Check out those legs!

It’s not often that workaholics get a weeknight off for a dinner party, but when we do, we take full advantage. The polar vortex doesn’t hurt the urge for R & R either.

Philip shows off his legs
Philip shows off his legs

Friend Philip had a hankering for crab legs, and the GF and I were the lucky beneficiaries of his craving. Here’s the thing: crab legs look really impressive, and they are surprisingly simple to make as long as you have a big pot.

Salted water, boiling, add crab, 3-5 min, voila!

Philip added some fancy stuff to the water, and you can get creative with things like herbs, lemon, Old Bay, etc., but the base recipe is all the same. For king crab (go big or go home), you may need to finagle, tuck, and adjust your legs to make sure all parts are cooked, or, get a bigger pot.

For sides, Philip went with twice baked potatoes (yum), almond crusted asparagus (YUM), and we *may* have shared a bottle of wine on a school night. It’s fine, right?

Yeah, I bet you wish you were Philip’s friend too.

Mussels are Delicious! and Easy!

photo 1 (1)

Why mussels? Because we felt like having a fancy dinner and they were $5 per pound cheaper than shrimp. I’ve had mussels, like, twice, and enjoyed them, but preparing them was a pretty frightening thought.

Good thing it’s Halloween.

When you bring mussels home from the store (and I fully admit that these were not sourced anywhere even remotely close to the Midwest), they’re given to you in a bag of ice and it’s important to leave the bag open. No ice and a twistie tie = no bueno. Another admission: this recipe was picked up at the deli counter at Jewel and I had very little to do with the preparation of the mussels. I was on sides, where were also delicious and easy. So here’s the whole meal:

photo 3

The Perfect Mussel Meal

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb mussels
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 2 TB butter
  • Dash salt
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 TB fresh minced garlic
  • 1/4 C. cheap white wine
  • 1/4 C. each finely chopped basil and parsley

Directions:

  1. Add olive oil, butter, salt, red pepper, and garlic to a large sauté pan or wok and bring to a simmer
  2. Add mussels, herbs, and wine. Cover and bring to a boil (5 min)
  3. Make sure all the mussels have opened, and pour them with the sauce into a large bowl to serve

photo 2 (1)The Sides!

I chose small potatoes, brussel sprouts, fennel and pearl onions for roasting as a side with the mussels. Par boil the potatoes for about 10 minutes, the sprouts for about six, until they are all just beginning to get soft. Drain and pat dry, then spread the potatoes, fennel bulb and pearl onions on a baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle olive oil and salt over everything and roast for about 10 minutes in a 350-deg oven. After 10 minutes, add the brussel sprouts to the baking sheet (pre-drizzled and salted), and roast  everything for another 10 minutes.

Serve all of this with a crock of melted butter and lemon wedges (or, just add a splash of lemon juice to the butter), a hunk of crusty bread, an empty bowl for the shells, a glass of wine, and extra napkins. I realize that chilled white wine probably would have been better than red, but the bottle was already open. For fun, we also grilled some small chicken thighs for the meal.

Who would have thought such an extravagant meal was so easy to make?

…and so beautifully delicious.

photo 4
The aftermath

Reasons I love Edgewater: Brunch and a $27 Subaru

I’ve spent about 5 years living in the Edgewater neighborhood (split between two tours), and I’m starting to think that this is the place I belong.

Love it or leave it, Edgewater is as strange as I am, which might be why we get along so well.

Unpretentious and often bizarre, “the edge”, as our silly lamp post neighborhood banners say, is the sort of neighborhood tumblr_muz19rIelV1qmywbko1_500where you can eat really fancy, really expensive ice cream on one block, and get shot on the next.  Yeah. We live on “the edge”.

Whatever.

All I know, is that this past Sunday was kind of a pivotal moment for me.  The GF and I have been scouting this tiny diner two blocks from our house for the past several months.  You know the type… the decor hasn’t been updated since 1963, and you’re pretty sure the food is going to be the best thing ever or the worst thing ever.

Sunday was the day we finally bit the bullet and went to Alexander’s for breakfast. I’ve never seen waitresses that good. My omelette was the size of my ass. The coffee was free-flowing. You get half a banana as a garnish, and homemade salsa on the side. Alexander’s was everything I hoped it could be, but I’m a little afraid to admit it lest you start going there too. I want Alexander’s to be my little secret. A place where we can walk to on a Sunday and always get a table, and always have fantastic service. Please don’t change, Alexander’s. You haven’t changed since 1963, so there’s no reason to start now…

… and then on the way home we came across a $27 Subaru.

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Yeah. That’s my ‘hood. We are a match made in heaven.

Canapolooza 2013

My friend Ann can can.

She might be able to can can too, but trust me, Ann can definitely can.

When I picked up my 40 pounds of tomatoes from Midnight Sun last Sunday for her Labor Day canning party (thinking, “wow, this is a s*#$ ton of tomatoes“), Ann said, “I think we may have different expectations about canning day.”

When two crafty ladies get together with cocktails and 100 pounds of tomatoes, it’s kind of amazing. Aside from the 19 jars of marinara sauce now sit in my pantry ready for the pizza I might make next February, here are some photographic highlights of the day:

Salsa!
Salsa! and, Ann’s extremely enormous pot.
Tomatoes without their skins, waiting to be squished for sauce
Tomatoes without their skins, waiting to be squished for sauce
Ann makes a brontosaurus out of tomato paste
Ann makes a brontosaurus out of tomato paste

Tomatillo Overload!

tumblr_mrsalwwBTk1qmywbko1_500The canning begins…

Just as I’m preparing to go back to school for another semester we are reaching a critical point in the season in which Lauren buys a ridiculous amount of produce in an effort to overstock her pantry with Ball jars full of food for the winter.

It’s about to get crazy in that little kitchen in the city.

On a whim, I bought six quarts of tomatillos at the Andersonville Farmers Market from my friends at Midnight Sun and decided it would be a good idea to have enough salsa verde around to withstand the apocalypse…. this is how I did it:

Tomatillo Salsa

(recipe courtesy of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)

Ingredients:

  • 5-1/2 cups chopped, cored, husked tomatillos
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped seeded green peppers (your choice of heat… I used a bunch of banana peppers and one jalapeno with a few of the seeds for the whole batch, because I’m not a “burn your face off salsa” kind of  girl.
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 4 tsp lime juice
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 TB finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes

tumblr_mrsg0rifqb1qmywbko1_500Prepare your canner, jars and lids.*

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to medium-low and boil gently, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until semi-smooth.

Ladle or pour hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace in the jars. Gently remove air bubbles by poking into the jar with a knife and adding salsa as needed. Wipe rim, center seal on jar, and screw band down until fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes.  Remove canner lid, wait 5 min, then remove jars, cool, and store.

*You’ll need a big soup pot that’s deep enough to submerge your jars in water. Place empty jars in pot and fill with water until jars are covered. Heat over med-high heat while you prepare salsa. This will sterilize the jars and heat them (hot salsa into hot jars to process).  Bands and seals should be gently heated in a small saucepan until ready to use.

Makes about two pint jars.  I, of course, quadrupled the recipe to get the haul you see here…

Old Town Gets a Fresh New Neighbor

Photo by Bret Grafton, http://photografton.com/
Photo by Bret Grafton, http://photografton.com/

When I was first invited to the grand opening of Plum Market, I pictured a small cafe / grocer much like Panozzo’s or the once lovely City Provisions, which closed earlier this year. I got dressed up to meet new blogger friends from the Chicago Blogger Network under the assumption that I’d be spending a leisurely hour or two perusing, schmoozing, and sipping on free coffee.

Boy, was I wrong.

The coffee line...
The coffee line…

In spite of massive thunderstorms that moved through overnight I arrived at Plum Market’s inaugural Chicago branch to find a line hanging out the door of a relatively massive grocery store.  More akin to Whole Foods than City Provisions, all of Plum Market’s 27,000 square feet of organic goodness were packed to the gills.  I never found any of the bloggers, I never got a free coffee (for fear of running out of my free hour of parking waiting for it), and wondered the store in somewhat of a culture shocked daze after spending three weeks in unpopulated Wyoming.

After securing my bag of “blogger income” (i.e. free samples) and navigating the store, a few key points came to mind:

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  • Grocery stores can be very beautiful.  Aside from my obsession with piles of fresh food, Plum Market goes a step beyond in it’s stunning design elements, bountiful hot and cold bars, and specialty areas.
  • People other than hipsters enjoy organic food.  I love Whole Foods as much as the next person, but sometimes being waited on by a disinterested dirty hipster is a turnoff.  The staff at Plum Market are clean cut, friendly, and very helpful.  If they can keep it that way I’m totally sold.
  • What’s good for Old Town is good for me.  Just north of Division and Wells, Plum Market is in an ideal location bordering hoity-toity-ville, gross bar-ville, and homeless-man-hanging-out-by-the-red-line-ville.  This market will easily satisfy the residents of Old Town, is walking distance to the Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts, and hopefully will give the miserable Jewel at Clark and Division a run for it’s money.  Though grocery stores don’t necessarily make for great tourist attractions, Plum Market extends Old Town’s charm a little further to the South then the average visitor would be apt to walk, and provides a lovely stop to grab a cup of coffee and a break before turning around and heading back.

Experience Plum Market for yourself at 1233 N. Wells St. Store hours are 8am-10pm; free parking for 1 hour with validation. For more information, visit www.plummarket.com or @PlumMarket on twitter (#PlumMarketCHI).  Plum Market is also on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

Low Country Boil on the High Plains

Of the many good moments I’ve had here in Wyoming, perhaps one of the best was this meal.  In honor of Father’s Day and Julie’s birthday, our excellent home stay family (and, coincidently, very good friends) created a full-on New England boil.  The last time I had a boil was circa 1989 when a bunch of relatives shipped live Maine lobsters for a family reunion to California.  In Wyoming a boil is less seafood-y for obvious reasons – quality seafood is not easily found smack dab in the middle of the country.  Confidentially this was better (sorry, Grammy).

Low Country Boiltumblr_moil3eGmrF1qmywbko1_500

(recipe courtesy of Mandy Love)

  • 3 halved lemons
  • 1/2 tin Old Bay
  • 3 bottles of dark beer
  • Small potatoes
  • Kielbasa
  • pearl onions
  • Corn cobs, halved
  • Crab legs
  • Artichokes
  • Shrimp (deveined, uncooked)
  • Mussels

Instructions:

In a massive stock pot, fill about 1/2 or 2/3 with water and add lemons, Old Bay, and Beer to the pot.  Bring to a boil.

The aftermath...
The aftermath…

The quantities of each of the ingredients is somewhat up to you, and how much room you have in the pot.

Cooking times are as follows:

  • Potatoes, Kielbasa and onions: 10 minutes
  • Corn, Crab, Artichokes: 5 minutes
  • Shrimp and mussels: 4-5 minutes

Drain, dump, and dig in.  The only thing that makes this more delicious is a dipping bowl of melted butter