Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in Review

On New Year's Eve, I thought I would do a quick recap of the highlights of 2009, while looking forward to kicking of 2010!

1Started gradschool.  I loved my Clinical Psychology Program at Roosevelt.  Why did I ever leave school?  I would leave the house at 7:30 in the morning for work and not return from class until almost 10pm and would be grinning from ear to ear.  Learning is fun.

2.  Trip to Portland and Willamette Valley.  We went to visit my cousin, her husband and new baby a nd had a wonderful time.  Spent a day wine tasting and spent time in Powell's, the country's largest bookstore.  Heaven!

3.  Return to Torre a Cona.  Torre a Cona, as a wedding present, gave us a free week to spend there this summer.  This time it was just Jason and I!  The property was pretty much desserted, and I got to spend my dream day of staying on the property, lounging by the pool and having a lunch of meats, cheeses and wines.  We did some hiking in the countryside and found ourselves in some amazing out of the way places and had a couple of incredible lunches as a result.  Very relaxing and wonderful.  I miss it already.

4.  Pickling.  I discovered a passion for pickling.  Just refridgerator pickles.  However, this Christmas brought me all the acoutrements for hot water canning.  Can't wait until summer 2010!

5.  Wisconsin trip to Devil's Lake and Taliesin.  Jason and I spent a lovely weekend alone near the Dells.  We hiked, went to Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin home and ate at a true Wisconsin Supper Club!  We love Wisconsin.

6.  Trip to Denver.  More family fun.  Got to see my aunt, uncle, both cousins and their spouses and kids.  It was a birthday bash weekend, lots of fun and got to catch up with old college friends!

7.  Drop out of grad school.  This was hard for me.  But, I found the path that perhaps I had been seeking all along.  Ironically I found it through my advisor at Roosevelt's mistake.  But I decided to apply for School Psychology programs.  Testing, stats and summers off!  Sounds ideal.  Unfortunately, Roosevelt doesn't have a program so I'm taking a break and applying at 3 schools in Chicago.  If I'm accepted I'll be starting Fall 2010.

8.  Turn off the TV.  The big experiment continues.  August 18 we cancelled the cable and as a result get no television in our house.  It's been pretty awesome.  I cook more than ever, read more books this fall than usual.  We're going to keep it going for 2010.

9.  Running.  I found myself a running partner and embraced running whole-heartedly.  This lasted until the weather turned on me and I had to give it up.  I want it back. 

10.  Char and Chris' wedding.  My younger sister-in-law got married in a beautiful ceremony in Hyde Park.  There was also the insurance wedding earlier in the summer, so it was a summer full of celebrations!

11.  Brew-Ha-Ha.  Jason's first annual weekend brewery tour in Wisconsin.  We stayed near Devil's Lake in cabins with 6 other couples, a couple of babies and had a blast!  There are plans for a one-day local brew-ha-ha late this winter, early spring .

12.  Food blogging.  I've been trying to do more with my blogging and really trying to record all of my recipe attempts.  It has definitely been the fall of the soups and with my new immersion blender, that should continue. 

13.  Jason's 40th Birthday!  His birthday fell on a Saturday so it was a whole weekend of celebrating.  We had our families over the morning of his birthday for a wonderful pancake breakfast.  He got lots of fun gifts, including a bottle of Fontodi Flaccianello from me!  That night was spent with the two of us having dinner at Bon Soiree.  We did the 6 course Saturday underground dining experience and loved it.  The following day our friends all joined us at a local bar to have lunch, watch the Bears and sing happy birthday one more time. 

14.  The Gratitude Project.  I spend a good portion of 2009 being really dissatisfied, especially regarding material matters.  It was an ugly feeling and was making me an ugly person.  From Halloween to Thanksgiving I tried to come up with something to be grateful for everyday.  While I didn't blog daily as intended, I did take a long, hard look at my life, and put in some serious time reflecting on what is truly important to me.  It is an ongoing process but I have started to turn my bad attitude around.

15.  Christmas Eve.  Our 4th annual hosting of Christmas Eve.  It was a complete success.  Good food, good family, good presents and fun!

Now, it's the morning of New Years Eve.  I'm still in my pajamas, motivating to get dressed.  No New Year's trip out of town so instead the friends are all gathering at one person's house for a potluck and celebration.  My plan is to stay sober and wake up starting my new year not hungover!

My Resolutions so far?
1.  To play piano again
2.  To lose 15 pounds


Monday, December 28, 2009

Cauliflower Puree Soup

After the decadence of the holidays, it's time to get back to some normal eating and cooking!  I recently discovered the magazine La Cucina Italiana, and a good friend was kind enough to give me a subscription for Christmas!

I adapted this recipe from one I found in the current edition.  It also gave me a second time to use my new Immersion Blender which I got in the Family Christmas Secret Santa Exchange!

I was hoping to make a nice, healthy vegetable based soup.  And while it is primarily vegetable, overall I would use much less butter than the recipe called for.  I might actually just sautee the leeks in only oil.  And the bacon is just an optional garnishment to sprinkle on top.  The recipe I got my inspiration from actually used veal.


2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 of a very large onion sliced thinly (about 1 - 1 1/2 cups)
1 head cauliflower cut into small florettes (approximately 1 lb)
1/2 lb yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced into 1 in. pieces (approximately 1/2 lb)
3 1/2 Tbsp butter, divided
3 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 leek, white and yellow parts chopped
2 slices of bacon diced
salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot heat the olive oil on medium heat, add the onions, lower the heat to med-low and sautee for about 5 minutes or until they are soft

Add the cauliflower, potatoes a healthy pinch of salt and 2 Tbsp of the butter.  Cook for about 10 minutes.

Add 2 cups of broth, bring to a boil and simmer on low, covered for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, start the leeks and bacon.  In one pan, heat the remaining 1 1/2 Tbsp butter over medium heat and sautee the leeks for about 15 minutes.

**again, in the future I would not use this much butter

After 15 minutes, add 1 1/2 cups of stock and a dash of salt and simmer on low for another 15 minutes.

In a separate pan cook the diced bacon on med-low until it is nice and crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

Drain the cooking liquid from the leeks into the soup pot and reserve the leeks.

Remove the soup from the heat and with an immersion blender puree the soup.  Test the consistency, you can always add more stock or water to thin out the soup if you like, but I found this consistency perfect.

**if you do not have an immersion blender, puree in batches in a blender

Ladle soup into bowls and top with leeks, bacon and some freshly ground black pepper

Merry (Molecular Gastronomy) Christmas!!!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.  I enjoyed myself immensely and the long weekend felt truly like a break.  We saw family and friends, ate well, opened wonderful presents and started our foray into Molecular Gastronomy!

The main component to Jason's Christmas gift this year was a Molecular Gastronomy Starter Kit from  It was true inspiration and turned out to be one of the best gifts I have given him!  We spent Saturday afternoon and evening at our friend Nancy's house familiarizing ourselves with the kit and trying out our first recipes!  Spherification was a total success, gelification a strong start. 

First up, prepping Capri Sun Spheres!

Capri Sun

Then a Green Juice Gelee:

Next a Sparkling Wine Semi-Gel (didn't quite turn out)

Time to make the spheres!  Capri Sun mixed with sodium alginate and allowed to rest for about 30 minutes.  Then dispensed with a pipette into a bath of calcium salt and  water, then rinsed in a pure water bath. 

The green gelee formed with Agar-Agar as well as another gelee we made with some leftover Capri Sun.  We topped them off with a few capri sun pearls, or caviar.

Quite an interesting day!  I think we will be adding a whole new twist to our cooking!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Our Fourth Annual Christmas Eve went off without a hitch.  Both families present and accounted for, including the newest brother-in-law!

On the menu:

Roasted Carrots and Parsnips with Tarragon

Braised Swiss Chard


Braised Pork in the Black Rooster

Delicious!  We sipped on a Bisol Prosecco di Vadobbiadene before dinner while snacking on shrimp and my mom's famous mushroom pate.

With dinner we had a few reds, most notably a Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Desserts consisted of mini cheesecakes with raspberry and cranberry coulis, a variety of cookies and a cheese plate, all compliments of the sister-in-laws.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Eve Eve

Ever since Jason and I started hosting Christmas Eve dinner, we have set aside Christmas Eve Eve as date night.  It started the first year because we had been doing so much work and planning and cleaning and really needed to get out of the house, take a deep breath and relax with eachother before the onslaught.

The last 3 years we have had our Christmas Eve Eve date night dinner at Think, a BYOB restaurant on the edge between Bucktown and Logan Square.  We've had many dinners there and always a lovely time and have always enjoyed deciding what wine will be the special wine for the year.

Unfortunately, Think closed recently and we were forced to rethink our date location.  We decided to go with Magnolia, a great neighborhood restaurant in Uptown.  The website doesn't do them justice and unfortunately I didn't take any photos.  But the interior is simple and warm, with exposed brick and beamed ceilings and minimimalist photos on the walls. 

As an appetizer we split the mussels which were delicious.  Some of the largest mussels I've had in a long time, served in the proverbial white wine and fennel sauce with a baguette.

For an entree we split the grilled beef tenderloin which was topped with braised short ribs, served over spinach with a couple of ricotta dumplings on the side.  It was fantastic.  The idea of the beef tenderloin short rib combo threw me in theory but worked perfectly in actuality.  The short ribs were used sparingly on top of the tenderloin and added a touch of sweetness and an interesting textural contrast.

To drink we brought the 2002 Concha y Toro Don Melchor that I had given Jason for Christmas about 3 years ago.

A perfect Christmas Eve Eve to get us in the Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas is coming...

I have almost completed my most dreaded of holiday tasks.  Shopping. 

It's not that I don't like giving gifts.  There are few better feelings than knowing you got something for someone that they are really, really, really going to enjoy.  And it's not really the money.  We are not extravagant gift givers, and stick to reasonable budgets. 

It's just the hoopla.  The crowds, the dark, and mostly, the cold.

This year I did things differently.  I whole-heartedly embraced the on-line shopping.  It has changed my world.  Presents arriving at my door days and sometimes weeks before Christmas Day.  In a moment of weakness earlier in the year I signed up for "Prime" shipping at Amazon.  For a flat yearly fee I receive free 2-day shipping on most products.  Money well spent!

And people are getting some very cool presents this year.  I would like to divulge, but am afraid someone might come snooping on my blog :-)  I am most excited for Jason's gifts, I don't think he has any idea what he is getting!

Friday, December 11, 2009



1 package greek yogurt
1 cucumber peeled, seeded and diced
1 clove garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Dill (use fresh if possible, if not substitute dried)
Black pepper

Salt the cucumbers and set over a colander. This will draw out some of the liquid to prevent the sauce from becoming too watery

After about 20 minutes, pat dry the cucmber and add to a food processor with the garlic, lemon and some black pepper and dill.

Process and then mix into the yogurt. Chill.

This sauce is best made in the summer with fresh herbs but it works even in the dead of winter!

Turkey Burgers

I'm not much of a Thanksgiving meal fan, so I didn't burn myself out on turkey.

My friend Michelle had passed along to me her turkey burger recipe and I had been wanting to try something similar.  I combined her used of dry onion soup mix with a few other flavors and am really happy with the result!  It's an easy week night meal and provides me with some protein for a few days!


1 lb ground turkey meat
1 package dry onion soup mix
Worstershire sauce
3 oz (approximately) feta crumbled
Garlic powder
salt and pepper

Put the turkey in a big bowl.  Add the onion soup mix, a dash or two of worstershire, a few sprinkles of onion powder, the crumbled feta and some salt and pepper.  Mix well, form into patties and grill on a stove top grill pan.

I don't usually cook meat, but I would say I cooked them about 5 minutes on each side? 

The burgers were tasty!  I topped mine with some homemade tzatziki sauce for an extra kick!

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

I hadn't cooked quinoa in awhile and, as you know, love pomegranates.  I used a few recipes from the blog Closet Cooking as inspiration.  I made a big batch of this on Monday night which we ate as a side all week!

I also made my lentil and sausage soup which was even better than I had remembered.  I was intent on having food prepared for the whole week and we didn't have to eat out once (except for the sushi dinner we chose to have on Wednesday!)


1 eggplant
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 bulb fennel
2 red peppers
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup walnuts
3 oz (or so) feta
1 cup quinoa
1/4 cup pomegranate vinaigrette

Preheat the oven to 400.

Cut up the eggplant into cubes, salt generously and set aside in a colander to drain or about 20 minutes (by salting and draining the eggplant, you remove some of the bitter taste eggplant can have)

Stick the red peppers on a baking sheet lined with tin foil.  But in the oven under the broiler and turn every few minutes until all sides are blackened.  Take our, put in a covered bowl and let sit until the peppers have cooled enough to handle and the skins peel off easily.  Chop the peppers into 1 inch pieces.

Rinse and pat dry the eggplant.  Put in a baking dish and toss with some olive oil and the cumin, paprika and cinnamon.

Cut the fennel into slices, put the slices in another baking dish and toss with a little olive oil.

Roast the vegetables in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime cook the quinoa according to the directions on the package.

But the quinoa in a bowl.  Add the roasted eggplant, fennel, red peppers, walnuts, pomegranate seeds and feta and drizzle with the pomegranate vinaigrette.

I found that this salad was fine the night I made it but incredible the several days following!  J ate his room temperature, I heated mine up in the microwave before eating.  Delicious!

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

I saw this recipe on Closet Cooking and knew I needed to make it for myself.  It is a 2 step process, fisrt the pomegranate molasses, then the vinaigrette.


1 cup pomegranate juice (I used POM)
1/8 cup sugar
1 splash lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and cook about 40 minutes, until it is the consistency of a thick syrup.  The recipe I followed was actually double the amounts I used, so in the future I wouldn't cook it quite as long as it got a little too thick.

Remember, that it will continue to thicken as it cools, so don't think it needs to be cooked to molasses consistency, it can still be a little thin.


2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything in a small jar or bowl

**optional - you can add a small clove of garlic grated, but I omitted it

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Braised Pork in the "Black Rooster" (Brasato di Maiale Nero)

Even without tv we still will pop onto hulu or some other website to catch a show or two.  One night, I got home to find Jason watching "Molto Mario", Batali's show.  We watched him make this pork dish, a pork roast braised in red wine sauce alongside roasted butternut squash in agrodolce and knew we had to make it one day.

We have revived our Friday cooking sessions this fall and today we decided to try this dish.  It was incredible.  Instead of the butternut squash, we substituted spaghetti squash (which I love) and added a side of braised chard.  We substituted bacon for the pancetta and made a roast about half the size of what he did on the show. 

The dish was incredible!  Along with the rotolo, we now have decided on our Christmas eve dinner!


One 2 pound pork roast, rolled and tied
2 teaspoons salt
several fresh sage leaves
2 slices of bacon
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup parsley leaves
Olive oil
2 cups dry red wine (we used a tempranillo, chianti would also be perfect)
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
black pepper

First tie up the roast (we use Food Loops which are easy and can be washed and reused)
Slide sage leaves under the loops all the way across the roast

Chop up the bacon, parsley and garlic together until it becomes the consistency of a paste.  Add a splash of olive oil if you need it but we didn't use more than a teaspoon.

In a large dutch oven, cook the bacon paste in a little bit of olive oil until it essentially melts.

Then, brown the roast in the mixture on all sides

Add 1 cup of the red wine, bring to a boil and reduce.  Add the remaining 1 cup of wine and the tomatoes and bring to a boil

Cover the pot, lower to a simmer and cook about 2 hours.  When finished cooking, pull out the roast to let rest, turn up the heat on the pot and reduce the braising liquid.
Remove the string and sage leaves from the roast.  Serve cut into slices and doused with the sauce!