Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Freebie

OK, guys, I'm not counting this as an official Fearless post, because I didn't document it with pics, and I didn't technically have a judge, but I made it and it was really good so I thought I'd post the recipe anyway.

Sorry about falling behind on the real deal posts - work has been crazy. Additonally, my camera is buried somewhere in the cavern that is my room, and finding it would require an actual cleaning. As much as I would love to, I am not yet in the position to devote ALL my time to the blog. One day, though.... So look out for a legit post soon - hopefully sometime this week.

Last night I made whole wheat pasta with a butternut squash cream sauce. It's something I had been mulling over for awhile, and it came out better than I expected. It was really rich, so I didn't eat the epic portion that I would with most other pasta dishes, and the delicious squashiness of it was super good. (My autumn squash kick continues - I even had squash for brunch! More on that later.)


2 T. light butter
2-3 T. flour
1 c. chicken stock
1 small container whipping cream (I think it was about a cup and a half)
1 medium butternut squash, quartered and roasted
salt to taste


1 package whole wheat gemelli or other spiral pasta
1 zucchini, sliced and halved
1/2 lb. mild Italian sausage, browned


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Quarter the butternut squash and scoop out the seeds. In a shallow rimmed baking pan, put about 1/4-1/2 inch water. Place the squash, peel-side up, in the water, and bake until the skin is beginning to char and the flesh is very soft (easily mashed with a fork).


Boil some water and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain.


In a skillet, break up the sausage, and brown it until it is cooked through. Set aside.


Slice the zucchini into 1/2-inch slices, then halve the slices. In the same pan as you cooked the sausage in, sautee the zucchini until tender.


Remove the butternut squash from the oven and let cool. Peel the flesh from the skin and discard the skin. Break into small pieces.


Melt the butter in a saucepan, and stir in the flour until a roux forms. Pour in the chicken stock and the cream, and whisk until the roux is incorporated into the liquid. Add some salt to taste. Stir in the butternut squash chunks and bring it to a low boil. (Once it was all mized, I used an electric hand-mixer to get it really smooth. It would be even better if you threw it in the blender or used an immersion blender. or you could always just whisk it by hand.)


Combine all ingredients in a large pot and pour the sauce over it. Stir to combine.

I topped this off with a little parmesan cheese and it was awesome. It's the perfect fall comfort food.

About my other foray into the world of squash this weekend, I ate at Deleece, on Irving Park and Southport, which has been voted the best brunch spot in the city (and is right by where I live!). It was seasonal, creative, healthy brunch food with a creative, gourmet twist. I had acorn squash stuffed with spinach and mushrooms and topped with two poached eggs. It was great. It was the best of dinner and breakfast melded into a hearty, delicious meal. Definitely check it out - I will absolutely be back for dinner in the future - I'll let you know how it is. In the meantime, check out their website.

Deleece's (female!) head chef also just opened Sola, another restaurant which has gotten some favorable buzz as of late. That's also on my list of places to check out. Click here to check it out online.

Enjoy the Fall weather, and as always, thanks for reading!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hauntingly Delicious

It's that time of year again! The time of year when we all don creepy costumes, lurk around squash gardens in the dim light, sharpen our knives, then plunge them mercilessly into the innocent visages of pumpkins everywhere. HALLOWEEN!

And that means Jack O' Lanterns. (Which, if you're food-obsessed, means...PUMPKINS!) So what more timely topic than this for my little foodie blog?

Lately, I have been consumed (pun intended) with the idea of making a pumpkin pound cake. I'm not a baker, it's true, but with the purchase of a few provisions (namely, a Bundt pan and some measuring spoons), I could be. My vision is to take the recipe below, and make it using exclusively organic ingredients, as well as whole wheat flour. It won't be "healthier," per se - organic butter and regular butter have the same amount of yummy fat - but it may me feel incrementally less guilty about eating a big slice of cake (most likely topped with Reddi Wip, considering my roommate is currently in LA - again - editing Reddi Wip's new, hilarious TV spots, and therefore has access to large reserves of the stuff). I'll probably omit the pecans, since I'm not a fan of nuts in my desserts.


1 1/4 cups shortening
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 eggs
1 (15 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/3 cups water
3 tablespoons butter, cubed
1/2 teaspoon rum extract

In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in pumpkin. Combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, allspice and ginger; add to the creamed mixture just until combined. Stir in pecans.
Pour into a greased and floured 10-in. fluted tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.
In a sauce pan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Gradually stir in water. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in butter and extract. Serve warm with cake.

Look at this awesome Tiki-style jack o' lantern:

I've been getting more and more interested in Tiki-related decor. I bought a Tiki vase from World Market the other day, and I'm obsessed with it.

Check out the history of Jack O' Lanterns, from

The Irish brought the tradition of the Jack O'Lantern to America. But, the original Jack O'Lantern was not a pumpkin.The Jack O'Lantern legend goes back hundreds of years in Irish History. As the story goes, Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who liked to play tricks on everyone: family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself. One day, he tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree. Once the Devil climbed up the apple tree, Stingy Jack hurriedly placed crosses around the trunk of the tree. The Devil was then unable to get down the tree. Stingy Jack made the Devil promise him not to take his soul when he died. Once the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy Jack removed the crosses and let the Devil down.

Many years later, when Jack finally died, he went to the pearly gates of Heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was too mean and too cruel and had led a miserable and worthless life on earth. He was not allowed to enter heaven. He then went down to Hell and the Devil. The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell. Now Jack was scared and had nowhere to go but to wander about forever in the darkness between heaven and hell. He asked the Devil how he could leave as there was no light. The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell to help him light his way. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed out Turnip, one of his favorite foods which he always carried around with him whenever he could steal one. For that day onward, Stingy Jack roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way as he went with his "Jack O'Lantern".

On all Hallow's eve, the Irish hollowed out Turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and keep Stingy Jack away. These were the original Jack O'Lanterns. In the 1800's a couple of waves of Irish immigrants came to America. The Irish immigrants quickly discovered that Pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out. So they used pumpkins for Jack O'Lanterns.


1 1/2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds
2 teaspoons butter, melted
1 pinch sal

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
Toss seeds in a bowl with the melted butter and salt. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown; stir occasionally


In one cup of pumpkin puree:

Calories: 80
Carbohydrates: 19 gram
Cholesterol: 0
Fat: less than 1 gram
Potassium: 588 milligrams
Protein: 2.4 grams
Vitamin A: 310% of RDA
Vitamin C: 20% of RDA

Thanks for reading guys! Good luck getting those costumes in order...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

To Market, To Market

Finally! I made it to the Chicago Green City Market in Lincoln Park, and it was everything I hoped it would be. I met my friend Colleen, and we poked around, ate free samples, and bought some great food. (And I got some great pics!) I discovered vegetables I'd never seen before, and I got some face time with local farmers. It was a foodie's dream come true.

My pal Colleen came with me, and we wandered through a beautiful garden of food! This is her checking out a sweet potato.

Look at this weird little guy!

And check this batch of really fungis:

And the Award for the Freakiest Farmer's Market Veggie goes to...The Gooseneck Squash!

It was such a great trip. It was stimulation for all the senses! I ended up buying a whole chicken (more on that later, when I post those pics with the recipe I made from my farmer's market treasures), several kinds of squash, some leeks, and some incredible pears. I could literally spend hours there, just looking around.

Thanks for reading, and keep your eyes peeled for the Roasted Chicken post! (A girl's only got so many hours in a day, you know.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007


In the world of surfing, localism the fierce resistance by local resident surfers to tourists or out-of-town visiting surfers riding their "rightful" waves. Well, I've dabbled in surfing, but as you know, the world of food is where I get my thrills.

I've talked about it on my blog before, and I'll talk about it again: eating locally grown produce, as well as meat and dairy products, is hailed time and again by chefs and food experts as the best way to eat foods in their peak seasons and at their maximum freshness.

Chef Jill Houk, a local chef who started who own catering company, Chefs on Call, came by the agency today and gave a great talk about eating locally. We had some great butternut squash soup, and we talked all about how squash is one of the midwest's superfoods! (That just means it's a food that's so packed with vitamins and nutrients, it's more than just regular old food - it's SUPER.) I can't wait to make a vegan supper of spaghetti squash with marinara and tofu!

I did a little searching, and found some great resources for eating locally here in Chicago.

The Chicago Green City Market, with three locations in the city, is revered as one of the top 10 farmer's markets in the country! Check out the website here. It has a ton of great articles and links to other websites that are relevant to local, seasonal, and organic eating. I have a trip planned for Saturday - I can't wait! I'm definitely taking my camera, so look for a Green City excursion post, and maybe a local-produce-inspired recipe or two!

Liz, an art buyer at the agency (and widely regarded as THE coolest lady at work, bar none), told the whole group today about
Irv and Shelly's picks, an organic produce, meat, and dairy delivery service here in the city. How cool is that? You just purchase a minimum of $25 worth of food, and they'll deliver it your house - perfect for us car-free people. And they guarantee that they maintain trusted relationships with local organic farmers whose products are top-notch. And I trust Irv and Shelly.

I also discovered this great resource, which has Q & A about everything food (including an explanation of what the heck an heirloom tomato is. I thought I knew - I was wrong!). It has a ton of links to cookbook suggestions, cooking classes, equipment recommendations, and local eating options. I can't wait to explore it even more!

And am I the only one who had an unhealthy OBSESSION with this season's Top Chef? I didn't think so. The finale was filmed live here in Chicago! My friend from work saw Tom Colicchio near the El, and Ross saw Dale Levitski outside my building! I won't lie - I spent my lunch break skulking around the NBC studios, prodding the security guards for clues as to where the contestants might be hanging. No luck. More to the point: Bravo just launched a food-centric site, which is really just a branch of their network site, but is completely addictive! His Hotness Rocco DiSpirito has a blog - need I say more? [Dreamy sigh.]

And for those of you who love dining out in Chi-town as you do cooking at home (that would be me), there's the LTH forum, where foodies from all over the city weigh in on the best places to eat, drink, and shop. Want to know where to get authentic Peruvian cuisine? Check it out. Can't find almond butter at your local Jewel? Throw it on the forum, and they'll point you in the right direction.

A last discovery: I heard something today about the nutritional benefits of sprouted grain bread. According to,

"Sprouted grain bread has increased in popularity in recent years. Traditional bread is made from ground flour from the hardened kernel of grain. Sprouted grain bread involves soaking the grain and allowing it to sprout. The sprouted seedlings are then mashed together and baked. Sprouting allows the enzymes in the grain to convert some of the carbohydrates and fats to vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Due to the changes that take place, sprouted grain bread typically is higher in protein, fiber, and certain vitamins and minerals than regular bread. It is also less refined and processed than even stone ground wheat bread, so it has less of an impact on your blood sugar."

I haven't tried it yet, but I hear that the texture is more like banana bread - it's more dense because it's not baked. It's basically a raw food. Interesting. I'll check it out and post it later.

I picked up some fresh Challah bread at Trader Joe's, and I can't wait to make French toast before my Green City Market trip on Saturday!

Thanks for reading! 'Til next time....

Monday, October 8, 2007

Eats, Leaves, and Shoots: The Jess Hanebury Story

The inspiration for this week's blog was my dear roommate Jess' long-awaited return from the Land of Los Angeles, where she was shooting her very first TV commercials! Yay, Jess! And she's only home till the end of this week, and then she's back out on the road to shoot even more commercials! She's kind of a big deal.

Since it was a lazy Columbus Day, I thought I'd do some slow-cooked meat. I had been wanting to use my vintage crockpot (doesn't it sound so much more glam when you call it "vintage" rather than "old hand-me-down from the '70s"?), so I got a lovely roast (a bargain meat at just $2 per person - a $6 roast total) and jumped in.

I had also been dying to try cooking polenta, an Italian side dish of sorts - it's kind of like the grits we eat down South. It's just cornmeal , but it's now a staple in 4-star Italian restaurants, while it probably originated as a sort of "porridge" - a way to feed a lot of mouths for very little moolah.

I couldn't find the make-from-scratch polenta at the store, so I got some pre-made, the kind in the tube. It's already fully cooked, and it's packaged like cookie dough. You just cut off the plastic and heat it up however you like. I chose to pan-fry it in a little olive oil. It was already seasoned with a blend of Italian spices, so it was a cinch to make (and at less than $2.50, also a bargain). It's by a brand called Melissa's, which specializes in fresh, organic fare.

I call this dish: Jess' Juicy Italian Beef with Fried Polenta, Caramelized Mushrooms, Asparagus Spears, and Buttery Jus. Rolls off the tongue, eh?



1 beef roast
2 cans beef broth
1 cup red wine
1 medium yellow onion
1/2 bunch parsley
4 cloves garlic


1 bunch asparagus
drizzle olive oil
salt and pepper


1 tube pre-made polenta
a little olive oil


a few ladles full of the beef jus from Crockpot
1-2 T. of butter (depending on how bad you want to be)
2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper


About 4-5 hours before you want to eat, turn the crockpot on high. (My crockpot, as I said, is vintage, and only has 2 settings: HI and LO. Since I had about 4 hours instead of 8, I went for HI. More up-to-date models may have different settings.) Pour the two cans of beef broth and the cup of wine into the pot. Place the beef in the broth/ wine mixture. Slice the onion and put those in. Peel and lightly crush the garlic (just lay your knife on it, flat-side down, and bear down on it with the hel of your hand. It will stay intact, but will release more flavor than if it were just peeled). Throw in some parsley. You could also use any fresh herbs you like - sage would be nice, as would cilantro if you wanted some Mexican flair. Cover it and don't touch it or take the lid off for 4-5 hours. Seriously, go do something else. See a movie or something.


Put a few ladlefuls of the beef/wine jus in a medium saucepan and crank up the heat till it boils. Just let it boil and reduce till everything else is done cooking, adding more jus if too much boils away. (I started with about 1 cup of liquid and ended up with about 1/2 cup.)


About 30 minutes before you're ready to eat, slice about half of a 1-lb. container of button mushrooms. Heat olive oil in a skillet over high, and cook them - without moving them around in the pan for the first few minutes, and not very often in general - for about 7-8 minutes, until they're nicely caramelized (this means brown, and slightly sweet). When they're done, set them aside.


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim the ends off the asparagus spears. Place them in a shallow baking dish and drizzle a little olive oil over the top. Sprinkle some salt and pepper over it, then toss it around in the dish so all the seasoning and oil is evenly distributed. Bake for 8-10 minutes.


In a medium skillet, heat a little more olive oil (not too much - about 1 tablespoon) over medium heat. Slice the polenta into 3/4-inch slices, and fry them 2-3 minutes on each side.


Turn off the heat on the sauce and stir in a pat of butter. Cut pieces of the roast and place on a plate. Arrange the polenta and the asparagus around the beef, and top it with some mushrooms and jus-butter sauce. Eat!

My judges for today were, of course, Jess, since dinner was in her honor, and - you know it - Ross. Here's what they had to say:

JESS: It was awesome. Delicious. And hearty. The beef and the mushrooms were my favorite. If anyone could decide what to make for dinner every morning, you could make meals like this every day. I liked the polenta, but only when it soaked up the jus. Alone, it was just OK. And I like my asparagus mushier.

ROSS: The meat is so tender. This one of your best successes. But, asparagus is always better with a little parmesan grated on it.

Thanks, guys!


Guys, I gotta give this one 9 stars. It was really good. I rarely eat red meat, but when I do, I love every beefy bite. The meat was in fact very tender. And I couldn't believe how much flavor it had, even without salt and pepper! I agree with Jess about the polenta. I tasted it alone, and it was on the bland side - I would've salted it, but when it soaked up the juices, it was perfect. The mushrooms really added something, too - I was afraid they'd be sort of superfluous, but I think they really rounded out the flavors. And, this was one of the easiest, quickest (not counting the 4 hours I wasn't in the kitchen while the roast cooked), and most economical meals I've done on the blog.

NOTES: Next time, I might plate it differently. I would put the polenta on the bottom and place the beef and the jus directly on top of the polenta, so it immediately soaks up all the flavor. It's really great to know that you can have the main part of your meal done just with a little planning - just plop the meat in the crockpot before you go to work, set it on LO, and come home to a delicious-smelling house and an almost-complete hot meal.

BONUS: Here's a quick cool-weather meal idea. Before work one day, put a small whole roasting chicken into the crockpot with some chicken broth (2-3 cans maybe), and some white wine if you have some around. Set it on LO and go about your day. When you come home, cook some 5-minute Stove Top stuffing or Minute Rice and steam some frozen veggies in the microwave - green beans or broccoli maybe. Voila! A ten-minute dinner that rivals Mom's.

We ate beef. We watched Heroes. It was sort of magical.

Thanks for reading, guys! See you next time.
Bon voyage, Jess (again)!
Related Posts with Thumbnails