Sunday, December 9, 2007

No Dough? No Problem!

There comes a time in every woman's life when she stops for a moment, looks around, and says to herself, "Is this it?" Is this what adult life is? Is this what I suffered through geometry for? Isn't there MORE TO LIFE THAN THIS??!!!

All melodrama aside, I had a semi-existential moment this evening as I contemplated what I should have for dinner. Understand that after a lovely weekend gallavanting around southern California followed by raucous holiday festivities and a wonderful dinner date with my beloved Ross, I'm not exactly throwing around Benjamins lately.

Now, it's safe to say I won't be winning any awards for money management, but a girl's gotta eat, right? So, $2.36 in tow, I popped into the (in)convenience store to see what I could come up with. (When you're regretting giving that bum 75 cents at the bus stop because now you could've gotten another can of peas, you know you're strapped for cash.)

I perused the shockingly overpriced cans of vegetables ($1.79 for a can of diced tomatoes??!!!), I thought through what I had back in the fridge...some thin-sliced chicken breasts, a leftover pie crust from Thanksgiving, a couple potatoes (the fact that said potatoes were covered with enough eyes to give Helen Keller a glimpse at the world notwithstanding) -- Eureka! Chicken Pot Pie!

So I schlepped home through three inches of crusty gray snow, and upon arriving at my door, I hear my roommate screaming from inside the kitchen, "A MOUSE!!! A MOUSE!!! COME IN QUICK!!!!"

This is Jess attmepting (badly) to recreate her expression of horror upon seeing the dreaded vermin:

I sighed, and thought to myself, "City living - it ain't all it's cracked up to be." I opened the door, and as I looked back into the hallway, I saw a little gray rodent scurry out from under a shoe on the stairs and out underneath the exterior door, leaving the warmth of our foyer and braving the Chicago winter once again. Jess stopped freaking out, and we decided the only way we would possibly make it through the night was to open a bottle of red wine.

But back to the fearless cooking: for a little over $2, I have actually constructed a Poor Man's Chicken Pot Pie. Read on, my little Oliver Twists.

FEARLESS FACTOR: 10. I'm giving myself credit for the fact that, not only did I pull off the perfect winter comfort food for the price of a city bus ride, I came up with the whole thing on the fly.


2 thin-sliced chicken breasts
1 1/2 yukon gold potatoes (eyes removed, if applicable)
1/2 white onion, diced
1 can peas/carrots
1 can green beans
1/3 stick butter
3-4 T. flour
1 c. chicken broth
1 premade, unroll-and-bake pie crust
salt and pepper


Cut up the potatoes, onion, and chicken into small pieces.


Heat olive oil in a pan over medium, and saute the chicken until white on the outside, but not completely cooked through. Add a little salt and pepper to the chicken.


Preheat oven to 375. Drain the canned veggies. In a 9X9 baking pan, mix the veggies, onions, potatoes, and chicken together.


In the same pan you cooked the chicken in (without wiping it out), melt the butter, and when it's about 80% melted, start to stir in the flour tablespoon by tablespoon until a roux forms (it will be a yellow paste). As soon as the roux forms, pour in the chicken broth bit by bit and whisk the roux into it. Turn up the heat a little, and keep whisking constantly until the mixture begins to thicken. When it's the consistency of thin gravy, take it off the heat and pour it over the pie ingredients.


Unroll the refridgerated pie crust and place it over the pan, pressing it down around the edges to seal it. With a knife, cut four 1-inch holes in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake it at 375 for about 30 minutes. Take it out, and serve it up!

Now, bear in mind that this wasn't a true fearless post - I didn't have any guest judges (it was just Jess), and I hadn't really planned on blogging at all until I realized the scope of what I was about to undertake. So, for the sake of good reading material, I'll give some feedback:

JESS' VOTE: I think this is really good, expecially considering you used stuff we really did just have sitting around.

MY VOTE ON MY DISH: I give it 7 stars. It wasn't the most incredible thing I've ever tasted, but for what I had to work with, I have to say it was pretty good. It was hot, rich, and filling - the essence of comfort food.

NOTES: Next time, I would omit or reduce the onion. I find myself saying this a lot, and I think it must just be that I really don't like onions all that much (unless they're caramelized beyond recognition). I just find them overpowering in most things, including this. I would also substitute the canned veggies for frozen ones (obviously there was no way I could do this considering the blasted convenience store charges like $10 for a friggin' bag of frozen green beans).

All creepy rodents and thoughts of moving back in with Mom aside, I have to say it was a nice meal in. I even convinced Jess to sit through "Planet Earth" for a whopping six and a half minutes (right up until the badger tore open the carcass of a frozen moose - talk about scrounging around for a meal).

Aah, just another Sunday night at 710.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wrap It Up, B

This week's Fearless expedition was truly impromptu. Jess and I had just gotten done selling some old clothes at a few resale shops, and, $43 in cash burning a hole in my pocket, we stopped by Whole Foods. Where I spent $43.11. No kidding.

As we wandered the aisles, mezmerized by the bulk flax seeds, soy candles, and googly-eyed trout in the fish case, trying to decide what to make for dinner, Jess exclaimed, "Veggie Burritos!" It sounded perfect. I've been wanting to do a vegetarian post for awhile now, because - despite how it may appear on the blog - I am not, in fact, a raging carnivore. I love vegetarian food (yes, I love tofu), and I often eat meatless meals. So Jess called a friend over for dinner (more on this later) and we decided to make it fearless.

FEARLESS FACTOR: Pretty low - I'd say a 2 out of 10. I am one with the burrito. It's pretty hard to make them NOT taste delicious.


Roasted Red Pepper tortillas (or any kind you like)
2 bunches fresh spinach
2 medium ripe tomatoes
1 avocado
1 bunch cilantro
1 medium onion
1 1/2 red bell peppers
1 small container sliced mushrooms
1/2 can low-fat refried beans
1 T. olive oil
salt & pepper
Southwestern seasoning (I used Emeril's)
3 T. sour cream
orange slices (for serving)


Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Chop the onions and peppers and start to sautee them (about 3-4 minutes). Add a little salt, pepper, and Southwestern seasoning.


Wash the spinach and chop the stems off. Chop it into pieces. Put the spinach and mushrooms into the pan. Add a little more seasoning. Sautee until the spinach begins to wilt, then cover the pan and turn the heat to low and continue to cook until veggies are tender.


Halve the avocado and remove the seed. Mash it up. Add the sour cream to it and stir until mostly smooth. Chop the cilantro. Dice the tomatoes.


Prepare the tortillas by wetting a paper towel and wringing it out, then wrapping a tortilla in it. Stick it in the microwave for 15 seconds, and the tortilla should be warm, moist, and easier to work with. Spread 2-3 T. of the refried beans on the tortilla.


Top the beans with the avocado-sour cream mixture, some cilantro (to taste), and a couple scoops of the veggie mixture. Place the chopped tomatoes on top of all of it.


Roll up and place on a plate seam-side down. Top with a little more avaocado-sour cream, cilantro, and tomatoes. Serve with orange wedges.

Well, now's the time where I tell you what the judges said. This is where it gets a little complicated. Our friend who came over for the burritos wishes to remain anonymous. She is - unlike my constantly-blogging/myspaceing/facebooking self - opposed to having her name and picture all over cyberspace. So our guest judge for this week, in place of our actual friend, will be the beautiful and talented Angelina Jolie.


ANGELINA: I loved it. It was so good. [Insert my confused expression here, as I gaze upon Angie's mutilated burrito remains, spinach strewn to the four corners of her plate.] Oh...I just really don't like spinach. [Angelina doesn't like spinach.] But I loved everything else about it! [Awkward pause.] Can I have another tortilla? [Anything for you, Angelina.]

JESS: Wow, they were really great. a good amount of the beans made a great base. Without enough of them, it would have just been hot salad on a tortilla.

Ross did not have the pleasure of dining with us this evening, but he told jokes while we gossiped. (I can only imagine he would demand more sauce.)


I give it 5 stars. Only such a mediocre score because it was so dreadfully easy. Not my most fearless dish to date, that's for sure. But it tasted great. And really, I think the healthfulness more than made up for the lack of toil in the kitchen. I didn't even use any cheese! I must have slipped into an alternate universe where I am not constantly dreaming about how I can fit cheese into my next meal....

NOTES: Angelina just loved how I served it with orange wedges. I must say it was a nice change of pace from the usual rice or chips side dish.

It was the perfect light supper (we're all trying to get a jump start on those inevitable New Year's Resolutions).

Thanks for reading, and a special thanks to Angelina for taking time out of her busy schedule adopting children from obscure third-world countries to come and have a delicious burrito with the little people.

More soon, my little blans...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Idol Worship


Ah, the big city. Hands-down, one of the best things about living in Chicago (or New York, or LA) is the ever-looming prospect of seeing a celebrity just around the corner. Word on the street is, when Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn were together, you couldn't go out in Chicago WITHOUT running into them. I, myself, have seen THE John Cusack at BB's (be still my beating heart), and the inimitable Ricki Lake riding the escalator in the NBC building. But a recent evening out topped them all - I saw Dale Levitski, Top Chef Season 3 Finalist and hunky gay Chicagoan, in his element at Sola, working the front of the house with all the grace and finesse you'd expect of someone who has one of the most impressive resumes in Top Chef history.

Upon glimpsing his mohawk-crested visage through Sola's window, I proceeded to jump up and down like a ten-year-old at a New Kids on the Block concert, but contained myself once inside, and of course refused to actually speak to him, choosing instead to gaze across the restaurant as he expertly took down orders, hoping my ridiculously stylish knit newboy cap would catch his eye.

Well, Dale and I have yet to officially meet (and subsequently become inseparable best friends, a la Will & Grace), but I did find a few great interviews with him on Chi-centric sites. He had some pretty interesting stuff to say about the molecular gastronomy trend in gourmet cooking these days (and if you watched Marcel on Season 2, you know what I'm talking about - I mean, does the culinary world really need another FOAM?). Dale says:

"The whole molecular gastronomy fad, or trend ... most of those ingredients and techniques are coming out of how commercial products are made. A lot of the chemicals are just stablilizers, [which is] how candy stays on the shelf forever. Or how things get a certain consistency. And toying around with those with fresh food instead of packaged food ... it's pretty interesting that people haven't commented that. These are the chemicals that people are putting in their body in junk food every day. And now we're making gourmet food with junk-food chemicals."

Read the whole interview here. Or, check out his interview with Metromix.


Many of you have probably heard of (or read) the book "Julie & Julia" by Julie Powell. Circa 2002, Powell started a blog where she attempted to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in one year, in her tiny New York apartment. When I found the book lurking in a lilliputian used bookstore (all the better to up the enchanting and alluring why-can't-this-be-my-life factor), I immediately bought it and devoured it whole. I must say it is supremely entertaining. 10 stars.

I had read the Amazon user reviews awhile ago (which is an activity that I highly recommend to anyone with a few hours of freetime and a laptop), and it had gotten some negative buzz - mostly centered around readers' opinions that Powell talks way too little about cooking and way too much about herself, her friends, her husband, the sex lives of the aforementioned parties, and insists on peppering her speech with colorful four-letter colloquialisms (I, myself, tend toward the pirate-lipped, so none of this really gets under my skin). I think the book is great, and Powell is an excellent writer (I see why her blog achieved relatively stratospheric fame (within the blogosphere) - her "bleaders" even went so far as to send her random gifts! (She was creeped out, but rest assured I would be most appreciative.)

I think it's fair to say that in 2002, there were substantially fewer blogs out there than there are now (I mean, I hardly know anyone who DOESN'T have a blog), which would explain why the New Yorker isn't beating down my door to interview me or give a book/TV/movie/mini-series/line of stylish ceramic-ware deal. Which makes me even more appreciative of my blans!

The actual blog is still out there in cyberspace. The thing that's sort of amazing about it is that it contains no pictures of any kind. I mean this woman succeeded in creating a successful blog with WORDS ALONE. The book is available everywhere.

Go get Julie & Julia. You'll love it.

Oh, and please visit City Bookstore. I couldn't find it online (which makes it even cooler, don't you think?), but it's on Broadway a couple blocks north of Clark and Diversey. You'll see the rolling carts of sale books on the sidewalk. Jess and I went there the day after Thanksgiving and got - are you ready for this? - SEVEN books for $19.99. It was half-off for the holiday, but still. Talk about being rich in knowledge....

Thanks for reading, guys. Seriously! I love you all....

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Fearless Thanksgiving

Burnt rolls...
Lumpy gravy...
Dry turkey...

Thanksgiving is a holiday that strikes fear in the hearts of seasoned cooks and novice kitchen-pilgrims alike. Much like the knot of anxiety that must have tied up the stomachs of our forefathers and the Native Americans as they sat down to the original feast, awakening to a day filled with chopping and carving can be downright scary.

Good thing I'm fearless. Now, this isn't your typical eat-and-be-judged fearless post. Not only did I have a teammate in the kitchen who's fearless in her own right (Ross' mom, Connie, flew in from Pittsburgh to keep us company - not to mention cook the turkey), there were no judgments at this meal (befitting a time of thanks and good vibes).

She even came bearing gifts! Check out this Christmas tree plate - the light on the knife actually lights up!

We awoke to beautiful snow flurries and...NO COFFEE IN THE HOUSE. So I strapped on my Uggs and schlepped to Dollop to get a pound. I completely forgot that it was a holiday, but luckily they were open till noon (they obviously know their clientele).

I got a pound of Indian coffee, in honor of the book Eat, Pray, Love, which Connie is reading, and which I read recently and am totally obessed with. I suggest reading it immediately. This is a great micro-roaster, Metropolis, that's pretty easy to find in the independent coffeeshops around town. A cup of this got the day started off energetically.

Since there were only three of us sitting down to this feast, we kept the menu small, but focused on making each dish great. We had turkey (of course), gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, whipped and baked butternut squash (you might remember that recipe from the pomegranate-scallops post I did awhile back), rolls, and green bean casserole (one of our family traditions, and my little bro's favorite). For dessert, we had Beulah's Famous Banana Pudding (and I don't use the word "famous" lightly) and pumpkin pie (we may be only three people, but one dessert does not a Thanksgiving feast make).


1 1/2 lbs. fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into pieces
1 can gream of mushroom soup
1/2 c. milk
salt and pepper
French fried crispy onions

Boil the green beans for about 8-10 minutes, until they're still bright green but beginning to get tender, then drain. In a baking dish, mix the green beans with the soup and the milk. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, then top with the onions. I baked mine in a 325 degree oven (because the turkey was already in there at that temp) for about an hour. The green beans for really tender, but using fresh green beans instead of canned really brightened up the flavor.


Check out my old post for the squash recipe. This one was slightly modified because I started with whole (not pre-cut) butternut squash, and added the sugar, etc. after they were cooked. Then I spread the mixture into a baking dish and baked it for about an hour (again, at 325 because it shared the oven with the turkey).


Connie manned this one on her own. She made a roux, using about 4 T. butter and a few T. of flour. She added the pan drippings (the little brown bits from the bottom of the turkey roasting pan and the juice) and some chicken broth to the roux, and reduced it until it was deliciously cravy-like (it took about 20 minutes).


We just used a regular old bag of stuffing, with chicken broth, and Connie added some fresh onions and celery. We stuffed it in the turkey (that was truly a team effort), and when we took it out, we put it in the oven to get it extra hot.


OK, so that's not a picture of OUR actual turkey. Somehow, I managed NOT to snap the most important picture of the evening, so this one found on the world wide web will have to do. By the time I got my camera over to the bird, Ross was busy carving away like a maniac.

Hmmm, this picture reminds me of something....




On an impulse, we bought this eggnog with the brandy already in it. At $6 a bottle, it was a deal. We haven't cracked it open yet (we had wine with dinner), but I'll let you know how it goes.

All in all, it was a great day, filled with warmth in the kitchen, great phone talks with everyone in my family, who I missed very much, and thoughts of gratitude for all the wonderful blessings in all our lives. And now we all have leftover turkey sandwiches and Black Friday to look forward to!

Thanks for reading! Hope you're all full and happy.

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