Preserved Strawberries with Chiles

Strawberry season means smoothies, short-cakes, scones, pies (with rhubarb), and preserves.  Having never tasted strawberries with chiles, I thought I would test out my curiosity only to discover that this pairing is addictively good.  Even better on toast with goat cheese.  Or toast with butter.  The small batch size means no canning or any complicated steps.   

Preserved Strawberries with Chiles
Makes about 1/2 to 3/4 cup

Adapted (only change was serving size) from Food52 

8 ounces ripe strawberries, hulled and halved (or quartered if larger)
1 New Mexico chile (or ancho), or more to taste
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of 1/4 lemon

1. Place the strawberries in a heavy, medium-size pot. Remove the stems and seeds from the chile (no soaking is required) and discard. Roughly chop or tear the remaining dried chile flesh, and add it to the strawberries. Add the sugar.

2. Set the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil -- as the fruit begins to juice, the sugar will melt. Reduce the heat to a steady simmer and cook for about 1 hour. Stir every 10 minutes or so.  Taste it every now and then to make sure there's enough chile heat-- if not, add another!

3. As the preserves cook, use a spoon to lift off any scum that rises to the surface. The preserve is ready when the strawberries are shrunken and lightly candied, and the syrup has thickened but is not so thick that it's like jelly. Stir in the lemon juice and remove the pot from the heat.

4. Serve on toast or scones with butter, over ice cream and on cakes or biscuits. Refrigerate any leftover preserves.

Funny Wine Label

Perhaps it was the funny label on the bottle or the low price of $3.99, but this 2008 LaGranja 360 Tempranillo was worth taking home from Trader Joe's.  The tempranillo grape is the most widely planted red wine varietal in Spain.  

In Spanish, LaGranja 360 means "the farm 360".  The little pig is flying because it expresses a song which the Spanish children sing when somebody has asked for something which is impossible to realize, has a dream, or says something absurd.  

This is an everyday drinking wine with juicy, raspberry notes.

When buying wine, do you buy based on price, label, or grape?

Mozzarella, Potato and Rosemary Pizza


Using a pre-made pizza dough could be perceived as cheating, but if you find a dough that you like, use it.  I like to buy a lot in advance and freeze individual portions.  The original recipe included sauteed broccoli rabe, but I omitted it because I didn't have any.  Baking the potato slices in advance turns them into potato chips -- resist eating all of them before they land on the pizza.  

Mozzarella, Potato and Rosemary Pizza


adapted from Food52 
serves: 1 - 2

Pre-made pizza dough (7 - 8 ounces per crust, if cooking more than one) (*I used dough from Whole Foods)
1 large Yukon gold potato, very thinly sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove lightly smashed but still intact
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Rosemary sprigs for garnish

optional: caramelized onions (*I had some leftover from another recipe)

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Arrange potatoes in one layer on a baking tray. Bake until edges begin to turn golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Increase oven temperature to 475 F.

Lightly flour a work surface. Using your fingers, stretch the disks out to 10" shapes.

Brush pizza crust with olive oil. Rub all over with smashed garlic cloves.

Arrange one layer mozzarella cheese over the crust. Top with one layer of potatoes. Sprinkle one tablespoon rosemary over each crust. Top with grated Pecorino cheese and red chile flakes.

Bake on a tray (or use a pizza stone) on lowest rack in oven until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Before serving, sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with fresh rosemary leaves and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.

Kale Juice

Kale juice ... not exactly two words heard on the streets, printed on gastro-pub menus full of bacon, or tested on this blog.  

But, in an effort to eat more vegetables, it is a nutritious drink loaded with calcium and lots of antioxidants plus it is a beautiful shade of green.

To make, I used my trusted sidekick, an immersion blender.  Cut the leaves into thin ribbons (or a chiffonade) to make the blending process go faster.  Adjust the acidity with more lemon juice or sweetness with more agave.  I parked my batch in the refrigerator to chill as it didn't taste quite as refreshing once made.

Kale Juice
GOOP newsletter 

1 large bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves washed
Juice of 2 small lemons (one was fine for me)
1 1/2 tablespoons agave nectar
1/2-3/4 cup cold water

Combine everything in a blender and buzz until completely pureed. 

Strain the juice through a fine sieve into a bowl, pushing down on the solids with a spoon being sure to extract all the juice. 

Taste the juice and add a bit more lemon or agave if needed. 

Pour into a glass and enjoy.

Tortilla & Lime Soup

Cooler temperatures have returned to Chicago.  It is mid-May and those summer breezes haven't arrived.  This tortilla soup is perfect for lunch or dinner and packs a spicy punch.  Add roasted chicken or grilled steak for a heartier meal or top with avocado, cilantro, cheese, or red onion.  

Tortilla & Lime Soup

Adapted from: Soup Chick 
Serves 1-2

2 corn or whole wheat tortillas
1 tbsp canola oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, minced
1 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced, plus 1/2 tsp adobo sauce

1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes 
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup water
Juice of 2 limes, plus the rinds (4 halves of squeezed lime)
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano 
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper to taste

Garnish options: diced red onion, chopped avocado, cilantro leaves

Preheat oven to 425°F. Slice tortillas into thin matchsticks, 2-3 inches long and 1/4-inch wide and spread on a cookie sheet. Leave out on the countertop to get a bit stale while the soup is prepared.

In a stockpot, heat the oil. Sauté onion until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeno, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the chipotle, adobo sauce, and tomatoes and stir 2-3 minutes. Add the stock, water, lime juice, lime halves, oregano and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove lime rinds. Set soup aside, covered. 

Bake the tortilla strips for 10 minutes, or until crisp and browned. Stir half of the tortilla strips into the soup, and let sit for 5 minutes. Ladle soup into individual serving bowls, and garnish with more crispy tortilla strips and garnishes.

Top Five Things in Portland

Two weeks ago I traveled to Portland, Oregon for an international food conference.  The conference planners picked a city bursting with hot food trends, locals supporting their local farmers, and restaurants gaining popularity.  Picking my favorite things was tough as there were so many, but I settled on five must-do/see sites.

Gruner: a five month old restaurant serving German and Austrian cuisine using ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest.  The wine list was easy to navigate with the help of a well-versed server, and I was really happy with my choice of spaetlze with braised chicken, morels, riesling, crispy shallots, and thyme.

Ace Hotel: a quirky boutique hotel that offer budget friendly rooms in order to experience the best of Portland; Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a local coffee company, cranks out excellent brews and sells pastries and Voodoo Doughnuts; patrons sip their morning cup in the lobby of the Ace while catching up on the day's news either in print or virtually (free WiFi).  Another hotel feature is Clyde Common, a restaurant and bar turning out excellent seasonal food and shaking (or stirring) appetite-inducing cocktails.  With two happy hours (one mid-day, the other after 11 p.m.), there is always a deal to be found. I still crave the fries with harissa and creme fraiche dipping sauces.
Anne Amie: spend an afternoon in the Willamette Valley at this biodynamic vineyard sampling pinot noir and pinot gris wines. Located in the Yamhill-Carlton District, the vineyard is LIVE certified which means Anne Amie uses sustainable wine growing & wine producing practices.  As part of the conference, I was very happy to taste a variety of Anne Amie wines paired with an incredible lunch from Thistle Restaurant.  

Powell's Books: an entire day's vacation could be spent in this treasure trove of a bookstore.  Multiple levels, discounted books, and a coffee shop make this store the world's largest independent seller of new & used books.  
Portland Farmer's Market: skipping out of the conference early on a Saturday morning proved to be a smart decision.  Local shoppers converged on this market buying fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers in all colors of the rainbow, cheeses, and breakfast from those magical food carts.  Seafood vendors sold oysters and salmon; bakeries displayed cookies, muffins, and macaroons.  After seeing the market (and buying some sweets for later), my only regret was not having a kitchen in which to prepare a meal.  

What are your favorite spots in Portland? Leave your picks in the comments.

Spaghetti with Pistachios, Bacon, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

In an effort to clean out my freezer from time to time, I discovered I had two of the four ingredients already there.  

Pistachios, check.  

Bacon, check.  (Did you know that you can store bacon in the freezer till you need it?)  

Noodles were in the pantry (that is what I call my mini-shelves that aren't taken up by glasses, bowls, and dishes), and all I needed were the sun-dried tomatoes.  

Easy lunch or dinner for one!

Spaghetti with Pistachios, Bacon, and Sun-dried Tomatoes
serves one (double ingredients for two people)
adapted from Darigold Fresh magazine (a free publication from a food conference)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup coarsely chopped shelled pistachios
1 small shallot, chopped
1-2 ounces (about 1/4 cup) diced bacon or pancetta
4-6 ounces spaghetti, cooked al dente
1-2 ounces (about 1/4 cup) sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced (bought mine from the Whole Foods olive bar)
1/4 cup Pecorino cheese, grated
Red chile flakes, to taste (optional)

Combine extra virgin olive oil, pistachios, shallots, and bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat; stir until pistachios are lightly toasted and shallots are translucent.

Turn off the heat and add hot pasta, tomatoes, and cheese to the pan.  Toss to mix well.  Sprinkle with red chili flakes for a little heat.

Everyday Fried Noodles

Occasionally I get a hankering for a meal with sesame oil, soy sauce, chilies, and noodles.  When I read this recipe in the current issue of Saveur, I had to make it.  The article calls these everyday fried noodles or tian tian chao mian.  The carrots & onions are quickly cooked so as to soften rather than overcook; the ginger and garlic infuse the oil; and the napa cabbage and cucumbers give the necessary crunch. Soy sauce & rice wine are requirements of Chinese cooking and once sugar is added create a sweet & salty sauce.  I like to drizzle more sesame oil over the noodles moments before digging in.  These noodles make excellent leftovers -- just reheat with a little water or chicken stock to get things moving around the pan.
Note: I don't own a wok as the original recipe calls for this piece of equipment.  Instead I used a large stainless steel skillet -- it worked out just fine.
Everyday Fried Noodles

adapted from Saveur May 2010
serves 2-3 (or one person with leftovers)

 1/2 small seedless cucumber, peeled & julienned

Kosher salt, to taste

3 tbsp oil (canola or vegetable)

1/2 small carrot, julienned

1/4 - 1/2 onion, thinly sliced

1/4 pound (4 ounces) ground pork (or omit for a vegetarian dish)

2 cloves garlic, minced

Red pepper flakes, to taste

1 1" piece ginger, minced

1 1/2 tbsp. dark soy sauce

1 1/2 tbsp. rice wine

1 1/2 tsp sugar

1 cup Napa cabbage, shredded

5 ounces dried flat noodles, boiled & rinsed under cold water

1 tbsp sesame oil (plus more to serve)
Combine the cucumbers with a pinch of salt and let sit in a small bowl for 5 minutes.
Heat a large stainless steel skillet over high heat; add 1 tbsp oil and swirl to coat the bottom.  Add the carrots and onions and cook for 1 minute till softened.  Remove from the pan and set aside.
Return the skillet to high heat and add remaining 2 tbsp oil.  Add pork, garlic, red chili flakes (if using), and ginger.  Cook until pork is browned and aromats are fragrant.
Add soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, carrots, and onions.  Cook until vegetables are hot.
Add cabbage, cucumbers, noodles, and sesame oil.  Toss until hot.  Season with salt if needed.  Serve with a drizzle of sesame oil.

Rice Pudding

Rice pudding is one of those desserts that is either loved or loathed.  It gets a thumbs up or a thumbs down.  For those eaters that like the dessert, there is a cafe in Montreal entirely devoted to this bowl of rice, milk, sugar, and vanilla.  It is the 31 flavors of rice pudding - various toppings, flavors, and sizes.  I happened to thoroughly enjoy the snacking experience during my trip.

This recipe comes together in under an hour (longer if you count the cooling time in the refrigerator-I like my pudding very cold) and doesn't have complicated ingredients or preparations.  The original recipe served six people; I scaled down by 50%.

Rice Pudding
serves 3
adapted from Chef Jacques Boiroux, Darigold Fresh magazine (a free publication from a food conference)

1/2 cup pearl rice (short grain)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or 1 vanilla bean split and scraped)
zest of 1 lime (orange or lemon can be substituted)
1/2 cup sugar
2 ounces unsalted butter
grated nutmeg, optional
dried cherries or cranberries, optional

Cover the rice with cold water in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and drain in a colander or fine mesh sieve.

Pour the milk and blanched rice into a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Add vanilla paste and lime zest to the milk and rice.  

Bring to a boil and simmer for 25-30 minutes, but stir often to prevent scorching.  

Add the sugar and butter to the rice and cook 5 minutes more.  If using a vanilla bean, discard it at this point.  Pour the pudding into a bowl or onto sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours.  Serve with dried fruit or cookies.

Fritz Pastry: Sweets on Diversey

It was only a matter of time before I stopped reading the mouth-watering tweets from @fritzpastry and actually went to the bakery to try some of the sweets.

I was not disappointed.

One sunny Sunday afternoon, I decided to hop on the El and check out Fritz's offerings.  A ten minute walk from the Diversey Brown Line, the bakery looks like a former residence at the corner of Southport.  Warmly greeted, Istudied the chalkboard menu and peered into the case of cakes, pies, and tarts.  Macaron flavors rotate on a regular basis, and for those customers that have more of a savory appetite, lunch options include soups and sandwiches.

Wanting to try one of each item, the baskets of freshly baked donuts, croissants, and brioche were calling my name, so I decided to try a cinnamon & sugar donut (donut hole included!) along with a latte.  I also purchased a cinnamon brioche and two macarons (raspberry & chocolate) to take home and enjoy later.

The donut was yeasty and dusted with just enough cinnamon and sugar and paired nicely with the creamy latte.

The macarons lived up to the phrase "you can't just eat one" with their natural flavors and slightly chewy consistency.  The brown paper box with the blue Fritz was also a nice touch.  I would be very happy giving this treat as a gift.

My only complaint is that I wish lived closer to this gem of a bakery to try more of Fritz's daily pasteries and breads!

1408 West Diversey Parkway
Chicago, IL 60614-1112
(773) 857-2989