Thursday, February 28, 2008

DIY Asian Takeout

I love Asian food... especially Thai. When we recently went exploring in the Asian neighborhood near our apartment (see post below), and I found some fun things at one of the grocery stores. This stuff was all so inexpensive, and i loved experimenting with putting the ingredients together. Basically, I bought noodles, dried shiitaki mushrooms, black bean and garlic sauce, and friend tofu. I had broccoli in my freezer at home, which seemed like an appropriate veggie to add. Then it was just a matter of figuring out how to put them together.

I started by rehydrating the mushrooms in warm water. I cut the tofu into small pieces, and marinated it in soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. When the mushrooms were back to their regular state, I added them to the marinade.

I cooked the noodles according to the directions on the package. Then I got out my wok, put a little oil in, and started stir frying. I drained the tofu and mushrooms, and threw them in the wok with the noodles and broccoli. One mistake-- I added the broccoli frozen, so it got mushy by the time it was hot. But otherwise I just mixed it up with the black bean garlic sauce. Altogether, it only took about 25 minutes to make, and it tasted just like one of the Thai noodle dishes I love to order. The best part is that I have more noodles, mushrooms, and sauce to use up, so I will be making a variation of this again very soon!

What's in my pantry?

This is a muffin recipe I made last Sunday, when I really wanted some muffins for the upcoming work week. I am a wreck in the mornings, and tend to run out of time for breakfast at home. I'm not one of those "I don't eat breakfast" types, though, so I usually eat something as I'm walking to the train. I didn't have much around the house, but I had the idea in my head for some type of applesauce oatmeal muffins. I found this recipe when I was looking around online. They turned out beautifully, and were fabulous as I was running out the door to work!

You have to try this!

As many of you know, there are so many food blogs out there! I have enjoyed searching through, and saving my favorites. It's exciting to see all the creative cooks out there, and to read about the cooking styles of such different people. Not to mention the recipes you can find on these blogs! The Amateur Gourmet follows the adventures of a now professional food writer in New York, and his excitement for good food is contagious! Check it out, you'll enjoy it!

I saw this pasta recipe on Adam's blog, and it sounded too easy to be for real. But the reviews were all as positive as his original post, so I filed it away in the "recipes to make" section of my brain. It's a vegetarian recipe, so it was perfect for my no-meat lent cooking. Let me just say, I was pleasantly surprised that 5 or 6 ingredients could yield such a hearty, tasty main dish. I wasn't sure about this dish until I actually tasted it, but the way the beans softened up and soaked into the pasta was seriously delicious. And from start to finish this dish couldn't have been more thatn 20 minutes of work. Plus, not many dishes. So really, why aren't you making this yet?!

Adventures on Argyle

When I picked the name for my blog, I wanted it to be about eating in Chicago, not only cooking. There are so many amazing places to eat around this city, and I am going to try to show some of them in my blog. Last weekend, Joe and I wanted to get out of the house for a little while, and it was a decent enough day (maybe 3o degrees, which seems so warm!), so we decided to walk to the Asian neighborhood right near our apartment. The area focuses around Argyle street, and is a mix of Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and other Asian cultures.

In this area there is a fantastic mix of stores, yet I seem to focus on the food everytime I'm there. The bakerys are filled with tasty looking cookies and pastries, and there are full roasted birds hanging from the windows of the BBQ places. It is not a trendy area, but for authentic ethnic cuisine it is a dream come true. If you check one of my first posts, sushi, you will see the ingredients that we picked up at a market in the area. If you are ever in Chicago, I really recommend shopping in this area. It's a great way to see the diversity that is so wonderful in a city this large. And yeah, the food's not bad either!

Food pictures are from Cafe Hoang. There are so many choices for where to eat, so we kind of randomly picked. I had Thai noodles w/ broccoli and tofu, and Joe had Vietnamese Duck soup. All for about $15, too!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Blogging about Books

While cooking is a newer hobby of mine, reading is something I've enjoyed since I first learned it. I have always loved bookstores, libraries, and talking with people about great books. Recently I've been combining my two loves, by reading about cooking. I have read three fantastic foodie books in the last 6 months, and I would highly recommend these books to anyone that wants a closer look at the cooking world.

The book that started it all was Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. This book has been around for a while, and I picked up my mom's copy when I was visiting them in October. It was so interesting to read about Bourdain's experiences-- the CIA, his love of food, and his whole journey to become a famous chef. He is honest, irreverent, and full of wild stories of the people he's worked with. After reading it I knew that I had no interest in becoming a restaurant chef myself, but I had a new level of respect for the successful chefs out there. If you like cooking and dining out, you should read this book!

I saw this book, David Kamp's United States of Arugula, when I Denver. We were at Tattered Cover, the best bookstore in the world. Seriously, it is a wonderful, huge, independent bookstore, and I recommend you visit it if you'rewas visiting my sister in hanging out in Denver. This book took me a long time to read, but was totally worth it. You will finish it with so much more prospective on dining and eating acorss America. There is a lot of information about the "Big 3"-- Julia Child, James Beard, and Craig Claiborne. There were a couple slow moments, but overall I thought it was a fascinating book!

I just finished this one, Julia Child's My Life in France. I was really sad to finish it, because I felt there was still so much more to learn about Child's and her amazing life. With some help from her nephew, Child's looked back on her time in France, and also wrote about the culinary career that resulted from her years abroad. She describes the struggles and lessons of studying at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, and adds in lots of short stories about the culinary friends she met along the way. In addition, she describes the extensive process of writing cookbooks, and also tells about her experiences filming The French Chef tv show. Now that I'm finished with the book, I am eager to collect and test out some of the recipes that this icon created. It was perfect timing, too, because Joe and I will be in Paris in about 3 weeks! I will be looking through Julia's eyes as we wander through the markets and shops around the city. Bon Appetit!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tortellini Soup

On my search to find vegetarian recipes, I've determined cannellini beans are a protein source that I really like. This soup was full of ingredients I like: tortellini, spinach, white beans, artichoke hearts... yum! The web site was not very polished, but I followed the recipe almost exactly, and it was so simple. Check it out, and enjoy!

Joe took this one!

Time to go veg!

For Lent this year I decided to give up meat. The only exception was any meat that was already in my fridge, and by this week my freezer was emptying out. So I have started searching around for vegetarian recipes. While I will never give up meat completely, it has been fun to explore options for cooking without it. For the next few weeks there will be a number of vegetarian recipes in my blog. Since I have not made most of these before, some will be better than others...

This one was an in-between recipe. Not terrible, and it has potential to be much better. Even with the dressing doubled, it still seemed kind of dry. Feta is tasty, but a more moist cheese might help. I might add more tomatoes next time, too. Other ideas are welcome-- I don't just want to add a lot more dressing, because too much olive oil would be too fatty.

Recipe from Epicurious... click here.

Funny little side story--- My husband and I are big readers, and we both really enjoyed The Kite Runner. They mentioned naan (a type of bread) numerous times, so Joe and I were eager to try it. I recently discovered that they carry a couple varieties at Trader Joe's, so I had to buy some to try. It is a really tasty addition to any salad or soup dinner, and they are kept in the freezer, which makes them easy to have on demand. Try them out if you get a chance!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Stocking the Freezer

Monday was President's day, and I was lucky enough to have the day off work. I was really in a cooking mood, and decided on a whim to stock up on marinara sauce. I cook Italian pretty frequently, and always feel guilty when I pull out a jar of sauce. I have a couple Giada DeLaurentiis cookbooks, and had tried some of her sauces before. The newer book, Family Dinners, had a simple recipe I'd wanted to try for a while, so I made sure to buy the ingredients on my grocery shopping trip. It was really easy, and has a lot of room to play around with ingredients in the future. I doubled the recipe, so I now have a ton of ready to use pasta sauce in my freezer. I saved it in 1, 2 or 3 cup servings, for various uses. Next goal-- this summer I'd love to make sauce with fresh tomatoes!

Quick Marinara Sauce
Giada's Family Dinners

2 (28 oz) cans whole tomatoes in juice
1 bunch fresh basil, stemmed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregeno
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

In a blender, puree the tomatoes with their juice and the basil until almost smooth. Set the tomato puree aside. (I might try to make it more chunky next time)

Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, saute until very tender. Stir in tomato mix, oregano, and sugar, and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Decrease the heat to medium and continue simmering until the sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 10 mins. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

The final sauce.

You know I had to test it ASAP!

I took the idea from Joelen to freeze the bags flat, so they can stack really well.

Monday, February 18, 2008

New Camera!

I have actually never had my own digital camera, but I've been sharing my husbands with him since we got married. It was a great camera back when he got it, but now it is 5 or 6 years later and the camera has been acting kind of quirky. We've thrown around the idea of getting a new camera, and this weekend we finally headed to Best Buy to see our options. We ended up buying a Cannon PowerShot SD1000, and we love it! We're headed to Europe in a few weeks, so it will be great to have on that trip. And I can't lie, I'm excited to use it for blogging! I cooked very boring meals this weekend, so I don't have much to show right now. So here are a few pictures of some of my favorite things in my kitchen. I promise my next post will be more cooking related!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Easy Risotto

This is a recipe my mom has made for years. It's from Sunset Magazine, which I've never even seen around their house, if that tells you how long she's been making this! It is a really solid recipe-- very hard to mess up. I have had arborio rice since I was last in Europe (October, too long ago!), so I decided the other night that I needed to work on using it up. So risotto it was!

Sad little side note-- I was supposed to make a beautiful roasted chicken this night, too. Too bad it was still totally frozen, because it was all the way at the back of the fridge. So, the risotto went with some chicken sausage (yum), and some beets (not the best recipe, so I won't share it).

Risotto Recipe

3 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup arborio rice
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 to 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
(I also added chopped fresh rosemary, because I had some to use up)

In a skillet, melt butter, then saute onions. Add rice and stir until opaque or faintly golden. Add broth and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered. Stir occasionally, at first, then frequently as liquid is absorbed. If needed, add extra broth 1/4 cup at a time. Stir in cheese just before serving.

Changes for other types of rice:
Regular long grain rice- 3 3/4 cup broth, 30 minutes
Brown rice- 5 cups broth, 1 hour 15 minutes

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

1, 2, 3... and eat!

Quickest appetizer that will amaze all your guests.

- pit dried dates
- stuff w/ pieces of Manchego or Gruyere Cheese
- wrap w/ 1/3 piece of bacon, hold with toothpick
- bake at 400 degrees until bacon is crispy.
- they will be gone before you can take a picture of the final version!

Always more to learn

Last Saturday I went to a cooking class with my friend Cathy. After dropping some hints, our husbands had gotten us certificates to the class for Christmas. It was a Spanish Tapas Class, and we really enjoyed it! The class was at the Wooden Spoon, a kitchen supply store in my neighborhood. They have an amazing kitchen right in the store, and everyone gets to help out with making the food. If you're in the Chicago area, I'd recommend a lesson here. We got some great ideas from the tapas class, which I'll post on here as I try them at home. For now, a few pictures...Cathy blends the sauce.

Bacon-wrapped dates... best part of the class!

Me grilling the shrimp.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The blueberry muffins I posted before this were delicious, but called for an ingredient I don't always have around... buttermilk. It's one of those ingredients that I buy, use once, and end up throwing out. But I was determined not to waste it this time, so I determined this morning that pancakes would be the perfect way to use my buttermilk. I googled "buttermilk pancake recipe", and this website was one of the first I saw. They were amazing! Super quick to make, and so light and fluffy. I followed the recipe exactly, and wouldn't change a thing. Enjoy!


1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons granulated white sugar

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Mix dry ingredients. In separate bowl whisk wet ingredients. Add wet to dry, and whisk just until combined. It will be thick and lumpy. Cook on a griddle, being careful not to burn.

So pretty!

I do have one other post for today... blueberry muffins! I made these a few days ago, and was really happy when they turned out as pretty as they did. They are orange and blueberry flavored, and were a great breakfast to grab on the go during the week. I got the recipe from Sugar & Spice, where you will find lots of tasty recipes to try!

The picture does not show how pretty they really are. Anyone have a suggestions for a digital camera I should buy? This one is on it's last leg, and I would love my pictures to turn out better. I promise they were gorgeous in person!

A week without my camera...

I know I could blog without my camera, but it just wouldn't be as much fun. I accidentally left my camera a Stephen and Haley's last weekend, so I've been without it this whole week. There are some great pictures on it from the Superbowl and the cooking class I attended on Saturday, but I will have to wait until this week to post them. Wait until you see the stuffed dates I made, though--only 3 ingredients and they were amazing!

I will have great pictures to share with you in about a month and a half, though, when Joe and I get home from Europe! We are going for 10 days in March, to visit my family. I intend to eat and drink plenty while we're there, so there should be plenty of blog related pictures when we get home. We'll spend most of our time in the Netherlands, but will also be spending 2 days in Paris. I think I might try to take a cooking class during our Paris visit, which would be pretty much a dream come true. I mean, learning more about my favorite activity while hanging out in my all time favorite city... what could be better?!?!

Since I'm lacking a camera, I'm going to find some pics online to show you what I'm looking forward to on this trip.

This is the pub John Mullins. We'll be there on St. Pat's, for sure.
I spent New Years Eve there one year, and it was a blast!

There are waffle places all over this area, but Pinky ones are my favorite.
I swear you can smell them from a mile away!

I've been to the Netherlands enough times to lose count (6 or 7?), but I still have not eaten a traditional dutch pannekoeken (aka pancake). This is a must have on this trip. My family really likes them, so I have no clue why we have yet to try.

And don't even get me started on eating in Paris. That's a whole other post, for another day when I don't have any of my own pictures to share!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Chili with a kick!

Don't be deceived, this is not just any chili. This is pork and hominy chili, which is nothing like the ground beef and kidney bean concept you were picturing. I have no problem with that type of chili on some occasions, but this chili should not be in the same category. It is a fiery mix of poblano peppers, pork, and hominy, with a tomato base. I love hominy, so when I saw this Cooking Light recipe I knew I had to try it. If you have never tasted hominy, I'd encourage you to try it. It's a puffed up corn, and tastes really nutty and delicious. It's great in Mexican style soups.

I only did one modification; a roasted poblano pepper in place of the green bell pepper. It came together really quickly, and tasted like it had been simmering all day. I might try to use a little less pepper next time, since I'm a wimp for spicy food, but otherwise it was perfect.

2 teaspoons canola oil
8 ounces boneless center-cut pork chops, trimmed and cubed
1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium)
3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 cup no-salt-added tomato paste
1 (15.5-ounce) can golden hominy, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup light sour cream

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add pork to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in chili powder and next 4 ingredients (through red pepper). Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in tomato paste, hominy, tomatoes, and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Serve with sour cream. Serves 4. Original Recipe Link

I would have made cornbread with this, but Joe was gone for the night and cornbread for one person seemed silly. Next time, though, I'll use this cornbread recipe:

Cornbread from Nestie “Ashleighl

I've heard soaking the cornmeal in the milk first will help (soak about 20 minutes).

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

3/4 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg

1 cup milk

1/3 cup vegetable oil (I use ½ butter and ½ oil)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray or lightly grease a 9 inch round cake pan (OR 8x8- is what I like to use)

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir in egg, milk and vegetable oil until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Google Reader is the Best!

I recently discovered the greatness of Google Reader. It is a great way to keep track of great blog or recipe resources, and today was my first chance to really use it. I try really hard to not do much web surfing at work, but Google Reader allows me to check up on multiple sites without looking like too much of a slacker (at least that's what I tell myself!). I wanted to make something nice for dinner tonight, and planned to stop by the grocery store on my way home. So my goals were quick, simple, and not too many groceries to carry home. My answer: a Dinner Tonight recipe from Cooking Light.

Farfalle with Sausage, Cannellini Beans, and Spinach (adapted from Cooking Light, Nov. 2007)


8 ounces uncooked farfalle (bow tie pasta)
1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
12 ounces hot turkey Italian sausage (3 sausages)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth (I don't think you need it all)
1 (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 ounce shaved fresh Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup)


Cook pasta according to package directions, in salted water. While pasta is cooking, prepare the 'sauce'.

Drain sun-dried tomatoes in a small sieve over a bowl, reserving 2 teaspoons oil; slice tomatoes. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add sliced tomatoes, reserved 2 teaspoons tomato oil, onion, and sausage to pan; cook 10 minutes or until sausage is browned, stirring to crumble. Add garlic to pan; cook 1 minute. Add seasoning, pepper, and broth to pan. Stir in spinach; cover and simmer 5 minutes or until spinach is tender. Stir in pasta, reserved 1 cup cooking liquid (if needed), and beans. Sprinkle cheese over each serving.

Some Cooking Light recipes seem like really tiny servings, but this one really make the 6 servings as promised. That means leftovers for me :)