25 February 2010

Dear Sweet Tourist

My trip over to the doctor today (right by the Magnificent Mile) inspired me to start a new series on the blog, called 'Dear Sweet Tourist' wherein I will address the common tourist to Chicago and point out some dos and don'ts.

Don and I are fairly experienced travelers and urban dwellers, and I feel there are just some things you need to know about visiting a wonderful and large city like Chicago. In short, we don't do touristy stuff. For example, we went to San Francisco and didn't visit the Wharf once. No Ghiradelli. No Pier 39. We didn't ride the cable cars either. Why? They're not 'real' parts of the city. We spent our time in Russian Hill and the Mission and Pacific Heights. See where I'm going with this?   

My readers will get some useful information as well as insight into my traveling habits and preferences and in turn, I will get to air some grievances. And this blog might even get some structure. Wouldn't that be incredible!

24 February 2010

yucky

I haven't quite met the daily goal for February. Oh well - I feel I've gotten in a good amount of posts, as compared to my normal frequency. I haven't felt fantastic recently, so the posting has subsided a bit. So in the spirit of feeling yucky, here's a list of things I think are yucky:
  • unmanaged body hair - especially hairy moles, ear hair, back/neck hair, and crazy eyebrows
  • spitting in public/on the sidewalk/that awful hawking (sp?) sound people make before they spit (is anything more crass???)
  • dog poo on the sidewalk
  • the way it smells on an airplane at the end of a flight
  • grey winter skies
  • cheap wine that tastes like syrup
  • stray/improperly discarded band-aids (gag)
  • mean/hateful people
  • unscooped sidewalks in the winter
  • suburbs (no offense, they just give me the willies)
  • driving/giving all your hard earned money to other countries for oil
  • men with long fingernails
  • walmart
  • fast food

19 February 2010

Meet my new friend...

I'd like to introduce you to a new friend of mine. Her name is Amy. Amy makes the most amazing organic and not-full-of extra junk soups!


Don and I have been fan's of the Chunky Tomato Bisque for quite some time.


Upon a recent trip to the grocery store, I discovered that Amy also makes that staple of Midwestern convenience cooking - condensed Cream of Mushroom soup! Now I can finally make the recipes of my childhood (like beef stroganoff, which I did make last night, with organic steak!) and almost half the recipes I received at my wedding shower...

(Did I mention that we are doing our darndest to eliminate all processed foods with artificial ingredients from our lives? Because we are. And it is delightful and delicious.)

milk & honey - for my soul

My morning was just made a little more delicious! After my dentist appointment this morning I stopped in to my favorite East Village cafe - Milk & Honey Cafe. When I worked on Division Street, I would go there almost daily. They make almost everything they sell in-house - granola, pastries, sandwiches, soups. They even roast their own roast beef. And they sell Intelligentsia coffee, which is Chicago's finest, if you ask me.

My favorite item is their Tropicalia black iced tea - soooooo good!

Today I purchased a latte & homemade cinnamon donut for breakfast, and also some artichoke soup & a citrus cous cous salad for lunch. YUMMMM!

That latte made my walk down to work a lot less painful!

17 February 2010

what if...

What if I owned this house:

[Raised Ranch! 5520 S. Kostner Ave, Chicago]


I think I'd hang this light fixture:
[the Astron Tri from Rejuvenation]

16 February 2010

what the world needs...

more ladies like this:
(Christina Hendricks - Mad Men's Joan with director Matthew Weiner - image via Huffington Post)


fewer floozies like this:
(ug - i think we all know who this is... image from People.com)

My favorite singer of all time said these wise words:
"Never compromise yourself - you're all you've got."
-Janis Joplin

14 February 2010

why hello there, harvey! nice to meet you!

Thanks to {frolic!} I've been lusting over this lovely spring outfit from Harvey Faircloth for the last few days: 

I'd also love any of these 3 for a warm summer day:





I'd better get to sewin' (or money making...)! Is it Spring yet?

{all images courtesy harveyfaircloth.com}

12 February 2010

You do realize that I'm catching up on all the baking blog posts, yes?

I am way behind in my Easy Bake cOven posts. I even made the stuff. Hence the posting every day until the end of the month. Anyway, on with the baking.

December presented 2 of my favorite things - cheesy savory bread and sugar cookies. I made the flatbread in December for a tasty weekend brunch. I made the sugar cookies in January in support of 2 college basketball games - Syracuse vs. DePaul and KSU vs. KU.

Flatbread
Although the recipe was for zucchini and red onion flatbread, I improvised (what a surprise, right?) and used the red onion and sun dried tomatoes we had just received in our CSA. I mixed some herbs & garlic with some goat cheese to spread in the middle. I also made my own pizza dough according to Ruhlman's Ratio for doughs (I don't do pre-made). Since yeast and I made nice back in September, I've been jumping at any chance to use it. This dough came together nicely, and the ingredients to top & stuff the flatbread were so tasty. I will definitely make it again!



Michael Ruhlman's Pizza Dough
20 ounces bread flour
12 ounces water
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon active or instant yeast
1 ounce olive oil
Measure in your mixer bowl and bring together with paddle attachment. Once combined, knead with dough hook about 10 minutes. Pull off a chunk of dough and stretch into a square. If it's elastic enough to allow you to achieve a translucent sheet of dough, it's ready. If it tears before you can do this, continue mixing, either in the mixer or by hand, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise to about twice its size. Knead to expel excess gas and redistribute the yeast. Cover with a dish towel and let rest 10-15 minutes. Roll out into desired thickness.

Sugar Cookies
I'm pretty particular about my sugar cookies - specifically I love the Betty Crocker Cookbook's recipe with all it's powdered sugar, cream of tartar and almond extract. So I was a bit nervous about this recipe with none of those ingredients! I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only is Laura's recipe tasty, but was extremely easy to roll out and baked up consistently and beautifully!

I didn't have an opportunity to make these in December, but a weekend full of basketball games in January seemed to be the perfect excuse! And I had a KSU Powercat cookie cutter that I had yet to use. A half recipe yielded the perfect amount of Syracuse Orange circle cookies & Powercat shaped cookies. The Orange managed to pull off a victory. The Wildcats almost made it...



Either way - I'll make these again and probably add in some almond extract and cream of tartar for that familiar flavor. Great recipe!

11 February 2010

Pies! Pies! Pies! (from September and October, not November)

I was really busy in November, so I cheated and used my previous 2 months of perpetual pie baking as an excuse to opt out. So I didn’t make the EBcO recipes. But I will instead share this year’s pie contest progress with you.
For the past 2 years, I competed in the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest, as you long-time readers may recall. The first year I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I followed the Everyday Food recipe/suggestions for apple pie, and placed 16th out of 80. Not too shabby. The second year, I worked really hard on improving my crust technique, but unfortunately our flame-throwing gas oven produced some burnt spots on my pies and I did not do so well.

2009 actually brought 2 pie contests – the usual in October, but also the Pastry Chicago apple pie contest in September. So I had a much longer ‘pie season’ this year. The Pastry Chicago competition required the use of specific ingredients – Plugra European Butter, King Arthur flour, and Nielson Massey Vanilla extract. Since I had never used vanilla in my apple pie before – this caused me to rethink my strategy & recipe. My landlord (not only a wine man, but also highly trained in culinary & governmental affairs) suggested an apple strudel type method, so I ran with that. I had 2 goals this year – even better, flakier crust, and amazing & simple apple filling.

[2009 Pastry Chicago Pie Contest - mine is 2nd from left]

Crust – I found that using the European butter (higher fat content) and a high-quality pastry flour made for really great crust. We* had recently purchased Michael Ruhlman’s “Ratio” book – a great read if you want to master the basics of cooking without recipes. It is all about memorizing ratios of ingredients & not using a recipe. Based on his section on pie crust, we experimented and arrived at the perfect flour to butter to water ratio. I also mastered the technique of double rolling the crust – which achieves a result of super flaky crust, much like puff pastry but not as puffy. (No I will not share those secrets with the internets – you do realize I do this competitively, yes?)

Apples – This year I even went to the extent of sampling all the apples in Whole Foods before deciding on the perfect pie apple – which was of course Michigan Honeycrisp. Instead of tossing the peeled, cored & sliced apples with sugar and typical spices this year, I pre-cooked them with butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and the ultimate – fresh vanilla beans (per Landlord’s suggestion). Once cooked down a bit, I added a tiny bit of cinnamon (most people really over-do the cinnamon and mask the flavor of the apples). This results in a really juicy and appley filling. The response from my many test groups was positive. I will give you this tip though – use fresh squeezed orange juice instead of lemon to keep your sliced apples from turning brown. The orange prevents the filling from adopting a bitter flavor.

[final practice pie before Bucktown Apple Pie Contest]

The first competition (Pastry Chicago) didn’t go as well as hoped, but that is purely due to the fact that we thought it was a fine idea to go to a play the night before the competition and bake the pies when we got home. Because the flame-thrower is such an unforgiving beast, I can only bake one pie at a time. The first pie had a bit of a melty crust avalanche, requiring me to piece on some extra crust. Stressed. 4:30 rolled around, and although pie #2 (you bake 2 for each contest) wasn’t quite done, I was. So I presented two beautifully underbaked pies. Not the best recipe for a winner, that half-baked crust... Also, the pies that did place were NOT traditional apple pies – they all had other fruits or flavors mixed in – a big departure from the Bucktown contest to which I am accustomed. So I ate my chocolate truffles supplied by the French Pastry School and focused on what I needed to do at contest #2.

Determined NOT to have any fiascos for Bucktown this year, I cleared my schedule of all events for the 2 days prior to that contest. I poured all my focus and energy into making 2 perfect pies. I spent all day Saturday making crusts, cooking apples, and baking my 2 pies. They were perfect. Crust was flaky but didn’t droop in the oven, and was cooked to golden perfection. Apples were juicy and still just the right amount of crispy. Vanilla sugar & cinnamon sprinkled perfectly on top of the lattice crust. Is your mouth watering yet?

[best pie of my entire life at Bucktown...]

Unfortunately, despite making the best pies of my entire existence, I didn’t even make it to semi-finals. And we tasted some of the pies that did – hot messes of too much cinnamon and allspice with dried out flat crust. I’m really not sure what the deal is. (But fine, we had fun doing it and the proceeds are for a good cause, blah blah blah.)

Anyway, after this disappointment, I really needed a break from pies, and since we were going to Mexico for Thanksgiving anyway, I didn’t have the time or excuse to make a holiday pie. But I am ready to give it a go again. Because I mean, is pie ever really perfected? I better keep baking and tasting to find out!

*I mean Don and myself when I say “we”. He’s in charge of cutting apples and keeping me from having a nervous breakdown.

10 February 2010

challenge

Can I post for each day left in February? I'm going to try!

Spiced molasses cookies

Easy Bake cOven's October recipe -

I really love a good, spiced, old-fashioned cookie. Think of a cookie your grandmother would like and I probably do too. Linzer cookies, raspberry streusel bars, pecan sandies, gingerbread, buttered rum meltaways, shortbread...I love them all. Obviously I was excited about October’s recipe for molasses cookies. I was not disappointed – this is a really tasty recipe! I also had the benefit of following Christina’s advice to add more flour. They didn’t rise quite as much as I had hoped, but the texture and flavor were lovely. Don and I really enjoyed these, as did my coworkers!

09 February 2010

No Bake Cookies - a Kansas Delicacy

Have you ever had a no-bake cookie? Chances are, unless you're from Kansas, you probably haven't. In that case - I feel bad for you. No-bake cookies, sometimes called chocolate no-bakes or chocolate peanut butter no-bakes, are delicious treats. The process resembles candy making more than cookie making. I grew up making and eating these cookies. They have a sweet chocolatey flavor, with oatmeal and peanut butter.

I think I can also give these cookies the credit of winning Don's heart - he hadn't tried them until he met me, and they're still his favorite. No-Bake Cookies are so irresistable, I even went to the great length to procure all the ingredients in Europe and convert the measurements to metric to make them for Don in Finland.

As many non-Kansans have requested, I am sharing this recipe. I have to transpose the original recipe for you - if I type it as written, you will not actually be able to achieve the desired results.

Put the following ingredients into a heavy-bottomed medium sized sauce pan (at least 2 qts.):
2 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. butter

Measure out and have ready the following ingredients to add in after cooking:
1/2 c. smooth peanut butter
3 c. old fashioned oats


Turn the burner on to medium heat. Stir the first group of ingredients constantly to prevent scorching.

(melting and stirring)

The mixture will start to boil - continue stirring at a rolling boil for 2-4 minutes. The mixture will start to thicken and coat the back of a spoon.

(boiling and thickening)

Remove pan from burner. Stir in peanut butter - once melted, stir in oats. Drop by tablespoonfuls on to waxed paper. Allow to dry/set up and then eat.

You should probably eat the leftovers stuck to the pan, too.

This recipe may take you a couple of tries to get it just right. If you don't cook the mixture long enough, the cookies will be flat and chewy. If you cook it too long, the cookies will be dry and fall apart. They'll still taste good, they just won't be as good.

You can also put the mixture in to a rimmed pan and cut them in to squares. The mother of my best friend in grade school was the only other person to make no-bakes as good as these, and she would always put them in a pan and cut in to squares for us.

(ok, I realize these look a little bit like turds - that is because I didn't have enough old fashioned oats and had to substitute some steel cut oats - I don't recommend doing so unless you are really desperate for a no-bake fix!)