Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cheap Wine of the Week Roundup

Yes, it's been a while since I've posted. Yes, it's been waaaaay too long since I've posted on Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday. Today is an attempt to rectify that situation. We've had some really good cheap wines of the week over the last month or so and I'm just going to throw them all at you here at once... that is, if I can remember what they all tasted like now...

The first one is actually a rose. And I think it's the first rose I've mentioned on this blog. So, it must be good, and you should pay attention. This is the 2009 Domaine du Vieux Chene,Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, Cuvee Friande.  It's a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. I found it for $13 at a wine shop in the west loop. It was nice and dry, for a rose, and it was perfect for the still-warm summer night when we drank it. It's got some good raspberry notes and it's very smooth drinking. If you will give a rose a chance, I suggest this one.

Next up is the Chateau Roc de Levraut Bordeaux blend. It's a blend of 50% Cabernet, 40% Merlot and 10% Cab Franc. I found it for $11.99 at our local wine shop. A very nice blend. I thought I'd like it looking at the varietals, and I was right. Smooth, fruit forward but with a little bit of tannin and a little bit of oak, enough to make it nice and chewy. We had it with a deep dish pizza, and it was rather perfect.

This one is the Este 6 Grapes Wine (47% Monastrell, 23% Tempranillo, 12% Syrah, 6% Garnacha, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6% Merlot). It's a southeastern Spanish meritage. It was deep red, looking way more expensive in the glass than its $10.99 price would have suggested. And the flavor was certainly there as well. Dark cherry, some great spice, a little smoky. I've never had a Monastrell before, but I'm certainly going to keep my eye out now.

This was another find from our local little wine shop. They've got a great selection of cheap, good wines. The 2008 friends red, a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Sangiovese from Sonoma, was only $9.99. I'm a sucker for Sangiovese in any form, so I had to try it. And besides, it has an emoticon on the label. It has 14.5% alcohol, but it didn't taste like it at all. Another pizza night wine, this had some great spice, without being overpowering, and some great fruit that slipped down your throat easily. Our wine shop says it's their best selling cheap wine, and I can see why.

For the last one, I just had to show off a little not-so-cheap wine we had. Admittedly, for the price, not a incredible, amazing, astounding wine. But for a I-just-started-grad-school-so-let's-celebrate night, this was a lot of fun to drink. The 2008 Brochelle Vineyards Petite Sirah, bottle number 150 out of 180 produced. Brochelle is much more well known for their Zinfandels, but a wine shop here, Lush, had some Petite they were offering as the last available in the country. I dearly love Petite Sirah, and had to try it for our celebration. Rich, smooth, flavorful, jammy. I was a fan. Again, not perfect, but quite good. And quite fun to feel exclusive and VIP while drinking it.

And there you have it, the last month in wine for us (well, the good ones, at least). Keep an eye out for these gems on a wine shelf near you and break one open with some good friends.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Turkey Burgers With Lemon-Honey Mustard

Oh poor blog, I've been neglecting you. Someday I promise to figure out how to manage my time so that I can fit in school plus posting, but that day has not happened over the last two weeks. Maybe this recipe will make up for that.

We had the pleasure of having Brad's sister in town with us for five days last week, and we took her out to some delicious places to eat. However, we also stayed in and had some delicious homemade food. The main dinner that I made was based off this turkey burger recipe. Brad and Michi felt like turkey burgers, and while I felt that that idea was much too boring for our one homemade meal, I was convinced that turkey burgers were, in fact, delicious and very worth making. They were right, I was wrong.

These were wonderful, adding to a yummy string of turkey burgers I've showcased here. And here. And here. And here. What can I say? I love turkey burgers. This recipe intrigued me because of the Meyer Lemon Honey Mustard Bobby Flay gave it, and while I didn't use Meyer lemons, it was still really good. With some chevre and tomatoes and sprouts and that mustard on top of this burger, how could it not be good? But his burgers themselves left something to be desired. So I added some fresh thyme and some 21 seasoning salute from Trader Joes and some bread crumbs, and it was truly awesome.

I suggest you make these soon to enjoy on a nice crisp almost fall night!

Yummy mustard, which goes well with some yummy beer

Look at that pile of chevre... so good...


Turkey Burgers with Lemon-Honey Mustard

1/4 c Dijon mustard
1 T honey
1 t lemon zest
1 T orange juice
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 lb ground turkey (85/15)
4 springs fresh thyme
1 T 21 seasoning salute (or other multi-spice blend)
1/4 c seasoned bread crumbs
8 slices chevre, 1/2 inch thick
Tomato, sliced
Wheat buns

1. Whisk together the mustard, honey, zest, OJ, lemon juice, and salt and pepper, to taste, in a small bowl
2. Cover and put in fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight to allow flavors to meld
3. In a medium bowl, hand mix the turkey meat, thyme, seasoning, bread crumbs, and salt and pepper till well blended
4. Heat a little olive oil in a pan over medium high heat
5. Form patties of about a quarter pound and put in pan to sear
6. Cook for about 15 minutes, alternating sides every 3 or 4 minutes to give a good crust on the outside of the patties
7. Place two slices of chevre on each patty and cover the pan to heat through (it won't really melt, but it'll get nice a warm)
8. Lightly toast your buns and spread mayo on the bottom half and the lemon-honey mustard on the top half
9. Place the patty, the tomato and the sprouts on the bottom bun and smash together so it's somewhat able to be eaten in one bite :)


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Josh! You made it on the blog!

Welcome to the beginning of a new school year! Yipee!! It's been a long four years since I've been in school, and I am overjoyed to be starting again. I'm going to a PhD program in Industrial Organizational Psychology, which means I'll be back in school for at least another four years, so this euphoria may wear off over time, but for now, doing homework makes me smile.

One of the best things about it being a new school year is that I am not the only one starting school. Chicago is entering into its time of transition and bringing people here from all across the country. Wonderfully, two Pepperdine grads have been brought here that just happen to be in-laws of our friends Josh and Hilary Dildine.  Josh let us know they were coming, so Brad got to help move them into their new apartment, and we got to have them and some other friends all over for a welcome-to-Chicago meal last Friday night.

Of course, I had to make something yummy. Who can resist a dinner party opportunity? Not I, said the froggy. And I suspected I might really like these people, so I needed another reason to convince them to stay here in the city. A long (read 90 minutes) cook time allowed us some wine drinking and hanging out before eating. And then my version of Tyler Florence's coq au vin (which Heather finally taught me how to pronounce after all this time of me having no idea), and some simple salad made its way to the table. It was delicious, and a perfect start to what I hope will be more new friends and new adventures this year!

Coq au Vin

I mean, really, how can mushrooms and bacon and chicken thighs not be good?

The full meal of goodness

The Dinner Party, a success

Coq au Vin 

Ingredients (for our party of 7, can be halved)
8 slices thick cut bacon
8 chicken thighs, bone in
1 cup flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 cloves garlic, sliced
3 cups pearl onions, peeled
3 carrots, diced,
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 c brandy
1 1/2 bottles Pinot Noir
3 cups chicken broth
8 springs fresh thyme
3 t Herbes de Provence
5 bay leaves
3 cups mushrooms, sliced
Chives, chopped, for garnish

1. In a dutch oven, over medium heat, fry the bacon till nice and crisp, then transfer to paper towels and crumble for future use
2. Salt and pepper your thighs, and then dredge them in flour, shaking off the excess
3. In two batches, fry the thighs in the leftover bacon grease for about 4 minutes on each side, until they are nicely browned, then remove to a foil-covered plate to keep warm
4. Add the garlic, onion, carrots and celery to the dutch oven and saute 2 minutes or so to soften
5. Remove the pan from the heat and add the brandy, then place back on the heat and use a grill lighter or a long match to light the brandy fumes (it looks pretty awesome, and it burns off most of the alcohol)
6. When the flames die down, stir in the wine and chicken broth till incorporated
7. Add the thyme, Herbes de Provence, and bay leaves and stir to combine
8. Add the chicken back in the pot, cover, turn the heat down to low, and let simmer for about 1 hour
9. Near the end of the hour, saute the mushroom slices in a little olive oil till just soft and add them into the pot
10. Remove the cover and let simmer for another 15 minutes to let thicken (you can add cornstarch or tomato paste if you would like it to be thicker, but I found I didn't need to)
11. To serve, top the chicken with the bacon and the chives


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Antipasto Salad

This recipe is not actually "of the moment", having been made about two weeks ago, but bear with me. I'm starting grad school on Monday and I'm trying to fit everything in before then.

This came about when I asked our friend Ian, who was staying with us, what he wanted for dinner. We needed a break from our massive Chicago deep dish taste test that had been going on for a week. His suggestion? An antipasto salad. It sounded delicious to me, so I headed out to find some ingredients to make this one extra special. (Really I just wanted to show off a little bit).

Whole Foods helped me immensely on the ingredient front. All told there were: tomatoes, artichoke hearts, mixed olives, pepperoni, provolone, mild giardiniera (mixed peppers), garbanzo beans, salami, prosciutto, and some lettuce down at the bottom so it could still be called a salad.

I made a balsamic vinaigrette to go on top (another plug for making your own salad dressings, a lot cheaper and a lot better than bottled stuff). It was all delicious. We couldn't even eat it all. I highly recommend it for a group of four instead of our group of three. And I highly recommend using high quality ingredients. Those meats and that cheese made this salad what it was.

One more note, I apologize for the wonky red- and yellow-ness of these photos. The lighting in my apartment is just that bad late at night and I don't know enough about cameras to fix it. Just let your imagination run wild with the colors that could be.

Antipasto Salad

1/2 head red romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 head butter lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
2 red tomatoes, cubed
20 oz artichoke hearts, halved
5 oz mixed mediterranean olives
15 oz garbanzo beans
6 oz mild giardiniera (find it in the pepper/tomato/olive aisle)
8 oz pepperoni, cubed (ask your butcher to give you the meats in one big chunk, instead of sliced)
8 oz salami, cubed
8 oz provolone, cubed
4 oz prosciutto, torn into strips
Balsamic vinaigrette, of your own making or not

Directions (easiest directions ever)
1. Arrange on platter
2. Drizzle on dressing
3. Serve


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday

Welcome to this week's installment of Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday! This week's wine was a lovely little find. I overheard a wine shop's proprietor suggesting this to another customer in the store, and when the other person passed on this last bottle, I snagged it up instead. It was billed as a great, inexpensive Napa Cab, and I just didn't know if I could trust finding such a thing in Chicago.

When we visited Napa last summer, I really began to appreciate the Napa terroir, especially as it related to their Cabs. Before then, I'd never really liked Cab much. But I realize now that's because I was exposed to cheaper, harsher, not-very-good versions instead of the rich smoothness that a true Cab can bring. At this point in my life, I may possibly consider Cab my favorite varietal. Possibly. There may be too many contenders to settle that score just yet.

However, Cab is one of the grapes that I find almost always get better with an increase in price. Not every time, but typically. And that wonderful Napa Cab taste seems to be truly hard to recreate under $20. This wine was not perfect in that regard, but it was very nice, very smooth, very easy drinking, and only $11.99.

It's the 2007 Lot 205 Cabernet Sauvignon. The link takes you to the tasting notes from the winery itself, and they say everything about the wine better than I would as far as flavor profiles and such, but we really enjoyed this one. 

It seems to be pretty widely available across the States, so keep an eye out for this one. Drink it with some grilled something, or some red meat pizza, or even some smoked salmon. You'll be glad you did.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Kitty Celebration Dinner

As some of you may know, we just adopted two adorable kitties. They are 8 month old brothers, so they have a ton of energy and are a lot of fun to be around. Brad likes them because they act more like dogs at this age, go figure. I like them because I love kitties, and two is always better than one in kitty world. Plus they're adorable.

The night we brought them home from the shelter was a cause for celebration. It was a new step in the Carter family. I had already had basic ideas for dinner but this was a reason to make everything a little more decadent (and break out a bottle of really expensive wine).

I decided on a pesto stuffed chicken thigh recipe. This I served with parmesan mashed potatoes. And we had a bottle of 2007 Miner Family Gary's Vineyard Pinot Noir from our Napa trip alongside everything. The best part of the meal was the crispy, salty, chicken skin. Then the moist pesto meat was superb. The cheesy, creamy potatoes were melt in your mouth good. Actually, the best part of the meal was the Miner Pinot. It's been a while since we've had any not cheap wine, and this reminded us of what we were missing.

All in all, it was fantastic. Not all that gourmet, and with pretty simple ingredients, but the flavor was there, the pairing was there, and the kitties were well celebrated. So maybe you have something you want to celebrate, or maybe you have some extra chicken skins and basil laying around and want to do something with them. Either way, this could be the perfect meal!

Pesto Stuffed Baked Chicken Thighs

2 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bunch basil, leaves only
1/4 c parmesan cheese
About 1/4 c olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees
2. Put garlic cloves in food processor and whir till minced
3. Add basil and cheese to processor along with 1/2 t salt and 1/4 t pepper and process till finely chopped
4. Add olive oil while processor is running, just enough to form a nice paste
5. Wash and pat dry your chicken thighs and then lift the skin and start to shove pesto underneath until each thigh is liberally covered
6. Add some more pesto on top of the skin along with a good sprinkling of kosher salt and some pepper (that salt will give you a great crunch that you'll really appreciate, but beware over-salting)
7. Place in baking dish that's been brushed with olive oil to prevent sticking
8. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until skin has browned and meat is no longer pink
9. Remove from oven and let rest for about 10 minutes before you serve

Parmesan Mashed Potatoes

10 red potatoes, peeled and cut in half
4 T butter
1 c 2 % milk
1/2 c cream
4 green onions, sliced
1 c parmesan cheese
3/4 T garlic salt
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Set a large pot of water to boiling
2. Drop the potatoes in and boil till fork tender
3. Drain the water, add the butter and stir till melted
4. Add the milk and cream and mash till most lumps are gone, but leave some for texture
5. Add the onions, cheese, and garlic salt and stir around with the masher till combined and cheese gets nice and melty and stringy
6. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve


Monday, August 2, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Penne with Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

Hi friends! It's a beautiful day in Chicagoloand. Although, I've noticed my perception of how nice a day it is outside changes drastically when I attempt to go running. Walk outside, "oh it feels so cool". Run the first mile, "gee it's actually pretty hot and humid out." Finish running, "oh good, now I can go take a water shower to wash off this sweat shower I've accumulated." Deceptive, that's what these clouds are.

In that vein, when Brad suggested meatballs for dinner one night, I found a turkey meatball recipe that looked deceptively normal. Some meat, some eggs, some bread crumbs, some homemade tomato sauce. Meh. It looked like it was going to taste good, but not like it was going to be good enough to blog about. But since it also looked simple, I was all for trying it.

Then fate touched the meal with it's long outstretched hand. There was no ground turkey at the grocery store. I mean none. I ended up getting ground sirloin for the meatballs instead. Wow, there's a lot of flavor in red meat. This non-red-meat-eater just had no idea. And then, to make matters better, I tasted the homemade tomato sauce that had been simmering away for an hour or so. YUMMY!!! Fresh, clean, simple, delicious.

And sure enough, this normal, possibly boring, meal I was expecting went flying out the window. Deceptively simple ingredients made up a really yummy meal. I was very well pleased. I love it when food surprises you. I suggest you give it a try as well.

Penne With Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

Tomato Sauce Ingredients
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes (go for higher quality, if you can)
2 bay leaves
4 T unsalted butter (optional)

Tomato Sauce Directions
1. Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat
2. Add onion and garlic and saute till starting to get soft, about 3 minutes
3. Add celery and carrot, seasoned with salt and pepper, and saute the whole mess down for about 10 minutes
4. Turn the heat down to low, add tomatoes and bay leaves, and let simmer for an hour, uncovered
5. Remove the bay leaves, and, using an immersion blender, blend mixture until smooth (alternatively, you can use a blender or food processor)
6. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if necessary
7. If the sauce is still too acidic, swirl butter into the mixture to mellow the acidity out
8. Use or freeze immediately (frozen sauce can last up to 6 months)

Penne With Meatball Ingredients
1 lb penne pasta
1/4 c italian seasoned bread crumbs
2 T milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c shredded parmesan cheese
1 lb ground sirloin
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cups tomato sauce

Penne With Meatball Directions
1. In a large bowl, mix bread crumbs and milk together well
2. Add in eggs and parmesan cheese and mix together
3. Add ground meat and season with salt and pepper, mix together gently but thoroughly
4. Shape mixture into golf ball sized balls
5. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium hight heat and heat a large pot of water to boiling for the pasta
6. When olive oil is very hot, add as many meatballs as your pan can hold without crowding (I had to do two batches)
7. Brown meatballs on on side without moving for 3 minutes, then turn and brown on the opposite side for about 2 minutes, continuing the process until the meatballs are evenly browned and cooked through
8. In the meantime, cook the pasta until al dente, drain in a colander, but do not rinse, so that the starch stays on the pasta and it will hold the sauce
9. Add pasta back into its pot and ladle about a cup of the tomato sauce in and toss to coat
10. In the skillet, turn heat down to medium low, add all of the cooked meatballs in and pour the rest of the sauce on top of the meatballs, allowing them to simmer in the sauce for about 10 minutes
11. To serve, place sauced pasta on the bottom of the plate and top with a few meatballs and a generous dollop of sauce, sprinkling with a little parmesan on top, if you'd like


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday/Thursday

It's another cheap wine of the week Thursday. What can I say? Wednesday escaped me. This week's wine comes from our handy dandy case special that was highlighted last week.

Now, you may know that I am not always a big white fan. But for summers of high heat and humidity, I tend to make exceptions. There's something very refreshing about the glass of wine you're drinking to sweat big drops of water all over your shirt because it's so much cooler than the ambient air. And I know that it's perfectly acceptable to chill some reds, but those reds tend to be on the lighter side of the spectrum and I'm not a big fan of lighter spectrum reds, so oh well for me.

Anyway, this week's white is the Conte Jacopo Frascati Superiore. It is distributed by the same company that brought us last week's Montepulciano, Casata Merge. I have never had a Frascati before, so I didn't know what to expect. With a little help, I learned that Frascati is a white wine very much associated with the city of Rome. This blend can be made made sweet or dry, still or sparkling. The major varietal is Malvasia biance di Candia along with a mixture of other grapes that make each Frascati unique. So, armed with a little bit more info, we were ready to taste this one!

It was lovely. Very fruit forward, but not sweet, much more on the citrus side. A little mineraly on the finish, but just enough to give you a crispness, not enough to make you pucker. This was reminiscent of a good Pinot Grigio, to give you an idea of the flavor profiles. It would be great paired with a light pasta or a seared fish or (as we had it) some homemade pizza.

I'm guessing this is not a super-readily available wine, but if you come across a Frascati of any sort, I would encourage you to try it. It's not amazingly amazing, but it's worth the experience. And, apparently, if you are in Rome ever then this is what you'll be drinking on the white side, so try a bottle now so you can be prepared!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Balsamic BBQ Chicken and Buttermilk Cornbread

I needed an excuse to use buttermilk last week. See, I was making this banana bread because I really, really wanted banana bread. I wanted it enough to go to the store and buy buttermilk for it. But since I rarely use buttermilk and knew it would end up just sitting in my fridge and slowly curdling, I wanted to find a good use for the rest of it and plan my dinner around that.

What do I come up with? Buttermilk cornbread, of course. Because who doesn't love buttermilk cornbread? And what to make with cornbread? BBQ, of course. Except we don't have a grill and it would need to be some sort of roasted BBQ. Then I remember that Giada has this Balsamic BBQ recipe I've used before that is fantastic. And then I found this blogger who suggested adding in some green and yellow onions to the roasting pan, which I thought was a nice touch. Viola. Dinner.

Together, it was a great comfort food dinner. The chicken was tangy and perfectly done and the cornbread was a little sweet and nicely dense. I will confess to sopping up the sauce with the cornbread and eating every last crumb.

Note: If you're planning on cooking both of these for dinner in one night, I recommend you cook the cornbread first and then let it sit and cool and continue to moisten as the chicken bakes, just a thought.

Balsamic BBQ Chicken

3 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on (could be done with legs too)
1 c balsamic vinegar
3/4 c ketchup
1/3 c brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T Worcestershire (could substitute soy sauce)
1 T Dijon mustard
1/2 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 green onions, sliced

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees
2. Combine everything but the chicken and onions in a small saucepan and stir till incorporated
3. Heat over medium heat about 15 or 20 minutes until the sauce has thickened
4. Place chicken thighs skin side up in a baking dish and surround them with the onions
5. Pour about 3/4 of the BBQ sauce over the dish, reserving the rest for serving
6. Bake for about 40 minutes, basting with the pan sauce every 10 minutes or so so the chicken stays moist
7. When chicken is done, serve by topping with the now caramelized onions and pouring some fresh sauce on top

Buttermilk Cornbread

1/2 c butter
2/3 c sugar
2 eggs
1 c buttermilk
1/2 t baking soda
1 c cornmeal
1 c flour
1/2 t salt

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees
2. Grease or butter an 8 inch square pan
3. Melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave
4. Pour butter into a large bowl along with the sugar and whisk to combine (I decided against using my Kitchen Aid for this recipe so as not to use extra electricity, and doing it by hand worked out swimmingly)
5. Add eggs and beat until nicely blended
6. In your measuring cup of buttermilk, drop the baking soda in a stir to combine, then add mixture to the bowl and stir in
7. Add cornmeal, flour, and salt and whisk until only a few lumps remain
8. Pour batter into pan and bake for about 35 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test
9. Be sure and serve with lots of butter and honey!


Monday, July 26, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - The Hamilton Guacamole

I may or may not be betraying long held family secrets by doing this, but I am finally posting my guacamole-making method. Every time I make it, people ask me what's in it, and I finally figured that the world deserved to know how this delicious guac is made. (It's really not very hard at all...)

As with many things that get passed down over time, there aren't really any perfect ratios to this recipe. So what I'll do below is offer the ratios I used the last time I made it (which was for a large group), and let you play from there. You may want to make it a little spicier, or less so, or add different herbs (chopped cilantro is a perfect companion), or add more avocado, or fire roast your own chilies and add them in. You get the picture.

However you make it, guacamole is always delicious. But this method yields consistent delicious results that your friends will ask for by name. I promise. So, without further ado, The Hamilton Guacamole.

The Hamilton Guacamole

8 avocados
Roughly 2/4 of a 24 oz jar of Pace Picante Chunky Medium salsa
1 T Garlic salt
2 t pepper
1 t salt
1 lime

1. Slice and pit the avocados, scooping the delicious insides out with a spoon and dropping them in a large bowl
2. Pour salsa on top of the avocados (you may want to start out with less then add more as you go to taste)
3. Add garlic salt, pepper and salt (ditto with the spices)
4. Using a potato masher (or, for a smaller batch, a nifty avocado masher), start to mash up the avocado chunks and mix in the salsa
5. Keep mashing and stirring with the masher until everything is incorporated (NOTE, DO NOT PUREE, one of the joys of good guacamole is the chunkiness)
6. Taste and add any spices or extras you want to, like cilantro
7. Squeeze the lime into the mixture and stir around to add some kick
8. NOTE, If you're letting this sit for any amount of time, leave the freshly squeezed lime juice on top and don't mix it in, then cover with saran wrap that is touching the surface of the guac, the citric acid prevents browning. But be sure to mix everything together before you serve
9. And there it is, in all its glory!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Four Cheese Bacon Mac and Cheese

Welcome to some ridiculously hot/humid weather! It seems that no matter where you are in the country right now it's miserably hot. Except San Diego, of course... there are a few moments when I wonder why we moved...

At any rate, last week one of my dear friends Sarah moved away to South Carolina (boo!!) and so we had a going away party for her with a bunch of hungry people to feed. And the next day we had a potluck dinner at our church after the service. Being the thrifty person I am, I tried to come up with something to make that would serve for both occasions. So I decided on a restaurant tray full of baked macaroni and cheese. But not just any ol' mac n' cheese. No sir. This has four different delicious white cheeses and some great crispy bacon thrown into the mix for good measure. Nom.

I found this recipe a couple years ago and and it's always served me well. Of course, I've tweaked it a bit, and I usually manage to use different cheeses depending on what I have a bunch of in our fridge. But the bones are solid and yummy. For this excursion I made a double portion, but I'll put up the single recipe here. Rest assured, it is decadent and fatty and completely caloric, but oh so very good. A note about the pictures, they just don't do its cheesy goodness justice. Sorry, you'll just have to trust me on this one.

Four Cheese Bacon Mac and Cheese

1 T olive oil
Half a package bacon, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T butter
5 T all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% milk
1 cup half and half
3/4 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 t nutmeg
1 lb shell pasta, cooked al dente
4 oz shredded Parmesan
4 oz grated Gruyere
4 oz grated Fontina
4 oz grated white English Cheddar
1/2 c seasoned bread crumbs

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
2. In a large saute pan or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat
3. Add the bacon and cook till just starting to brown
4. Add the onion and garlic and cook till onions start to get translucent, stirring frequently so the garlic doesn't burn
5. Add the butter and flour and cook till a thick paste/roux forms
6. Add the milk and half and half to the pot and whisk till everything is dissolved together
7. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce it to a simmer
8. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and let simmer for about 3 minutes until slightly thickened
9. Remove the pan from the heat and and add the pasta and the grated/shredded cheeses
10. Stir together till cheese melts and the pasta is well coated
11. Pour into an appropriately sized baking dish (about 3 quarts)
12. Cover the top with the bread crumbs
13. Bake uncovered about 40 - 45 minutes, until the top is browned and it's nice and bubbly and melty


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It's Back! - Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday

So for all my frugal wine lovers out there, Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday has finally returned! After a good month or so of 1) drinking less wine and 2) drinking not as awesome cheap wine or wine on the more expensive side, I've finally hit upon something that's worth writing about again.

In fact, I've hit upon 3 different great cheap wines. They all came to us courtesy of Que Syrah wine shop on Southport near our apt. They offered a $100 case of summer wines as part of a 4th of July grilling deal. For only $110 (after taxes) we got 3 bottles each of 4 different types of wine. When you break it down, that's about $9.15 a bottle. Out of the four different wines, I've really enjoyed three of them, and I'll be showcasing those each Wednesday for the next three weeks. I highly recommend you stop by Que Syrah and see if they're still offering this case deal. It's well worth it.

This week's find is the Casata Merge Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. As you've probably figured out by now, I'm a sucker for Italian varietals. And I hold a soft spot in my heart for Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, because it was a specialty varietal at my old winery. This one is a very good representation of the grape. It's fruity but with a nice earthy backbone. There's a little bit of a kick right at the end of your sip but the finish is still nice and smooth. We had it with a balsamic bbq chicken and cornbread tonight and it was a perfect complement.

This was a great summer red. Not too heavy, but able to hold its own against some of the barbecued meats that summer brings. So go find it! Try it! And enjoy it!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Salmon Sandwiches with Garlic Aioli

The other day I went to a great new place in Wicker Park called the Wicker Basket Cafe (yes, very cute). While my friend Sarah and I were enjoying delicious sandwiches and olives, I decided to also get a loaf of amazing looking ciabatta to do something with for dinner that night. As I was trying to figure out what to make out of it, I asked Brad what kind of sandwich he wanted. Salmon was his answer. Salmon sandwiches. Really? Can you do that?

I figured it was worth a try. Salmon is delicious. Sandwiches are delicious. Fresh ciabatta bread is really delicious. Might as well put them all together.

So I got some salmon fillets, doused them in herbs, got some arugula, tomatoes and avocado, cut up the bread, and made my own garlic aioli. Yes, you heard me, my own garlic aioli. Apparently this is no big deal to chef types. But to me, it was a triumph! It didn't break or anything. My whisking arm did its job well. And, oh my word, was it worth it. So yummy!!

I highly recommend this as a great summer sandwich that's a little out of the ordinary and a lot delicious.

Salmon Sandwiches with Garlic Aioli

8 oz salmon, skinned and cut into two fillets
1 T 21 seasoning salute by Trader Joes (can substitute lemon pepper)
1/2 lemon
Olive oil
Half ciabatta loaf, sliced
1/2 tomato, sliced
2 oz Arugula
1/2 avocado, sliced
Garlic aioli, recipe below

1. Lightly cover salmon fillets in olive oil, then liberally season with the herb mixture
2. Squeeze lemon half over fillets until covered well
3. Heat a glug olive oil over medium high heat in a nonstick skillet
4. Saute fillets in olive oil till cooked through, about 3 minutes on each side
5. Meanwhile, coat the ciabatta halves in aioli (the more the better!), and layer arugula, tomatoes and avocado on the bread
6. Add salmon fillets when finished cooking and viola! The perfect salmon sandwich!

Aioli Ingredients
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 t salt
2 egg yolks
1 c olive oil
1 t Dijon mustard
1/2 t water
1 t lemon juice
(Note, make sure all your ingredients, including the eggs, are at the same temperature, this allows for proper mixing)

Aioli Directions
1. In a food processor (or, if you want to be authentic, a mortar and pestle), combine garlic and salt till well mixed
2. Transfer mixture to a medium sized non-reactive bowl (like ceramic or stainless steel)
3. Whisk the egg yolks in until well combined and thickened
4. Whisk in half of the olive oil, adding the oil very slowly and whisking constantly so the oil gets completely emulsified
5. Now whisk in the mustard, water and lemon juice until incorporated
6. Add the rest of the olive oil slowly, whisking constantly
7. The resulting aioli should be a little thinner than mayonnaise, if it's too thick, you can add a little water to thing it out
8. Note, your aioli can now sit for up to 48 hours after the initial mixing process. However, if it separates (you'll know it when you see it) you can add another egg yolk and whisk to combine. That will re-emulsify it.
9. Second note, if you're like us and cannot get enough of the aioli, cut up the other half of the ciabatta loaf in small strips and use that to dunk in the aioli to eat to your heart's content alongside the sandwiches


Friday, July 16, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Berry Sangria

To all of my loyal blog readers (this one's for you, Jenna), I apologize. It's been a busy couple of weeks. My kitchen feels just as neglected as this blog. But it's high time that all that changes! There is good eating to be done! There are good things to be drinking!

I'm going to finally get the few pictures I've taken this month of things I've made up in the next couple of days. And I'm going to start with a late Fourth of July idea. However, it's super versatile and gorgeous and so it's suitable for any time, not just the first few days of this month.

In case no-one's noticed, it's been really, really hot here in Chicago the last few weeks. (Okay, there have been some nice days thrown in the mix, but they've been fully overshadowed by the hot ones.) One of the problems with having people over when it's hot out is the drinks you serve. Iced tea, iced coffee, straight ice... you run out of options pretty quickly. As you know by now, one of my favorite remedies for this problem is a sangria (see here). And this one is a perfect one for summer, full of fresh summer berries (which have been on deep discounts lately!), and very patriotic with the red white and blue. Chill it all day in the fridge to make sure it's super cool and and all the flavors are melded. Your friends will thank you when they're hanging out at your place and not melting.

As a special touch, rim the glasses with a little sugar for a little sweet start to every sip. It makes it look pretty too.

Berry Sangria

2 bottles (1.5 L total) dry white wine (I used a sauvignon blanc)
2 lbs strawberries, halved
1 lb raspberries
8 oz blueberries
8 oz blackberries
1 c triple sec (optional)
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1/2 cup sugar (plus extra for rimming glasses)

1. Add all ingredients to a large punch bowl or pitcher
2. Let chill in fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight (the natural sugars of the fruit react with the acidity of the lemon juice and the added sugar and macerates the berries all down into yummy goodness the more time you let it sit)
3. Before serving, taste and add more sugar, if you would like it a little sweeter, and stir to combine
4. Sprinkle some sugar on a plate, moisten the rim of your serving glasses and twirl in the sugar to coat the rim
5. Ladle fruit and liquid into the glasses to serve


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Roasted Goat Cheese Caprese

So this was a necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention meal. I have a bunch of leftover goat cheese from those crostinis and I have a bunch of delicious tomatoes that need eating before they go bad. Oh, and also some leftover basil. So what do I do with them all? Make a caprese of sorts, roast it till gooey and yummy, and watch Blade Runner with Brad.

This was very simple, and very good, though I think next time I'll turn up the heat about 15 degrees so there's a little more broiling action. But the flavors were delicious, the cheese was melty, and the colors were just too pretty to not make a blog post about!

Roasted Goat Cheese Caprese

2 large tomatoes, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
4 oz basil
4 oz goat cheese
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Turn oven to 375 degrees
2. Grease a sheet pan with a little olive oil
3. Layer the tomatoes, then the basil, then the crumbled goat cheese on the sheet pan
4. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper the tomato rounds
5. Roast for about 10-15 minutes, until goat cheese has started to brown and the tomato skin has started to curl
6. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before you serve


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Fig and Goat Cheese Crostini

So we had our summer seasonal wine tasting on Saturday (which is its own post, soon to come). And since it's been a little warm and humid here (ok, a lot lately... I've even convinced myself to wake up earlier in the morning so I can still run without melting), for the food and such I needed to find some good cool treats. Not necessarily something that didn't need heat to cook it, but things that could sit and be good warm or cool.

I made some bruschetta that fulfilled this nicely, but it was nothing too special (2 diced tomatoes, about 10 leaves of basil all chopped up, 3 cloves of minced garlic, olive oil, balsamic, stir, let sit, enjoy). And there were also some meats ad cheeses to much on as well. But the yummiest piece of goodness available that night were these fig and goat cheese crostinis. I found a great adriatic fig spread at Whole Foods and some good ciabatta loaf there as well. Slab that all together topped with some goat cheese and then broiled up and it's pure finger food heaven. (A huge shout out to my friend Jamie who did all of the assembly on these which allowed me to jump in the shower before everyone got to our place).

They are really, really simple to make, but really, really good to eat. I suggest you make them for this 4th of July weekend to show off to your friends and family. And then make them again the next day to eat all by yourself.

Fig and Goat Cheese Crostini

Ciabatta loaf, sliced thinly (a french loaf will do as well)
Fig spread/jam
Good semi-soft goat cheese

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
2. Place sliced bread on an oiled sheet pan
3. Spread fig in a nice layer on the bread, and then spread goat cheese on top
4. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until goat cheese is soft and just starting to brown


Friday, June 25, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Tandoori Chicken Salad with Cumin Dressing

This is another installment of a great summer salad. Low fat, high protein, and tons of flavor. And pretty dang cheap too, if you're like me and have a ton of spices on hand that just sit on your shelf most days.

I wanted another spice rub for the chicken on this salad that wasn't the blackening mix I've used a couple times before. I went to an awesome Indian restaurant a week ago with some friends, and with visions of that dancing in my head, I decided on a curry chicken of some sort. The tandoori chicken I came up with was awesome. It wasn't too spicy, but it had a nice kick (I got the tandoori spice mix here). I added in some fresh veggies, and found a cumin dressing here that sounded like a perfect complement. 

Brad and I were very pleased with the results, and if I'd had more room in my stomach, I would have even been willing to make more chicken for seconds. As it was, I'm just happy to have made this once so I'll know to make it again. A great, refreshing, filling salad that has now become a Carter favorite.

Tandoori Chicken Salad with Cumin Dressing

2 chicken breasts, pounded to about 1/2 inch thick
Tandoori spice mix (see ingredients below)
4 oz spring salad mix
1 medium tomato, cubed
1 cucumber, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
2 T red wine vinegar
1 1/2 T stone ground mustard
1 T cumin
1/2 T curry powder
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c cilantro, minced

Tandoori Spice Mix Ingredients
2 T onion powder
2 T garlic powder
2 T ground ginger
2 T coriander
1 T cumin
1 T cayenne
1 T turmeric
1 T pepper
1 T salt

1. Mix together tandoori spices in a small bowl or cup (watch out, that turmeric will turn your fingers yellow!)
2. Lay the pounded chicken on saran wrap or a plate and coat lightly in olive oil, then coat well with the spice mix
3. Heat a large pan over medium high heat
4. Once hot, cook the chicken for about 5 minutes per side, till it has a nice crust and is cooked through
5. Remove from pan and cut on the diagonal for pretty slices to top the salad with
6. Whisk vinegar, mustard, cumin and curry together in a small bowl
7. Slowly add olive oil, whisking vigorously until fully incorporated and dressing is creamy
8. Layer spring mix, then onions, then tomatoes, then cucumbers, topping with the chicken and then drizzling dressing over everything and sprinkle with cilantro. Yum!


Monday, June 21, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Chicken Caesar Sandwiches

Our weekly Salad and Sangria Wednesdays are starting to expand. First, we switched to watching Bravo's new reality show Work of Art, which is right up Brad's alley, what with the art and all. (Though the jury is still out on whether this is going to help or hinder the art world, especially after the ousting of Trong last week and the complete dissing of conceptual art). Sarah, our Project Runway friend who was there for the original iteration of S&SW, has come again for this version, and has been joined by our other artsy friends Seth and Shauna. With the expansion of people also came the expansion of shows... not only do we have Work of Art on wednesdays, we now also have Top Chef! (It's back! Yay!)

Simply salad and sangria is not enough to satiate Sarah, Seth, Shauna and us. And so we've been rotating duties of salad, sangria and an added main dish weekly. Last week was my turn for a main dish.

I don't cook that well for large groups (and by that I mean anything over 3). In fact, I was asked by someone last week if I had any recipes for her family get-together. She was going to have 19 people at her house for the fourth of July. I got scared by the sheer numbers and wimped out by offering up a turkey burger recipe. (Anyone out there have good group recipes? Please let us know!)

So when there are 5 people to feed, I feel slightly out of my comfort zone. And since Seth had already made quesadillas the week before (great group recipe idea, dang it), I had to go somewhere else for inspiration. I settled on the queen of fancy get-togethers, Ina Garten, or the Barefoot Contessa. I have her barefoot contessa at home book and love it. My favorite recipe from there is a Caesar Club Sandwich, which I've faithfully reconstructed many a time. Of course, it's also super versatile, so it's easy for me to mess with. I made a version of that for the night and it was great. Some crispy pancetta, some yummy chicken, some creamy dressing and some crunchy bread. Perfect to eat while watching gourmet chefs slicing and dicing on tv and not feel too shabby at all about the deliciousness that's going into your mouth at that moment.

Chicken Caesar Sandwiches

1 loaf sliced sourdough bread (get good crusty stuff if you can find it)
1 rotisserie chicken, hand shredded
8 ounces thinly sliced pancetta (bacon or turkey bacon works just as well)
1/2 bag baby spinach
1 jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil, tomatoes slice lengthwise
Parmesan cheese (best shaved, I had to used shredded)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 T dried parsley leaves
2 t anchovy paste
2 t Dijon mustard
3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 c mayonnaise
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, moving one rack up to the top of the oven
2. Spread pancetta slices on a parchment paper lined sheet pan (parchment paper leads to easy clean up)
3. Roast pancetta for about 20 minutes, or until crisp, remove, and drain on paper towels
4. Place bread on oven rack to toast while making the spread (don't toast too much, it makes them hard to crunch through)
4. In a small food processor, chop garlic cloves with parsley till minced
5. Add anchovy paste, Dijon, lemon juice and mayo and process till smooth
6. Assemble the sandwiches by placing spread on both slices of bread, placing spinach on both sides, then topping one side with sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan, pancetta, chicken and salt and pepper.
7. Place top half on and you're good to go!