Thursday, May 28, 2009

Windy City Trip

Back soon!

Monday, May 18, 2009

In Moderation

I try to eat healthy foods. I try to eat sustainably-grown foods, local foods and seasonal foods. However, sometimes I need to just go with a craving.

I'm usually glad I did. Except when I just go with my cravings for M&M's. Or, once, when I was a sophomore in college, sweet and sour soup made from a packet - the kind to which you add water and one egg. I ate two packets' worth of soup while reading a Patricia Cornwall novel on my parents' couch and rarely have felt so sick from a meal or a book. It was an afternoon laden with regret.

Most of my cravings are more reasonable. On Saturday morning, I mentioned to Steve that I craved burgers from Smitty's, our local butcher, for lunch. Smitty's burgers are unlike any other I have had. They must have a very high fat content to be so juicy and flavorful, but some details I would prefer not to know. I would rather enjoy my burger ignorantly, with pleasure.

Steve returned from the butcher shop with not only two luscious hamburger patties, but two Delmonico's, a handful of shallots, and two knobs of soft mozzarella packed in water.

The hamburgers, we grilled for lunch. I ate mine with my legs in the pool, the juice of the patty running over the bun and down my wrists. The mozzarella, we put in a salad yesterday afternoon following an afternoon of corn toss for charity and a sudden cloudburst that sent us hurrying home. The Delmonico's and shallots went into the recipe below, which we enjoyed on Saturday night.

Balsamic reductions and steak belong together. There's something about the acidic tang with the tender meat that just works for me. This sauce may be one of the best I have tried. It fulfilled a craving that I did not even know I had.

Rib-Eye Steaks with Balsamic-Caper Vinaigrette
Adapted from this recipe at

2 3/4-inch-thick rib-eye steaks (we used a Delmonico cut, known also as a boneless rib-eye)
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus another 1/8 cup, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/8 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/8 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Lay the steaks on a rimmed cookie sheet. Rub both sides of the steaks with 1/8 cup of the extra virgin olive oil and the garlic. Mix the smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon of coarse salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper in a small ramekin. Pat onto both sides of the steaks. Let the steaks stand at least 15 minutes and up to 45 minutes.

In a small saucepan, simmer the balsamic vinegar over medium-high heat until it has reduced by half (about 5 minutes). Add the shallots, 1/8 extra virgin olive oil, and crushed red pepper and return to a simmer. Remove the saucepan from the heat, then whisk in the parsley, capers, and thyme. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper, then cover and set aside.

Heat the barbecue to medium-high heat. Brush the grill rack with oil to coat. Grill the steaks until cooked to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer the steaks to plates and spoon the vinaigrette generously over the top of each.

Makes: 2 portions

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sorry About the Wait

"Sorry about the wait," she told me. She was wearing thick navy eyeliner that made her look a little older than she probably was - a teenager - but when she said it, with her back half turned to me, she dipped her shoulder nervously and gave a little jerky wave of her hand. She turned her back toward me and peered at someone I could not see and I could swear that she was holding her breath. Her shoulders rose a little and she glanced back at me, waiting for me to show signs of impatience.

I was sitting at the pick-up window of the drive-through of a fast food establishment. It was dinnertime. When she apologized, I had been sitting at her window for the length of time it takes to play the introduction of American Public Media's Marketplace, right up to the part where Kai Ryssdal says, "But first, let's do the numbers." Thirty seconds, and this girl was hopping with anxiety that I had been waiting so long.

If you've read any one of the recent critiques of the fast food industry, you know that many, many fast food employees are teenagers. You may also know that many franchises track the time that it takes for a car to move from the ordering speaker to the pick-up window. The times are averaged for each employee, and long wait times can result in the employee being disciplined or fired.

I once knew a woman who worked in management for a company that owned a number of fast food restaurants. She told me a story one day about having to terminate an employee for "product loss." I assumed that she meant that he was eating without paying for his employee meal. No, she told me, he spilled a 50-gallon container of food product, which cost the company money. "Food product?" I asked, confused, "What exactly was it?"

"It was chocolate-flavored," she said, flipping her hand in a vague way.

I couldn't bear to question her further.

And yet.

Here I am, turning a semi-critical tone on the fast food establishment, even though that's where I got my dinner last night. As a food blogger, you'd think that I would have better taste than to eat fast food, even when pressed for time. My husband has made this point a million times - there are a dozen places that he will go for a quick meal before he would consider the particular restaurant I visited.

I was in a hurry, driving to a late client meeting, and I needed something I could eat with one hand. Fast food was developed to fill exactly this kind of need.

I understand why fast food took off the way it did. It fills a need. Perhaps the teenager in the window would not have a job if it wasn't for that restaurant. Perhaps I would not have eaten at all if I had not been able to spend 3 minutes in a drive-through.

There is a lot of criticism of the fast food industry, and I will join in that chorus (bad for our health, bad for the environment, etc.), but I have to tell you, there are a lot of realities that get overlooked in those critiques.

Just saying.

Monday, May 11, 2009

No Recipe Bread

I have been trying to make sourdough bread from scratch for over a year now. Let me tell you, this has required a lot of patience.

A slice of sourdough bread is one of my favorite ways to get a hearty dose of carbs. Carbs, you say? Non-vegetable carbs, at that? Aren't those in the penalty box with high-fructose corn syrup? Perhaps, but if something could come along that would one day make sugar look less evil, something will put carbs back on our plates.*

And even if something more evil than carbs does not come along to make carbs look good again, I won't mind. I love pasta and bread as much as ever.**

I want to turn out loaves of sourdough at my whim. The scent of fresh-baked sourdough winds its way into my dreams. I love it that much, but I haven't been able to bake sour sourdough yet.

I have a really lovely sour-smelling sponge in my fridge and I know that it is active and alive. I have tried to make the dough without commercial yeast, a known killer of that tangy sourdough taste. I use ridiculously expensive bread flour, and I do not mix the dough in metal bowls that might warp the flavor.

Yesterday, I gave this sourdough thing another try. My efforts yielded the pretty loaf below, which had the best crumb to date, thanks to my decision not to use commercial yeast (I think). However, the tangy taste I wanted still isn't there. The taste was serviceable, but indistinct. I want "wow" bread, but I been able to bake that kind.

That's why this post is called "No Recipe Bread." I literally have no recipe for the sourdough bread that I want. Can anyone give me some suggestions? Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

* I was entertained to learn that the corn syrup industry launched a public relations campaign earlier this year to defend its product.

** In my house, we have one paragon of nutritional virtue and one carb-eating machine. Guess which is which. Steve switched to a low-carb diet two months ago and he looks great. I have tagged along with the low-carb concept at dinnertime, but I get my fix at lunch.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


If you have been reading this blog for a few months, you may know that I usually post twice per week. Lately, I haven't kept up the pace. I keep coming up empty-handed on my normal posting days.

It's not that we have not eaten some wonderful meals. In fact, I had three new additions to the dog-eared redweld in which I store printed-out recipes from Epicurious or Food and Wine this week alone.

I keep forgetting to document what I am eating. This should be second nature by now, but a frenzied schedule often results in me cooking everything at a rapid pace, then devouring it without a single shot. Can I offer a recipe on this blog without photos? That doesn't seem like the thing to do.

Check back with me on Monday morning, please. I will work diligently this weekend to get back on track.