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!

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Warm and cozy dinner

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This winter weather isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I was in desperate need for a warm and cozy dinner last night and this menu hit the spot. I had seen this chicken recipe on TV once and remembered the simplicity of the dish and how delicious it looked. After doing a little bit of internet research I found said recipe and got to work on making my cold and miserable night a little bit better. Not only is this dish completely yummy but it is prepared in a flash and couldn’t be easier. Throw some chicken thighs, chorizo sausage, potatoes and onions on a pan and bake. Simple as that. The recipe calls for bone in, skin on chicken thighs but all they had at the store were the boneless skinless variety. If that’s all you can find, don’t worry. The dark meat still came out tender and moist. With the dusting of dried oregano and orange zest, the subtle flavoring of the chicken was a beautiful contrast to the spice of the chorizo. Oh, and how this chorizo did snap! There is such delight in biting into a snappy sausage and letting the locked-in flavor and juices pour into your mouth. The creaminess of the potatoes added yet another level of texture to the dish. And we can’t forget the red onion. Not only does the purple hue give the dish a nice pop of color but the rich sweetness of the onion cuts the heat of the chorizo. The combination of these flavors was perfection for last night. On any night, for that matter!

I needed to add something fresh and crisp to my dinner (not to mention something green) so I whipped up this easy and totally awesome salad. It’s not often a salad leaves me wanting to lick the bowl but I may have done just that. A salad can be this simple and taste like a million bucks, trust me. The recipe calls for kabocha squash but my Trader Joe’s had a bag of cubed butternut squash so I substituted that for the kabocha. It’s nice to have the work done for you sometimes. Also, I used a bag of spring mix instead of buying each lettuce individually. Finally, what better way to top off your evening meal than a glass of wine? With the weather so cold outside and the fire so warm and toasty inside, I really wanted to curl up on the couch after dinner with my half-finished glass and snuggle up. I can’t say I regret the choice. I’ve also decided that this will be a fantastic meal to throw together for my next dinner party. There is basically no prep involved and very little hands on cooking. Now that’s a recipe for an evening of good food and fun!

Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes

Serves 6

2 tablespoons regular olive oil
12 chicken thighs (bone in, with skin)
1 3/4 pounds chorizo sausages, whole if baby ones, or cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks if regular-sized
1 1/4 pounds baby white-skinned potatoes, halved
2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 orange
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Put the oil in the bottom of 2 shallow roasting pans or quarter sheet pans, 1 tablespoon in each. Rub the skin of the chicken in the oil, then turn skin side up and put 6 pieces in each pan.

Divide the chorizo sausages and the baby potatoes between the 2 pans. Sprinkle with the onion and the oregano, then grate the orange zest over the contents of the 2 pans.

Bake for 1 hour, but after 30 minutes, swap the top pan with the bottom pan in the oven and baste the contents with the orange-colored juices. Transfer the chicken mixture to a large serving platter and serve.

Winter Greens, Kabocha Squash and Peeled Pear Salad

1 small head of radicchio, sliced

2 handfuls of arugula

2-3 heads of endive, sliced

½ kabocha squash, sliced into ¼ inch spears

½ a pear

sea salt

freshly ground pepper

block of parmesan

1 shallot, diced

¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Place kabocha slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place in oven for about 5-8 minutes. Flip squash and cook for another 5-8 minutes, until lightly browned on each side. Remove and let cool to room temperature.

2. Place lettuces in a large serving bowl. Using a potato peeler, peel the pear into light, translucent slices over the leaves. Do the same with the parmesan, adding as much as you’d like. Add the squash, salt and pepper to taste and drizzle the dressing. Toss and serve.