Thursday, February 3, 2011


No food to update at this time, I just wanted to announce that I just submitted the recipe below to Food Network's secret ingredient challenge.  The secret ingredient was spaghetti and Wookkie thought it would be perfect.  No major prize for winning, just a gift card to Food Network's store but I am confident I can do some damage there.  Wish me luck!


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I wish I had a better name for this recipe....

I’m a big fan of meals that use lots of bits and pieces from the fridge or freezer.  I feel that they require more creativity than a meal that requires a trip to the store and there is just something cathartic about creating  more empty space in your fridge.  Last week’s adventure began with me thinking that breakfast for dinner sounded like a good idea, we had a lot of eggs and a partial package of bacon begging to be used.  It kept gnawing at me though that there was a half can of pureed pumpkin and some already washed baby spinach.  So I remixed breakfast ingredients and here is what developed:

Pumpkin Carbonara
1 lb spaghetti
½ lb thick sliced bacon
2 large cloves garlic (3 if they’re small), chopped fine
1 ½ cups fresh spinach
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped fine
3 eggs
¾ cup pureed pumpkin (or whatever is less when you have used 1 cup for one of the many recipes that calls for only 1 cup of pumpkin)
1 cup hard Italian cheese, shredded (I used grana padano and pecorino romano)
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta and heat a medium sized skillet of your choice.  Chop the bacon crosswise into ½ inch strips and cook on medium until crispy.  Remove the bacon from pan with a spatula and place on paper towels to drain grease.  Drain the bacon grease except for 1 tablespoon into a container for later use (I’ll put up my Individual Yorkshire Puddings recipe at some point, this uses the leftover).  You could probably use turkey bacon or another less fatty bacon for this recipe, you would just have to add a little oil to the pan.

Add the garlic to the pan and let cook on low to golden brown, add the spinach and cook for 2 minutes and then add thyme.  Hopefully by now the water is boiling and you can cook your pasta as directed, it is important for this recipe that the pasta is hot when the ingredients are mixed.  While the pasta and spinach cook, beat the eggs with the pumpkin.  If it looks too thick, you may want to add a splash of milk, use your judgment.  Blend the cheese and nutmeg with the egg mixture.

Drain the pasta, turn off the heat and return the pasta to pot.  Put bacon back in skillet and blend with the spinach.  Add the spinach/bacon mixture to the pasta and stir together (tongs worked really well for doing this).  Then add the egg/cheese/ pumpkin mixture, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens as the eggs cook.

Garnish with sprigs of thyme, extra cheese, and/or extra bacon.

Wookiee loved it, the pumpkin taste was really subtle and it had a great fall flavor, perfect comfort food!  We ate while watching the latest Iron Chef America (really low scoring battle) and I managed to pull a dessert out of the situation also.  In the spirit of the evening, my secret ingredient was PUMPKIN!  I re-heated some leftover pumpkin waffles I had made earlier in the week (a total of 1 and a half waffles) and served with hot maple syrup, whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. It was also great because I had been originally planning on using them for the breakfast dinner anyways!

In the words of the great Alton Brown: I bid you good eating.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I am Iron Chef

Last Sunday was the season finale of “The Next Iron Chef”. Since competitive cooking is the Lady and my professional sport of choice, it has become common for us to DVR an episode, cook something a little more complicated than usual, then yell at the TV while we sit at the table and watch the show. Obviously, if you watched the show, you know that Chef Canora lost and that Chef Forgione won. I am very happy about this, as I actively disliked Canora. I would have preferred Chef Caswell to win, but we can't always get what we want.

While I was at work, I was considering dinner (as I often do) and a bit of inspiration struck. I wish that it translated well into reality, but we will come to that later. I remembered that we had a bunch of 85/15 ground buffalo in the fridge, and that buffalo burgers are ALWAYS a good choice. In the spirit of getting more creative with my food, I decided that sliders might be fun. Corn and edamame seemed like decent sides for this dish as well, so I mentally started prepping. Once I was home, I banished the Lady from the kitchen, poured a beer, and went to cooking.

I blended the buffalo with some paprika, cumin, basil, salt, and red pepper for flavour. I added oats and egg to it for texture and let the slider meat sit for about 30 minutes to meld. In the meantime, I heated up a new cooking implement: a Himalayan Salt Slab! It was a gift from the Lady a while ago, and I hadn't had a chance to use it yet, and it also seemed like a good way to “upscale” the meal to Iron Chef panache, so I set it over the range and let it heat at med/high.

For the corn, I decided that cooking niblets in a pan and sauteing them with ground mustard would be fun. I ground some grains of paradise on it as well to create some flavour depth and sprinkled it with some herbs de province.
I wanted to experiment with the edamame, so I decided to pan smoke it. It was a weird venture, including heating some olive oil to just under the smoke point and faux sautee/searing the soybeans with some sal du gaul and cracked black pepper. It smelled very acrid, and I worried about the flavour as it cooked, but I was already moving on to prepping the sliders to change course now.

I split the buffalo into one (1) ounce patties, and cooked them in pairs on the salt slab. It didn't transfer heat very well, so I don't feel a salt slab is well suited to searing meats. It would appear to me that a salt slab is more suited to very thin cuts of high HIGH quality beef or fish that cooks at lower temperatures. Kobe or hamachi maybe? Mmmm....

As the patties cooked (slowly, and rather unpredictably) I prepped the rest of the sliders. I carmelized some shallots, toasted some whole wheat buns, brought out some sliced pepper jack, and sun dried tomatoes. I spread a bit of deli mustard/mayo blend on the buns, then layered the jack, onion, and sun dried tomato on top, capping the slider with the buffalo instead of layering from meat up. It wasn't terribly creative, but it sat well.

I served the whole thing on a large cooking platter, and admittedly, it was very late 80's fusion plating, but that's making a comeback, I just need a shinier platter.

For dessert, I went simple: Honey drizzled clementine orange segments, arranged on a plate around a pair of Frango candy, dusted with nutmeg and ground ginger.

I am sorry to say that the sliders were a failure though. The buffalo was either too soggy or dry, and because of the unpredictable nature of the salt slab, getting a nice medium finish was impossible. That said, this was the first time I have used it, so there is a fudge factor there. The onions were perfect, and the jack was a great pairing with the buffalo. The oats made much less impact than I expected, not being noticeable one way or the other.
The Lady had difficulty with the tomato since I didn't slice them and instead just layered a whole solid piece on the sandwich. She couldn't bite through it completely so often got the whole tomato in one bite. The mustard/mayo blend also overwhelmed EVERYTHING. Just the mayo, or a spicy mayo would have worked out, but the deli style mustard made everything quiet in comparison. The sliders were good, but not gourmet as intended. I give them a D overall.

The corn on the other hand, was oustanding! Sauteing niblets is going to catch on quick in my kitchen. The ground mustard added a very nice profile to the sweetness of the corn, and the herbs de province give the finishing flavour a wonderful natural aroma and taste. Very well rounded. Unfortunately, niblets don't lend themselves to terribly creative plating arrangements without some other work and I was impatient, so a clear bowl really showed off the brilliant yellow they picked up from the mustard. Certainly at least a B+ recipe. With the right presentation, this could easily be A material.

The edamame was somewhere in the middle. They picked up a great smokiness from the pepper and hot oil, but they were a bit bitter, and salt only served to make them very “dry” tasting. I achieved the goal to get them more smokey, but I don't think that works with the protein makeup in soy. I'm sure Alton Brown would be able to tell me why. Solid C.

Dinner Sunday was nice. I had high hopes for it, and things fell decidedly short, but that happens.

Well, I have help up the Lady's posts from this past week enough. I will let her get on with things now.

Until next time!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Perfect Drink

Hello hello to all, from your favourite fuzzy foodie.
The Lady has already done a very nice job of describing to you what our activities last night were. It was an altogether pleasant evening. I'm a little dumb and started a fight, but it happens. The food, entertainment, and walk in the cool night air really made my week after a long time without a break from work.

Our time at Cafe 28 had ups and downs for me. It was very loud for such a dimly lit place. It created a weird disparity from what had an atmosphere of a quiet private dinner to a more lively room. I was blown away by the sweetness of Lady's Havana Punch. It really had NO alcohol bite, which was difficult to believe when you consider that it apparrently is nearly ALL alcohol. My Pisco Sour was A-MAZING. Pisco is a wonderful Spanish colony derivative of Oroju, a clear grape liquor. My introduction to Pisco came from a Chilean friend of the family, and I have enjoyed experimenting with it since. My sour included egg whites, lime, and powdered sugar. While the look of the drink was very cloudy, the way the egg whites and sugar meld create a mystic sort of crystal ball appearance.
I ordered the special of the evening, a Cordero style lamb chop dish with roasted red potatoes and steamed tomato. While the lamb was served IMPECCABLY well cooked (a perfect medium rare), there just wasnt much of it. There was likely about 3-5 ounces of meet, which was very disappointing. I was tempted to gnaw on the bones just to get more of the smokey spice flavours, but since we were in public, I refrained.
My potatoes were very moist, and well cooked without getting too starchy. My tomatoes were very very soggy though. Too overdone.
All in all, though I enjoyed the flavour profiles that the chefs at Cafe 28 created, it was a little too amateur with the side dishes, and the proteins needed more substance.
I did have a WONDERFUL Scotch Manhattan after my lamb though. It was smooth, and bright, and had just the perfect bite at the back of the tongue. The bartenders at Cafe 28 really know what they're doing.
Tha Manhattan from Cafe 28 

For dessert, we stopped in at a dark jazz bar called Katerina's. It was dark, lit by candles, a blue neon sign, and a single spotlight. With a $10 cover, I expected a great performance. Instead I got a half-assed alto accompanied by a trio that really would be better off exploring instrumental jazz. I ordered another Scotch Manhattan (have you noticed a trend?) which was lackluster at best. The bitters were a little too present, and the vermouth, while sweet, was in far too low a ratio to the scotch. I think the bartender didn't know how to make a Manhattan with Scotch instead of the more traditional Whiskey.
Our pear custard was very warm and spicey. It tasted like autumn, and it was comforting in the dark atmosphere of the club.
So, two drinks (one for the Lady) and a single $10 covers each. $50. I kid you not. Screw that. I will not be going back to Katerina's anytime soon, if at all. Not worth the cost.

I made a meal in honor of the Next Iron Chef finale, and while I did not use the spinach that we had in lieu of lettuce, I think the meal was decent tribute. My main course was lacking, but my side dishes were spot on. I won't describe them tonight (that's another post), but I will leave you with this: Have you ever cooked corn with dried mustard powder and sal du gaul?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Night Out!

Friday night was a gourmet grilled cheese from a GrilledCheese Academy Recipe (The Sergeant Pepper), but we were so hungry we forgot pictures until we were done eating…sorry folks.  We also made some apple chips but the recipe needs a little tweaking, or maybe I just need to follow the recipe and put them on parchment paper instead of foil, more on that later. 
However, last night we stepped out of our kitchen and into the big wide world!  We went to see “Aftermath” a production based on The Rolling Stones (Signal Ensemble in Chicago), it is an excellent production.  I am a little biased since I worked on it but Wookiee liked it too so there you go!
Before the show we went to grab dinner at a place the stage manager recommended, Cafe 28, a Cuban restaurant near Irving Park and Lincoln.  The atmosphere was cozy with rich colors and just a touch of holiday flare already with simple paper snowflakes on the walls.  Immediately after we were seated we received a bread basket with sliced baguette and a seasoned, whipped butter that had a sweet/smoky flavor.  I ordered a Havana Punch, a rum based, fruity and delicious drink, though dangerous since I am told that it’s more alcohol than mixer but it did not taste like it, it was garnished with some crisp apple pieces.   Wookiee had a Pisco Sour, which hopefully he will explain in more detail in his next post, it was mostly a grape based South American liquor similar to brandy.
We ordered the Calamar a la Parrilla, a calamari starter, this was not a typical calamari fritti but lightly grilled (perhaps a little over done), the rings were very thick sliced and meaty and the baby squids (as I like to call them) were just a little crispy at the end of the tentacles.  It was served over a sweet roasted red pepper sauce with some sort of pesto, roasted vegetables and a smooth goat cheese topping the dish.  The goat cheese complimented the rest of the dish perfectly and really made it wonderful, the smooth texture with the chewy calamari was really nice.  The sauce was understated and allowed the flavor of the squid to come out more.
For dinner I ordered the Ropa Vieja, slow cooked flank steak with white rice, black beans and sweet plantains.  The plantains were easily my favorite part of this dish, not remotely starchy but sweet and tart with a slightly crisp exterior, they were PERFECT and I wanted more (there were 4 on the plate so that’s not a complaint about the dish, just me being greedy).  The beans and rice were also cooked perfectly, I have little else to say about them except that they were a great compliment to the steak and the plantains.  Finally, the steak, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There was nothing wrong with it, it was moist and tender and cooked well but there was also nothing exceptional about it.  I should preface this with saying that I had never had Ropa Vieja and do not know what it SHOULD taste like but I was not excited by this dish.  Wookiee and I agreed that it would be better with a little more of a kick to it.  I also felt that it would have been perfect on a toasted roll instead of on the plate.  I am going to emphasize again, I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT SOUTH AMERICAN COOKING and I liked everything I ate there and would recommend Café 28 without reservations to anyone in the area.  It was reasonably priced, the staff were helpful, chatty, pleasant, and the experience was everything I had hoped for, but I am instinctively critical of food and those were my thoughts.  Our server recommended a wine which I can’t remember the name of for the life of me but it was really tasty: deep, earthy, and spicy, really great for South American comfort food.
That's the lamb in the foreground, the Ropa Veija in the background, that orange bit you see is the plantain, behind the plate is me!  Obviously we again were really hungry and didn't get great pictures of everything until after we started. 

Wookiee ordered the special entrée of the evening, a grilled lamb chop with potatoes and steamed tomatoes.  I'll let him describe it in more detail when he gets home from work.  We did not end up having dessert there since we were getting close to show time but after the show we went to a jazz bar in the area called, I think, Katarina’s.  I was not thrilled with this particular place, the live jazz was nice but it just wasn't really my first choice.  I had a cosmo, it was okay, a little bitter but good.  We ordered a pear custard cake that was exactly what I was thinking for dessert.  It had a warm, melty interior with soft pears and a light cinnamon flavor, nothing outstanding but more comfort food.  One disappointing thing was a $10 cover for each of us and a $30 bill for 2 drinks and one dessert, just seemed a little steep for mediocre service, food, and music.  Again, nothing BAD here but not a $50 evening. 
Those are my thoughts, tonight Wookiee has thoughts about what he wants to make and I was asked to make sure we have lettuce, I have NO idea what he is thinking but I guess I'll find out soon!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Favourite of the Wookiee

While my fair Lady (please excuse the musical reference) has already done a fair job of introducing me, I felt that writing my own little piece would be a nice present for you all.

Almost every stage of my life can directly be tied to a kitchen; my grandfather's restaurants, shifting to being the primary chef at home, my time spent in competition, etc. The kitchen has a special place in my heart. As such, I have some very strong opinions about cookware, equipment, ranges, glassware, ingredients, and cooking styles. I will do my best throughout this blog to give my opinion on things while not attempting to insult yours.
Cooking is deeply personal, so I can get that if I'm a huge fan of jacketed copper and I start ripping on ceramic plate and that's your preferred material, you would get upset. Sorry. I can promise that I will likely piss you off at some point, but I'll give you a good recipe or idea in exchange!
Also, jacketed copper is totally better than ceramic plate. Just sayin'.
So, while the Lady's posts will probably be nicer and the food will be sweeter or more comforting, I promise to give great flavour profiles mixed with the proper blend of sarcasm and blended with a decent helping of originality.
For my first act, I present to you....My signature cocktail!

The Wookiee's Signature cocktail: The Skyrise Manhattan

2oz bourbon whiskey (Woodford or better)
3/4oz vermouth
Dash of bitters
Splash of grenadine
Orange twist

Pour bourbon, vermouth, bitters, and grenadine into shaker over ice.
Give 3 short brisk shakes, and strain into glass. Rocks or cocktail suggested.
Garnish with orange twist.

Enjoy folks!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Welcome to Our Kitchen!

Let me do a little intro:

The Wookie is a causally trained Italian chef in his grandfather's restaurants from a young age.  He is a sometimes competitive chef focusing on an Italian/Mediterranian/Middle-Eastern fusion style.  He usually works with proteins, pasta, and cocktails.  Many of his inspirations come from Alton Brown.
The Lady grew up cooking with her mother, grandmothers, and aunts.  Her style is rooted in British comfort foods, fresh and local ingredients.  She does most of the baking, veggies, and snacks.  Her greatest inspiration comes from reading other food blogs, emails from recipe sites and food magazines, just whatever looks tasty and seasonal!

We both like try new things: flavors, ingredients, styles, equipment, and roles in the kitchen.  Fall flavors are definitely a favorite and we've been cooking a lot recently

Food is central to our relationship, it's the reason we met.  Recently we decided to start sharing our meals and recipes with our friends (mostly via Facebook) and now we're going to be doing this in a more official capacity.

The inspiration:
I recently stumbled across a blog called The Food Librarian who informed me that yesterday was National Bundt Day.  There was an offer to post a picture of a bundt on your own blog or email her a picture and I thought "we could do that."  I have been reading food blogs and websites for the better part of the last four years but never thought of writing my own until yesterday

After 12 or so hours of trying to come up with a name, we finally settled on the one you see here (Kama Foodtra was already taken and the Lady is an art history nerd...don't get me started).  There's not going to be any consistent post schedule but we hope that having an audience will push us to be more creative and prolific in the kitchen.

Banana Bundt Bread with Cinnamon Streusel Crust
I started with an adapted version of this recipe, adding some spices and the streusal crust (blended flour, brown sugar, vanilla sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg with butter and coating the inside of the pan before adding batter).  I had hoped that the streusal (I never spell that word right on the first try) would stay a little crumbly but that didn't work out.  Instead it formed a crispy caramel-like layer around the banana bread, delicious happy accident.
I love this recipe, I used 5 large bananas that had been in my freezer for a month.  It is a very dense bread (weighs a TON) that accepts adaptations very well.  I often make it in the bundt pan because it's pretty that way and I have added various spices to it as well as chocolate chips on occasion.  It has a very rich, banana flavor that also toasts very well.

You can see the streusal crust along the top edge there.
Well, that's it for now, hopefully I'll be able to find the real camera instead of taking pictures with my phone and I can work on my food photography skills.  Wookie says he's going to post his signature cocktail recipe later today and give his own little intro.