Kelly the Culinarian: June 2008

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.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Watermelon sorbet

Finally, the days are long and the sun is refreshingly strong. As a result, I wasn't feeling quite like baking today. Instead, I went for a cooler treat.

I do not have the ice cream attachment for my Kitchenaid, but I made do. The trick is to use the stand mixer whisk to stir the semi-frozen mixer every couple of hours to create a smooth, consistent final product.

Here's all you need:

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup light corn syrup (in the baking aisle)

1/4 cup water

2 cups seedless watermelon

5 strawberries

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Heat the sugar, syrup and water in a saucepan over low heat until all is dissolved. It will take less than two minutes. Remove from the heat and chill.

Remove the watermelon from the rind and place in a blend with the cleaned strawberries and lemon juice. Pulse until a smooth consistency is achieved, then press through a sieve to remove all seeds. Refrigerate.

When both components are cold, place in a frozen work bowl and use a chilled whisk to incorporate all the elements. Cover the bowl with foil and place it, along with the whisk, in the freezer. Every hour or so, whisk again to incorporate all the frozen pieces. It takes about four hours before a consistently frozen product is created.

Place in a plastic container and use within a week. It's almost like a slushie, except healthful.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Sour dough slashes

I thought I'd try a few different designs for bread. Slashing the bread is essential -- it allows the bread to properly rise in the oven and the yeast to distribute.

But which designs you choose to slash into the bread is a matter of preference. I personally like to put my initials into the bread, much like fancy bakeries do, but the possibilities are infinite.

First, I made my favorite San Francisco sourdough recipe and allowed it to rise once before separating it into four smaller loaves to try out different patterns. You could make two large circular loaf or eight roll-sized loaves.

After allowing the formed smaller loaves to rise until doubled, about an hour, I used a very sharp pairing knife to created designs. There's the tradition "x," the double box and some other ones I tried. The little starfish design was my favorite I think.

My dad said these things looked like dinosaur eggs coming out of the oven, but they tasted really good. In the smaller size, it only took about 20 minutes to cook and get golden brown. This time, I also substituted one cup of whole wheat flour for regular flour to give it a slightly healthier touch and a different texture.

So give it a try and make your favorite design -- it can be your signature!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Media meal: Top Chef is over!

.... and the winner is the Chi-town girl, Stephanie! I'm so psyched to see a woman as Top Chef, it's about time.

And it really is representative of the business on the whole. Although the professional kitchen is usually dominated by men, more women and rolling up their sleeves and demanding respect.

Now that I'm off my soapbox, the elimination challenge tonight was a classic four-course tasting menu progressing from seafood, poultry, red meat and dessert.

There were some stellar dishes, including a great soup with chicken dumpling from Lisa and an interesting dessert by Richard that was a banana slice prepared and seared like a scallop with bacon ice cream. I still can't wrap my mind around bacon ice cream, but oh well.

Now I'm hungry. Cheers to Chicago chefs!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Sunday off

There will be no stand mixer Sunday today because my dear friend Alissa tied the knot this weekend! It was a fabulous ceremony that went on without a hitch. The reception had some tasty Polish food as well. I was too busy making a fool out of myself "dancing," if you can call it that, to eat cake, but there was something better.

Now I have a smallish chocolate fountain I got for Christmas several years ago. It's a tabletop model with three tiers.
Alissa procured a five-tier fountain that was the same size as me. There were twinkies, Oreos, marshmallows, bananas and the biggest strawberries I've ever seen. It was at least the size of a ping pong ball. Let me tell you, there are far more occasions that call for a chocolate fountain than people get them for. Graduation? Housewarming? Christening? All good occasions for the chocolate fountain.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Container gardening with Kelly: We have tomatoes!

My first set of seedlings didn't make it. I started to leave them out after Mother's Day and it was just too cold. They shriveled with the frost. I still have a few seedlings left inside, so who knows what'll happen.

So I was off to plan B. Instead, I bought a few started plants from Home Depot. And let me report my success, I have three tiny tomatoes! None of them are large enough to even make Christmas tree ornaments, but we're moving along nicely. There are two more little buds that haven't opened up yet as well. In conclusion, the container better bush tomato is doing quite well.

I have two other tomatoes plants, both indeterminates, growing upside down in different containers. They're not moving along too much lately -- they're getting bigger with more leaves, but no buds yet. I'm experimenting with this hanging tomato thing, so pictures on that when there's something to actually take photos of.

As for my herbs, they're starting to look bushy. I have basil and cilantro, and this week's rain and sun have really brought them out. The rosemary doesn't appear to be doing anything at all, but hey, there's still plenty of time.

I may be eating very well this summer. The teeny, tiny baby tomatoes really made my day.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Media meal: Top Chef finale

OK, don't tell me. I'll be at work tonight and will miss the season finale of Top Chef Chicago. Alas, I cannot plan life around telelvision.

If anyone spoils the episode for me, I'll be very sad. But I'm going to call it: I think Antonia will win. He dishes have done well with the judges and she's been consistently on the top. She also has great ideas. But anything can happen in the finale, so who knows.

Happy viewing!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Food find: Taco burrito king

Again, Mexican food doesn't really photograph well, but boy is it tasty.
Tim loves Taco Burrito King. It's a chain in the Chicago suburbs that has a location near his work in Niles. It's a very nice little place with outdoor tables and a cool decor.

Anyhow, the food is the star here. We got the guacamole, which was a generous portion that we couldn't finish. Nice, creamy texture with chunks of tomato, onion and jalapeno along with cilantro throughout.

I got the two taco plate. It was steak bit with cheese, tomato, lettuce and sour cream wrapped in two corn tortillas each. Even though the filling was abundant, the taco kept up and it wasn't all that messy. The steak tasted a little funky, but I liked the tacos overall.

The rice and beans served on the side were delicious as well. Just the right amount of smokiness along with a little bite from the rice. Another tasty meal!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Whole wheat bread

I might be in love with this no-knead recipe. It's just so easy. I've been trying different combinations of stuff and different types of flours, and it always works.

My newest venture was using whole-wheat flour. I've never worked with it before, but it's been quite the success. The key to this is to sift all the ingredients together. It really makes a difference in the texture and gets out the huge chunks of whatever in the flour. Ick.

So here's the standard recipe for a whole-wheat no-knead loaf. Believe me, you'd pay a pretty penny for this at the store.

1 cup regular flour
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 and 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 and 5/8 cups water

Whole-wheat flour really sucks up water, so you may need a little more. Anyhow, mix together all the ingredients listed above until it forms a shaggy, sticky dough. Put in a warm corner at least overnight, preferable 18 hours or until the dough is foamy with bubbles on top.

Pour the dough out onto a floured surface and work enough plain flour into it to keep it from sticking to your fingers. Fold over the dough three times and put in some plastic wrap to rest for 15 minutes. Then take out and form into a loose round loaf. Place in a floured cotton cloth to rise until doubled, about two hours.

At least a half hour before baking, place a casserole, pyrex or other heavy dish with a lid in the oven and heat to 450 degrees. When you're ready to cook off the loaf, remove the dish and place the loaf in the dish, then shake to settle the loaf.

Put it in the oven with the lid on for 25 minutes. Then, remove the whole loaf and place on the oven rack for another 15 minutes to allow it to brown all over. A nice egg wash glaze would help with this one too.