Credit- Whole Foods, Discredit- Decision to go there at 3pm

Here’s the deal. I secretly love going to Whole Foods… and it’s a good thing too. For almost a year I went on weekly runs there because we needed lemongrass, personal pumpkins or seven tons of beet greens… well that, and I happened not to have a crippling fear of grocery stores. But luckily for all involved, former roommates included, my bark is worse than my bite…and as it turns out my bark was more for show than anything else. I’ll go on record, right here and right now, and say that I love going to Whole Foods. I will be my loved ones’ personal whole foods goer any day of the week!

There’s something about its incredibly confusing and illogical layout that makes the veteran Whole Food shoppers relish the ease with which we turn down an aisle that would appear to contain only canned goods to find the tea leaves, pasta and rice. We also secretly cherish the forlorn and perplexed looks on the less seasoned shoppers’ faces. Why would they put cereal so far away from the other grains and breads? Welcome to the next dimension, you’re in our world now!

But I will say this: I will never return to Whole foods between the hours of 3pm and 8pm. 

The 5-8pm timeframe makes sense. It’s hectic and busy, people are off work and they are stopping in for things on the way home…. but 3-5pm? I’m not sure how to say this in a nice way, but it’s when all hell breaks loose with the elderly customers. I won’t pretend to understand why they’ve chosen this timeframe as their witching hour, but, mark my words, they’re lurking.

I drove over to Whole Foods to pick up fresh thyme and gruyère… I actually stopped at the Dominick’s on the corner of Fullerton and Sheffield, thinking: “What grocery store wouldn’t carry a commonly used herb and some pretty ordinary cheese?” Well, I’ll tell you who doesn’t. It’s Dominick’s on the corner of Fullerton and Sheffield. You know, I don’t know why I bother… I went there for lentils once and was disappointed then too.

But back to Whole Foods and the perils of shopping there between 3 and 5pm. I was waiting patiently for some lady in a minivan to pull out of her space. She was taking her sweet time unloading her cart. During this process, an older woman walked by with a bag which she loaded into the car parked directly besides where I was waiting. She made eye contact with me after shutting her trunk. The minivan’s break lights came on as it prepared to emerge from its space. Just as Minivan starts backing out, I am startled by a new pair of break lights to my right. I think: she knows I’m here… though I secretly scan my surroundings. I can’t pull up as Minivan is backing out. I can’t reverse as someone else is right behind me. So I allow myself to trust that this fine elderly lady does indeed a) remember seeing my car as she walked right by me to hers b)remembers making eye contact with me as she shut her trunk and c) FREAKING SEE ME IN HER REARVIEW MIRROR.

None of the above turned out to be safe assumptions. She comes backing out of her space right into my car. Fortunately, I and two other people waiting for spaces honked in time for her to stop, but seriously. Who on EARTH renewed her driver’s license? I want his or her name. I have an angry letter to write.

I’ve survived to tell the harrowing tale, so it’s time to make my gougères using a ziplock bag as a pastry bag (sweet!) Update soon on those.

Enjoy the thunder storm, Chicago. I know I will.

Experiments in cooking: Sunday Brunch Part 1

Disclaimer: I am in no way a professional and can’t promise I won’t make a few blunders in my kitchen experiments, but that’s how we learn, right?

What I can promise is that I won’t try to pass something terrible off as tasty, if it sucks I’ll probably attempt to make it better in which case I will document that process too. I can also promise that if something REALLY stumps me, I have a few professionals on retainer that I will consult…. I’m sure they’re thrilled. I already enlisted one to help me with homemade paté!

Without further ado, the fried green tomato benedict. 

As you may have gathered, I frequent the farmers markets. On Saturday (this was last week.. I know, a little shabby on updating!) I was thrilled to find green tomatoes at one of the stands.

I had recently heard about The Bleeding Heart Bakery’s take on eggs benedict, which involved fried green tomatoes and had to try my own version.

Before I get to the full recipe I want to take a second to dispel any and all rumors that poaching an egg has to be difficult! I am convinced that the skills required to poach an egg are somehow ingrained in your DNA. You either have it or you don’t. My dad can poach eggs like a master while my mother can’t poach an egg to save her life. My mom is the better cook, but for whatever reason that doesn’t mean jack when the task is to poach an egg. I, unfortunately, inherited my mother’s egg poaching skills. I’ve tried all your tricks. You can go ahead and give me tips, but 50% of the time the eggs just don’t actualize.

So I give a fool proof way to poach an egg perfectly EVERY TIME.

Step 1: Crack egg into a microwave safe cup (I used a tea cup).

The smaller the vessel the better. I’m convinced that the egg whites stay closer to the yolk when they are in a smaller space, but that could just be in my head! 

Step 2: Cover the eggs with water

What I mean by that seems logical to me, but just in case: pour enough water into the cups with the raw eggs that it covers them completely. 

Step 3: Place a saucer or small plate on top of the cup and microwave on high for around 1 minute. The hitch here is that it really works best when you do one egg at a time. I didn’t have enough time or eggs to experiment with the amount of time it would take to poach two eggs at a time, but I’m sure there’s some scientific formula one could use to figure out how much longer it takes to poach two eggs at a time than it would take to poach one.

The exact time is important. For my microwave and for the size of my eggs (they were fresh from the farmers’ market and therefore on the small side) it took exactly 1 minute and 10 seconds for them to come out. You may have to sacrifice a few eggs in the name of science, but once you get the time, you will thank me. 

I just had to prove that the yolk was perfect. I’m done gloating.

Fried Green Tomato Benedict:

I made this dish for two people. I used four small-ish green tomatoes cut relatively thinly and two eggs per person. Instead of a hollandaise sauce I made a remoulade (which turned out awesome) and used warmed and thinly sliced ham for my meat which I thought would make a good substitute for a thicker cut like Canadian bacon since the fried green tomatoes are already pretty firm.


The Fried Green Tomatoes:

I once took a cajun cooking class at the chopping block and basically replicated their batter, but upon consumption of the result I would say I would have preferred a thicker and more fluffy (less gritty) batter. So I suggest trying Corn flour… the stuff they use to make arepas and tortillas. I cut my cornmeal with quite a bit of flour, but it was still too gritty for my taste.

1. Salt and pepper your tomato slices then dredge them in the flour then the egg mixture (I might suggest also adding some buttermilk to that… something I thought of too late) and then again in the corn flour. You can do this while the vegetable oil heats up. You want it very hot but not smoking.

2. Fry the battered tomatoes. It only takes a minute or two on each side, but if you’re worried about overcooking them, just use a spatula to lift one out of the oil and check for it to be golden brown. 

Place the fried green tomatoes on a cooling rack (or a plate lined with a paper towel) and to keep warm you can put them in an oven set to the lowest temperature. I put my slices of ham in there towards the end to warm ’em up too.

Remoulade: 

I combined about 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons of coarse-grained mustard, a couple pinches of finely diced scallions and bell pepper (I used orange because I’m not the biggest fan of raw red pepper) and about 1/2 tsp of lemon juice, cayenne pepper and paprika respectively. Done and done.

Then all that’s left is to poach the eggs (see above), and while you’re doing that:

Using the fried green tomatoes as your base, plop some remoulade onto the tomatoes then put down a few layers of warmed ham and then the poached egg. I put a dash of paprika (more for looks than anything) on top of the poached egg.

Final notes: Besides the changes I’d make to the batter, I would have used bigger green tomatoes had they been available. I won’t even show you the final plating of this dish because it looked a little silly since it was more of a cluster of fried green tomatoes (see above) with two eggs and some ham while I would have LIKED it to be two neat stacks of fried tomato, ham and egg…..like traditional eggs benedict but the english muffin has been replaced by a nice slice of fried green tomato!

Credit- Farmers’ Market

There are many reasons that it’s lovely to be back in a big city, but the farmers’ markets available to Chicagoans almost every day of the week are the clencher.

Sure, it could be considered a very girly thing to love, I saw many a man being dragged by his significant other pretending this was a great substitute for college football. But there’s something about the crisp fall air and the crunching sounds your footsteps make that really should make you happy. Grabbing a cup of refreshingly-not-overpriced coffee then taking a few recon’ trips around the entire market always appeals to my peaceful side, while my more aggressive side finds satisfaction staking out the last bunch of French breakfast radishes whilst being sized up by the overdressed 30-something mothers, warpaint caked on their faces, that think they can intimidate people with their ridiculous jogging strollers. I see you have your adorable child with you, but could you please avoid rolling over my feet while using Bobby as a bulldozer?

Oh dear, this post has actually gone South a lot quicker than I would have imagined. I didn’t start this post with the intention of being quite so snarky, but you have to admit those people make you want to beat their heads against the nearest wall in an attempt to help Darwinism make up some of the obvious slack.

On that note, let’s throw people who go out in public and make a mockery of their pets into that pile of people:

Yeah, the freaking dog is wearing a skirt.

That said, I’m endlessly pleased to report that I stocked up on the entirely (non)essential items to which my spoiled urban self is accustomed and will post the results of brunch in due course!

Can anyone explain….

What the big deal with Seamless.com?

I feel like I’ve been seeing nothing but promos for Seamless lately.They’re making it out to be this new-fangled invention of epic proportion that will change the way we order our delivery….

is anyone else a bit perplexed?

Isn’t this what delivery.com, grubhub.com, diningin.com, eat24hours have been doing for years?

UPDATE: I’ll be the first to admit when I’ve jumped to conclusions! Mistakes have been made…

I’ve been spending some time familiarizing myself with seamless.com

As it turns out, seamless differs from other delivery sites in a few ways, the most important being new content. It has many of the same features we know and love about grubhub.com, but it also has a rather clever blog (which, for some reason, I can no longer access– still working out the kinks, perhaps?) plus they also boast a few new features.

The ones I find particularly novel are the wait time estimates available BEFORE you place your order and a blog with reviews and news about the restaurants they are acquiring.

They also have some of the old features we’ve all grown to rely upon. The “scroll over info” feature that lists ingredients and preparation methods to folks that might not be as familiar with the ins and outs of Korean BBQ, for instance.

I take back my snarky claims of redundancy, I see what they’ve done here.

Mea culpa, seamless.com. You have made a convert out of me.

(Dis)credit- Jeeves

First things first, Jeeves is a cat… my cat. But he’s not just a cat, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a crazy cat lady. Well, some might argue that I am, but if you knew my cat you’d know I’m entirely justified.

Let me put it this way, even MEN like my cat. A guy once said that he was “tits.” So that’s clearly a good thing.

Why the credit to Jeeves? He remembered me after my month-long absence.

Why the discredit? He’s PISSED.

He’d doing that thing that cats do where they lay just out of reach of you, acting all cute, daring you to try to pet them. The second you extend that olive branch in the form of a scratch they bolt like you were the spawn of Satan. Speaking of Satan, I came across Hell: A Novel by Robert Olen Butler while I was away, finished Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (who I’m all set to see at the Chicago Humanities Festival in November) and started a book by Douglas Coupland called All Families are Psychotic. Unsolicited opinions to follow, fret not.

All of this to say that I’m back in Chicago after a prolonged hiatus from reality. I haven’t had the chance to really “be one” with my decision to leave my program. Not having much of a plan is an understatement, but I have had job offers. That’s gotta count for something.

I am working on my children’s lit series and am about to embark upon a journey in which I will cook two DELECTABLE meals a day and force feed them to my mother who has the good fortune (?) of being my roommate until I am ready to accept that I might need a day job.

Discredit- stupidity related to food

Is the Government Setting Us Up to Make Bad Food Choices? | Fooducate.

Image credit: joe_13

Here’s my issue: there are people out there who think that they can justify the obesity epidemic plaguing the United States by claiming that it costs more to buy food at a grocery store and prepare it than it costs to eat at fast food chains.

I understand that not everyone can afford to haul ass to Whole Foods or some gourmet grocer to get their weekly supply of food, or that the option to even exists in some areas of the US. I also understand that if you’re a single parent and have to work your tail off all day that the time may also be a factor,

but

I refuse to believe that it is more expensive to prepare your own healthy food than it is to eat out at fast food restaurants,

and

I am here to prove that you can make it healthy and more importantly delicious.

so

Let the challenge begin: for one week I will prepare two square meals a day (to feed two since I’m single and childless) for less than it would cost to feed two at a fast food chain. Details to follow.

however

I have to admit I do love some good fast food every once in a while and good lord am I craving a Chicago hot dog right now!

Credit- Maude’s Liquor Bar

Leigh Hansen reviews Maude’s Liquor Bar

A restaurant as hyped as Maude’s Liquor Bar has the potential to either live up to its (chef’s) reputation or fall flat on its face, but one thing was inevitable: there would be haters. So, I avoided Yelp like the plague, which isn’t hard for me as when I inadvertently happen upon Yelp Reviews I generally take them with the tiniest grain of salt. But I am human; and worse yet, I happen to be a human who follows the food world like a starving hyena stalking a maimed zebra, so I ended up reading a few reviews… all of which were very mixed. A key article I came across, however, was an interview with Chef Jeff Pikus who cautioned diners against expecting Alinea style food as he was rooting himself to traditional French cuisine. If you know me, you know why I was particularly thrilled by this news. You try being raised bi-culturally (an American brought up French) and navigating the twisted canals of your warped sense of identity! But as an honorary French person and longtime experimenter with traditional French cuisine as acquired by having lived in the regions steeped in said traditions, I went in with great expectations.

So when I called for a reservation and was only offered the possibility of dining at 5pm or 9:45pm I allowed myself to be optimistic since hype can only fill a restaurant’s books for so long…right?

I met my date at 9:30 for our 9:45 reservation, and was struck by the décor of the ground floor. The bar is outlandishly beautiful, and even after having read that the darkened ambiance with its antiqued, eclectic furniture breathed an air of stuffiness and worse yet a pretentious self awareness of how “cool” the restaurant was, the overall ambiance had the opposite effect on me. Granted we were seated in a much quieter upstairs section, but I was charmed by the vibe, which I did not find to be ostentatious or fussy. The hostess was very pleasant, and our waitress was also very friendly and accommodating. I will say that they got the bistro element spot on with their tiny tables that constantly threaten to help your food to the floor for want of space. One small note: if you envision your menu as an array of dishes meant to be shared and allow your kitchen to send out dishes as they become ready, slightly larger tables might be preferable.

So without further ado, I give you the dishes… in order of appearance.

The first things to come out were the French Onion Fondue ($11) and the Roasted Bone Marrow ($13), and what a great way to start our experience. While not exactly traditional, the French Onion Fondue was very tasty and came out with fresh bread that was still steaming. I had previously read a very bad review of this dish, and the main problem as noted by the reviewer was how greasy the fondue was. Here’s my issue with that review: yeah, it’s melted cheese baked with the stewed onions from a traditional French Onion Soup. The fault’s your own for ordering this dish and expecting something non-artery blocking.

The Roasted Bone Marrow was epic. No, really. I don’t throw the term epic around easily. It was perfectly roasted and served with red onion jam and course herb salt, which paired together gave an ideal counterbalance to the marrow. I would go back just to order two plates of marrow for myself. Fortunately, I gave myself reason to go back as we neglected to order two very good dishes with which to assess a restaurant’s claim of staying true to tradition: the Escargot and the Steak Tartare.

Next to come out were the Pomme Frites with garlic aioli ($6). The fries came out alone which may have impacted my opinion of them. They got cold and hard astoundingly quickly which rendered them inedible by the time the Cassoulet and Pork Loin Paillard made their entrance.

I will permit myself a slight detour away from the food for a moment to talk about the liquor accompanying our meal, after all this is Maude’s Liquor Bar. I started with the Boulevardier and my date had a St Germain Fizz from the Sparkling section. I’m convinced that it is nearly impossible to concoct an unsuccessful cocktail with St Germain, but urge Chicago bartenders not to take that as a dare. My drink was heavy on Campari, but I’m sensitive to the taste so shame on me for ordering a drink with Campari in the first place. Our second round of drinks were tailored to our tastes by the very attentive upstairs bartender who made a habit of coming over to check on us and chat with us about his creations. The Robert Burns pleased my date greatly, and I was understandably happy with my specially made whiskey based drink. His zealously attentive nature afforded us the chance to hear about the plans surrounding the opening of Bavette, a beef focused restaurant with a similar vibe. This shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish as Gilt Bar and Maude’s already share similar visions, not to mention clearly share a website designer. Apparently, Bavette will showcase the talents of executive chef Brendan Sodikoff of Gilt Bar and our friendly upstairs bartender’s personal list of cocktails!

Back to the food: the final dishes to come out were the Cassoulet ($19) and the Pork Loin Paillard ($16). The pork was very good. Though I was already quite full, I easily ate my half of the thinly pounded and expertly crusted pork, which came with a sauce gribiche and was complimented very nicely by the zesty and peppery flavors of a perfectly dressed arugula salad. The Cassoulet was easily the most disappointing dish we ordered. I’ll preface this by reminding you that I know my Cassoulet, and I was expecting a lot. The Cassoulet changes in preparation depending on the night, but that night we looked forward to duck, garlicky pork sausages and pork belly. Perhaps I was expecting too much from the pork belly. It is a fatty piece of meat, which, in my humble opinion, should try to avoid preparations in which it could become soggy clumps of undercooked fat. The Cassoulet, a traditional stew from Southern France (arguably most famously from Toulouse, though there are many styles I’m willing to honor as traditional), is not one of these ideal situations for pork belly. It essentially seemed as though the stew had not been given enough time to actualize: the white beans were runny and watery, and the anticipated heartiness of this traditionally meat-heavy dish was simply lost. To add insult to injury, the copious amount of bread crumbs were burnt which could have been overlooked had the rest of dish not been so clearly undercooked.

We ended our meal with Crème Brulée and the chocolate selection, which were both perfectly fine, though the aforementioned selection was less of a selection and more of a two option scenario.

Despite my disappointing Cassoulet I look forward to going back to Maude’s as I genuinely enjoyed my dining experience in the non-pretentious, dimly lit upstairs area with its extremely friendly service staff. That said, heed my warning Maude’s Liquor Bar, I will be back for the Steak Tartare and Escargot, please don’t pull another Cassoulet move on me with what are perhaps my two favorite traditional French dishes and don’t forget my double order of Marrow!