Monday, May 30, 2011

Call your shawty, tell him you found a new [rib joint]

I’ve become disenchanted with some of my old go-to restaurants lately. I guess I’m expecting more from my food and my standards are higher than they used to be. In any case, I may be ready to strike Hyde Park’s famous Ribs ’N Bibs from my list. The last time we went, they were out of pork—they were out of ribs. (And I don’t recall them ever having bibs.) I had a beef sandwich. The bun was soggy, the side of coleslaw was depressing, the fries were stale, and the meat had a strange opalescent shimmer.
As the great singer/songwriter Jesse McCartney once sang, “Why don’t you tell him that, ‘I’m leavin’—never looking back again.’ You found somebody who does it better than he can.  No more making you cry, no more them gray skies, girl we flying on a g-5, g-5.” And indeed I have found someone who does it better. And with pork.
I’m flying on the metaphorical g-5 at the Pork Shoppe, with an outstanding pulled pork sandwich, coleslaw, and fresh fries. The coleslaw is not weighed down by a gallon of mayo, the crisp red cabbage is studded with raisins and pineapple, which sounds a little wacky, but is delicious. If you eat your sandwich Carolina style, as I do, the pineapple adds a juicy, sweet bite that complements the warmth and salt of the pork.  Choose from three BBQ sauces—hot, tangy, and sweet—to sauce your sandwich (or ribs). Dip your fries in them. All of them.
I may not be supporting a local favorite, but I’m supporting my own dream of eating only delicious food. After all, it was Jesse McCartney who encouraged us, “Don’t stress, don’t stress, don’t stress—just tell ’em ‘to the left, left, left.’ No stress, no stress, no stress—girl, you deserve nothing but the best.” 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Don't make these.

Top Chef junkies listen up: I met Dale Talde this week! Yeah. And he is cool. He dresses cool, he talks cool, and he celebrity chefs cool. Yeah.
I don’t make a lot of Asian-ish food—my dad has been known to rock the lemongrass on occasion, but it isn’t my bag. (...My bag is cheese.)
In honor of Dale being so damn cool, I tried to dabble with some Asian flavors. It didn’t go well. I may or may not hate soy sauce. What? Is it a crime to hate soy sauce? Maybe I’m just buying bad soy sauce.  Maybe you should eat Chinese food in Chinese restaurants.
In short, I tried to make scallion pancakes. Young onions are fresh, fragrant, and in season, and I highly recommend grabbing a bunch of any variety at your local market. I cannot, however, recommend this recipe that I found on thekitchn.

That being said, I loved making these pancakesI just didn’t like eating them. As my mother says, “Life is too short to eat things that aren’t good.” Life isn’t too short to knead dough and play with flour. Rolling, folding, pressing—those are the parts I enjoyed. If only the pancakes turned out better.
Let’s cut to the quick: I fucking hated these. They weren’t good and I didn’t want to eat them. If you insist on making them, here is my advice:
  1. Take off your rings.
  2. Pick a playlist or an album if you want to listen to music. Don’t give itunes the right to shuffle. It will play that Dragostea Din Tei song you liked so much freshman year of college and your floury fingers won’t be able to stop it. Or worse—don’t you wish you remembered to uncheck all those Sarah McLachlan b-sides? The windows are open. Your neighbors can hear. 
  3. Don’t take pictures with your sticky fingers. It is messy. No army of apple geniuses can fix your phone if you get dough in the dock.
  4. Lastly, don’t make these, find another recipe. Then tell me how it went.

These pancakes tasted like flour. Under-seasoned flour. And they were dense, albeit well onioned. I tried to make tacos out of them, with sesame-ed asparagus, fresh ginger, and radish matchsticks. It didn’t work. They made me want better. 

Sometimes recipes fail. Sometimes you need to drink beer and watch the UEFA final. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Alex likes eating: pizza!

In this, the second installment of his outrageously popular segment, Alex reveals his innermost thoughts on his favorite food: pizza. I have contributed this haiku about his traditional order:

Medium, thin crust
Pepperoni, black olives,
And jalepeño.

Where am I?

Thin crust

Describe this pizza:
Giordano’s thin crust pizza, like its stuffed pizza, has a heartiness that I find endearing.

I like that the toppings (for me, pepperoni and black olive) are always secured nicely into a thick, delicious cheese layer. These pizzas aren’t just “assembled” like fast food pizzas where the number and placement of toppings is predetermined, along with the number of handfuls of cheese, leaving nothing to chance. When you look at Giordano’s thin crust, you see that the toppings are all mixed together and the cheese is spilling over the sides of the crust in some areas, displaying a personal touch. No firm calculations were made here, only the goal of providing deliciousness.

In addition to their exceptional cheese layer, Giordano’s also has a very tasty crust. One thing I like about their crust is that it is not floury, like Edwardo’s, it is firm and yet it is also soft and doughy. You get a nice little crunch and as well as softness, which complements the cheese very well. I think I can best compare their crust to a nice loaf of bread: when made correctly you almost want to eat it just by itself, without any butter or cheese.

Incorporate this pizza into a wish.
I wish I could go back in time and serve myself this pizza when I was little, that way I could avoided wasting my time with other inferior creations, such as Domino’s.

How many shooting stars would you give this pizza?
I give this pizza 5 shooting stars.
Stuffed Pizza

Describe this pizza:
I only recently learned that what I have been calling deep dish pizza is actually stuffed pizza. Being a big pizza lover, this was a massive blow to my pride. After a weeklong penance of no pizza, I decided that my self-imposed punishment could end and my debt had been paid to the Pizza Gods. Stuffed Pizza might just be my favorite type of pizza, and no one makes it better than Giordano’s. You need to be mentally and physically prepared to handle the stuffed pizza experience; if you don’t come prepared you will get sauced. I think one of the reasons I like stuffed pizza so much is because you can’t just use your hands, you really need to use a fork and knife, adding a “layer” of class (pardon my pun). There is something really satisfying about having a steak-sized bite of cheese on the end of your fork.

What song does this pizza remind you of?
The Rocky Theme song—you have to be a champion.

How many shooting stars would you give this pizza?
10 shooting stars.

Where am I?

Describe this pizza:
Well, when I go to Pizza D.O.C. there is only one pizza that I want, the Quattro Formaggi. For those of you who didn’t have an Italian au pair who taught you to speak the language fluently like me, the name of the pizza translates to “four cheese.” At Pizza D.O.C. the cheeses are mozzarella, blue cheese, swiss, and parmigiano.  Pizza Doc has found the correct ratio to allow for each type of cheese to stand out, while no single one stands above the rest. This cheese layer lies atop an extremely thin crust, which is baked in a wood oven, adding a slightly smoky flavor. Since the crust is so thin, the pizza is cooked very quickly, which means I get to eat sooner (always a plus). All of their pizzas are 12 inches, and normally served to you unsliced. I like being able to determine the size of my own slices, but you have to be careful: the thin crust can only support so much weight, bigger slices will need to be slightly folded before bringing them to your mouth.

This is a well-balanced pizza, meaning just the right amount of cheese and crust and just the right amount food to leave you comfortably sated with a little room left for dessert. 

What movie does this pizza remind you of?
This pizza might best be represented by the movie Armageddon, which I can watch anytime, and do anytime it is on TV (a habit that sometimes drives Hanna a little crazy). (Editor’s note: Erroneous. Erroneous on all counts!) In my personal opinion this movie has a good balance of action, drama, romance, and comedy—it leaves me full, but not stuffed, and ready to have a small dessert.

How many shooting stars would you give this pizza?
On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give this pizza a solid 8.

Where am I?

Describe this pizza:
Many people think of Pizzeria Uno and Due as traditional “deep dish pizza,” however I find the crust to be crumbly, the sauce to be soupy/watery, and the atmosphere to be lame. The variety of deep dish that says “tradition” to me is stuffed pizza. See Giordano’s above.

What word best describes this pizza?

How many shooting stars would you give this pizza?
1 moon rock.

Where am I?
Gigio’s (on Broadway, not Evanston)
(Editor’s note: Gigio’s has been the self-proclaimed “best pizza in town” since before I started going there in middle school—and I happen to agree. 10 shooting stars and a meteor!)

Describe this pizza:
This pizza is very similar to New York style pizza, but does not claim to be “authentic” New York style pizza. The crust is thicker, doughier, and flourier than New York style pizza. Gigio’s pizza crust has a little more body to it, but not too much that it fills you up after the first piece. Gigio’s is not looking to impress you, it is looking to provide you with good pizza.

Where do you want to eat this pizza?
I want to eat this pizza at home in my pajamas with a movie on the TV. That is the feeling this pizza gives me.

How many shooting stars would you give this pizza?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The land of milk and honey (...and only those things)

This is literally the only food in my mother’s home.  If you think it just looks like she hasn’t been shopping yet this week, you are at least half right. The shelves are particularly desolate as she is out of beer, clementines, and cheddar cheese—her staple items that I have come to rely on in times of being there. It takes a mere three more commodities to “fill” this pantry (not counting the 15-grain bread she buys for the dog). What does she put all these condiments on? I mean, she doesn’t even have the ingredient for her famed side dish, “cucumber.”
The half box of stale matzah that had been futilely taped shut after Passover (which we don’t celebrate) was tempting at first, but I’ve settled on the goldfish (according to the package now they taste better).  I will say, this is a step up from the three-year-old frozen chicken in the freezer of my youth.  Lord, beer me strength; Mom didn’t beer me at all.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How to impress your mom

For my second rhusparagus-themed post, I thought it was about time I actually said something about rhubarb… It is sour.
If there’s anything I learned from Paul Bettany in Priest this weekend, it’s that you have to carry throwing stars in your bible—but also: it’s important to be honest, and that badass face tattoos don’t make bad movies good. My confession? This was my first rhubarb experience. So to ensure success for my inaugural tasting, I made something punchy.
Yesterday’s weekly croissant run was subsidized by my mother, and, to repay her for this kindness, I hosted lunch. On the menu: spicy tomato soup, asparagus Gruyere tart, and rhubarb bellinis.
The farmers’ market was still flush with asparagus, enabling me to try out another recipe on my list of seasonal dishes. Purple asparagus, which has more antioxidants than the green variety, makes this easy tart feel elegant and fancy, and balances the cholesterol from the cheese and butter. Gooey cheese and fresh asparagus are nestled into a flaky crust that takes absolutely no time to prepare.  As far as I’m concerned, preservative-free puff pastry is the best frozen item in the grocery store. Dogs like it too: lots of crumbs falling.
Tomato soup (made from canned San Marzano tomatoes) is a great way to incorporate the feel of a summery ingredient that is not quite available yet.  Red pepper flakes in tomato soup are a must, adding subtle heat and great flavor, and helping make sure that the soup doesn’t taste like a big bowl of marinara sauce.
What is lunch with mom without booze? You’ve been to brunch: Bellinis are typically composed of bubbly over fruit puree.  The rhubarb puree I made was tart and slimy, so I restructured my punch to include syrup. 
To create a rhubarb syrup, roast 2 cups of rhubarb coated in ¼ cup of sugar in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes, then smash it up and press it through a strainer.  Place a few spoonfuls of syrup at the bottom of each glass and fill the rest with sparkling wine, prosecco, champagne, or ginger ale for your sick boyfriend. 
This cocktail is pink, tangy, and bright. And my mom liked it.

Spicy tomato soup

2 carrots, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
2 cups chicken stock
1 big (26-ounce) can San Marzano tomatoes
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 big inch salt, crank of pepper
Salt and pepper

Sautee carrots, onion, and garlic until soft. If you don’t have an immersion blender, I recommend pureeing the softened veg in blender at this stage. Add the stock, tomatoes, red pepper, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer for at least ten minutes and serve with something crispy and cheesy for dipping.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Alarming news: Potential for cucumberlessness growing

While I was off gorging myself in the filthy delicious NYC, my poor little indoor plants were suffering their first week of outdoor life. It was a hard one, Chicago spring alternated between 90-degree days and off-season sleet. I wish we would have planned better and been there for them during this rough transition period. Alex assures me that they can all bounce back, but the cukes don’t look nearly as vivacious in the ground as they did on our windowsill.
The basil seeds, however, are thriving. At least we’ll have pesto.
That photo was designed to trick you. I saw the above basil at the Daley Plaza market this morning. Our basil looks like this:
In lunch news, the gaztro-wagon’s new menu is outstanding. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Things we ate last week in NYC

The rich tapestry of New York City is woven deeply into the fabric of our nation’s culinary history, some of which is still rotting in the dank, shallow puddles of the subway tunnels. This week Alex and I sighted some NYC landmarks, partook in momentous occasions, and ate a ton of food.  Here are some highlights:
I give you the thickest, purest, milkiest, chocolatiest chocolate milk in the world. Our kind, generous, and knowledgeable hosts made sure that Alex and I ate and snacked well, kicking off our NY-food-cation with this local delicacy.  Would it hurt my carbon footprint to have this shipped to Chicago? Probably.
Another locally oriented, hormone-free milk product producer that I wish would roll up to the Midwest is the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck. Locally sourced and chemical-free treats? Van Leeuwen is speaking my language. I’m almost scared to admit this, lest I damage the “foodie” status my family has bestowed upon me, but with so many exciting and unique flavors, all I wanted on a spring day in SoHo was creamy, sweet, pink, strawberry ice cream. Classics are classics for a reason. Food trucks are awesome for a reason.
At Brooklyn’s Dutch Boy Burger, we consumed cheeseburgers and betook of the Brooklyn Summer Ale. There is a very special place in my heart for a meal of beer and burgers. No doubt it is the same part of my heart that will one day explode.
Let’s talk about Middle Eastern food. From pita-wrapped sandwiches in Brooklyn-based Zaytoon’s to the Kabab Café in Astoria, we ate falafel like it was going out of style. At the Café, we devoured an assorted fried lettuce/baba ganoush appetizer platter from Ali the Egyptian chef and waiter who works without a written menu in the 15-seat eatery, delivering dishes “you have never seen before.” He was right, serving up the most exotic plate of the trip, a date-filled dumpling topped with duck ragout. Be jealous, it was incredible. And who knew apple paired so well with hummus? The trip was both delicious and informative.
We learned a lot of historically accurate facts on a water taxi to see the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn/Manhattan bridges—do you know how Jay-Z got his name? Or why an elephant had to cross the Brooklyn Bridge? Another view of the bridges was to be had dining at Bubby’s in Dumbo for Saturday brunch. Two words: blueberry pancakes.
Other edible events included: ordering pizza to a bar/beer garden, the biggest sandoozle I’ve ever seen, a delightful ham/cheese/pear panini at Colicchio’s wichcraft, and the NYTimes-acclaimed Jacques Torres aged chocolate chip cookie that tastes like a street gymnast jumping over five tourists (aka amazing).
If I’ve been quixotic in this report, I apologize. But these things really were that good.  Fine, you want a brazen complaint? Why won’t taxis take you anywhere you want to go? Where I’m going isn’t good enough for them? Why are they so picky? Also: Blues and jazz played by teenaged musicians jamming during a six-hour delay at LaGuardia’s scenic gate B4.  Does it make me a bad Chicagoan to wish they hadn’t gotten the band back together?