Friday, October 30, 2009

Breakfast of Champions

Ok so I am not sure oatmeal falls into the list of "champion" breakfast choices....actually I am not sure what champions do eat for breakfast! No doubt some do eat oatmeal. But the question is: What type?? More on that later......

I do know however, that this gal loves oatmeal, especially when the weather starts turning to the frigid temperatures. My favorite oatmeal, steel cut oats, unfortunately takes way too long to prepare-you can soak it over night, cutting down the cooking time, but the last thing I want to do at night is have to think about what I am going to have in the morning! Sometimes I don't know what I want to eat until minutes before or when the mood strikes. The "instant" varieties just taste like mush to me so I stay far away from those. It's all about the texture, crunchy and nutty appeal that I am after, if you will.

One of my all time faves has been McCanns Irish Oatmeal, the steel cut variety in the white can. It has the nutty and crunchy texture that makes it so appealing to me and when time allows, I do grab this from my pantry. And it's high in dietary fiber and low on fat so it is a clear winner in the "good for you" category. If you look on the can above you will see it got an award in 1893 for "uniformity of granulation" at the Chicago Exhibition. (AKA-the Chicago World's Fair. FYI~ read "Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson for a very intriguing look at that fair as well as history of Chicago's Architecture) Cool! I didn't even know that this oatmeal was so interesting in and of itself!

Oatmeal is not just an Irish thing either. Oh no! Did you know that the Scots have something called a "spurtle" for stirring the oatmeal? Apparently it came from a need to "break up the oats".....

"The spurtle, or porridge stick, was used before the advent of rolled oats. The oatmeal had to soften and become edible, so it had to be cooked for a long time. The spurtle was used to stir it frequently to prevent the formation of large lumps."

sample of the spurtle

My very healthy and smart sister turned me on to her secret for getting the good oatmeal that I love, but in a quick cooking form so that I can enjoy this practically every morning if I want to....

Enter: Trader Joe's Quick Cook Steel Cut Oats! The package says it cooks in 8 minutes. I am convinced (I haven't actually timed it) that I get it done in 6!

This morning, while the oatmeal was bubbling away on the stove, I sauteed up some chopped apples, ( I used a beautiful Rome variety-so deep red that the flesh inside had red streaks running through it!) walnuts, a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg and a squeeze of agave syrup. All I can tell you was my entire home smelled wonderful.....little did I know that the temperature outside here in Chi-town this morning was reading 67° F! Oh well I will consider it a "trial run" for the future mornings when it's below freezing....

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Halloween Inspiration

Here are some more pics to set the mood from County Living Magazine and Martha Stewart Living the black and white theme!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pear Spiced Muffins

I love pears in the fall just as much as I love apples, and was trying to figure out what to make that would be something I could have for a few days...something with a shelf life or a freezer life.

I also wanted to find a recipe that would be "gluten-free" as I am not so tolerant of wheat any more.

So I came across a gluten-free blog called "gluten free goddess" and decided to try her Pear Polenta Muffins. Gluten-free baking is new for me, and so I needed some help! I did tweak her recipe with one addition: I added crystallized ginger for a bit more zing. Hey, I think they came out pretty darn good....and as Karina says, they are not "low carb" but that's okay by me because I believe in moderation!

Here is her recipe:

Pear Polenta Muffins Recipe

This recipe is vegan, meaning no eggs or dairy are used. But you'd never know it. These muffins are grainy and tender with soft sweet bites of pear that almost melt in your mouth.

2 cups peeled, cored and diced ripe pears- 2-3 pears- depending upon size
3/4 cup organic ground cornmeal

3/4 cup rice flour

1/4 cup tapioca starch

1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup light olive oil
1 soft ripe banana, mashed well
1/3 to 1/2 cup hemp or rice milk, as needed
2/3 cup organic brown or raw sugar

1 tablespoon good vanilla extract
A sprinkle of organic raw sugar for topping, if desired

1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

1.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a twelve muffin tin with liners.

2. In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients- cornmeal, rice flour, tapioca starch, sea salt, baking powder and cinnamon; whisk with a fork to blend. Set aside.

3. In a separate bowl beat the light olive oil with the mashed banana; add 1/3 cup hemp milk, sugar and vanilla; beat until smooth.

4. Add the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and beat lightly until well blended; but do not beat it to death. The batter should be like a thick muffin batter (not as thin as a cake batter). If your batter is dry or stiff add a tablespoon of hemp or rice milk at a time and stir until it loosens up.

5. Stir in the pears.

6. Drop the batter into the muffin cups by spoonfuls; distribute evenly among the twelve cups. I like to make sure there are a few pear pieces sticking out of the tops. Sprinkle with a dusting of raw sugar.

7. Bake in the center of a preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or so until the muffins are firm to the touch on top and a wooden pick inserted into the center emerges clean. Try the pick method twice- you might hit a moist pear.

8. Set the pan on a rack to cool for a couple of minutes; then liberate the muffins from the hot pan- this keeps the bottoms from steaming and getting soggy. Cool the muffins on a wire rack.

To store- wrap and freeze cooled muffins in the freezer. They thaw easily and taste tender and sweet when still a wee bit chilled. They also are delicious warm.
Makes 12 muffins.

Tip: Room temperature pears help keep the baking time even; room temperature ingredients work best in gluten-free baking.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ode to Halloween

Halloween |ˌhaləˈwēn; ˌhälə-; -ōˈēn| (also Hallowe'en)

noun the night of October 31, the eve of All Saints' Day, commonly celebrated by children who dress in costume and solicit candy or other treats door-to-door.

ORIGIN late 18th cent.: contraction of All Hallow Even (see hallow , even 2 ).

Most people who know me know that I am not that fond of this holiday....not so sure why but somewhere buried in my past, must be a costume gone bad, or something like that! Because God knows I love candy! Maybe it's the idea of having to go get it that makes me sour on the whole thing! Too much trouble??

Anyway, I thought I would go vintage and rekindle my long lost love of this scary celebration we do in mid-fall every are some vintage Halloween cards and kitch for you to enjoy......

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Not your Mother's Meatloaf!

I had a major craving for good old-fashioned meatloaf and mashed potatoes the other day. I don't make it as a general rule simply because it never seems to have enough flavor and tends to be dry- which is why I think it gets drowned in gravy so often! So I started to go back in my memory as to when was the last time I even made a meatloaf?? And then it hit me.....of course! I had great success with the recipe from The New Basics Cookbook, which was my bible so to speak in the '90's. But I think I actually had made it for an ex somewhere in the early 2000's...anyway, I pulled out the book and low and behold there was the recipe (on page 525) that I had all but forgotten. It seems at the time this book came out, there was a restaurant in Venice, California called 72 Market Street, and this is the place where Julee Rosso and Shiela Lukins adapted their version. (Unfortunately, 72 Market Street closed its doors for good in November of 2000, about 14 months before the death of its founder, actor Dudley Moore.)

"....Craig Claiborne came out for the recipe, Vogue magazine has termed it the 'ultimate meatloaf' and 'Good Morning America' flew the chef in to do the recipe on the show...."

I remembered it had gotten a standing ovation the last time I made it, so I quickly set to work at giving it a once over and made my shopping list.

Suffice to say, I have added my own twist to it, giving it a small update to the present era of eating less "fat" ( I added one pound of ground turkey, and used only one pound of the ground beef-they originally called for two pounds of the ground beef). I also did not bake it in a "bain marie" (don't have a big enough pan for that method!) It came out just as amazing baking it in a roasting pan without the extra water bath method.

Here is the recipe with my adaptations:

Market Street Meatloaf
3 tbsp olive oil

3/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup minced red bell pepper

2 tsp minced fresh garlic

Salt, to taste
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
3 eggs, well beaten

1/2 cup ketchup

1/2 cup half-and-half
1 pound lean ground beef

1 pound lean ground turkey

12 ounces sausage meat (pork works well, not fennel flavored)
1 cup fine fresh breadcrumbs

1. Preheat the oven to
375 ° F.
2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet and add the onion, carrots, celery, red pepper and garlic. Cook stirring often until the moisture from the vegetables has evaporated, about 10 minutes.
Set aside to cool, then cover and refrigerate, covered, until chilled. (at least one hour)
3. Combine the salt, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne, cumin, nutmeg, and eggs in a mixing bowl, and beat well. Add the ketchup and half-and-half. Blend thoroughly.

4. Add the beef, turkey and sausage meat to the egg mixture. Add the breadcrumbs, then the chilled vegetables. Knead with your hands about 5 minutes to mix well. Transfer to a large roasting dish and with damp hands, form the mixture into an oval approximately 17 X 4.5 X 1.5 inches, resembling a long loaf of bread.
5. Place in preheated oven and bake for approximately 35-40 minutes.
6. Remove and let rest for 20 minutes before slicing.

This is by far one of those recipes that I can truly say, "I even amazed myself" at how yummy and moist and flavorful it is! You really don't need a gravy for it at all! It makes a really large size, so this could be great to serve at a dinner party for friends or just a great family weekday meal. No meatloaf could really be complete without mashed potatoes! I used Yukon Gold potatoes, and butter and even some of the half-and-half leftover from the meatloaf and they were delicious!

There is nothing better than meatloaf leftovers either....a cold meatloaf sandwich....what do you say?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dinner for One: The easy way

View coming down the escalators at Whole Foods, Lincoln Park

Okay...I admit it! Yes, sometimes I cheat a little. I mean, doesn't everyone? My easiest dinner and by far one of the best bargains as well, is the rotisserie chicken at Whole Foods Market. They relocated this past May, to a huge, and boy is it huge, location here in Lincoln Park. There are actual escalators that take you into the store via the 400 space parking garage.

Anyway, back to to the chicken! I have been getting their chickens for some time now so I feel confident to say, that they are consistently good and very versatile. Oh and did I mention that on Thursdays their normally low-priced $7.99 for the whole chicken, goes for an amazing $5.99??? I actually can get 2-3 meals out of a 2-3 pound size. You really can't make it yourself for this price! So with a veggie side dish, and sometimes some roasted potatoes or basmati rice, this makes for an easy meal. I have also taken the breast meat and made chicken salads, as well as wraps and even soup! What can I say? Sometimes it's worth cheating........

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Alan and Alex's Food Adventures in Finland

Photo from caliparisien's photostream on of a goose berry martini

My friends, Alan and Alex, from the infamous "international club" recently returned from a trip to the Scandinavian countries of Finland, Sweden and Norway. Although I have never been there myself, I hope to make a trip sometime. Meanwhile, the boys were so thoughtful to send me pics and point out some food and drink highlights from their trip.

First up is the delicious and interesting twist on the Bloody Mary, using beet root juice, aptly named the "Beet Root Mary". They had this in Helsinki in a restaurant called Juuri. (click here to see their menu in English). Juuri's speciality is "sapas," a Finnish version of tapas.

Here they are snacking on some "carrot butter" with some amazing looking hearty bread.

Here is a photo that has samples of what the restaurant offers for the "sapas".

Included above are dishes like: Smoked vendace from Pielinen and egg sauce, Beetroot and nut stew and small mushrooms, Roasted swede with cauliflower purée, Crayfish- cottage cheese filled cabbage leaves with melted dill butter, Lingonberry marinated salmon on maltbread with tarragon-garlic oil, Egg cheese spiced with oregano baked on top of straws, Turnip bread and garlic butter seasoned with lovage, Freshly salted whitefish with confit made of tomatoes...... to name a few.

(Now the guys didn't order all of this! I found this picture on and just wanted to share with you a few of the other sapas that are available at this restaurant!)

Alan said that it was berry season and I quote, "....
at the market we found it was deFINetely berry season, every type of berry: sea-buck thorns, lingon, cloud, goose, red, black and white currants- besides the more common - 'Farm Out'." Guess we will have to ask Alan what the last one is! Not sure if that is a pun or a real berry! If I know him, he made it up! Too many berries on his brain!

Thanks guys for sharing all of this with us! Looking forward to your next food adventure!

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Patchwork of life......

It's been a very busy week for me and I am just now getting a chance to sit down and write! It must be the weather and the fact that we are officially into fall, but I have been craving the usual fall fare....apples, pies, stews and soups, anything pumpkin! I even went so far last week as to can some pickles (sorry Dad!) and make some plum apple chutney. This is what I have been longing to do for years, but never found the time to actually do! It's the one amazing gift that being in between jobs gives you. You get to have the time to do the things you love most!

So then I got to thinking this past week about that small detail of my life- being "in-between" my past life and my future life. This is where the patchwork comes in.....I started to think about where my life was and where it is now and the journey that has brought me here to Chicago. What I realized is that with all the things I have done in my life, both work and home, that I am actually excited to think of it as a giant patchwork of experiences, people, and places I have been....all of which have made me who I am.

There has been a giant box of yarn of all colors, weights and textures sitting in my closet that I have been toting around with me for the past 20 years just waiting for the right time to open it up and make something again. Something knitted or crocheted or woven. Those used to be my hobbies, I thought! Time has gone by so quickly and I suddenly felt the calling to go open the box and at least see what was in there. The reality was, there were plenty of "scraps" from past projects, and as soon as I opended the box, the memories of the sweaters, hats and gloves I knitted, the blankets I crocheted, the bags I had woven (and let's not forget that "poncho" I made on my floor loom years ago!) all hit me with a nostalgic yearning to be that carefree young woman doing her thing with her whole life ahead of her! Before the reality of being a "grown-up" and being responsible hit. Back to the time when being creative was all that mattered to me and seeking out new experiences were important. Before I learned that I had to worry about real things like 401k's and retirement! Ahh.....if only we could live that way now!

I decided right then and there to take these scraps and put them all together into a blanket that I will be able to look at now (when it's done eventually!) and be reminded of how much I truly loved the touch and smell and feel of wool and of creating something so basic and so practical. I know it can't change time, but it can certainly alter it for just a little while! The picture above is what I have so far, not bad for a couple of evenings of work!