinner- Stuffed Flank Steak

Festivas for the rest of us! The distinct honor of attending a Festivas party was bestowed on us two years running now. Attend a party where I get to air my grievances? And watch feats of strength which may involve midget tossing? Count me in!

The classic TV sitcom Seinfeld made the Festivas event an instant hit, not to mention forever classified as a cult classic festival. What I didn't know was that Festivas was actually based on a Roman festival called Saturnalia. Saturnalia became one of the most popular Roman festivals. It was marked by tomfoolery and reversal of social roles, in which slaves and masters ostensibly switched places. I can tell you there was plenty of tomfoolery at this Festivas party!

According to Seinfeld, the true Festivas dinner would be some sort of meatloaf of pasta with a red sauce. I opted for a classic flank steak stuffed with a white bean mix next to an avocado and grapefruit salad. What might be most important when dealing with a Festivas party is not what to eat before, but what will help you next day! Look for some great 'day after' recipes coming soon. In the meantime, Happy Festivas.

Recipe to come.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Chicago Water Taxi

Chicago is truly a vibrant city. Everyone says the city comes alive in the summer, but I happen to feel there is an excitement during the holidays that can’t be ignored. Walking amongst the Parade of Lights along the Magnificent Mile and skating at the ice skating rink below the Bean are natural gathering places, event throughout the year. The old tradition of looking at the Marshall Fields windows’ along State Street even though Macy’s bought Marshall Fields and the city seems to be rejecting them as a company, this tradition lives on and continues to be a holiday must-do. I remember days that were so cold, we could only view one window at a time before slipping into the nearest door to warm up enough to go out again. But we did it. We saw the windows.

There is a new tradition that I experienced today and just had to share. It’s the Fannie May Free Water Taxi and Chocolate weekends. You heard me right, a water taxi. Is that not one of the coolest ideas ever? With the Chicago River cutting right through the heart of the city, this is one of the quickest and easiest ways to get around; assuming it’s heading where you want to go. I happen to live on a stretch of the river that the taxi does not frequent, but I’m holding out hope for expansion, especially if the CTA loses funding! Lets get back to the free chocolate. Fannie May opened their first shop in Chicago over 84 years ago. That is something to be proud of. You can always count on Fannie May chocolates to be a crowd pleaser. They still have the white boxes I remember from years ago. I know there are fabulous new chocolate makers now, but Fannie May is a classic and they do know their chocolate. Fannie May and Chicago Water Taxi teamed up to offer free rides on the weekends throughout the holidays. When you board, you are greeted with a square of milk chocolate as well as a coupon for a free hot chocolate (redeemable at the Fannie May store on Michigan.)

It’s such a fun, simple activity, but one that lets you see the city from a different view. To me, these small goodwill branding efforts companies do go a long way with me. And I did go to the Fannie May store as well, which was a first for me! So these branding efforts also work! This is now earmarked as a new holiday tradition for me, next year I won’t wait until the last weekend to partake!

Mini Mexican Burger

Earlier in the evening I laid out a fun simple snack tray of flatbreads, olives and herb-crusted salami. But later I was rummaging the kitchen for a late night snack. I do enjoy a good antipasto platter, but sometimes you just want a little more. These are the times when a passion for cooking really shows. It's easier to grab a bag of chips, or a bowl of ice cream, even something healthy like carrots! But I just have a preference for more. So into the fridge I go to assess the situation; left over black beans and green chili along with 1/2 pound of ground turkey meat. I'm leaning towards Mexican here. But I don't want just a basic taco. so I decide on mini burgers. Creating something like this takes a little more time but it is so worth it when you take that first bite! Treat yourself well, you deserve it!

Keep in mind this is a tiny burger, as round as a roma tomato slice. Think if it as a small plate or a tapa. Dice 1/4 cup white or yellow onions and begin to sautee with olive oil just until slightly softened. Begin warming the black beans and the green chili. In a mixing bowl add the ground turkey, chili powder, cumin, seasoning salt and pepper. Now add the sauteed onions and mix your hands. Never be afraid to use your hands; they are the best tool you will ever own (just be sure to wash them early and often!) You should be able to form about ten mini patties. Now add them back to the same pan used for the onions. Place them on medium low heat. If you can't fit them all in the pan, fry in two batches. While those are cooking, slice your tomato and avocado, grate a little cheese and chop your arugula with some parsley. Take a lime wedge and squeeze it over the avocado and arugula for a zesty kick and to keep the avocado from turning brown. Turn the mini burgers over and place a pinch of shredded cheese on each. Take a tortilla and cut it into about 8 triangles. Now begin the plating process. Place a tortilla triangle on a small (salad) plate, place a spoon of black beans and a spoon of green chili on it. Top that with a pinch of chopped arugula and then a mini burger. Now top the burger with sour cream and add the avocado and tomato slices on the side. Enjoy!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sunday Holiday Brunch

The holidays are a hard time to get together with friends; between work parties, family and shopping, it seems nobody has time anymore. That’s where the brunch option comes in handy. By and large, most happenings are planned in the evening, but don’t overlook the mid-morning champagne hour. This is a great time to show off the variety in your party planning abilities.

Today's menu consists of mini quiches,fennel salad and Mediterranean flat bread. There are a few nibbles I like to set out such as my spicy nuts and chex mix just the sheer classic holiday feel. Beautiful fruit tarts ended the soirée.

To begin the quiches, I wanted something different than the normal pastry crust, so went rummaging in the refrigerator for a base. Taking a basic russet potato, I grated it, tossed it with salt, pepper and and egg. I took this mixture and pressed it into the bottoms and up the sides of the cups of a muffin pan. Bake this until the potatoes begin to brown slightly. Baking this ahead of time helps soften the spuds and get a crispy base going.
Now mix eggs, cream, salt and pepper. Pour this mixture in to the muffin cups. Add shredded cheese and whatever extras you like; here again I used bacon, onions and peppers. I personally like these items slightly sauteed ahead of time and of course your bacon should be pre-cooked. These cups will puff up and look delicious, so serve right from the oven; as they will settle a bit after cooling off.

This fennel salad is a fun, light and different type of salad perfect for the mid-day party. Slice a fresh fennel thin, place into a shallow baking dish. Grate the outside of the orange over the fennel, then peel the orange and segment, add to fennel. Now add a mixture of green and black olives to the fennel; then toss with olive oil. Bake this in the oven for about 15 minutes then broil for another 5. I like adding bit of Parmesan cheese on top just before serving.

Fruit tart and flat bread recipe to come.

Having coffee and Baily's is good starter to help your guests wake up. A few good bottles of Prosecco is a nice finishing touch with the fruit tarts. Enjoy!

Dave from Volleyball

It occurred to me, after receiving emails asking me 'who is Dave', that I may not have explained who Dave is. Where to start. Dave and I have been dating for 2 weeks. Yup, 2 weeks. Perhaps I should explain further. During our initial dating weeks, we were the quintessential 'cute' couple - always holding hands, snuggling in public, kisses all around! (Yes, I do believe some were sickened by this!) One of our couple friends pointed out one day that we should enjoy this now, because it won't be like this after being together for a few years. We decided right then and there that we would never get beyond 2 weeks; we made a plan to 'break up' every two weeks and start over.

So - how long have we really been together? That's usually the next questions everyone asks. We don't know. There is an email saved somewhere that pinpoints it down - but we really don't care. I can tell you it's somewhere over 5 years and short of 10. Sure it may sound a little crazy, but it works for us, quite wonderfully I might add. Think about it - there is no anniversary to forget and no labels to our relationship. The trade off here is that we still treat each other like we did when we first met - it's still fun, exciting and sexy!

So Dave, officially known as Dave from Volleyball (another story for another time), is the the love of my life. We are very similar in that we love food and are critical of it. Dave is the one that coined the phrase "Fat and Happy!" I should mention that neither of us is fat, that doesn't mean there isn't a 5 -10lb layer of winter warmth...but hey it is Chicago afterall! We are quite happy though! Much of what I cook reflects our tastes together. There are times when I will comment that something may not be Dave-friendly, but this is what makes us work. We do have our own interests, ideals, tastes, affections and hobby's; but together we will never get beyond 2 weeks!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Grilled Bacon Quesadilla

Tonight I got lost in the city. Not in a good area. And my cell phone died. And I don't carry cash. Did you know that there are still pay phones in some areas? And you can still make a collect call? Let's just say that it was an adventurous night. So what to do when you finally make it home and it is quite late, and your famished? The need to find something quick and simple is the only thing that matters and it doesn't get any easier than a quesadilla. Tortillas are another one of the items I do keep on hand at all times. From a quick simple wrap to baked chips, they are great and versatile in a pinch!

Cheese, glorious cheese. It's the backbone that brings everything together. If you have a tortilla and cheese, you've got a meal. It's like a grilled cheese sandwich, only crunchier. Now, you can stop with one cheese and be perfectly satisfied, or keep adding ingredients for different flavor. Tonight, the quesadilla started with a layer of cream cheese, shredded cheddar and Montery jack. Cream cheese is the king of cheeses - it is just the most wonderful, creamy food ever with an amazing mouth feel. I recently read an article on cream cheese and found out that scientifically, it’s one of the trickier dairy products to produce. And truly only one company has the correct (read: secret) recipe, hidden in a vault in Chicago. I'll let you guess which one...

After the cheese, anything else is gray. You cannot go wrong with bacon. Bacon is the spice of life that gives everything an over the top flavor. I like a hearty thick cut smokey bacon. Expect to have more bacon conversation in future blogs. You will want to fry up the bacon first, then add the bacon and a little chopped roasted red pepper on top of the cheese. Place another tortilla on top (or simply fold over half if you just using one tortilla.) Place in a large fry pan. You have two choices here - to use butter on the outside of the tortilla or no butter. My preference is no butter. While it does make the quesadilla more decadent, I just don't feel it's needed. (Dave would disagree here.) The tortillas will crisp nicely without it. But this is a decision you will need to make on your own. So simply cook on each side until golden brown and crispy. If you have salsa handy, it's a nice little compliment on the side. This calls for a good middle of the road beer, not too heavy, not to light; try a Goose Island Nut Brown Ale. The quesadilla is also a great evening snack if you have had a busy night imbibing and somehow forgot to eat. It's like a late night pub run you don't have to get out of your footie pajamas for. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mediterranean Cod on a bed of Wild Rice

It's rare that Dave wants to eat fish, so when he offers an opportunity for fish, I never turn it down. Tonight I started with a couple of nice pieces of cod. It's too cold and snowy to use the grill and last time I made cod I did a classic tin foil wrap in the oven. So I wanted something slightly different and yet a hint heartier than a simple fillet and salad since it is so cold out. Growing up in the Midwest I adore a hearty wild rice, but can find it bland on it's own. Rifling through the fridge uncovered goat cheese which sent me down the Mediterranean path and looking for olives. Olives are one of those items that I do keep stocked, mainly for the simple pleasure of having olives and cheese with a glass of wine. It's simple pleasures like these that make me to full for actual dinner - anyone else? A glimpse into my past would reveal that I received a can of black olives in my Christmas stocking every year. Yes, I said a can. It was the Early California brand, with the bright red label- honestly, who could resist putting an big fat olive on each finger! Now I indulge in olives of a higher caliber, but will forever hold an affection for the classic ripe olives in a can.

Begin this dish by having your fish topper ready. Combine crumpled goat cheese, chopped olives, bread crumbs, black pepper and parsley in a bowl; set aside. Now start your wild rice. For two people, 1 cup of rice is plenty. Place olive oil in pan on top of the stove. Add black pepper and dried oregano (if you have fresh oregano, wait to add it at the end with the parsley.) When you are working with herbs, there is a simple rule to follow. Always add your fresh herbs towards the end of the cooking time. You will notice a pattern with my style of cooking in that I add dried herbs immediately to whatever I'm sauteeing. Especially in soups. I like to get that extra flavor working its way into the other ingredients and I like to be sure those dried herbs soften. Now add the onions, sautee for a few minutes and add fennel, broccoli and celery; continue cooking until slightly softened. Set aside in a bowl, and add chopped olives, parsley (add the fresh oregano now if your using fresh herbs). To that same pan, add a little more olive oil and add the cod pieces over medium heat. Fish cooks rather quickly, so turn on your broiler now as well. To the cod add a little lemon black pepper if you have it, and cover. When the fish is just moments before turning flaky and white, add the topping, pushing it together so it stays in place. Now place under the broiler until the topping turns a golden brown.

To assemble, place the wild rice mixture in the middle of the plate and top with one piece of the cod. Because of the amount of olives in this dish, you should not need extra salt - but please flavor to your tasting! You can substitute other fish for the code, keeping in mind the ingredients will work best with a heartier white fish. Pour a nice dry white wine and enjoy!
Until later-

Friday, December 14, 2007

Pistachio-crusted Turkey Tenderloin

This is a great lunch...actually it was a great meal last night, and the leftovers made a great lunch, with an aroma factor of about 7. This led one of my coworkers to ask me "how do you decide what to make?" When I think about this, I have to say there are two contributing factors to a final decision; what am I craving and what ingredients are available in the house? I'm not a big stocker. Growing up, my parents had 2 extra freezers, one extra fridge and a pantry of dry goods. While I admit it would be nice to have a plethora of goods at my discretion, my small loft does not come equipped with food storage spaces! So I started with a turkey tenderloin and some couscous, then I found pistachios and random veggies. This was quite an easy thing to put together; the longest process might have been cracking the pistachios out of their shell! I've written the basic below. Do as I do, and substitute for whatever you have or according to your flavor profile!

Crush a couple of cups of pistachios (you can do this with a rolling pin, or just the bottom of a glass. Sautee garlic and onions in olive oil. Place the tenderloin on a grill for a couple of minutes a side, long enough to get some great gill marks and flavor going. I use a cast iron grill pan, you can use a fry pan if you don't have the cast iron, or you can do this on your outdoor grill. Roll the tenderloin in the sauteed garlic and onions olive oil mixture, then roll in the pistachios, patting the nuts into the meat. Now place the tenderloin back in the grill pan, adding a little olive oil and larger pieces of onion and garlic to the base and put in the oven (350 degrees). Test the turkey with a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should be reaching 165 degrees.
In the meantime, take whatever random veggies you have (I used broccoli, celery, onion, carrots and zucchini. Dice them and sautee in olive oil until slightly soft. Add water and couscous right to the veggies, cover and let it do it's thing until the turkey is ready. By sauteeing and adding the veggies in give an otherwise drab side dish great flavor!

Always let your meat rest before slicing to help maintain the juices. Take the grill pan and deglaze a couple of cups of white wine. The pistachio flavored sauce is to die for!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Method to my Madness

Here's the thing, I love to create new recipes. Always making things up based on what I have available to me. My downfall is that I have a horrible memory. I don't retain information. This is just who I am. Needless to say, I'm never the first one chosen for the trivia team!

But I do come up with fabulous meals, soups, appetizers and pastry's on the fly. The problem is that I usually can't re-create it. So one of the purposes of this blog is to help me keep track of my new recipes. I think I will have a shot at remembering them if I can get the recipe up here within 24 hours.

I do love to collect recipes from books and magazines, I just never use them. Stacks and stacks of cooking magazine are simply collecting dust in a corner but throwing them out doesn't seem like an option. I'm sure I am not alone here. My new plan is to go through each magazine, pull out any articles or recipes I think I need to have and place them into a three ring binder. I'll have separate binders for baked goods, meats and side dishes. The other pages I'm going to use as wrapping paper - it's cheaper than buying new wrapping paper, fun and eclectic and I'm helping the environment! (Dave started this by using newspaper as wrapping, but that does leave ink in your fingers!) This is going to be a 'snow day' job. Actually one day will not be nearly enough. Good thing I live in cold snowy location! If you have other great ideas with what to do with your old cooking magazines - please let me know!
Until later...

What's for lunch?

Everyday I go through the same process of asking What's for lunch? Who doesn't? It's a habit that was processed years ago when Mom set out our clothes the night before, then in the morning she set a lunch bag in front us and shooed us out the door to catch the bus. That and the fact that I'm always hungry! The lunch bag wasn't a bad thing - I looked at it as a bit of a surprise grab bag; never knowing what might be inside. Sometimes you get lucky with leftover homemade cheese ravioli and garlic bread while other times it seemed better to drop the bag in the trash and go without. Let's not forget the school lunch either! The parking lot at our high school was behind the building so we walked by a window into the kitchen. There we saw them... the cooks! Coffee cup clutched in one hand and a cigarette in the other as they blew smoke out the window, all with stark white hair peeping out of their hair nets; ladies who you just knew lost their taste buds years ago. I think this was when I first realized how much I disliked the runny orange substance known as cheese in a can.

Now I hold my satisfaction for lunch in my own hands. Lunch can be a simple task or a drudgery. First I need to admit that no matter how much time I give myself in the morning, somehow I cannot get out of the house in a timely manner. There are days I give myself an extra 30 minutes only to realize I somehow spent 29 of those minutes in the shower! So it is evident to me that I must lay out my lunch the night before (this actually works well in terms of clothing too. I guess Mom really did know best!?)

So it is a nightly process starting after dinner. First assessing what is left over from dinner; is it enough for lunch? Do I have a container to put it in? Will it reheat? Will it give me too much indigestion for the office? And most importantly, will it smell so good that all of my coworkers will be envious? Or do I need to scavenge the cupboards to create something on the fly?

Expect to see various postings about lunch here because I think many people actually have a harder time with creating something for lunch than they do dinner. I look forward to inspiring new creative lunches for everyone (I will be adding photos as well!) Oh yes - what did I have for lunch today? Left over broccoli and turkey stir fry on an endive salad topped with balsamic dressing. Good aroma factor!
Good eats,


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