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Archive for the ‘favorite things’ Category

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Thank god for 2017. What a universally shit year for us all (with the exception of the Chicago Cubs because really now, how amazing was that?!), and while there’s a lot to deal with on the horizon I feel better knowing that the dumpster fire of 2016 is done. But now you’re probably looking at the contents of your refrigerator and wondering what the hell happened. The holidays, that’s what. That intersection of Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years and a little leftover Thanksgiving that creates chaos for us all. Chances are also good that, like many of us, you’ve probably decided to try to go on a health kick of some sort to right the eating wrongs of the past 6 weeks. We all do it. The constant influx of butter, cheese, cream, meat, alcohol and chocolate come to a head on January 1 where the guilt kicks into overdrive. I’ve circled it a few years but I think this is the year I try the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse (from last year, or the year prior or the year before that or there’s a book too). Not a diet per se, god forbid, but recipes mostly devoid of the things I’ve overindulged in the last few weeks. And they sound really good too. So why not? My system could use a little cleansing.

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Due to my career choices and wonderful friends, I am often the lucky recipient of some good things. Most of these good things, again due to the above, are food. And booze. I am gifted a lot of booze but that’s another story for another day. Right now both my freezers are completely packed and most of it is pork. Neatly wrapped and labeled packages of really good, farm raised pork. Not long ago, I was digging around and deep amongst these neat little white packages were three good-sized pieces of pork belly, that delicious cut we often know as bacon. I needed to make some room fast so I threw one of those bellies in the fridge to defrost while I thought about what to do. There really was no question. It was going to become bacon. In addition to being delicious, homemade bacon is incredibly easy. After a week long cure, I didn’t feel like firing up the smoker and babysitting a temperature gage all day so I did something I’d never done before: I baked the cured belly. And it was amazing.

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Over the last few years, I’ve become a big lard fan.  All hail pig fat!  It makes a fantastic pie crust, a delectable biscuit and a surprisingly tender cake.   I was at a pig butchery demo not long ago with Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman and the subject of lard arose.  In the middle his demo, Chef Polcyn held up a large piece of pure white fat, the leaf lard surrounding the kidneys, and said something to the effect of “if only pastry chefs understood the power of lard.”  Ahem.  I, of course, spoke up in my brethern’s defense.  Oh buddy, we are well aware.  Little did he know at the time that I had 7+ pounds of unrendered leaf lard back home in my freezer.

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Do you have food memories from childhood?  Really strong food memories that will stop you in your tracks?  I do. For me, they tend to be tightly intertwined with smell as well.  There have been moments when I’ve stopped, snapped my head up and looked around a little startled because the memory is so strong.  It’s a gift and a curse; wonderful because my memories are so vivid and full of color, movement, scents.  I can practically taste them.  But that’s also the curse … have you ever tried to re-create a childhood taste memory?  Sheesh.

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What says summer better than a big bowl of vibrant, juicy tomatoes?  Fresh sweet corn perhaps? Or fragrant fuzzy peaches?  OK so there are a few things that I look forward to during these warm months but as soon as I see those tomatoes popping up in my garden in crazy growth spurts more commonly seen in teenage boys, I know something good is on the way.  And that time is now people. Hurry.  I’m on a real tomato kick myself right now and you should be too.

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I received the email today at 12:32pm.  I knew it was coming but I also knew I wasn’t going to like it. Even if I tried to look away, quickly delete or bury my head in the sand, I knew there was nothing I could do.  The subject line read: “Pasticceria Natalina closing in one month…” and with a sigh of regret, I clicked it open knowing what I was about to read.

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Hog Butcher for the World,

Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;

Stormy, husky, brawling,

City of the Big Shoulders …

– Carl Sandburg 1916

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Sometimes I wonder just what exactly I am thinking. I do some bonehead things on occasion, however, I have to say one of my best qualities is the ability to laugh at myself.  Lately, those opportunities have been coming in droves.  The last two weeks have been crazy as I’ve been rushing to finish an enormous project in the midst of juggling several other gigs.  Unfortunately, its feast or famine with me and this latest deluge of work has left me a bit distracted.  Some may say spacey and I just might agree with that. This is what gets me into trouble, where I miss key details around me (I parked in tow zone? Really? Crap.)

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Hey! If you live in Chicago, have I got a great event for you! I’ve put together a really fantastic Pig + Pinot dinner for The American Institute of Wine & Food this Tuesday (2/8) with 2 of my very favorite people – Chef Chris Pandel of The Bristol and Winemaker Wells Guthrie of Copain Vineyards in Healdsburg, CA.

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I was eating breakfast this morning, just kind of sitting around contemplating my upcoming day and still adjusting to being back in the country.  I paused for a moment and looked down.  Oh so pretty.  And mighty simple and delicious.  It reinforced how good something can be when its made/grown with care and pretty much left alone to do its thing.  It was a simple pile of radishes, butter and salt.  Nothing much at first glance but definitely worth a deeper look.

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