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