Kelly the Culinarian: April 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Media meal: Top Chef budget dishes

As a journalist, budget dishes have a special place in my heart and probably will for the rest of my professional career. It's just a fact I have to accept.

Tonight's episode was specifically geared for this lovely economy we're in too. I felt like it was a tailor-made episode for families living on a budget.

The quickfire challenge was to make a meal in 15 minutes. I don't think it's that huge of a challenge, people do that all the time. They also had to use Uncle Ben's Rice ... product placement all the way.

Antonia won the quickfire with a rice and salad combo with grilled skirt steak. It sounds like a very odd combination, but I'll give it a try now. If it impresses Oprah's personal chef, I'm sure it's good enough for me.

The elimination challenge was to create a meal for four on a budget of $10 with one hour of prep time, utilizing the assistance of adorable kid chefs. Again, I'm not sure how big of a challenge this is, people do this all the time, every day. The only challenge I saw was that they had to shop at Whole Foods, another product placement. I could easily check that challenge off if I was shopping at Aldi. This show has made meals from gas station crap, I'm sure they could make a five-star meal from Aldi.

The winner of the elimination challenge was Antonia, again. There were some great dishes, like a spaghetti putanesca and a fried spaghetti and all kinds of chicken.

See, I want to see more of these budget challenges. This is how the average American lives, not the gourmet fantasy I'd love to live.

Next week: Wedding wars! I love the wedding episode, I can't wait.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Media meal: Garlic and Sapphires

I've been meaning to read this forever. Thanks to an hour-long commute and the power of books on tape, I've finally been able to get a taste of Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires. I love this book.

Reichl is the oh-so-famous food critique for The New York Times who created waves by giving ethnic restaurants four stars before sushi was popular. She also revolutionized the way people read about food and restaurants by trying to disguise herself as the average Sue and see how the normal citizen experienced the food and service. It was shocking, but to the readers and to Reichl.

The book chronicles her transformation into a litany of characters that allow her to see New York's rich food culture through the eyes of average New Yorkers.

This book is worth picking up simply for Reichl's descriptions of all the fabulous dishes she had, like a lobster risotto .. I'm hungry just thinking of it.

This book also has a plot, following her from the beginning to the end of her time at the NYT as she made her shift to Gourmet magazine.

A must read for any aspiring foodie!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Oatmeal honey milk bread

Wow, that's a long title. But hey, it's a tasty bread that packs a punch.

The oatmeal provides a little texture and fiber while the honey, milk and brown sugar add layers of flavor and depth to the white bread. This is one of my favorites so far.

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups oatmeal
1 package yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups warm milk
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg mixed with a spot of milk, for topping

Put the oatmeal, salt, yeast and brown sugar in the mixer bowl. Using the hook, mix it on low. In the meantime, put the water, milk, honey and oil in a microwave safe bowl and warm until hot to the touch, 100-125 degrees.

With the stand mixer on low, add the wet ingredients and let incorporate, then turn to setting four (moderate speed).

Start adding the flour a half cup at a time until the dough doesn't appear sticky anymore and starts to pull away from the bowl. Then mix at medium for two minutes until a ball forms and starts to stick on the hook.

Pull it out and knead it for two minutes until there's a shiny ball of dough. Only add enough flour to keep it from sticking. Put the ball in a large, greased bowl and turn to coat. Put it in the microwave with warm water until doubled in size, about two hours.

Turn it out onto a floured surface and split into four parts, turn them into fat oblongs. Turn the pieces together and place into two greased loaf pans so a little knot shows. Allow to rise in the microwave until doubled again, about an hour.

Then glaze with the egg and place in a preheated 355-degree oven for 40 minutes or until blissfully browned.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Food find: Brass Brewery and Restaurant

Everyone needs a girls' night. I had the pleasure of meeting some of my ladies this week for a dinner and dish date at Brass Brewery and Restaurant in Barrington. It's quite the classy place with a decor of exposed brick, oversized black velvet curtains diving the room and dark wood throughout. There's also an open kitchen where you can see the staff hussle to get your plate together.

They brought us out a rosemary and salt foccacia, which was a little more puffy and not as chewy as I'm used to, but still quite delicious. Any they were generous with the bread too, but I wish they would have included a few slices when they packaged up our leftovers.

We had a spinach and artichoke dip as an appetizer, which came with toasted pita chips that were obviously made on site. They were thick and a little oily, but quite delicious with the dip. I liked the dip because it had sundried tomatoes in the hot cheesy dip, but it tasted like it might have Velveeta in it. I prefer spinach dips with more traditional cheeses, although I loved the tang of the generous helping of Parmesan.

For an entree, I ordered the pasta rigatoni, which was the special of the evening for $14 in vegetarian style, although I suspect the $22 price listed on the menu includes chicken. It's rigatoni with fresh veggies such as asparagus, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes. They were roasted and perhaps steamed as well before being tossed with a vodka sauce and pasta.

I loved the dish because the veggies retained their individual crispness and flavor despite the prep. The vodka sauce wasn't your typical sauce, either. It was smokey and perhaps included pan drippings from the roasted veggies.

The whole meal was delicious, even the leftovers. Although the prices are a bit high for everyday, the food justifies it, in my opinion.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Top Chef Chicago: Second City

This week was particularly exciting. The chefs ended up cooking for Second City performers after receiving ingredients and themes from the audience.

I've been looking forward to this all season because my former co-worker Ryan Pagelow, a talented author with a great comic strip, told me quite a long time ago that one of the reality cooking shows had come to cook for his wife's work. While I've never met his wife Nicky, I was so psyched that I was three degrees away from a top chef.

What can I say, I'd love to rub elbows with some stars, even if it is reality TV stars. Nicky even got a title screen when she popped up during the show! So jealous ...

The loser tonight was the other half of the first Top Chef couple. I'm sad. The problem hinged on their interpretation of "orange turns on asparagus." Personally, I thought the interpretation regarding "magenta, drunken, polish sausage" that was swapped with Chilean sea bass was worse. BTW, I have learned that Chilean sea bass isn't sea bass at all, it's actually Patagonian toothfish. Not so cool anymore, I guess.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Rosette cupcakes

I've had my eye on this cake pan for at least a year. It's just adorable! It's a 12-cupcake pan made of heavy cast aluminum and each cupcake is a little, tiny rosebud. They are so cute!

Only problem -- the roses aren't so visible after they're frosted. So here are photos of both. Maybe muffins would be a better choice. Anyhow, make sure you grease the tins well.

Here's enough for 12 vanilla cupcakes:
3/4 cup self rising flour

3/4 all-purpose flour

1 stick softened butter

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream butter, then add sugar and beat for three minutes or until fluffy.

Add one egg at a time, then add the dry ingredients a cup at a time along with the vanilla. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl to make sure everything is incorporated.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes, then cool. Only put icing on after it's cooled or it will be a soggy mess.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Top Chef Chicago: Da Bears!

This week for Top Chef, the contenders did a tailgate party for a Bears game at soldier field. It must have been really early in the season because it looks nice out and this winter was ridiculously nasty.

Perhaps more exciting than the elimination challenge was the quickfire. The chefs were tasked with creating a dish that pairs perfect with a beer. They were all upscale beers, no Miller Lite here, but it was still interesting. It was mostly classy bar food like oysters, fried shrimp and coleslaw and burgers. It looked nicer than anything I've ever ordered at a bar.

And it's an interesting challenge. I might not know what wine goes best with a braised pork chop, but I could tell if my amuse bouche is best suited for a pairing with Amber Boch. Great challenge.

The foods offered for tailgating ran the gambit from a pate melt (a play on a patty melt) to sausage and pepper heros to parsnip potato whip and poached pears.

The one eliminated, Ryan, claims this challenge was out of his league because he's a metrosexual of sorts whose not into sports. Now, I don't follow anything in the sports arena except my Cubbies, but I think he's got a lame excuse. Just because I've never been to a meeting of the United Nations doesn't mean that I couldn't figure out what to serve at such an event.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Media meal: The Amateur Gourmet

I have been meaning to read this book forever. Adam Roberts is the creator of The Amateur Gourmet, a great Web site that so many food bloggers aspire to. You'll have to check it out, it's a great site. What I love about the site is that even though he's a huge deal in the business now, the blog is still true to the original plan -- humorous and informative with point-and-shoot photos that make it still look like something my friends could be doing.

Anyhow, on to the book. It's just like the blog, except in novel form -- funny, eclectic and informative. Adam talks about his journey through food. He was in boring, soul-sucking law school and looking for something to be passionate about. Food was it.

And I can understand that. Food is a passionate subject. Religions and regions both dictate what one eats and tradition is a huge part of it too.

After discovering the power of food, Adam decides to share it with friends and discover how to do everything in the kitchen better. There's a chapter about shopping like a pro, cooking for your family and even cooking for a date. Great recipes and hilarious anecdotes abound.

This is worth picking up. Support a blogger, buy the book!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Food find: Oasis Lounge

My sisters really like fish. Me, not so much. I like sushi, but good sushi should never smell like fish.

Anyhow, on our travels this weekend, my sisters decided they wanted a perch dinner. Oasis came highly recommended. Apparently during lent, the wait for a table could take you three hours. Luckily, lent was over with and we only waited 10 to 15 minutes, just long enough to grab a tall draft for $2.50. The same beer here would run me at least $8. Ick, Chicago prices.

On to the food. I got the classic cheeseburger, we got an order of onion rings to share and everyone else got the perch. The portions were huge, just ridiculous. There was a school of fish on my sisters' plates.

The onion rings were the first thing that came out. They were super crispy and delicious. My favorite part was that the onion didn't come out during the first bite, because the rest of it is just fried stuff and kind of icky.

The fish looked crispy and delicious. The whole family raved. My burger was a bit on the rare side, but hey, I lived to tell the tale, so I think I'm just dandy.

MMmmmm, fried things.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Update: It's not the market you're thinking of

Hey, I'm back in the Land of Lincoln! It was an eventful weekend. When I was in Michigan, I had to take a snap shot of this pig-themed van. It was at Meats and Moore and it kind of made my day. It had ears, a snout and a tail. There were also slogans on it like "sinfully delicious" and "this little piggy went to market."

I thought it was hilarious.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Gardening with Kelly: Seedling update

Hi folks, I don't think there will be any Stand Mixer Sunday feature this week, I'm traveling out of town for a funeral.

Until then, check out my gourmet seedlings -- I think I might actually have produce coming from this! I have tomatoes, cilantro, peppers, green onions, basil and parsley and only the rosemary hasn't sprouted. Here's hoping this summer is a fruitful one!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Media meal: Top Chef Chicago this week

You may notice that I've become a featured publisher for Foodbuzz. Rest assured, nothing will change, it's just another thing on my blog now.

Onward: Did you catch Top Chef? I'm a big fan of this season and wanted to hold off on writing for a day because of the cut -- they split up the couple! Not only was it Top Chef's first couple, but the producers chose a lesbian couple. Food brings people together like none other, but I don't know if I could ever work with my significant other, let alone cook with said person. Kitchens get rapidly small and cooking can be stressful when things go wrong.

The elimination challenge was to cook the first course of the Meals on Wheels celebrity benefit dinner. I think I caught that this was hosted at the old Marshall Field's building. I only know of one Marshall Field's and I think it's perfect for such an event. And it will ALWAYS be Marshall Field's to me.

The chef split into groups of threes and were assigned the elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire as themes. I wasn't a fan, it's a little abstract for my taste. In the group that lost, one chef had immunity and nixed the other chefs' idea of having butternut squash, which the judges then said would be a great idea. Such a great idea that I can't wait for fall to make it ...

Anyhow, I was far more intrigued by the quickfire challenge, which was the taste test they do every season, except this year, the chefs had to pick the expensive ingredient. There were all sorts of examples: syrup, bacon, butter, crab, soy sauce, sake ... all tasty. I thought it was so interesting to try and distinguish the two, but my unrefined palate that has a taste for Taco Bell would not have passed the test.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Media meal: Every Day with Rachael Ray, May

It must be spring. Rachael Ray is wearing a summer dress on the cover and has an adorable pixie cut. And there are flowers and greenery that give me hope that there might actually be sun on the horizon.

  • A recipe for the ultimate Caesar dressing from Mr. Big himself, Chris Noth
  • A review of vacuums (yawn)
  • Software to help you create your own heirloom cookbook (awesome gift potential)
  • An explanation on why a drop in bee population is a horrible thing
  • A review of the best barbecue sauces (I heart!)
  • A day in the eating life of Valerie Bertinelli (and it's not just that Jenny Craig stuff)
  • A turkey tortilla casserole that looks amazing
  • A review of electric griddles (I'm not a big fan of them)
  • Recipe for a colorful, rich bacon-avocado griddle pizza
  • How to store, clean, cook and serve asparagus (it's never looked this tasty)
  • Budget meals ... we need them with that recession looming
  • An ode to mom
  • Delicious cake recipes and decorating tips -- I wish I had an occasion to make one
  • Entree-worthy soups and sandwiches
  • Morning meals for mom's brunch
  • A cowboy burger (which reminds me of my dear friend Rick who invented the cowboy diet: apples, Gatorade, beef jerky, beer and water. I don't recommend it)
  • Rocky road cookie sandwiches ... I want, I lust over these
  • How-to for a block party
  • New takes on make-at-home TV dinners
  • Spring-inspired floral drinks
  • Spa services around the country
  • Capturing the romance of Amtrak travel (I've taken the train, it might be hard to capture)
  • Nachos around the country that are more than just bar food
  • The fridge of Katie Lee Joel

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: Low-carb chicken parmesan

One of the things you miss on a low-carb diet is snacks that go crunch. There are very few things, save for cucumbers and pork rinds, that are crispy and low carb. So I set out to be creative. Here's what I came up with:

For the chicken, you need:
3 large chicken breasts
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Cut the chicken into strips and remove all fat. Pat dry with a paper towel.
For the topping, mix the Parmesan and spices. Coat the chicken pieces in the topping and place on a baking sheet sprayed with oil and place in a 375-degree oven.

For the topping:
2 garlic cloves, diced

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

2 small cans Italian tomatoes, mostly drained

1/4 cup mozzarella cheese

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and add garlic, allow to soften for about three minutes. Add tomatoes and allow to reduce and thicken for 10 minutes. Just before serving, add cheese and cream. Great add-ins for this dish would be julienned basil added at the very end, a spring of rosemary started with the garlic, maybe some chopped veggies you'd like to use up or a box of frozen spinach. You could really use up quite a bit with this one.

Now there are carbs in tomatoes. You can have about a half cup of the tomato topping for less than 10 grams of carbs. And it's nice to have a chicken with a nice crust.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Sugar cookies

Alas, I didn't eat these. I made them for a lovely coworker who picked up a Friday night shift for me. Totally deserving of something tasty.

I've been wanting to make some sugar cookies for a while so I can start testing recipes pre-holiday. This recipe was a real winner and the coworkers loved it.

Here's what you need:

2 and 3/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 sticks butter, room temp

1 and 1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using the flat mixing attachment of mixer, cream the butter and sugar (until it's incorporated and yellowish). Add the egg on low speed, then the vanilla extract, soda and powder. Add the flour one cup at a time until you have a crumbly sort of dough.

Form the dough into large spoonfuls (there should be about 20, depending on how big you make it). Bake in a 375-degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges. Pull from the oven and immediately dust with sugar, then remove to cool.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: Steak au poivre

On goes the low-carb life. A co-worker raved about Alton Brown's steak au poivre ("with pepper") recipe this week so I thought I'd give it a try. Getting all the ingredients was a scavenger hunt and filet mignon is not easy to find, apparently. I couldn't find cognac, so I went with red wine instead.

So here's how it works:
2 filet mignon medallions
Ground kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns, crushed
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup heavy cream

Let the steaks warm to room temperature for at least a half an hour. Place the crushed pepper on a plate and dust both sides of the steak with the salt. Melt the butter and oil over high heat in a stainless steel skillet and when a drop of water sizzles on the oil, it's ready. Coat both sides of the steaks with the crushed peppercorns and allow the steaks to sear for four minutes on each side. Transfer to a baking sheet into a 375-degree oven for 15 minutes.

In the interim, use a paper towel to absorb the excess oil but don't try and clean the pan. Place the wine in the skillet and let it cook out, using a wire whisk to scrape up the drippings. After it's reduced, about three minutes, add the cream and whisk it together.

Take out the steaks, top with the sauce and enjoy.

Even with the steamed green beans and salad, this meal cost about $7 per plate. Deliciously cheap.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Media meal: This week's Top Chef

This week, the chefs were tasked with creating a multi-course meal in pairs with each dish based on a chef's favorite meal. There were some great ones, with the winner being the first course of fish paired with white chocolate and faux caviar, inspired by Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

The lucky recipients of this delicious presentation were guests invited to a Richard Roper-hosted dinner party. Man, I wish we were BFF because the food looked delish.
It got me thinking about my own movie preferences and how food would be best paired. One of my favorite movies is Cruel Intentions and what strikes me most about the movie is the sophistication of the characters and the richness of the scenery. If I were to make a dish based on this film, I'd go with a decadent, sophisticated entree such as a truffle risotto or perhaps a kobe steak topped with morel sauce.

I'm also a fan of Ratatouille, but the options there are just too easy -- perhaps a soup that similar to that which Remy saved in the first scene he meets the young chef or the ratatouille that melted the critic's heart in the end.

So next time you're enjoying a blockbuster, think about what it would taste like, the kind of dish it would inspire. It's actually a thought-provoking challenge that made for great TV this week.