Friday, August 12, 2011

keep this in your back pocket

my kitchen has gotten a workout this past week.

saturday: roasted a chicken
sunday: made banana cinnamon pancakes
monday: made chicken stock & pasta with peas, olive oil and parmesean cheese
tuesday: sauteed zucchini and summer squash
wednesday: made pappardelle pasta with sausage in a tomato sauce
thursday: made chicken salad using some of the chicken i roasted

i haven't cooked this much in months. it feels really good.

dinner wednesday night was totally made on the fly. i got home from the gym around 7:30pm and just wanted to watch the cubs game. but inspiration hit me, thanks to julia della croce. every now and then i hear her voice ringing in my ears, talking about how to use tomatoes or some other ingredient. last night i remembered her talking about how it's okay to use tomato paste and how using canned whole tomatoes can add a nice chunkiness to any tomato sauce.

so following her advice i came up with this dish. it's relatively easy and can be adapted to other meats, vegetables and pastas. it's a good recipe to have in your back pocket when it's a wednesday night and you don't feel like putting together anything too difficult. this is exactly what i needed. 

pappardelle pasta with sausage in a tomato sauce

2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (i actually forgot i had garlic and used garlic powder instead)
2 links of mild italian sausage
1 can of whole tomatoes (14.5 ounces)
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
a couple pinches of salt and pepper
8 ounces pappardelle egg noodles (or any type of pasta)

place pot of cold water over high heat and bring to a boil. add a large pinch of salt to water. once water is at a rolling boil, add pasta. cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes. depending on the pasta you are using, it may reach al dente in about 5 minutes or 10 minutes.

while water is coming to a boil, place large skillet over medium heat. add the olive oil and chopped garlic. remove the sausage from its casing. once the garlic starts to become fragrant (2 minutes or so) add the sausage to the skillet. brown the sausage and break it up using a spatula or wooden spoon (or cut up the sausage before placing it in the skillet.) while it is browning, open the can of whole tomatoes. chop tomatoes to desired size (can be a rough chop or a dice, depending on how chunky you want your sauce). feel free to get rid of the water from the can. the tomatoes themselves should give a good amount of juice to the sauce.

drain sausage once browned. add chopped tomatoes to the skillet with the sausage. add tomato paste. if the ingredients in the skillet are too thick and not combining properly, add some water from your pasta. reduce heat. add salt and pepper and allow sauce to come together by letting it sit for 3 -5 minutes or so.

once your pasta is al dente, add directly to the skillet with the sausage, tomatoes, etc. gently toss to coat all of the pasta.

yield: 3-4 servings

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

the stock market

the market may be down but my stock is up! my first venture into the stock market and i come out a winner. you just have to listen to your advisers, follow the rules, trust your gut and all will be well in the end.

which stock did i invest in?


okay, okay, so i'm joking. but in all seriousness, i had a breakthrough monday night. i made chicken stock for the first time ever. i'm quite proud. i've roasted many a chicken and have always discarded the carcass without thinking twice. well no more. my days of buying chicken stock from the store are over.

i would like to thank my personal adviser, mark bittman, for his coaching. i would definitely recommend him to anyone who is going to consider any kind of investing. 

investing in the kitchen, that is.

basic chicken stock
adapted from how to cook everything by mark bittman

there are many, many stock recipes out there but this is the one i had on hand. ingredients may vary, cooking time may vary, subtle flavors may vary, but i feel like any recipe will get the job done, really. also, when picking out fresh herbs at the grocery store make sure you come home with what you mean to get. i went to the grocery for the sole purpose of picking up some parsley but managed to come home with cilantro. i still have no idea what happened..

i used the leftover bones and carcass from the 5 pound chicken i roasted saturday night. it is important to have some meat on the bones in order to get a meaty flavor. makes sense.

3 to 4 pounds chicken parts and/or bones
1 cup roughly chopped onion
1 cup roughly chopped carrot
1/2 cup roughly chopped celery
1/2 tablespoon of dried parsley or 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley (see parsley note above)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt, plus more if necessary
about 4 quarts water (16 cups)

combine all ingredients in a large stockpot. bring just about to a boil, then partially cover and adjust the heat so the mixture send up a few bubbles at a time. cook until the meat falls from the bones and the bones separate from one another, at least 2 hours. (i let mine go for 3 hours.)

strain, pressing on the vegetables and meat to extract as much juice as possible. taste and add salt if necessary. (my method was to use tongs and pick out the large parts and set them in a colander in the sink. i then used a fine mesh strainer over another stock pot to strain all the little pieces.)

refrigerate, then skim any hardened fat from the surface. refrigerate for 4 to 5 days (longer if you boil it every third day, which will keep it from spoiling), or freeze.

yield: 3 quarts

Sunday, August 7, 2011

pastries. plural.

i've been in a french mood since friday and i don't foresee it leaving any time soon.

it started when an old, adorable french man came into my work. i greeted him and he just smiled, didn't say anything. after about 10 minutes of looking around the showroom he pointed to a catalogue and asked "to take?" i said, "yes, of course. let me know if you have any questions." he looked at me, confused, and then said, "i'm french.. no know english.." my heart lurched. the perfect opportunity to practice my french!

...and my mind went blank. i couldn't even remember how to say "you're welcome." in my mind i was saying, "de rien? that's french, right? but would that be too informal for this occasion? what is the formal way? is there a formal way?? gah, why can i only remember italian right now!"

i tried my best but i ended up getting frustrated and stuck to english. dang. i hate how my mind goes to mush when it comes to foreign languages. especially french, the language i adore! and actually studied! it's only now i remember "avec plaisir"! zut alors, indeed..

i had to work yesterday. this is not normal for me but i decided to make the most of the morning by stopping by bittersweet and getting some french pastries for breakfast. (yes, pastries. as in the plural form of the word, not the singular. you have to have multiple french pastries if you're going to have any at all.)

my desire for french things was further fueled after watching kings of pastry friday night. one of the chefs featured was jacquy pfeiffer from the french pastry school here in chicago. i cannot believe the art they are able to make using only confectionery ingredients. it's really amazing.

who knows where this french mood will take me this week. hopefully somewhere delicious.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

this is not helping my wanderlust one bit

MOVE from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

LEARN from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

EAT from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

i want to experience all of this. so bad.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

bread with a side of soup

it's august. although the temp outside has cooled to a welcoming 80 degrees, my non-air conditioned apartment is still considerably toasty. so then why did i have hot soup for dinner? i blame anthony bourdain..

earlier this summer i read kitchen confidential and absolutely loved it. i've been a fan of tony for years but had never read any of his books. he's so crass, so honest. i love it. if you're interested in the goings-on in the kitchen world (and you don't mind profanity), then you should read his first book. it just reaffirmed my belief that chefs are total badasses.

"a day in the life" was by far my favorite chapter. i so wish i was one of those hard-core individuals who could survive the kitchen culture tony describes in his book. i wish i was that badass. to be honest, i'd probably end up in the corner of the walk-in, curled up in a ball, eating my own hair.

back to soup..

last week i started reading his tony's book a cook's tour (borrowed from my lovely local library). on the train home from work tonight i was reading about tony's visit back to the small french town where his aunt and uncle lived, where he and his brother spent their summers growing up. over and over again he referenced the thick, crusty, rustic bread they enjoyed as children. oh man, it sounded so good; i had to get me some. all i could focus on once i stepped off the train was getting my hands on some crusty bread. and we all know that soup is a wonderful counterpart to crusty bread. or wait, is crusty bread a wonderful counterpart to soup? you're supposed to focus on the soup, right? well i like to focus on the bread.

the bread may have been from the bakery at jewel and the soup may have been from a can, but it was still a nice dinner. even if it's technically still hot outside.

on another tony note, have you seen the elBulli episode of no reservations yet?? it's amazing. during their meal i found myself slowly leaning closer and closer to the television, enthralled by the food ferran adria has dreamed up. he's a character. thank goodness for creative people.

oh, and seeing jose andres together with tony was hilarious. you have to read their one-liners. go do it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

this past weekend i...

-ran 12 miles on the lakefront as part of my marathon training.
-helped clean up my church's flooded basement (from the 6" of rain we got friday night).
-drank some leinenkugel's.
-watched the cubbies win three in a row at home.
-went to foster beach and had a picnic with friends.
-witnessed a friend's baptism in lake michigan.
-had my first near miss dooring incident while riding my bike back from the beach.
-saw bon iver in concert for the first time.
-experienced the most phenomenal night of live music.

honestly, i can't get over how great justin, sean, mikey and the rest of these boys are live. i get shivers just thinking about sunday night.

Friday, July 22, 2011

more from the sketchbook project

bre's sketchbook wasn't the only one i took the time to flip through during the 2011 sketchbook project tour. to be honest, most of the books i checked out were very disappointing. maybe that was a fluke. a few of them looked like the artist wasn't even trying. one in particular only had pencil scribbles in it. and not the good, interesting, purposeful, artsy kind (if you know what i mean).

however, there was one lovely sketchbook that made me smile.

uk illustrator lauren peppiatt submitted this sketchbook and it completely made my day (well, besides bre's book, of course). lauren's style is so playful and happy; i was glad i happened upon her book when i inquired about the theme "in 5 minutes."

i love how creative ventures like the sketchbook project bring together people who otherwise might never have connected. here i am in chicago, paging through a sketchbook by an illustrator from the united kingdom. how cool is that?! the randomness of it all still boggles my mind.

my favorite part about lauren's sketchbook was the opportunity to participate! how brilliant! i was all too happy to add my answer to the question: what would you do "in 5 minutes"?

"put on some music and DANCE!"

obviously. i mean, what else would i do??

wonderful job, lauren! thank you for sharing your art with the world!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

the sketchbook project

during the summer of 2008 i spent five weeks studying abroad in italy with 19 other interior design students. it was by far the most influential experience of my educational career. it not only increased my knowledge and appreciation for art, architecture and design, but it also deepened my love for italian culture, food, language and traveling in general.

one of the girls from the trip, bre, emailed me last fall to let me know she signed up for something called the sketchbook project. we did plenty of sketching while we were abroad so i was excited to see what she was going to do with this project. her theme was "down your street" and she had the brilliant idea to have her friends from all over the world send pictures of their streets so she could do something creative with them. i jumped on board right away.

bre finished her book and turned it in earlier this year. her lovely sketchbook is now touring the country and this weekend the tour stopped in chicago. yesterday i made the trek to the hyde park art center and saw it in person.

leah and jessica were part of our italy group and they also helped with this project. holding bre's sketchbook in my hands and seeing the sketch of via ricasoli, our home in florence for five weeks, made me miss italy so, so much. i haven't seen these girls in three years but flipping through the sketchbook brought all of us back together in a way. oh, what i wouldn't do to be back in firenze, sitting on the steps of the duomo, drinking cheap red wine and talking about the amazing works of art and architecture we had seen that day..

to ease my longing for all things italian, i stopped by the istria cafe (next door to the art center) and enjoyed a piccolo cup of strawberry gelato. sure, it wasn't as good as the gelato i had in italy but it got the job done.

bre, congrats on a beautiful sketchbook! so glad i could be a part of it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

basil? no really, basil?..

when i first saw that basil was an ingredient in these cookies, i balked. why would anyone put basil in a shortbread cookie? that's crazypants. but then i thought more about it and i became intrigued. so this past saturday i made sure i came home from the green city farmers market with a bunch of basil.

i can't even tell you how hot it is in my apartment right now. my apartment which does not have air conditioning. we're in the middle of the standard chicago style july heat wave. we are hot. we are sticky. but we want cookies. the last thing you want to do in this weather is turn on the oven but what did i do sunday afternoon? i turned it up to 375 and made these cookies.

worth iiiiit.

these cookies have a great shortbread texture: firm, dense, not too crumbly. and the lemon-lime combination makes for a subtle zing when you bite into them. the hint of basil is a treat too, bringing these cookies from a standard shortbread to something special.

they're even better a day or two after you make them because the basil has time to make its presence known a bit more. just try them.

lemon-lime basil shortbread cookies
adapted from bon appetit magazine, july 2011

these cookies are so easy to make, all you need is a food processor. you dump all of the ingredients in and hit the pulse button a few times and bam! you gots you some cookie dough. they don't make cookies any easier than that, my friends.

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons sliced fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
     plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
sanding sugar (optional)

preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. place flour, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, butter, basil, both zests, lemon juice, and salt in a food processor. pulse until large, moist clumps form. measure level tablespoonfuls of dough; roll between your palms to form balls. place on a large baking sheet, spacing 2" apart. (or place them around haphazardly as i know you really do. or at least that's how my mom does it.)

press cookies into 2" rounds. (i just used my fingers, but the original recipe says to coat the bottom of a measuring cup with powdered sugar and press down the balls of dough but that was too complicated for me. your fingers will work just as fine.) sprinkle tops of cookies with sanding sugar, if using.

bake until edges are brown, about 20 minutes. transfer to wire rack; let cool.

yield: the original recipe says about 16 but i only managed to get 12 out of one batch. plus i ate three while they were cooling, so my yield was considerably lower.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

arizona: instagram'd

i'm still working on organizing all of the pictures i took while in the desert. so to hold you over even longer, here are some pictures through the lens of instagram. enjoy.
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