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Archive for the ‘other good stuff’ Category

Hey guess what? It’s October first. That means another year of Unprocessed October, my 7th if you’ve been tracking. This is the time when I commit to giving up processed food for 31 days. It really shouldn’t be that hard to stick to; it shouldn’t. And yet, despite many strong starts, somewhere along the way I skid sideways. Life intercedes every damn time. That doesn’t really bother me too much because I’ll do it again; I like the challenge and the reminder to avoid the garbage ingredients. It is SO easy to backslide without even realizing it. I have always been an end goal oriented person. So here we go.

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So I’ve just returned from France, particularly the Southwest region, where I spent the better part of this summer and I’ve come back energized and filled with all kinds of ideas. My weeks were filled with cooking, a lot of eating, a lot of cold rosé, good friends and twice weekly market visits. One day I walked into my friend Kate’s kitchen to the most delightful smells. In the oven were pans of the beloved Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes, slowly roasting in a little bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Later, she slipped the skins off, packed them into jars and water processed them for longer storage. Just a normal everyday occurrence for her but a light bulb went off in my head. The woman is a genius.

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I left work not long ago to these fatal words: “Can you do something with this? Take it.” This is exactly how I end up with so much stuff. Both my freezers are packed with things obtained in this manner, not to mention my cupboards and three large plastic totes in my dining room. Oh boy, here we go again. I can never turn down ingredients. It is a blessing and a curse and how I found myself with with two containers of crème frâiche and no plan.

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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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So I’m slow off the line on this one. We’re nearly a third of the way through the month and I’m just getting around to reminding you about Unprocessed October, something I’ve been doing for the last 5 years. To be fair, I’ve been a bit buried, both literally and figuratively. My house is a maze of laundry; dirty, clean, folded and unfolded. My kitchen and dining room are piles upon piles of ingredients from consulting projects I need to organize in some way. There is a half open suitcase in my entryway that’s been there for two days and rather than unpack it, I’ve been stepping over it. I just can’t deal with that right now. I’m a traveling whirlwind and the Cubs are in the playoffs leading to extra innings and 3am bedtimes. But even with all that, I’ve been pretty good about sticking to my Unprocessed vows. With one notable exception. I was in Palm Springs last weekend and driving back to LA to catch a flight, we had to stop at In & Out Burger. We had to. We were tired, hungry and c’mon. It was In & Out. I console myself with the fact that the fries start in the restaurant as actual potatoes and the burger patties are hand formed right there. Can I make that burger at home? Kenji says I can so I’m saying it’s ok. A stretch but whatever, I’ll take the pass.

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Remember, pre-Whole Foods, when there were health food stores? Shops, usually on the small side, that carried unusual things you didn’t see in the regular grocery stores like countless bulk bins of oats, nubby whole wheat flours, nuts and everything “chocolate” was actually made from the always disappointing carob. You were sure to see some tie dye, several pairs of Birkenstocks and a machine that ground peanuts into fresh peanut butter was tucked in a corner. In my younger days, freshly ground nut butters fell squarely into that “good for you” category which was an automatic strike against it’s character (refer back to carob). I never cared much for it and the requisite oil slick on top then but I’ve come to the realization that the Skippy of my youth is no longer my favorite. (Except for peanut butter cookies. Nothing makes a better cookie than creamy Skippy.) These days, I actually seek out these machines and now I even grind my own nut butters. Whoa. I’ve come a long way baby.

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Pickles are a truly wonderful thing and it’s time to think beyond the ubiquitous spears and floppy slices found on bad bar burgers. In Chicago and around the country, they’re currently in the midst of a robust renaissance with all kinds of pickled delights on store shelves and menus touting “housemade pickles” left and right. My refrigerator and pantry shelves, home to all kinds of interesting items, typically have a slew of different types at any given time. Right now, I have no less than eight jars of different pickled things in my fridge and can put together a helluva spread in no time (see above). I’ve taken to pickling everything lately as it’s a great way to preserve too much garden or farmers market bounty and this week I pickled strawberries. Green strawberries. True story.

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