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Archive for the ‘main courses’ Category

Summer food is summer food for a reason. The ingredients tend to be things that are in season, many for only a short time like tomatoes and corn. The dishes typically come together quickly with a consideration given to not heating up the kitchen, utilizing techniques like grilling or a quick stovetop sauté and avoidance of the oven altogether. Full disclosure: I break this rule all the time and just sweat it out. I make what I want to make, weather be damned. Last weekend toward the end of a horrible heat wave, I was craving something cool and light and I was seriously considering sitting in a bucket of ice during every meal. Friends were coming over for Sunday Lunch and I decided to channel my inner French woman and make the ultimate summer meal I’ve enjoyed immensely during my travels – a Grand Aioli.

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Not long ago, on a hot sunny Chicago day, some friends and I were drinking Michelada’s – the beer, tomato juice, hot sauce concoctions that are perfect day drinks. They’re refreshing, tart and tangy and are what they refer to in the business as “session-able” – you can drink several without becoming a sloppy mess. All around, it was a perfect day.

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I love a good cold Asian noodle dish – peanut noodles, sesame noodles, cold soba noodle salad. They are perfect as the weather heats up; cool, refreshing, filling and easy to make without heating up the kitchen. But I’ve never quite gotten the recipe right on my own. The flavor is always slightly off, the mixture sticky and gloppy. I made them but I never really enjoyed them. About this time last year, I posted a Vietnamese steak and peanut noodle salad that I loved, thought I had finally nailed it. But then I tasted these noodles and realized this version is better. Dang it.

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It’s spring. While I may be laying here nursing a cold, I can see out my windows that the trees are budding. It’s all rainy days and smooth sailing from here on out and like most of Chicago, I’m anxiously awaiting the first outdoor farmers market in a few weeks. In anticipation I bought some asparagus the other day, before I caught this nasty cold, and thought it would go well with a plate of gnocchi and a little brown butter.

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I adore homemade pasta. There is something wonderful about the texture, with just a bit of toothsome quality that I love. Other handmade pastas like gnocchi and cavatelli throw me right over the moon. Sometimes, if I’ve very very fortunate, I’ll stumble upon a restaurant that serves something called 5 or 8 finger cavatelli. Regular cavatelli are small discs or short strips of pasta with opposite edges rolled towards each other to form a hollow shape. I’ve heard them described as looking like tiny hot dog buns and that little folded cavity captures sauces so nicely. 5 or 8 finger cavatelli is the same dough rolled into long strips, 5 or 8 finger lengths long, with the same distinctive edges folded in. They are one of my favorite pastas and one you don’t see very often. I decided to make some.

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Marcella Hazan, often described as the Julia Child of Italian food, has written some remarkable cookbooks. I own several and they have never steered me wrong. When I needed a lasagne recipe, not being a lasagne fan, it was to Marcella that I turned. It was a remarkable lasagne. Sadly, she passed away in 2013, crushing my dreams of taking one of her cooking classes but she left behind quite the legacy. I’ve been reading about her butter tomato sauce for years yet have never made it. Like many things that receive endless glowing reviews – Harry Potter books, Mad Men, LaLa Land, Chik-Fil-A – I tend to run the other way. If everyone is enthusiastically waxing on and on about something I become suspicious. Misguided? Probably. Cynical? Certainly. This tomato sauce was definitely one of those things. Just four ingredients? How good could it be? How many tomato sauce recipes does one really need? I was pretty sure I was fine. How wrong I was.

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Growing up, my dad did quite a bit of work travel so my mom, sister and I ate out frequently. Nothing fancy, Taco Bell was a regular stop but Chinese, good ‘ol American Cantonese Chinese food, was a particular favorite. You know the place … Chinese calendar placemats, plastic chopsticks and a menu filled with dishes like chop suey, sweet and sour pork and egg rolls. Our particular favorite in our little corner of Phoenix was Ho-Wah, a small family restaurant across the street from my future high school where the owners would warmly greet us and knew our order by heart. We probably went once a week and I loved it. Though sadly long gone, it is the standard against which I still judge all Chinese food.

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