Kelly the Culinarian: 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stand Mixer Sunday: Whole wheat pizza dough

I love a good pizza. I was so depressed living in Arizona because it was difficult to find a decent pizza out there.

But hey, the economy sucks so we're not going out. But you can make pizza at home super cheap. Here's my recipe for a healthier version of pizza with whole wheat crust.

Here's what you need:

1 and a half cups whole wheat flour

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning

1 cup warm, filtered water

2 tablespoons honey (I prefer clover honey)

2 tablespoons yeast

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for sprinkling

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons warm water

Start by placing warm water (it should feel warm but not uncomfortably so) in the bowl of your mixer. Stir in the honey and yeast and allow it to sit for about five minutes until it gets foamy. Next, add a cup of the all-purpose flour, Italian seasoning, olive oil and salt. Mix with the flat paddle setting for one minute or until all the ingredients are incorporated and the consistency of pancake batter.

Next, add a cup of the whole wheat flour and mix with the bread hook until incorporated. Add a cup of regular flour and repeat, then add the final half-cup of whole wheat flour and the extra water and allow it to mix for at least five to seven minutes so the gluten can form. The dough should make a ball around the hook.

Place in a greased bowl and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the warmest, least drafty part of your house. After it's double in about 45 minutes, punch down and knead for two minutes to redistribute the yeast. Allow to double again for about an hour and a half.

This is the fun part.

I cut the dough into two somewhat smaller parts. It would be easiest to form the two pieces into round heaps, punch down in the center and use a rolling pin to roll out from the center. I don't have a rolling pin, so my pizzas were a little lumpy. But hey, they taste great.

When you've finished with all your toppings, cook on a stone for 15 minutes in an oven heated to 450 degrees.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: Bugs Bunny Waffles!

These waffles and I have a long history. When I was 7, my aunt gave me a Bugs Bunny Waffle maker for Christmas. I'm sure she didn't know what a role this would play in our family.

Over the next several years, we moved this apparatus around with us through at least four out of state moves.

A couple months ago, after a long history with my family, the Bugs Bunny Waffle maker met its last waffle. Something inside of it went bad and it no longer heated up. The way this waffle maker works, a light turns off when it's hot enough and then you add the batter.

When I moved, I found an inconspicuous package on my front porch. Oddly enough, my sister found a Bugs Bunny Waffle maker on eBay. We have been using it at least weekly since we moved in.
This serves as just a little reminder that food can transport you to different times and places. Never underestimate the power of a dish to take you back.

Best housewarming gift ever.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Kelly the Culinarian -- Rested and Refreshed!

So that whole Nov. 1 thing didn't happen, I know. So what have I been doing for almost a month?
Well, I started a new job, but more than that, we bought a house! It was a long, frustrating and horrible process and I hope we don't have to do this for at least another five years. We're still settling in, but I finally think I've accomplished enough to get back into my routine.

As I've told other people, we bought a kitchen and the house came with it. I was always secretly judging a house's merits based on the home and this one measured up. Here are pictures of the completed kitchen. It has stainless steel appliances and 42-inch cherry cabinets. We did paint it ourselves a color called Oak Cask.

My cooking begins again tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Food find: Grand Lux Cafe, Chicago

ALERT: A new Kelly the Culinarian launches Nov. 1.

Now that we're all out of college and either working or working on a PhD, my friends and I are pretty busy. Between husbands, babies, managing a whole department at a Fortune 500 company, overseeing a department at a library and becoming a doctors, I barely get to see these ladies. We've always made it a point to get together once a year, even if we have to plan four months in advance.

This year, my friend cashed in on the best connection I've ever seen. Her uncle works at the W Chicago Lakeshore, perhaps the cleanest, most trendy establishment I've ever been to. Her uncle was nice enough to get us a family discount, send us a bottle of wine and call us just in time to watch the fireworks over Navy Pier from our room on the 21st floor.

Because we live life on a budget, we made lunch our big meal. One of the ladies pick the Grand Luxe Cafe and I'm quite glad she did. I've heard about this place before and it's quite the experience. The interior at the Chicago location, one of just a handful in the county, features a large staircase and a huge seating area that manages to still feel cozy thanks to whimsical decorations, generously spaced-out tables and strategically placed room dividers.

The food here is all about presentation -- heaped mounds of greens with soaring arches of green onion strands and generous portions of extras such as chunks of seasoned bacon, crunchy tortilla strips of blue cheese hunks.

I was also a big fan of the bread. It came straight out of the oven and tasted like it might have been proofed on site.

I ordered the lunch portion of salad and pasta, which was the basic house salad and pasta telephono. The menu said the pasta was a rich tomato sauce blushed with creamed and baked with a crunchy crust. The salad had a delicious honey vinaigrette and was quite tasty. I was of the opinion that the pasta was a little average -- it would have been nice to get a pasta with a little more texture. The sauce was very rich and flavorful, but the baking and creation of the crispy crust left the pasta a bit dry. Oh well, it was still yummy.

The piece de resistance was the cookies. At the end of the meal, one of the ladies ordered a fresh batch of chocolate almond cookies, which arrived in a little box that we took to our hotel. It smelled delicious the whole way home and I couldn't wait to have a few. The cookies melted away in you mouth and were quite rich without being overwhelming. I suspect at least two different chocolates were used in the cookies to produce the flavor. And for $75 for five people, the meal was a bargain.

Oh how I love girls' weekends.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: Fall favorites

I'm a big fan of fall food, and really, what's not to love? Pumpkin pie, roasted squash, turkey in every form, hearty soups and even pumpkin ice cream, if you travel out to Morton, Ill., for Pumpkin Fest.

Anyhoo, a few of my friends that I've known for the better part of a decade got together for a fall kick-off party that included mull spiked cider and pumpkin carving. If you'd like to celebrate the changing of the seasons like we did, here's a great drink that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, courtesy of the lovely host of our shin dig:

Spiked Cider:

4 cups apple cider (not apple juice!)
1/2 cup orange juice
3 whole cinnamon sticks
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 cup brandy
Wrap the cloves in a coffee filter and tie off with unflavored dental floss to create a pouch. Combine all ingredients, minus the optional alcohol, and bring to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes, adding the alcohol at the end. Serves 3 to 4. Place in clear coffee mugs such as those used for Irish coffee and adorn with a cinnamon stick as a stirrer. Remove spice packet and discard before serving.

Another favorite is pumpkin seeds. We seasoned ours and watched them while we decorated pumpkins. Mine had a ghost, tombstone and tree, but the tree was a little deformed when all was said and done.

Remove the seeds from the pumpkins you carved and try to discard as much of the goo as possible. Using a colander, rinse thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Season the seeds now while they're still damp as the flavor will stick. I used seasoning salt and a bit of garlic powder before placing them all on a single layer in a greased baking sheet. Allow to bake for five minutes or until most of the moisture is removed, then turn heat down to 250 and shake to turn. Bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown. Tasty!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Food flash: The Chef Jeff Project

I *heart* The Chef Jeff Project. I've been packing like a madwoman, but I did it with the television on all of Sunday night. I listened to the biography of Jeff Henderson, who at 19 was running a cocaine ring that brought in more weekly than most reporters make in a year. He was arrested at 24 and spent 10 years in jail, after which he became the chef at the Bellagio in Vegas and wrote a best-selling cookbook.

He currently visits jails to let inmates know that there is life after incarceration. He makes a great point when he says there are plenty of successful people out there who have been to jail and made something out of themselves later, they just don't talk about it.

On The Chef Jeff Project, Jeff takes in several at-risk young people who have sad tales of addiction, homelessness and abuse. He has each kid working at his catering company and uses food and leadership as a way to show them what else is out there.

It's not always pretty. On the first episode, a profanity-laced fight broke out on the line while the employees were serving up the crew of a soap opera. Clearly, they all have issues to work out, but it will be interesting to see how the show plays out.

I always thought food was like therapy. It's easy to think things out when you're watching something cook for an hour or kneading bread for 20 minutes. It's a stress reliever and a great way to think your way through issues, so I'm not at all surprised someone has found a way to bring the therapeutic nature of food to those who need it the most.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Food find: El Bueno Burrito

The economy is pretty sucky right now. Everything related to food and fuel is increasing in price to the point that I heard a woman on the radio this morning advising people to tell kids there won't be Christmas this year and get a part-time job now.

I'm not that doom and gloom, but I will be cutting back, just like most families. My coworkers and I recently went out for Mexican food, which was specially described to me as cheap burritos. Indeed, I got a great, filling lunch with enough leftovers for dinner for a cool $5, including a soda. One person at my table even walked away for less than $2. Gotta love it.

And how did it taste? Well, it wasn't the best Mexican food I've had, but it was pretty tasty. I ordered the steak taco platter, which came with rice and beans and three tacos. The tacos had tender steak chunks along with tomatoes, shredded lettuce, queso blanco and sour cream. I got the corn tortillas, but flour tortillas were also available.

So if you're looking for some cheap eats, try El Bueno Burrito in Glendale Heights on North.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Everyday with Rachael Ray: November

Brrr, it's starting to get chilly in Chicagoland and that means it's time for a new Rachael Ray. All sorts of goodies in November's issue:
  • Homemade guac recipe

  • A mini guide to Chicago going-ons

  • A review of milk frothers

  • A five-ingredient pork and fennel salad

  • Secret menu items (Especially important if you go to In-n-Out Burger)

  • A guide to getting stains from Thanksgiving dishes out of clothes

  • A taste-test of prepared dinner rolls

  • What Dakota Fanning eats (Who knew she was an adult?)

  • Fall side dishes -- the sweet potato custard looks tasty

  • A review of meat thermometers

  • Beef wellington that looks mighty impressive

  • Dinners for $10 or less (I don't think that's difficult to do)

  • A guide to different types of onions

  • 101 ways to make Thanksgiving easier

  • Inventive twists on on Turkey day sides

  • Thanksgiving in 60 minutes (no word on the budget, but a complete shopping list is attached along with tools needed)

  • Italian favorites, including the basics of homemade pasta

  • Hosting an Election Day party

  • Stuffed mushroom options such as Caesar salad, creamed spinach and cheeseburger

  • Idyllic inns that serve up fall favorites

  • Whistler, Canada activities

  • What's in Trisha Yearwood's fridge

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Food Find: Schnitzel Platz

Sigh, I'm finally back! I can't wait to get back to the routine of blogging. I finally have a working camera, no thanks to Best Buy, but here I am.

Anyhow, I've never had German food. I thought it was all sausages and kraut and heavy beers. When a few coworkers decided to go out for German food, I thought I'd give it a try.

Schnitzel Platz is a very popular German joint on North Avenue in Glendale Heights. Now that we're in the midst of Oktoberfest, people will line up around the building during the weekends. There's even a band on the weekends with singalongs and dancing.

But at lunch, it doesn't take that long to get a table, but it might take a while to get your check. The decoration inside reminded some of my dining mates of Germany, but then again, I wouldn't know.

The lunch specials are more than I would normally pay for lunch -- about $15 per person -- but it's a ton of food. Just a word of caution: all the items are in German with English translations, although I'm pretty certain that what I ordered was not what I ate, but it was tasty.

What I ended up with is something that reminded me of a Salisbury steak with an au jus sauce made with red wine, drippings, mushrooms and onions. I ordered my meal with french fries, but they were more like rustic hash browns. It was all quite delicious and extremely filling.

Even the lunches came with bread and soup. The bread was delicious. There was a bread with nuts that I wasn't a big fan of, but there were different breads that were like tiny pretzels. The bread is served with spicy mustard and horseradish. I loved the pretzel bread.

There's also your choice of soup. The afternoon we went the soups were potato leek and liver dumpling. I went with the potato leek because the alternative was essentially a liver meatball in a dark broth.

Other items at my table that looked delicious was the schnitzel with cheese (essentially a very rich mac and cheese) and dumplings, which were the size of a small meatloaf.

Who knew I liked German food.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Kelly the Culinarian will make a triumphant return on Wednesday!
I got my camera back from Best Buy's treacherous grips! However, they didn't actually fix the camera. Nor will they. Best Buy claims I dropped the camera, and therefore will not fix any of it. Here's a little industry secret: There's no such thing as "impact damage." Instead, if the camera body has any damage such as scratches or dimples, aka normal wear and tear, it voids the service plan.

I'm buying my camera from Aldi for $80. My German-made Aldi laptop has better customer care than Best Buy.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Update on camera

It's Stand Mixer Sunday and I'd love to be writing a tantilizing post about this great pizza dough I've found, but alas, my camera is still in the shop thanks to Best Buy's incompetence. They're holding my camera hostage because I won't pay a ridiculous $35 shipping fee because the camera has been "damaged" in their opinion and the service plan doesn't cover it. The saga continues.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Food find: Texas de Brazil

A friend had some online deal, so we went as a group to Texas de Brazil, the most expensive all-you-can eat place I've ever been. Here's the set up: There's a very nice soup and salad bar that you have to go to and get what you want. The salad bar has things like Parmesan from the wheel, fresh baby mozzarella, imported olives, authentic prosciutto and imported cheese. The soup of the day this particular evening was a Lobster bisque.

Once you've had your fill of salad, they bring new plates and warm rolls that are doughy and cheesy in the middle. Every diner has a card -- when you turn it to green, various servers throughout the dining area will come around with giant skewers of assorted meats. A waiter also brings garlic mashed potatoes and cinnamon sugar bananas.

The types of meat you can try are seasoned filet mignon medallions, flank steak, Parmesan pork or chicken, petite lambchops, lamb segments and who know what else. I hear that the location in Miami also has seafood, but hell, this is the Midwest and we like our meat.

Everything was delicious and almost justified the ridiculous $50 per person we paid. The filet mignon was tender and the pork was moist. The garlic potatoes were nicely seasoned and I enjoyed the salad bar because I got to try different foods.

Now if only I had a picture ... thanks again, Best Buy, for the crappy service.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Low-maintenance breadfast bread

I'm always looking for a short-cut in the kitchen. I really like carbs in the morning, especially when it's filling enough to take me into lunch.

So this is a super hardy breakfast bread. Here's how I did it.

Take 1 cup granola cereal and 1 cup milk, mix and set aside for one hour.

Next, add

3 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon yeast

1 and 1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

Mix the dough around until it's a loose dough. Set aside in a greased bowl to rise for 12 to 18 hours. Remove from the bowl and fold into a loose loaf, set aside for another hour.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a casserole dish with lid in the oven for at least a half an hour.

After preheating, remove the dish, place the loaf into the dish and shake to distribute the dough. Place the dish with lid into the oven for 20 minutes, then remove the loaf and replace in the oven for another 10 minutes to brown.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sigh. My camera is on the fritz and in the shop. Well, it's in route to some horrible place that takes two weeks to get it fixed. I blame Best Buy. Why do I buy the service plan if there's always a suspicion I purposely broke my only camera that I use daily.

Until then, expect just words to be displayed in this blog. I'm crossing my fingers that it will be ready by Sept. 12.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: Focaccia pizza

I'm on a kick lately of focaccia. When I saw a delicious-looking roasted tomato focaccia, I had to buy it. And at Jerry's, it was super cheap, I think $2.

So I took the circular loaf and cut it in half to open it like a bagel. Then, sprinkle about a cup of Italian cheese blend (or whatever floats your boat) in between with perhaps some pesto, sausage or pepperoni slice. I used whatever I had leftover. Place in the oven or microwave oven until the cheese melts, about three minutes.

Cut into quarters for a filling lunch. It has tomatoes on top, but I did enjoy dipping it in marinara sauce and sprinkling Parmesan on the top.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Food find: Minelli Meat and Deli

This particular intersection in Niles represents some of my favorite food-shopping experiences. Minelli Meat and Deli is on Milwaukee near Oakton, pretty much right across the street from Jerry's. It's been a family-owned operation for nearly 40 years and has some of the best cuts you'll find.

The best things we've had from there so far have been the sirloin burgers and hotdogs. The hotdogs are huge and have a great variety of meats, creating a rich flavor. The burgers are pre-formed patties made with just enough fat to be tasty and juicy.

The deli portion also sells dough, pasta, sauces and specialty cheeses. One of my favorite things about this store are the packaged specialty items they have, such as anchovy paste and olive tapenade. It's really a fun place to go to get inspired.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: Homegrown guac

So I didn't grow the avocado. I don't even know if I can grow an avocado in Illinois, but that's another battle for another day.

Anyhow, with an overabundance of jalapenos and tomatoes, guacamole seems like a natural choice. Here's my downhome recipe:

1 avocado

6 cherry tomatoes

2 fresh jalapenos

1/4 of a small onion

Splash lime juice, the juice of half a jalapeno will do

Chop the onion finely, set aside. Halve the the cherry tomatoes. Finally, remove the rib and seeds of the jalapenos and finely dice. Wash your hands afterwards!

Halve the avocado, then dice inside the skin roughly. Scoop out the flesh, then sprinkle the lime juice on top. Mash all the ingredients together with a fork until fully incorporated.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Food find: Stade's Farm Market

How cute is this place! I've passed Stade's Farm Market everyday on my way to work and seen the baby horses prancing about, but I didn't get a chance to stop at the farm stand until this week.

If you ever find yourself along Route 176 near Prairie Grove, you should stop here. The day I dropped by, there were potatoes, onions, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, corn and peaches. The prices are awesome -- I got a tomato and a peach for 80 cents.

The quality of the food is great too. My peach was juicy and sweet, the tomato as delicious as what I'm getting in my garden, except larger.

Finally, the farm is just so cute -- classic red barn, horses roaming. Adorable!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Food find: Jerry's in Niles

Sunday came and went this week with no stand mixer, so I'll catch up on that next week. In the meantime, let me tell you about my absolute favorite place to shop for produce and specialty items.
I don't know how long Jerry's Fruit and Garden on Milwaukee Avenue has been there, but the place is always packed. The prices at Jerry's really can't be beat. The produce may not be the greatest quality all the time, but there are real gems to be found. I always find great green beans, there's usually tiny lemons 10 for $1 and I've netted jars of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil 2 for $3. They also always have specialty hummus and cheeses as well as artisan breads. My favorite is the kalamata olive hummus with whole-wheat mini pitas.

I can fill up my cart with produce and a few snacks for under $20. Even after Tim moves away from Niles, I think we may have to make trips here. The only thing they don't have at Jerry's is fresh meats. They have some packaged stuff, but that doesn't really fit the bill. However, there are some other options in the neighborhood that I can't wait to share.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Candy buffet

Really, do you need to know any more than that? I was just told about this candy buffet concept for weddings and I've decided I want one.

The concept, they tell me, is that you put out glass vases and containers filled with different types of candy. Some people do candies in colors that coordinate with their flowers and such, but I don't know if I'm that great of a planner.

As people filter out, they make sure to fill up bags with candy to their liking.

I think it's a better idea than traditional favors, provided there is a variety of candy to be had. Anyone been to a wedding with a candy buffet?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Food find: Around the Clock

I work down the street from Around the Clock, a vintage little diner that's very nice inside and sports marble countertops and a modern look. The eatery is newly renovated and claims to be the oldest in McHenry County. I can't vouch for that, but this place is quite delish.

It's a classic diner with a bakery and the place is always packed. I work bizarre hours and have yet to see the parking lot a single car less than half full.

So far, I've only had one meal there. It was steak tacos, which I got the impression wasn't their specialty, but it was quite tasty. The steak was juicy and the rice and beans quite smoky and savory. A guy I work with got his wedding cake here too.

I end up at this place for work sometimes and the food always looks phenomenal. The portions are huge and the prices are awesome (a home style meal for $12 with tip? Count me in.).

Here's the deal -- make sure to get the soup and stick with your basic diner food. Tip your waitress well, they're all nice ladies.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lemon recipes needed!

I'm thinking that for my wedding, I'm going to keep in the food realm for everything and do lemon centerpieces and so forth. I bought a few 22-inch vases for a dramatic look that I plan to fill with 30 or so lemons a piece. Chances are, when I come back from my honeymoon, I will have like 100 lemons hanging around.

So what do you do when the wedding gives you lemons? I have a few ideas.

First, lemoncello sounds like a fabulous use of all those lemons. But that leaves like 60 lemons and I want to use them before they go bad.
So, there are many dishes I can make immediately, like chicken piccata or lemon salad dressing.
Then, once they start to go a little south, I'm left with using them for cleaning. I suppose there are many surfaces that could be aided with lemons.
I need some help. What are lemons used for in your house?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Container gardening with Kelly: Lessons learned

The season isn't over yet, but I've already learned quite a bit about container gardening this year. Most of it has been trail and error, but here are some things I'll have to keep in mind for next year
  • Start seedlings early and in large containers. The root systems appear to do better in bigger vessels, such as plastic 12-ounce cups. Start in early March.
  • Don't event think about hardening off the plants until at least the end of April. I started to early and killed off a whole crop of seedlings.
  • If you're going to buy seedlings, start with the good stuff. Examine the seedlings and make sure you get the healthiest, hardiest-looking plants.
  • Compost is essential, as is good drainage and sand. Make sure the planters have drainage holes, add a two-inch layer of play sand, then three or four inches of quality compost. Follow that up with a Tablespoon of sugar and several crushed egg shells for tomatoes or quality potting soil for others.
  • Use rainwater! A rain barrel is a great investment for gardening. It's cheaper and better.
  • Add more crushed eggshells on the surface of the soil after tomatoes start blooming to prevent blossom-end rot.
  • Water at the soil surface, not near the leaves or fruits.
  • More at the end of the season!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Stand-mixer Sunday: Tomato bread

According to my sister, this is the best thing invented since ... sliced bread. As soon as I walked in the door today, my mother said I had to do something about my tomato plant, it was threatening to take over the yard. There were at least 30 ripe tomatoes on my sweet 100 bush since I last looked at it on Friday morning. Love this time of year!

As a result, I decided to make a tomato flat focaccia. It was turned out sweet like a dessert because of the tiny tomatoes but savory like a pizza. Here's how it's done.

Start with a basic focaccia:

2 and 3/4 cups flour

3/8 teaspoon yeast

2 cups minus two Tablespoons warm, filtered water

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon sugar

Mix all of the dry ingredients together on low with the flat paddle attachment of the stand mixer. Add the water slowly, allowing time to incorporate, then kick up the speed to medium and let it go for three to five minutes. Assess if it may need more flour or water to create a loose, sticky, more liquid dough.

Once the correct texture is achieved, pour into a greased bowl and set aside to rise in a warm place for three to four hours or until doubled.

Next, take out a half-sheet pan and coat with about a Tablespoon of olive oil, the cheap stuff is fine. Pour out the dough onto the sheet. Grease your fingers with some olive oil and try to stretch it out to the edges of the pan. Then let it sit for 10 minutes to rest and try again to reach the dough to the edges. Set aside to rise again for one hour or until doubled.

Until then, gather the toppings:

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic salt

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon pizza spice

1 Tablespoon olive oil

30 sweet 100 tomatoes, cut into halves or thirds

Bring out the risen dough and coat with the remaining olive oil, using your fingertips to create dimples in the dough. Crush the herbs with your fingers and sprinkle on the dough, the press the little pieces of tomato into the dough. Please the whole thing in a 450-degree oven for 10-15 minutes, or until it's cooked and brown on the top.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Food find: White Sox hot dogs

My baseball allegiances usually are North of the city, but an uncle who is very dear to me was in town and wanted to see the White Sox/Red Sox game. So here I was in enemy territory on a Sunday in horrible traffic, but I heard the sell-out stadium was full of tasty treats.

Because we bought our tickets the day of the game, we were two rows back from the last seats in the stadium. I was up so high, I could see the lake. The atmosphere was actually different up there, I was freezing.

It was so high up, I never saw the margarita man. This fabled hero (at least in my book) walks around the stadium with what looks like a jet pack full of frozen Sauza margaritas. But I would never know, I never saw him. We joked that perhaps his canister didn't work at that altitude.

But hey, we ate almost everything else under the sun. We had the famed hot dogs, along with popcorn, peanuts and nachos. Perhaps the only things I didn't eat were the pizza and funnel cake, but I'm sure they were delicious, just like every single item we ate. I was stuffed and damn happy. The White Sox won too.

As for the hot dogs that are supposed to be the best, I really couldn't tell the different between theirs and the ones served a more historic ballpark on the north side. But maybe I'm just biased ...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Container gardening with Kelly: Bountiful harvest

Some plants have been more successful than others. Oddly, the patio tomatoes are not doing as well as I had hoped. After the tomatoes started developing, the branches without blooms died off, so the plant looks a little bare.
What has done surprisingly well is the sweet 100 plant. I put it in an Ace hardware bucket that I put holes in the bottom of. I would guess I've gotten at least 20 tiny tomatoes out of the bush and it looks like it will keep giving. I wonder if I can move it inside at the end of the month and keep getting tomatoes after the frost.

These three jalapeno bushes that I got four for $1 are doing so well I'm not sure what to do with all the little jalapenos. I don't know how to use them all, but I'll try.

I let the basil go too long and didn't get the kind of harvest I had hoped for. Next year will be much better!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Registry questions

So we're moving forward with planning the wedding. There is so much of the process I don't care for, such as picking out colors and transportation and this that and the other. But I do really like the tastings and the registering. I've worked retail before, so I know what it's like to scan things, but it's a ton more fun when you're doing it not for work.

Which brings me to my question of the day: what should be on every foodie's wedding registery? I have a stand mixer, which I think should be at the top of the list. What do you wish was on your registery?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Cheesy jalapeno loaf

What is a girl to do with a bushel of jalapenos? Make bread, of course. Out of all the plants I've tended this year, my jalapenos have done the best. I have more than I know what to do with, really, so this recipe is a great way to put these together.

1 teaspoon yeast

1 Tablespoon warm water

1 and 3/4 cups warm water
4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup olive oil

3 finely diced jalapeno peppers

1 1/2 cups shredded Monterrey jack cheese, plus 1 Tablespoon

1/2 cup Romano cheese, plus 1 Tablespoon

Mix the warm water and yeast and set aside until foamy, about five minutes. Mix that with the flour, water, salt, olive oil and the first half of the cheeses. Mix on low with the flat paddle until a dough forms, then crank it up to medium for three minutes. Go back to the slow setting and add the jalapenos until incorporated.

Next, place in a greased bowl in a warm place for two hours or until doubled. Or, allow to rise in the fridge for eight to 10 hours, as I did. Turn the risen dough on a floured surface and form into a loaf, then place in a greased loaf pan to rise for another hour, or until roughly doubled.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and put the remaining cheese on top. Cook for 45 minutes. Take the loaf out of the pan and then put it back in the oven for 10 minutes or until a nice crust forms.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Food Find: Tapas Barcelona

One of the great things about getting hitched, besides the obvious, is trying out different venues for our reception, mainly the food. Because honestly, I've eaten in some real dives in the name of a good dish, so the place better have some damn good food.

We recently tried Tapas Barcelona in Evanston, which is a cute little bistro with drinks and Spanish-style appetizers. We started with sangria. And in the name of research, we tried both the red and the white sangria. The red was savory and more full bodied, whereas the white (my favorite) was citrusy and light.

The average person orders two tapas dishes. Tim and I tried several things, including black olives stuffed with chorizo and deep fried, then served in a tomato sauce. It was delicious -- salty, crunchy and tangy, too. The second course was goat cheese baked in tomato sauce with olives served with garlic bread. It was also pretty tasty, but not enough cheese for the amount of tomatoes.

A stand out was the dates wrapped in bacon and served in a bell pepper sauce. The dates were delicious and the sauce they were served tasted a bit like caramel. I sopped it all up with some tasty white bread served with the dinner.

The final thing was grilled crab cakes with sherry mayonnaise. I was not a fan. It really tasted just like a fish stick. Not pleasant.

Overall, the food was tasty and the sangria refreshing. We decided against this place, though, because it wasn't big enough and would have had a weird layout for seating. Also, the patio overlooks a pool at a a nursing home. Not the kind of ambiance I was going for. Finally, the service sucked. Our waitress talked to her friends seated at another table while we went without water or the check and our used plates piled up. If that doesn't bother you, I really recommend the food.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Compound butter

Ever been to a fancy restaurant where they say your steak or lobster tail will be served with a compound butter? Don't be fooled, it's super simple to make in your stand mixer in 10 minutes.
Start with 3/4 of a stick of softened butter. Then add a handful of chopped rosemary and whatever other herbs you have on hand. I used a pinch of garlic salt along with veggie flakes and onion powder. Using the paddle attachment, I mixed the butter and herbs together. Then, scrape out the newly mixed butter onto a piece of wax or parchment paper and form into a log.

Freeze for one hour, then slice onto rolls, lobster tails or any other fancy dish. This way you get butter and herbs in one fellow swoop. Classy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Container gardening with Kelly: Fruits of my labor

What a tasty project. I've learned a lot in my summer gardening project. For example, my patio tomatoes are experiencing some blossom end rot. On the bottom of the tomato, it rots where the flower used to be. It' cured by adding crushed eggshells to the soil.

Also, peppers are surprisingly resilient. Despite less than ideal conditions, I will have more jalapenos than I know what to do with. Maybe I could sell the surplus with that salmonella scare ...

Also, sweet 100 or cherry tomatoes are awesome. Even though I got this plant late in the season, I've already gotten at least two dozen of the little suckers. They've been good in salads, which has been my only application for them besides popping them in my mouth right off the vine.

Really, the most important aspect of this whole container gardening thing is compost. See the circle of culinary life?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Food find: Engagement party

So, there's not stand mixer Sunday this week, mostly because all of my time this week has been taken up by picking a date, place, etc. for our wedding. True story, Tim and I are going to get hitched. Since we got engaged last week, I have picked out a place, date, reception hall and dress and we've opened a joint checking account. I feel accomplished.

I didn't, however, find a clever use for my stand mixer this week. There are only so many things on my to-do list I can check off.

But, I can tell you about the series of fabulous engagement parties that have been held in our honor. My parents were the first to hold a get together for the families at their house. It was a down home cookout with burgers, hot dogs, tuna salad, potato salad, a champagne toast and ice cream cake. Really, you can't go wrong there.

For the party with our friends, Tim and I went to The Ram in Rosemont and ordered two party trays. The $22 trays included a little bit of everything from the appetizer menu: a dozen buffalo wings, mozzarella sticks, onion rings, spinach and artichoke dip and potato skins. We paired that with summer ales and blond ales from the bar and it was delicious.

It's a good thing I found the dress because this whole bride diet is not going to happen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Food Find: Finn McCool's

I'm fairly certain there is no Finn McCool hanging around Ireland anywhere, but I'll let it slide.
Finn McCool's in Crystal Lake pub is huge and very cool on the inside. While I've had many a cheap bar burger, this is by far the best. I've never had $3 go so far.

Here's what your cash gets you on Tuesday's -- One burger, cooked to your level of doneness with your choice of cheese on a crusty roll with lettuce, tomato, pickles and red onion. It also gets you a good dose of deliciously crunchy and salty fries.

Washing it down with a cold domestic bottle beer makes your entire meal $5.23 on a Tuesday. How's that for fiscal responsibility?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Garden focaccia

I love focaccia, it's a great bread. It's crunchy, chewy, salty and tasty.

Now that I have herbs coming in in my own garden, I can get a little creative. Tonight I made a basil focaccia with what was ripe, but as my sweet 100s come in, I envision a tomato basil focaccia.

Here's how it's done:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/8 teaspoon instant yeast

2 cups minus 2 Tablespoons warm, filtered water

3/4 teaspoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon table salt

2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 cup basil, chopped

2 tablespoons sea or kosher salt

Mix all the dry ingredients up to the table salt in the stand mixer on low. Gradually add the water and mix on low until incorporated. Next, put the speed on medium and let the thing go for about 20 minutes. That's right, 20 minutes is what it takes to create a shiny ball of dough that looks like mozzarella. Turn it in an oiled bowl and allow to rise until doubled, about four hours.

Next, grease a half sheet pan with one of the tablespoons of the olive oil. Turn the dough out onto the surface and try to spread it to the edges without squishing it or ripping it. Give it a rest for 10 minutes and then stretch again. At this point, sprinkle the chopped basil on top and press into the dough.

Allow to rise for one hour, then begin preheating the oven at 475 degrees. Press your fingertips into the dough to create dimples. Drizzle the remaining olive oil on top and sprinkle the salt on top of that.

Place in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Container gardening with Kelly: Coming along nicely

My gourmet container garden looks fabulous! My most successful crop so far has been this better bush hybrid, which is in a large plastic pot strategically placed in my yard to receive the maximum amount of light.

I have more than a dozen little tomatoes in various stages of development. One tomato that has been on the vine for more than a month looks like it may finally be ready for eating later this week. I'm surprised with the size of these for a plant designed for containers. The full-sized tomatoes will be great for all sorts of stuff, I'm psyched.

Next year, I may need to order two more of those bushes, along with many more herbs. Even one of my tomatoes that I've been growing from seed are putting out blooms! Here's hoping for sunshine and heat this week!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: Fondue

How retro. We got a fondue pot for $5 at a flea market and I've been trying out different combinations of fondue since. We've done a beef fondue and cheese fondue and I have a chocolate fondue fountain, so I don't really have a need for that.

The cheese fondue has been the best. Yes, it's messy, but it's worth it. Here's how it's done:

1 Tablespoon butter

1/4 of a white onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, diced

1 cup beer

1/4 pound swiss

1/4 pound havarti

1/4 pound cheddar

1 round Tablespoon flour

Shred all cheese, coat evenly with flour and set aside.

Heat the butter in a sauce pan, the brown the finely chopped onion and garlic. Add the beer, allow to come to a boil for two minutes to cook off some of the alcohol and then reduce to a simmer for another two minutes. Begin adding the cheese, one handful at a time and whisking constantly.

Transfer to a fondue pot on medium. Serve with crudites or crusty bread. Our favorites were potatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower and broccoli I steamed before hand. Tim particularly liked a garlic bread loaf I sliced into thick slices, toasted and created cubes out of. We also tried apples and tomatoes, which weren't our favorites.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Basil cream cheese

What a negligent blogger I've been! I'll try to be more diligent next week. It's so beautiful outside, who wants to cook? Not this kid!

I'm the master of party dips and during the summer, if there's a party, you can guarantee that's what I'm bringing. Now that I have my own herbs coming in, I can't wait to find a million different things to use them on. But since my tomatoes are not yet ripe, my hopes of sauces, bruschetta and stuffed tomatoes have not yet materialized.
So instead, I used my first little harvest of basil for some cream cheese that can be used as an appetizer or party dip.

Here's what you need

1 package (8 ounces) reduced fat cream cheese

1 handful fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary

1/4 Tablespoon dried dill

1/4 Tablespoon garlic salt

Pinch of pepper

Make sure you've allowed the cream cheese to soften. Also, when harvesting herbs, don't remove any more than one-third of a plant at a time, otherwise the plant will go into shock and die.

Harvest and chop the herbs right before making the dish and crush the dried herbs in your palm to release the flavors. Use the flat whipping paddle on the stand mixer and whip the cream cheese. Using a reduced-fat cream cheese allows you to taste the herbs more, in my opinion. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix on low until incorporated.

Refrigerating the dip for a few hours before serving help the flavors mingle. Serve with crackers or crudites.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Food find: Booby's diner in Niles

I know the name is inappropriate, but I can't help that, nor can I tell you how it got it's name. Booby's in Niles on Milwaukee Avenue has been there for who knows how long and it's a classic dinner with a jazzed up interior.

The reason we go there is Tim loves that the burgers come with homemade coleslaw between the bun and patty. I'm a big fan of this place for the sheer variety of food available - a basket of shrimp dinner, ribs, burgers, sandwiches, baklava, corn, shakes, malts, and who knows what else.

I got a BLT the last time we went. I've had the staple bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich many, many times in my life. However, I've never had one with such tasty bacon -- it was smoky, crunchy and warm but with no visible grease. The tomato was also tastier than the standard grocery-store variety, but maybe I just haven't had a tomato in a while because of the salmonella scare.

Next time, I really must try a gyros and baklava.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Food find: Festival food

It's that time of year when every little hamlet on Earth has a festival. It may be the same carnival rides from the same company every single time, the food changes. I've had some poor corndogs so I thought I'd try something else at the Crystal Lake Gala.
What I found was these delicious waffle fries from Fire Bar and Grill, located in Crystal Lake. I've heard a lot about the place, so I thought I'd grab a bite at their stand at the Gala.

I got some chicken strips because I was in a bit of a rush and I wanted to go for a cheaper option. At $5, the chicken strips and fries were a gem. The waffle fries were crisp but not overcooked and just the right amount of saltiness. The chicken strips were also well-seasoned and crunchy on the exterior without being dry.

My only complaint -- the honey mustard. It was a bit watery and had no spunk.

Oh well, they were just chicken strips. I'm going to have to stop by their Angela Lane location to try out their three-appetizer plate or grilled-steak panini. Mmmm.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Raisin no-knead loaf

I'm loving this no-knead bread recipe. I have found so many little twists on the original recipe and my favorite so far has been this loaf that I've been munching on for breakfast. I need a little kick in the morning, so I went for something with a little more substance and sugar. Because there is sugar, the outside of the bread will brown faster than with the original no-knead loaf, so take note of the different cooking temps/times.

Here's what you need:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon yeast

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (It's delicious!)

A pinch of both ground cloves and cinnamon (makes it smell good when it's cooking)

1 box raisins

2 cups warm water

Place all the dry ingredients in the work bowl of the mixer and use the flat attachment just to mix it all. Add the water and raisins and mix on low until there's a shaggy dough. Place in a draft-free area for 12 to 18 hours to rise -- the surface will look bubbly and the fermented yeast should smell a little like a pumpkin-pie scented beer, if there is such a thing.

Take it out and fold over three times, then place back in the bowl to rest for 15 minutes. Next, form a loose circular loaf and place in a clean, oiled bowl and turn to coat. Place in a microwave or other draft-free place to rise for an hour or until doubled.

Thirty minutes before cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place a casserole dish with lid (or pirex, cast iron or any number of cooking vessels that have a lid) in the oven to preheat as well.

When it's time to cooking, place the bread in the casserole dish and shake to distribute kind of evenly. After 30ish minutes, take the loaf out of the pan and place directly on the rack. Let it brown for 10 to 15 minutes or until when you tap the bottom of the loaf, it sounds hallow.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Food find: Libertyville Farmer's Market

In all the years I've lived here, I have never been to the farmer's market on Church Street. For as long as I can remember, it's been from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday. In high school, this inconvenienced me greatly with the weekly street closure and no easy bypass and I cursed this farmer's market.

Now, a little older and I hope a little wiser, I'm happy that my community has such a resource. It makes me nostalgic for Eastern Market in D.C., the best farmer's market I've ever been to. The stalls sprawled for a block and had every delicious item of produce I could imagine -- wild rice, juicy tomatoes of all colors, leafy herbs damp with dew and baby cucumber almost too cute to eat.
Now that I'm back home, this neighborhood farmer's market provides an impressive array of tasty treats that I predict will only grow as the summer progresses. I found organic beef, free-range chickens, white and orange carrots, hydroponically grown tomatoes, artisan cheese, bread from a convent kitchen and even dog treats that looked so cute. My only purchase was a huge slab of blueberry scone that I believe was made with cornmeal but could have used sugar. The same guy also made freshly squeezed lemonade with an industrial table-top lemon squeezer that probably wouldn't quite fit my kitchen decor. He also added scoops of super-fine baking sugar and shook my lemonade like a proper cocktail before serving.

I must make it a hobby to get out to these more often.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Container gardening with Kelly: Arrivals!

I am pleased to announce the arrival of my first tomato! It came from my sweet 100 bush and I hope it will in fact be the first of 100 tiny tomatoes for salads, foccacias, pizzas and side dishes.

Sweet 100s are great because the fruit just bursts in your mouth and presents sweet and tart tomatoey taste that rivals any healthful candy that's out there.

So the summer begins!

Tasty tours: Taste of Chicago!

It's finally here! I am fully convinced everyone should attend the Taste of Chicago. There's really something for everyone -- vegetarians, barbecue enthusiasts, healthy eaters, the gluttonous, music lovers, kids, the elderly and everyone in between. I suppose the only people who shouldn't attend are those on a diet.

The Taste is a compilation of various types and styles of cuisine throughout the Chicago area and includes famous favorites and around the corner dives you just can't resist. You'll find traditional festival-type foods such as roasted corn and barbecue turkey legs along with classier alternatives such as fresh gazpacho or smooth, homemade gelato.

There's no admission price, you just pay for your food. You must first get tickets, which are 12 for $8. Spend $16 and I guarantee you'll walk away full, if you know how to play the game.

It's easy to spend the whole day at the Taste. I recommend taking public transportation; it's close to the El. You can always take a blanket and make an afternoon out of people watching and there's live music throughout the day.

When you arrive, bring cash. The lines are shorter if you use cash to buy the tickets. And don't buy at the first ticket booth you see -- there will be ticket booths inside with shorter lines. Ask for a map too, it's invaluable!

My biggest tip is to try the tasting portions. They're generous portions and it allows you to try a little bit of everything at three to four tickets a piece.

Another tip is to bring some bottled water. The prices for water aren't horrible, but it's always cheaper to pack your own.

And definitely don't drink alcohol at the Taste. It's a simple matter of economy. Most adult beverages are nine or 10 tickets. That means that puny, non-potent vodka lemonade you're barely enjoying is costing a whopping $6.50! There are much more effective ways to spend that money.

You'll have to try the frozen cheesecake dipped in chocolate and on a stick -- a rich, savory treat that's perfect for the weather. There's also a taste portion of mixed berry gelato that is amazing, you can really taste all the fruits in a bitter yet sweet and creamy treat. I also enjoyed the taste portion of a dipped in chocolate frozen banana. It's fruit, so it's healthy ... right?

In terms of food, I really like the fried ravioli with marinara, Tim very much enjoyed some steak tacos and mustard-fried catfish and I liked a taste portion of gazpacho with onion, avocado and creme fraiche.

Clear your agenda, pack a backpack, slather on some sunscreen and head out to the Taste with an empty stomach!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Banana Bread Recipe

Bananas are 62 cents a piece now! At that price, it's a shame to waste. Instead, peel bananas that are a little too ripe to eat, place in a zip-top freezer bag and throw in the freezer. When you have three or four large bananas, it's time to make banana bread.

I lived with my grandmother one summer and she made this for me. Every morning, I'd have three slices of her banana nut bread with oleo and a glass of tart orange juice. This is her recipe, with some tweaks. Food is the one thing that binds us all, across geography and generations.

My Grandma's Banana Bread Recipe
2 and 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, soft
2 eggs
3-4 crushed bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Using the flat paddle on the stand mixer, break up the bananas. Mix in the remaining ingredients and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Divide the batter into two greased loaf pans. Place in a 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until brown on the edges.

It's best served warm in 1/4-inch slices with butter.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Container gardening with Kelly: Tomato update

My pursuit of homegrown food continues, successfully I must say too. We've had a ton of rain, but my containers are OK because I used sand and compost to improve drainage and fertilize naturally.

Now, the tomatoes are close to putting out something delicious. My baby tomatoes are fully grown but not yet red and I have several new buds developing into tasty treats.

I also have a grown sweet 100 plant that has many, many tomatoes developing but not yet red. Maybe next week I'll have a bounty of produce.

With that produce, I'll have basil and cilantro. Both are looking more like shrubbery than herbs, so I guess the rain is helping everything along.

I can barely decide what to make first, so I'm taking all suggestions!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Food find: Tacos el Norte

This weekend, despite having graduating six months ago and having my nicely framed diploma on the wall, I graduated from Northwestern. They only do a graduation ceremony once per year, so I walked at graduation Saturday for probably the last time ever. I don't foresee a Dr. Kelly the Culinarian anytime in my future.

To celebrate, we went to Tacos el Norte, which is a delicious Mexican food restaurant in Gurnee near Route 21 in the Riverside plaza. The place is really hopping on the weekend.

My mom said I don't know why anyone comes to a Mexican restaurant to order steak or chicken. So of course, I had to order chicken, and I have to say, it was a delicious dish.

I had the beer-battered chicken breast, which was served butterflied with lettuce, sour cream, rice and refried beans. It would have been nice to get tomato, but I can't control the global market and my tomatoes aren't ripe yet.

The chicken was delicious -- moist on the inside but crispy on the outside. It was way more than I could eat though. They were also served with some corn tortillas and I tried some chunks of chicken with all the fixings and that was pretty tasty too, but there wasn't enough lettuce and sour cream to make many of them.

Anyhow, the point of this story is try the chicken, fish or steak at your favorite Mexican place, it's worth a taste.