Eating way too much crap

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I have a private Facebook page to which I often post pics of that night’s dinner I made. Considering I only post to my blog about once a week I don’t get to write about each meal. While most of the food I make turns out tasting yummy and does the job of filling our hungry bellies it’s not always blog worthy. Take the above meal, for example. I decided that I have been eating way too much crap lately. And by crap I don’t meal McDonald’s or KFC but just too much bread, sugar, crackers and cheese. Stuff like that. So I went through my It’s All Good cookbook and organized this week’s meals and snacks. I wanted to try new recipes and make a batch of the mouth-watering candy bars I made before. It was just a personal quest I wanted to venture on this week. I usually get a couple of Likes to each dinner picture I post and maybe a comment or two. But when I posted this picture a couple of nights ago the feedback I got was more than anything else I’d posted in a while. It was definitely a food moment I wasn’t expecting. It would seem that people are really excited by the fact that healthy food can look this good and taste even better. When I set this dish on the table I nearly apologized to Kevin for making a basic chicken dish with boring rice and a green vegetable. But the bright flavors of this healthy version of chicken teriyaki and the deep warmth of the almond-miso sauce drizzled over the steamed asparagus was a pleasant surprise. We were both extremely satisfied and have become fans of this dish. In fact, most of the recipes from this cookbook have been winners in my house.

Detox Teriyaki Chicken

Serves 4
For the Sauce:
1/3 c balsamic vinegar
1/3 c brown rice syrup or raw honey (I used raw honey)
1 t freshly grated ginger
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t barley miso (I couldn’t find this so I went ahead and substituted it with the chile pepper miso paste I bought to make the sauce for the asparagus)
1 t mirin
1 T water
For the Chicken:
4 chicken breasts
3 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
a dozen sprigs of cilantro, roughly chopped
Combine the balsamic vinegar, syrup or honey, ginger, and pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Add the miso, miring, and water and let cool.
Marinate the chicken in half of the sauce (reserve the rest) for at least 1 hour and as long as overnight.
Heat a grill or grill pan over medium heat, Wipe off any excess marinade and grill the chicken until cooked through. Serve with the reserved sauce, and the scallions and cilantro. (I also served it over plain brown rice).
Asparagus with Miso-Almond Sauce
Serves 4
2 T white miso paste (again, couldn’t find this so I substituted it with the chile pepper miso paste)
2 T raw almond butter (or 2 t toasted almond butter)
1/4 c boiling water
Coarse sea salt
2 bunches of asparagus
1 t toasted black or white sesame seeds
1/2 t red chile flakes
Whisk together the miso paste, almond butter, and boiling water. Season to taste with salt and set aside.
Steam the asparagus for 3 minutes. Arrange the asparagus on a platter. Drizzle the sauce over, sprinkle with sesame seeds and chile flakes, and serve.

 

What a taco should be

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I woke up the other morning absolutely craving my Grandma Deanna’s famous tacos. They may not be famous outside of our family and my group of close friends but I’m positive they would be world famous if everybody was lucky enough to try them. I can’t remember the first time I ate the tacos but I do know she’s been making them for many years. It was always exciting to have her call me and say she was having a taco night and that I needed to come over for dinner. In the past, I brought several friends to various taco nights and I had talked them up so much I was afraid my pals would be left in utter disappointment. But I needn’t have worried because they always found the tacos to be even better than I had claimed they were. Taco night was always a glutenous affair for me. My record for tacos consumed in one sitting is seven.

I would arrive at grandma’s house to find that she had prepped all of the toppings earlier in the day. Bowls of shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped plump tomatoes, a mound of golden cheddar cheese, pungent white onions and a jar of fiery local pico de gallo. With the arthritis in her hands getting worse and worse as the years went by I don’t know how she managed to shred all of that cheese. I once tried showing her how she could easily do it with her food processor but I think it was too high tech for her to do alone. I always offered to prep everything when I got there but I think she liked having it done before people arrived. She would then stand at the electric skillet frying everyone’s tacos almost as fast as we could eat them. I would always tell her to sit down and enjoy a few tacos before finishing them but more often than not she would insist on letting all of us have our fill before feeding herself. Her health isn’t too good these days and I don’t know if she’ll ever be able to make these for me again. Instead of letting the amazing grandma tacos disappear into the void I wanted to perfect them while she’s still with us so I can ask her all the necessary questions. And that’s exactly what I did. I called her up, got the low down on everything from browning the meat to skillet temperature. I like to think I did her proud.

What makes these so delicious? Perhaps a little bit of nostalgia is involved but it also might be the way the fragrant meat is fried inside of the tortilla which melds the two together in a crispy, oily goodness. Add in the cool crunch of the lettuce, the sweetness of the tomato, the buttery bite of the cheese and the eye popping spice from the pico and it’s a combination that transcends all preconceived notions of what a taco should be.

A quick note: If you set your oven to 250 and line a baking dish with paper towels you’ll allow the tacos to drain themselves of excess grease and remain warm while you finish frying the tacos. I prop the tacos up along the wall of the baking dish to allow for maximum drainage.

 

Grandma Deanna’s Famous Tacos

 
1 lb lean ground beef
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 t ground cumin
salt and pepper
9-10 good quality corn tortillas (I prefer white corn)
1/2 -1c vegetable oil
1-2 c shredded mild cheddar cheese
1/2 head shredded iceberg lettuce
1 tomato, chopped
1 onion, chopped
good quality salsa or pico de gallo
Place a medium skillet over medium/high heat. Add the ground beef, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper and cook until just browned. Taste for seasonings and adjust, if necessary.
Add enough vegetable oil to an electric skillet to measure 1/2 an inch. Heat the skillet to 350 or use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil if you’re using a regular skillet over the stove. You might need to adjust the heat during the course of the frying so as not to burn the tacos or let the oil get so cool that the tacos just soak up the oil without frying at all.
Place about 2 T of the beef into the center of a tortilla. Fold the tortilla in half and start by frying the bottom while holding the two sides up using a pair of tongs. Once the bottom has set lay the taco on one side while you fry the bottom of the next taco. I fry two at once. Lay the second taco on it’s side and flip the first one onto the other side. Fry them to your desired crunchiness. Grandma always made sure they were just crispy enough to provide adequate crunch but still pliable enough to stuff in the toppings without cracking the entire thing in half.

Place fried tacos in the baking dish and transfer to the oven while you fry the remaining tacos, adding more tacos to the oven as you go.
Stuff the tacos with your desired toppings and enjoy!
Serves 4

Food improvisation

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I attended a charity event recently and received a gift bag full of health-conscious swag upon leaving. In among the certificates good for yoga classes and massages was a package of par-baked flatbread. Interesting choice. While I would rather have made my own or at least use some fresh bread from a bakery I decided to give this flatbread a try. Why not? It was free and it was here. So on my walk home from work I stopped by the store and grabbed a few ingredients to throw together. On a side note, I’m a maker of lists. When I plan a trip to the store I always make a list. It definitely helps me to remember what it is I actually need when I am so easily distracted by all of the glorious rows and displays of food. But on this day I had a moment of food improvisation. It reminded me of trips to the farmer’s market. Oh how I do miss going to the farmer’s market. It’s so darn cold here that the markets don’t open until May. On market days I bring my empty bags and fill them with whatever catches my eye. No agenda, no plan. Just beautiful, fresh fruits and veggies beckoning me to take them home and prepare them.

In honor of the temporary warm, very spring-like weather I was inspired to make something fresh and tasty. What I came away with was a container of ricotta cheese, prosciutto, arugula and perfectly ripe pears. This would have been delicious with some plump and velvety figs but it’s too early for figs and there weren’t any at the store. There really isn’t a recipe to this dish. I threw the flatbread in the oven to crisp it up a bit and then topped it with a delicate pillow of creamy ricotta, followed by thin slices of perfectly salty prosciutto. Then back into the oven to slightly soften the cheese and let the prosciutto get a tad bit crispy. While that was happening I made a quick balsamic vinegar reduction on the stove. After the bread came out of the oven I finished it off by throwing on some peppery arugula to add a great texture and then the fragrant slices of pear. A drizzle of the balsamic reduction and a few grinds of fresh black pepper and the flatbread was ready to eat. It took less than 8 minutes. Not too bad for a quick and satisfying spring dinner. I’m not mentioning the flatbread brand because, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t that great. It made do for what I wanted but I wouldn’t recommend it or buy it again.

Ricotta and Pear Topped Flatbread

2 pieces flatbread of your choice

8 oz whole milk ricotta

4 oz thinly sliced prosciutto

2 c arugula

1 pear, thinly sliced

1/2 c balsamic vinegar

fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place flatbread on a baking sheet and heat in the oven 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat until it’s reduced by half. Remove from oven and spread 4 oz of ricotta onto each flatbread. Top with the slices of prosciutto and return to the oven for another 3-4 minutes. Then top with the arugula and pears, drizzle the balsamic vinegar over, and sprinkle with black pepper. That’s it!

Pillowy pasta perfection

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I’m back! I know it’s been far too long since I posted. Sometimes life happens and you just have to live it, you know? But I’m here now and I have many food moments to report. First off, it seems spring has finally sprung in Chicago! It’s been a couple of gorgeous days in a row now and tomorrow is looking even better. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me and my fellow Chicagoans. It was a brutal, I mean BRUTAL, winter and we’ve earned some sunshine and warm air. Bring it on, Mother Nature! And if I ever complain about the heat in future posts, by all means, slap me. My second bit of good news is that I finally managed to make a winning homemade pasta. The first time I attempted pasta from scratch was over a year ago and it came out so chewy and not very flavorful. When I set out to make some last week I vowed to make it work. The previews two times (yes, I failed miserably twice before) I had purchased dried pasta as a back up, just in case. Needless to say, I trashed my doughy mess and opened the pasta box. This time I didn’t give myself the option of dried pasta. I was going to get this right.

I had recently seen an episode of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef where Anne Burrell made a delicious looking Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu. I saw this as a challenge to myself to finally perfect a pasta dough. Despite the long list of ingredients the ragu is incredibly simple to put together. Instead of buying hard to find wild boar I used a pork shoulder instead. I’m pretty sure it’s a comparable substitute. I put the pot on and got my pork all prepped and let it braise. That part was all well and good. Then I grabbed my flour and eggs, rolled my sleeves up and turned my attention to the pasta. I have to say I was a bit nervous since I didn’t have any backup dried pasta. I also realized at this point that I don’t make a lot of pasta dishes anymore. I used to have a stocked pantry of ready to use pasta but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I suppose that’s a good thing. I’ve been branching out and using more grains lately. I guess we all go through food phases.

So anyway, I used the correct ingredients and technique and the damn dough was dry and shaggy and ticking me off. I Googled photos of pasta dough in it’s various stages and mine didn’t look like any of them. In a state of frustration I grabbed another egg and cracked it right on top of my doughy mess not knowing what else to do. I started working that egg into the dough while silently reaffirming my abilities to do anything correct when lo and behold the dough became soft and cohesive and, like a Christmas miracle, I had a ball of pillowy pasta perfection! I could have cried but I didn’t want to over salt the dough. The secret all along had been to add an extra egg. I’m thinking it’s something to do with altitude and/or humidity and adjusting for your climate. After letting it sit for an hour it was ready to be rolled into ribbons of beautiful pappardelle. I was finally able to use my pasta maker attachment for my Kitchenaid which had been sitting dormant in the darkness of the cabinet for far too long. Looking at the tray of pasta that I had created from scratch made me so proud and was definitely a good food moment for me. It was also a point of no return. You know why some of those pasta dishes you have at a really quality restaurant are so amazing? It’s the homemade pasta. It’s like nothing else. Pasta from scratch isn’t necessary for every pasta dish, though. I know for a fact that actual Italians use boxed pasta all of the time. But whenever I plan to make ravioli or lasagna from this time forward I will always make my own pasta for it.

The ragu came out tasting so rich and delicious and when combined with the noodles that take only a minute to cook it was heavenly. Silky, smooth, hearty and flavorful…words to eat by.

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PAPPARDELLE WITH WILD BOAR RAGU

Ingredients

4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped

2 carrots, coarsely chopped

2 celery ribs, coarsely chopped

2 onions, coarsely chopped

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 boneless wild boar shoulder, cut into1/2-inch chunks (about 3 pounds)

Kosher salt

1 cup tomato paste

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

8 juniper berries, finely chopped

2 cups red wine

5 bay leaves

1 bundle fresh thyme

1 recipe Chef Anne’s Pappardelle, recipe follows

Grated Parmigiano, for sprinkling

Big fat finishing olive oil

 

Chef Anne’s Pappardelle:

1 pound all-purpose flour

4 whole eggs, plus 1 yolk

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Directions

In a food processor, puree the garlic, carrots, celery and onions into a coarse paste. Reserve.

Coat a large, wide pot with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Sprinkle the boar generously with salt and add to the hot pan. Cook the boar until it is VERY brown on all sides. Remove the boar from the pan and reserve.

Ditch the excess oil in the pan. Add a few drops of new oil and add the pureed veggies to the pan. Season them with salt, and brown them until crud forms on the bottom of the pan. Scrape the crud off the bottom of the pan (don’t let the crud burn- it adds A LOT of flavor).

Return the browned boar to the pan and add the tomato paste and cocoa powder. Stir to combine and cook the tomato paste for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Toss in the chopped juniper berries.

Add the wine and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let the wine reduce by half.

Add water to the pan so it covers the boar by about 1-inch. Toss in the bay leaves and thyme bundle. Taste the liquid and season with salt if needed (it will). Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for 3 hours, adding water as the liquid level reduces. Taste frequently and re-season as needed.

During the last 30 minutes of cooking time, let the cooking liquid reduce and the sauce get thick.

Also during the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the pappardelle. Pasta water should ALWAYS be well salted. Salty as the ocean! TASTE IT! If your pasta water is under seasoned, it doesn’t matter how good your sauce is, your complete dish will always taste under seasoned. When the water is at a rolling boil add the pappardelle and cook until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

While the pasta is cooking, remove 1/2 of the ragu from the pot and reserve.

Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining ragu. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce if needed to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a generous drizzle of the big fat finishing olive oil. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or one big pasta bowl. Top with grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately.

Chef Anne’s Pappardelle:

Place the flour on a clean, dry work surface. Make a hole (this is also called a well) in the center of the flour pile that is about 8 inches wide (bigger is definitely better here). Crack all of the eggs and the yolk into the hole and add the olive oil, salt and 1 to 2 tablespoons water.

Using a fork, beat the eggs together with the olive oil, water (or more if needed) and salt. Using the fork, begin to incorporate the flour into the egg mixture, be careful not to break the sides of the well or the egg mixture will run all over your board and you will have a big mess! Also, don’t worry about the lumps. When enough flour has incorporated into the egg mixture that it will not run all over the place when the sides of the well are broken, begin to use your hands to really get everything well combined. If the mixture is tight and dry, wet your hands and begin kneading with wet hands. When the mixture has really come together to a homogeneous mixture, THEN you can start kneading.

When kneading it is VERY important to put your body weight into it, get on top of the dough to really stretch it and not to tear the dough. Using the heels of your palms, roll the dough to create a very smooooooth, supple dough. When done, the dough should look VERY smooth and feel almost velvety. Kneading will usually take from 8 to 10 minutes for an experienced kneader and 10 to 15 for an inexperienced kneader. Put your body weight into it, you need to knead! This is where the perfect, toothsome texture of your pasta is formed. Get in there and have fun!

When the pasta has been kneaded to the perfect consistency, wrap it in plastic and let rest for at least 1 hour. If using immediately, do not refrigerate.

To roll the pasta: Cut off 1/3 of the pasta dough, reserve the rest and keep it covered.

Squash the pasta with the heels of your hands to facilitate it going through the pasta roller. Dust with flour. Put the pasta through the roller set on number one. Roll the dough through 2 times, dusting it with flour if it feels sticky or tacky.

Fold the pasta into thirds and put it through the machine on number one again.

Change the setting on the pasta roller to number two and run the pasta through. Continue to roll the pasta through the machine, changing the setting each time to a larger number (this will make the opening on the pasta machine smaller). When you get to the desired thin-ness (I recommend number six), cut the pasta into 10-inch lengths. Flour the dough generously and stack them in a pile. Cover the stack with plastic or a clean tea towel and proceed rolling the rest of the pasta.

When the pasta is all rolled, take 3 sheets of pasta and fold both ends of the pasta over each other until they meet in the middle.

Using a sharp knife, cut the pasta rolls into 1-inch widths. Unroll the pasta “ribbons” and dust with semolina and reserve on sheet trays.

 

 

Pay homage to The Emerald Isle

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day! If you live in Chicago you’ll know that Saturday was the official day of celebration. That’s when the Chicago River was dyed an electric green color, full grown men were using public transportation dressed as leprechauns, and many a young adult drank a year’s worth of Jameson shots. But the world-wide recognition of the holiday was today and in honor of St. Patrick and all that is Ireland I baked up some Irish soda bread. If we hadn’t of had leftovers from Sunday dinner in our fridge I might have made a good ‘ole Irish stew, colcannon (which I love making with kale instead of cabbage), or perhaps some lovely buttered cabbage. But I didn’t. Since this bread is a breeze to make with zero commitment I thought it was the perfect way to pay homage to The Emerlad Isle.

If you’ve never made Irish soda bread before I urge you to try it and soon. If you can stir things together and flop it on a sheet pan you’ve already mastered it. There is no rising, resting or kneading of the dough required. And you probably have all of the ingredients in your home right now, minus a pint of buttermilk. The first time I ever made soda bread was when I was living in Los Angeles a few years ago. My mother came to visit and I don’t remember why I decided to bake it for her but I’m glad I did. Although I probably mixed the ingredients too much, which resulted in a slightly dense bread, the taste was out of this world. And if the bread itself wasn’t enough of a treat we slathered it in Kerrygold Irish butter. Can’t. Go. Wrong. This soda bread will make you want to dance an Irish jig. It’s that good.

As I mentioned, make sure you don’t over mix the ingredients or the bread might come out dense. Just mix until it has barely come together and you should be golden. I learned long ago that I prefer simple, unadorned soda bread so I don’t add currants or raisins. I also only sprinkle caraway seeds on top before I bake rather than mixing them into the dough. But you are free to make it however you please. Enjoy your bread with a pint of Guinness or a cup of tea but the point is, enjoy. Erin go Bragh!

IRISH SODA BREAD

2 cups Buttermilk

1 Large Egg

1 1/4 teaspoons Baking Soda

3 3/4 cups unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1/3 cup Sugar

1 teaspoon Baking powder

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 cup Unsalted butter (1/2-inch dice; cold or frozen)

1 1/4 cups Dark Raisins

1 tablespoon Caraway Seeds

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a 12 x 17-inch sheet pan with baking parchment.

In a medium bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the Buttermilk, Egg, and Baking Soda and set it aside while preparing the other ingredients.

Combine the Flour, Sugar, Baking Powder, and Salt in a large bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients with a wire whisk, then cut in the Cold Butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until the mixture looks like coarse meal. The largest pieces of Butter should be about the size of tiny peas. The butter should be suspended in tiny granules throughout the Flour, not rubbed into it to make a doughy mass. If any large chunks of Butter remain, break them up with your hands until they’re pea size, then stir in the Raisins and Caraway Seeds until they are evenly distributed.

Make a deep well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the Buttermilk mixture into the well. Save the last bit of the Buttermilk mixture remaining in the bowl or cup for a glaze for later. Stir the wet and dry with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon just until the dry ingredients look like a shaggy mass. This dough will be very wet but should be firm enough to hold its shape after the loaves have been formed. With floured hands, divide the dough evenly into two pieces. On a floured work surface, gently shape each piece into a rough-textured round about 5 inches in diameter. It should be more like a shaggy pile of dough than a smooth, compacted round ball. Be warned, your hands are going to be a gloppy mess. Place the rounds on the prepared sheet pan, leaving several inches between each loaf and around the edges of the pan to allow for spreading. Clean your hands. Then, using a floured dough scraper or a sharp knife, deeply score each round into 5 wedges, cutting all the way down to the pan. Try to cut the wedges as evenly as possible. Using a pastry brush, brush a little of the remaining buttermilk liquid onto the top of each loaf. Sprinkle the tops of the loaves with a little unbleached flour to give them a rustic look.

Bake the loaves in the center of the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and rotate the pan from front to back. Continue baking for 15 to 20 more minutes, until the loaves are golden brown on both the top and bottom. A toothpick inserted in the center of a loaf should come out clean. Remove the loaves from the pans to cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Store any leftovers in an airtight container. They’re best if eaten within 2 days.

Recipe courtesy of Amy’s Bread as featured on The Chew.

Simple and satisfying salad

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First of all, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Lori at Creating Beauty in the Kitchen for nominating me for the Liebster Award! What an incredible honor! There are few fun things I need to do before I can accept the nomination but I want to take my time doing them so I will put aside some time this weekend and report back on it soon.

As far as today’s food moment (or last night’s, rather), it was a first for me. Two nights ago I was in bed just about to fall into a blissful deep sleep when out of nowhere Kevin whispered, “Hey, I saw them cook a recipe on the Today show this morning and it looked really good. Do you think you could make that for us?” I have cooked Kevin many a meal but he’s never before asked me to make anything specific. It was completely adorable, how could I not make it for him? So the next day I hit up the grocery store and collected all I needed for, what turned out to be, a simple and satisfying salad. I was actually a little surprised this recipe had jumped out at him. I think he’s been craving fresh spring food as much as me. The dish could only have been better had we been able to walk down to the farmer’s market (which hasn’t opened yet) in the warm spring sunshine (which hasn’t arrived yet) to buy fresh vegetables.

The recipe doesn’t call for it, but I bought a loaf of sourdough bread to make croutons. These days most health conscious people think about how to remove carbs from a meal…I think about how to include them in an otherwise carb-free dish. Bread and pasta are a weakness. So is cheese. And chocolate. When I got home from the store I cut up a few cubes of the bread, removed the crust, and spread them out on a baking sheet to dry up for a few hours. Then I threw them in the oven before cooking the shallots and eggs and let them get nice and toasty for perfectly delicious homemade croutons. They added a nice crunch to the salad, too. As for the greens, I couldn’t find frisee at the store so I used escarole instead. Use whatever your heart desires. Just a quick note: make sure you let the egg whites just set. You want the yolk to be nice and runny to give the salad a golden glaze of the rich yolk when you cut into it.

Kevin was very pleased with the outcome and commented on how this version had to be better than the one he saw on TV. I just love feeding him.

Asparagus and proscuitto salad with egg, mustard, shallots and frisee

7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, peeled and sliced into 4 thick slice
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons grain mustard
8 ounces asparagus, peeled if thick, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons vegetable stock or water
2 heads frisee, washed and cut into small pieces
8 slices of proscuitto
Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small ovenproof sauté pan. Put shallots in pan and sprinkle with salt. Turn stove on high and cook until shallots begin to sizzle. Cover with a lid or foil and place in oven until tender but not falling apart, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

For the eggs:

Place a pan large enough to hold 4 eggs on medium high heat. After a minute, spray the pan with vegetable spray to coat the bottom and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the eggs and immediately place in the oven to cook. After about 3-4 minutes when the whites are set, they are ready.

For the vinaigrette:

Place juice, vinegar, mustard and a pinch of salt in to a mixing bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Check seasoning and reserve.

Heat a medium sauté pan on high heat and add remaining oil. When oil is just below smoking point, add asparagus and cook until lightly brown, about 3-5 minutes depending on thickness. Add shallots and toss on heat for 30 seconds. Take off the flame and add seeds and toast for about 20-30 seconds. Then add stock or water to prevent further browning.

Dress frisee with vinaigrette and divide onto 4 plates or shallow bowl. Top with 2 slices of proscuitto and 1 egg in each bowl. Spoon over asparagus and eat.

Serving Size

Serves 4

Recipe courtesy of Today show.

Spring makeover extravaganza

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It has been a weekend of truly wonderful food moments. Friday’s took the cake, though. A few weeks ago I was at Nordstrom to buy some face cream I had run out of and the sales woman suggested I sign up for their spring makeover extravaganza. It was to take place on a Friday night, a friend and I could come get a facial and makeover, and Sarah Jessica Parker was going to be there promoting her new shoe line. I told her I was most likely not going to buy any of the products they attempt to sell you on but she said, “Come and join the party anyway!” So I enlisted my best friend Jenny to be my plus one and we made it into a date. A bit of backstory here…I lived with Jenny just after she gave birth to her beautiful daughter to help take care of Cynthia and get Jenny back on her feet. She had some complications during and after the birth so I wanted to make sure my BFF was in good hands. It was one of the best times in my life! We had so much fun getting to know this new, tiny human and spending some quality friend time with each other after living apart for years. We developed an almost nightly ritual of eating a great dinner prepared by moi, grabbing our glasses of wine and some cheese, getting into bed and watching episode after episode of Sex and the City. Those were some good days and wonderful memories.

Fast forward almost 10 years later and Jenny and I are sitting down to a fantastic dinner with a glass of wine, getting ready to pamper ourselves and catch a glimpse of the beautiful and stylish SJP. It was like everything had come full circle in a way. If I may take a moment to mention the food. Chicago was blessed with the opening of Eataly a few months ago. This place is ridiculously awesome! Every Italian culinary product you could possibly imagine with several restaurants to sit at and enjoy some quality dishes. We chose to dine at La Verdure, which is the vegetable restaurant. After several wine tastings we settled on a beautiful Tuscan red and bathed the slices of fresh baked bread in golden olive oil. Jenny and I are both huge veggie fans but what came to us was something of our dreams. We started with the Scarola alla Grilglia which was grilled bitter greens with pine nuts, currants, Parmigiano Reggiano, and aged balsamic. Simple, right? Yes, but the flavors made it into a much more complex dish. The smokiness of the grilled greens combined with the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar was out of this world. I have never drooled so much over a salad in my life. We then split the Farrotto con Zucca which was farro cooked in the style of risotto, with butternut squash, Parmigiano Reggiano and butter. Lots and lots of butter. This might have been one of my favorite things I have ever eaten…EVER. There was no pasta, no cream, and not that much cheese but this dish tasted better than the best macaroni and cheese. I don’t understand how they did it but you can bet I’m going to be attempting to create this at home. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Unfortunately, by the time we got to Nordstrom Sarah Jessica Parker had come and gone. Not that we minded much. We both agreed that the meal beat any spotting of a celebrity. The women who gave us facials and did our makeup were asking where the two of us were going afterward since we looked so gorgeous and made up. To a hot dance club? To a trendy bar to sip trendy cocktails? Nope. We promptly went back to Jenny’s house to get into our cozy pants, snuggle up on the couch with her daughter Cynthia and watched a Harry Potter movie. Life is grand!