Kelly the Culinarian: July 2008

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.