Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cookie Bars & Portion Control

Okay, in my defense, I did have a large mache salad for lunch today. But after a very late night last night and it being frightfully cold YET AGAIN in Chicago, I decided to stay in tonight and warm up my apartment by baking. I love making these cookie bars.  It's so easy, one 9 x 13 pan, semi-sweet chocolate chips, chopped walnuts, 12 minutes in the oven and voila...a giant cookie. I'm not above grabbing a fork and eating it straight from the pan, but since I have two friends getting married this year, one in a tropical location and one that will involve a wedding/reception chock full of firemen (YAY!), I decided to do portion control and eat one bar at a time spread out over many days and not many hours. 


Friday, January 23, 2009

Rock, Paper, Scissors & Go Fish

Last night I dined on a carefully seasoned filet of tilapia on a bed of mache and sunflower seeds. Broccoli and Fusilli introduced me to the ever delicious combo of mache and sunflower seeds in Vegas and I just cannot get enough of it! The "bed" of mache ended up being more of a king size bed of mache compared to the size of tilapia.  But I've been having one too many nights of comfort food since getting laid off I thought I should make up for that.  The wine is a Chardonnay from Roshambo Winery.  I found it at a cheap price at Cost Plus World Market (whom has NEVER carried this wine, ever) back in October of last year.  After going to their web site to link it up for this post, I now realize it was a cheap price because they redesigned their packaging!  The Chardonnay was decent, but I prefer the Merlot.  The Merlot has a great flavor and goes down way to easily.  If you're looking to buy some Roshambo wine in Chicago, the only spot I've found it at is at Goddess & Grocer and only the Merlot.

Tonight for dinner I'll be dining at the Art Institute of Chicago.  It's their After Dark series and tonight's theme:  After Dark:  Return of the Impressionists.  It's $20 for a night of free cocktails and appetizers.  A Recessionista's dinner of champions.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Turtle, Turtle, Turtle

At one point in time the best meal I'd ever had was courtesy of Cafe Sbisa in New Orleans.
Turns out the following time we visited this place is sucked so bad that we had to "walk away" after the crappy service. Probably another conversation but none the less, I tried Turtle Soup here for the first time and have craved it ever since.
A subsequent visit to Emeril's Delmonico left me wishing I could make this tasty soup at home.
The Food Network is hip with the times and apparently Emeril's recipe isn't top secret so all I had to do was substitute the "cute" turtle ingredient with run of the mill pork...
This recipe takes some time but the end result is awesome. Don't forget the waitresses' sound wisdom of splashing some bum spirits on the finished product. (pictured above)
Also don't think twice about a wee little nip during the cooking process. 20% alc./vol will have you thinking about good times far away from Bourbon St...


Welcome back, Rookie...

Good intentions...
Months have gone by since my last post and for good reason. I've been lazy.
During that time I've gathered a few lazy recipes as well.
Here's one from the dirty bastard himself Jamie Oliver which is so ridiculously easy and tasty that I'm obligated to get off my a** and share it will everyone.
I didn't alter this recipe much so it's perfect for the lazy rookie....


Monday, January 19, 2009


We were going to roast a pork shoulder to make something burrito-esque, but we could only find a pork loin. It was slow roasted and then sliced thin. The slaw had nappa cabbage, red pepper, banana pepper, cilantro and carrots. On the side – sliced avocado, green salsa and a dollop of plain yogurt... supa dupa.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cream of Coconut

This is the not so secret ingredient in a great Piña Colada. I'm only calling it secret because it's not easy to find... and it's confusing because you can buy things that sound the same but definitely are not. For example – coconut cream makes a terrible PC. Cream of coconut is like condensed milk, thick, syrupy and sweet. You only need a bit in the mix to make it perfect. I found this can at Lively Life, downstairs at the market.

So far the best result combined crushed ice, cream, frozen pineapple, pineapple juice, coconut cream and white rum. Blend until smooth and then top with a splash of dark rum.


Gourmet Burger Company

I read a review of this new burger place in Cabbage Town, and I really liked the sound of the Aussie burger – lettuce, tomatoes, fried egg, pineapple, bacon, beets, regular cheddar & mayo. It sounds like it would be so much stuff that you couldn't taste anything, but it really works. The sweet potato fries were awesome too... perfectly crispy.

Normally I would compare this burger to every other burger, especially my current favorite, the In-N-Out Burger. Instead I kept thinking about the slow roasted beef brisket at Black Camel. I think my problem with a burger in general is the ground beef. It's just not as nice as the slow roasted, fall apart, juicy goodness of something like brisket. I guess that's an unfair comparison, but texture is everything.


Grouper with Spinach and Mash

Coming back from vacation is brutal, especially when the transition is from warm waves and pink sand to the eternal twilight of winter. I looked out my window Saturday morning and this is what I saw... is it day or night? WTF! I'm ready to sell an organ to get out of here again.

The only thing we could do is try to recapture a little vacation magic, so we suited up and headed off to the market. I wanted Grouper or something to remind me of the fresh fish we had everyday on va-cay. I also wanted to get the secret ingredients to make... you guessed it Piña Coladas!

Fusili made a delicious reduction of soy, lime juice, honey and ginger. It went perfectly with the pan seared Grouper, spinach and mashed potatoes. Grouper kinda tastes like chicken.


Rock House

This is going to sound stupid, but I'll say it... vacations are a lot of work. Ok, stop groaning and hear me out. If you get away once a year (work trips don't count) it's a big deal. So when you decide to go, there is a lot of pressure to make it count. Come to think of it, it's a lot like New Year's Eve... you know, all the pressure to have fun in a fixed amount of time. Oddly, our vacation this year happened almost by accident. I've had a dream destination in mind for a few years and by chance a WestJet seat sale, an unexpected cheque, and a place to stay all aligned just after Christmas. I think this might be the year the karmic scale comes back into balance.

In planning this trip, I've formulated a new vacation theory – find the cheapest room at the nicest place. I'll sleep in a closet... if the closet is in a nice hotel. Also, only trust other people who have stayed there. I have to give kudos to TripAdvisor, without the ratings from other guests I wouldn't have selected the Rock House. It didn't have a single negative comment, and after staying there I can see why.

As well as being an excellent place to stay, the Rock House has an incredible restaurant. My goal on this trip was to find restaurants that featured local ingredients. So I was happy that both times we had dinner at the hotel the special was locally caught fish. On the left, seared tuna with seaweed salad and wasabi cream. On the right, mahi-mahi with mash and green beans. I forgot to get a picture of another dish – local heirloom tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella. The only gotcha was the size of the portions, easily enough for two. The first dinner we each had an entree, the next time we shared an appetizer and an entree and I was still full.

If you're in the area, I can't recommend Harbour Island and the Rock House enough. Just don't rent a golf cart... trust me.


Conch Salad

This was the best meal I had all week. It was so fresh, sweet and spicy.

How fresh? When we walked around the side after lunch, a guy was standing in the water cracking the shells and pulling out live conch to order. The restaurant – Queen Conch, is located at the waters edge in simple wooden shack. When you order it takes about fifteen minutes because they make it from scratch. Onion, tomato, hot pepper, cucumber, orange and lime juice. A perfect ceviche.

Across the street is a store that sells beer and wine, perfect for killing time while you wait. There's nothing like brown bagging it beach side.


Sip Sip

When we asked for restaurant recommendations everyone, even locals, suggested Sip Sip. It drove us crazy for the first few days because it was right at the entrance to beach, but it was closed after the holidays until the end of the week. We had to wait until Thursday to try it for lunch, it's not open for dinner, and by that time the hype of everyone's comments made it seem legendary.

In fact, it is amazing. One of those places that blends in nicely with the local vibe while still feeling schmancy for the tourists. The food is ecclectic, like the customers, and it features local ingredients that change daily. We had lunch there twice and both times it was perfect. You can't beat rolling up from the beach, sandy and hungry, to find a mimosa and grilled lobster waiting for you. To make it even better, the patio at the back is perched above the beach over-looking the ocean. Can I live here?

From left to right: Grilled lobster with caesar salad, grouper sandwich with slaw, lobster quesadilla and king fish parmesan dip with pita. Not pictured – my new favourite dessert... a piña colada.


If you're not into yoga...

I've never been a huge fan of sweet, fancy blender drinks... frappuccino anyone? After dinner one night we skipped dessert and went to sit at the bar. I was looking at the drink menu, thinking about wine, when I saw it... Piña Colada... it's a drink, but it's also dessert... interesting.

That's how it happens. One minute you're not a fancy drink drinker, and the next you're eating a maraschino cherry, grinning like an idiot. Am I regressing? I don't care, a Piña Colada is better than any ice cream or molten chocolate lava poo cake I've ever had. Now I just need to learn how to make them at home!


Happy Place

Some of my favorite pictures... pink, green and everything in between. When I wasn't eating, I was wandering around taking pictures through my sunglasses... they make everything look like you're on an acid trip.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lamb with Mache and Mint

Before we opened the Amarone, we had a boneless lamb shoulder with mache salad and a chickpea puree. Full recipe here.


No Special Occasion

This bottle of Amarone has waited patiently for six years (ten if you count from the date it was bottled) for a "special occasion" since we (Fusili, Manchego and I) brought it home from Verona in 2002. I suggested recently that we should stop waiting for something to celebrate and just enjoy it now. So recently we got together, made a nice meal, and opened the bottle. I won't even try to describe the flavour, except to say that it was incredible.

The image above shows Manchego's skill in replicating the cork technique we witnessed in Verona at Bottega Del Vino. Each bottle was opened so the foil could hold the cork - classy! A splash of wine was poured into the first glass, swirled, poured into the next glass, and repeated until each glass had been cleaned. This technique removes any residue from the glass and prepares it for the wine – it's an amazing ritual to witness.

The image below shows the entrance to the bottega – an unassuming facade that hides one of the most amazing restaurants I've ever visited. Inset is an image of the original bottle we had with dinner that night. To see the interior, check out these panoramas on their site.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Eating less: baby cupcakes

This tip for eating less on Apartment Therapy's the Kitchn kinda cracked me up because a mini dessert would just be too cute for me to eat less of. I think seeing multiple little treats would only make me want to eat more of them. But tonight I whipped up a batch of white on white mini cupcakes for two little girls I know (4 and 5 years old respectively) and I'm proud to say I only ate one! Aren't these the cutest little baby cupcakes, perfect for a little tea party with Marigold and Bear?


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Better late than never - a pre-Christmas dinner

Remember that rustic flatbread I made a little while back? I brought it to dinner at C's the day before Christmas Eve, where we enjoyed it with his mother's deliciously cozy Italian homecooking: minestrone soup, asparagus frittata and roasted peppers. For dessert, a chocolate covered dried fig which encapsulated a little almond and of course, clementines.


Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve is usually a night to invite friends over and cook too much food. This year, we were invited to a party at a friends-of-friends. The idea was simple - each person/couple would bring a course to create a five-course meal. We were assigned the amuse-bouche and the appetizer courses. It was also a themed evening, with everyone following a James Bond dress code. I don't own a tuxedo, so I chose casual Bond. Something he might wear on a night off, when he's tired of the suit and tie. It was lame, I know.

In the background, classic Bond films were playing and I snapped a pic of the original Dr. Evil from Dr. No. The drink of the evening was a Vesper, shown above. For the record, I'd like it to be known as a 'Kick to the Head.'

Here are the courses in order:
1. Duck in Endive w/ Orange Chipotle Sauce
2. Oysters Rockafeller
3. Taramasalata, Tuna & Scallop Ceviche
4. Arugula Salad w/ Roasted Figs & Goat Cheese
5. Mushroom Agnolotti in Beurre Blance w/ Shaved Truffle
6. Ribs w/ Rutabaga Mash
7. Cheese Course
8 & 9. Inappropriate use of Marzipan, compliments of Fusilli.

Of course, after a huge meal and numerous drinks we did the obvious thing... dancing and jumping! I'm amazed that no one hurled. Happy New Year!