Fresh Sriracha

In a word: hot.  A little bit of this fresh sriracha goes a long way.  The flavors are cleaner and more pronounced than the bottled stuff found in the grocery store.  When making this at home, be sure to wear plastic gloves when chopping the chiles.

Fresh Sriracha

adapted from Food52
Makes 1/2-3/4 cup

1/4 pound red fresno chiles or a variety of fresh chilies, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled & left whole
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon agave nectar or palm sugar

Place all the ingredients except the sugar in a bowl and let sit overnight to mellow the heat of the peppers.

Place the chile mixture and sugar in small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Transfer to a blender and puree for about 5 minutes, until a smooth, orange-red mixture forms. Pass through a strainer and smush out as much sauce as possible.

Pour into a jar & refrigerate.

Chamomile Tea

I found fresh chamomile flowers at the Green City Market and immediately wanted to do something with these cute little plants.  They are mini versions of daisies but have excellent health benefits.  Pleasantly surprised at the flavor, I hope that more of the flowers show up week after week at the market. 

Chamomile Tea
serves one or two

1 cup of fresh chamomile flowers with the stems
honey or agave nectar, to taste

Fill a teapot with water and set it on the stove to boil. Rinse off the chamomile flowers with cool water and remove the stems from the flowers. When the water gets hot, throw in some of the chamomile flowers. About two or three teaspoons of the flowers for every cup of water is a good ratio.

Let the water boil and the flowers steep for a few minutes, then pour the tea through a strainer into a cup.

Add honey or agave nectar, to taste.  Drink and enjoy.

Basil Ice Cream

What to do with basil besides pesto and caprese salad?  Make ice cream!

Basil Ice Cream
adapted from Tyler Florence, Eat This Book
yield:1 quart

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
lemon strips (no white pith) or zest
4 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
large bunch of basil, washed and divided
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, paste or powder

In a heavy-bottom saucepan, combine the milk, cream, and lemon strips or zest. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally so a skin doesn’t form, until tiny bubbles start to form around the edges and the mixture reaches a temperature of 170°F (77°C).

Meanwhile, in a medium heat-proof bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth. Gradually whisk in the sugar until it is well incorporated and the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Add half the basil and stir till incorporated.  Temper the egg yolks by very slowly pouring in the hot milk mixture while whisking continuously. Return the custard to the saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and it reaches a temperature of 185°F (85°C). Do not bring to a boil.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl.  To cool the custard quickly, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water and placing the bowl with the custard in it; stir the custard until cooled. Once completely cooled, cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours.

Gently whisk the vanilla and remaining basil into the base. Pour the mixture into the container of an ice cream machine and churn per the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.

Caprese Pasta

Mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes.  Three ingredients that always go well together.  Why not toss this trio with pasta and enjoy on a summer day.

Caprese Pasta
adapted from Food52
serves one or two

1 medium red, ripe tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes; I used sun gold)
1/2 tablespoon good balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 - 8 ounces pasta (examples: cavatappi, penne, farfalle)
1/2 medium ball fresh mozzarella

A couple of hours before eating, core and roughly chop the tomatoes and tip them into a large serving bowl. Add the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, basil, a few healthy pinches of salt and several grinds of pepper. Gently stir these all together and let sit at room temperature for at least an hour so the flavors have a chance to meld.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of very salty water until al dente. Meanwhile, dice the mozzarella and add it to the bowl of tomatoes, basil, etc. 

When the pasta is done, drain it thoroughly and add it to the bowl. Gently fold everything together and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if you’d like. Let the pasta sit for 5 minutes or so before serving, folding gently a couple of times to distribute the tomato juices and olive oil.

Pizza + Arugula

Early tomatoes are popping up at markets.  Picking up a couple for some undetermined use, I started thinking about the pizza I had last weekend.  It had arugula, caramelized onions, and roasted garlic.  Wanting to avoid stirring onions for 30 minutes and checking on garlic cloves in the oven, I opted not to use them.

This pizza couldn't be easier to make for lunch or dinner: pre-made dough, thinly slices of tomato, torn pieces of fresh mozzarella, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Bake at 450 degrees or higher, if your oven agrees, until the crust is golden (mine takes 8 to 10 minutes).  Add the arugula after the pizza comes out of the oven as it will wilt slightly from the heat.  Drizzle with more olive oil. 

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.

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.

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.