Me, in a hairnet, somewhere in rural Minnesota.

Me, in a hairnet, somewhere in rural Minnesota.

Hi there. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

I’m not going to bore you with explanations of my two-month blog hiatus. Suffice to say, I’ve been busy … and lazy on my off days.

In my defense, this has been an especially punishing winter in Chicago. It began in late November (not December 21, as the solstice claims) and has relentlessly kept us inside ever since with subfreezing temps and more than a handful of blustery snow days.

Thankfully, Sean and I have kept ourselves warm with lots comfy, decadent meals–some made by me and many more made by the professionals who feed Chicagoans oh so well.

So here are a few of my favorite eats from the month of December, plus one recipe for soul-satisfying potato leek soup.

IMG_4463The seacuterie plate at Travelle: An innovative take on charcuterie that included a silky trout mousse, octopus mosaic (the chef’s take on headcheese, suspended in natural gelatin from the octopus) and whitefish salad served alongside a pile of pickled winter vegetables, grape-sized capers and a stack of beautifully charred sourdough–which they were kind enough to replenish. Truly unique, and worth the hefty price of a meal at this Mediterranean-inspired, midcentury-decorated fine dining spot in the Langham Hotel in the Mis van der Rohe building on the river.

The tacos at L’Patron in Logan Square. From battered fish tacos piled high with a lightly dressed, vinegary slaw to still-pink grilled carne asada topped with onions and cilantro and rajas filled with charred poblano, sweet caramelized onion and stringy melted cheese with roasted tomato sauce, this tiny box of a joint (that is painted the color of lime-aid) has some of the best tacos I’ve had in the city. Even better, you are guaranteed to be filled up for less than $8.

IMG_4484Chicken paillard with arugula and parsley salad (aka chicken schnitzel or as Sean calls it, chicken patty), made by me. You don’t need panko breadcrumbs to make this–plain old breadcrumbs work great. Flat and curly parsley work equally well. And you can either fry it in a little olive oil or shallow fry it in a 1/2 inch of vegetable oil. The point is, this dish is very forgiving, and so delicious. All you really need is a blunt object for pounding out the chicken breast, a little anger to get out, and this recipe.

IMG_4441Roasted scallops at Brindille: Honestly, I can’t afford to eat at this restaurant. My dad treated the family to a generous holiday meal after we saw a heartstring-tugging rendition of The Little Prince at the LookingGlass Theater on a cold, rainy night just before Christmas. Every dish was superb, but the roasted sea scallops appetizer, topped with oceanic sea urchin tongue and served with bright parsley-scallion puree and a smear of rich marrow emulsion, was the perfect marriage of land and sea.

IMG_1167‘Shroom Italian beef sandwich at River Valley Farmer’s Table in Ravenswood (in the former City Provisions location). This cafe-market hybrid from the Wisconsin-based River Valley Kitchens is serving up comfort food that’s elevated for city dweller palates. Take this sandwich, which combines balsamic-marinated, grilled portobellos, house roasted red bell peppers and melted provolone on a housemade mushroom baguette (!). It even came with a small cup of mushroom jus for dipping. Quite possibly the cutest eating experience I had all month.

And last of all, this rustic, heavenly potato leek soup that I made for an early Christmas dinner with my city family.



    2 tablespoons butter
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    3 medium leeks (white and light green parts only), rinsed well
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    4 sprigs thyme
    5 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced thin or cut in 1-inch cubes
    3 1/2 to 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (enough to cover the potatoes)
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
    Crusty bread, for serving

Method: In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Saute until the leeks soften and start to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.


Add the whole thyme sprigs and potatoes and another sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, then add the chicken broth. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium low, and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste the seasoning and adjust as needed with salt and pepper.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender if desired.


Stir in the cream. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with a sprinkling of fresh parsley. Serve with crusty bread for sopping.

Not quite sukiyaki

I love anything that can be slurped from a deep bowl with chopsticks and a spoon (I like the idea of tackling a dish with two utensils–it feels very industrious). I often riff off the general idea of browning some kind of meat and vegetables with different seasonings/herbs and dumping them into a big pot with noodles and broth.

Sukiyaki is a Japanese variation on this simple concept. Instead of browning the meat, it is thinly sliced and simmered, along with vegetables and noodles, in a broth made with soy sauce, mirin and sugar. The meat in this version is thinly sliced lean beef from the tenderloin.

Slurping happily

Resources used: I borrowed a lot from a recipe for beef and onion sukiyaki in Ming Tsai’s Simply Ming: One Pot Meals cookbook. I highly recommend this book if you love fool-proof one-pot dishes. And even the most basic sounding recipes contain something slightly unexpected.

I added rice wine vinegar for a little punch of acidity and swapped out the rice stick noodles for Chinese wheat-based noodles. Cilantro leaves added a splash of color and a fresh, grassy note. You can certainly add vegetables or change the protein if you prefer–it’s a wonderfully versatile dish. I especially love the idea of floating the beef on the surface of the liquid to cook it–it makes for a spectacular presentation when you place the pot in the middle of the table.

Beef, onion and ginger “sukiyaki”

    1 8-oz. package Chinese noodles (could also use rice stick or soba noodles)
    2 tablespoons canola oil
    1 large onion, sliced into half moons
    2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
    3 tablespoons mirin
    2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
    1 teaspoon sugar
    1/3 cup soy sauce
    6 cups chicken broth
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    1/2 pound beef tenderloin or filet mignon, sliced paper thin (you can have your butcher do this or stick the meat in the freezer for about 30 minutes and then go at it yourself with a super sharp knife and a good deal of patience)
    1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
    Sriracha, to pass at the table

    Method: Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain, rinse and set aside until ready to serve.

    Heat the canola oil in a large heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers when you move the pan. Add the onion and ginger and sauté until tender and slightly caramelized, 8-10 minutes.

    Add the mirin and vinegar (head back or sinuses will be cleared instantly), and cook until it’s reduced by about half. Then add the sugar, soy sauce and chicken broth. Let it simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to come together. Check for seasoning and adjust as needed with salt, pepper and additional soy.

    Dump in the noodles and stir for a minute to heat them through. Carefully float the beef pieces on the surface of the broth, turning after 30 seconds or so to cook both sides.

    Sprinkle with cilantro and freshly cracked pepper. To serve, pile some noodles and beef into deep bowls. Ladle in enough broth to go about halfway up the noodles. Garnish with additional cilantro leaves.

    Serves 3-4 good friends, as there will be no talking for awhile, just slurping.

Portuguese-style stewed pork

It’s winter in Chicago. Although we’re having a really mild one, I’m getting tired of bundling myself in the same calf-length, sleeping bag-esque Chicagoan’s winter coat every time I leave the house. I think it’s all this bundling and unbundling in preparation for braving the outdoors that makes me crave more meat than usual.

Katie and Marge trudge through the West Loop for cocktails, photo by Caroline Connelly

Those of you who have spent any time with me at all know that pork is one of my most favorite things. In any form–steak, chops, belly, jowls, ribs, shoulder or ham–it is fatty, luxurious and satisfying. Pork shoulder is particularly great to cook with because it’s inexpensive and likes long, slow cook times.

I found this recipe in the colorful little recipe box that came with my tagine, which I got for Christmas a few years back. The sleeper hit of this stew for me was the lemon. Cooking thinly sliced lemon creates this heavenly, softened acidity, and the essential oils in the peel perfume the savory pork with a hint of bright citrus.

I like serving this with my oven-baked fries, which I’ll toss with some of the toasted cumin seed, salt and pepper.

Portuguese stewed pork

    2 tablespoons cumin seed, toasted and ground
    2 teaspoons sweet paprika
    Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
    1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped and divided
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-in. cubes
    Olive oil, as needed
    1 medium onion, roughly chopped
    3 large cloves garlic, minced
    1 cup dry white wine
    1 cup chicken broth
    1/2 lemon, cut in paper-thin slices and quartered

Method: Combine the cumin, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons pepper, half the cilantro and lemon juice in a bowl. Rub this paste into the pork and marinate for two hours at room temperature (you could also marinate it up to 8 hours in the refrigerator–just be sure to bring it to room temp before cooking).

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy skillet or Dutch oven over high heat, and add the pork chunks in a single layer. (You may have to do this in batches.) Sear on all sides until golden brown. Remove the pork, and cover it with foil to keep warm.

Add a bit more olive oil to the pan; add the onion and sauté for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Slide the pork back into the pot and add just enough stock to cover the meat about halfway. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer over low heat for 2 hours, until the pork is falling apart.

Add the lemon slices to the pot during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Check the seasoning, and adjust as needed. Sprinkle the pork with the remaining cilantro, and serve.

A satisfying vegetarian soup

It’s funny. From reading my blog, you might get the sense that I’m not much of a soup person, since I haven’t posted many (if any?) soup recipes. But the truth is, it is one of my most favorite things. Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the idea of slurping up broth teeming with various kinds of meat, seafood, vegetables or starch. My dad always got a kick out of this, and whenever he took me out to eat, he’d ask the server what the soup of the day was. He’d then look at me with raised eyebrows. “Sound good?” he’d ask. I’d nod eagerly, and almost always order a bowl, not always sure what I was getting into. I have no doubt in my mind that this contributed considerably to my lifelong love affair with soup. It’s amazing how much of an effect your dad can have.

One thing that is so great about soup is it can play the part of appetizer, side or entrée, depending on the time of day and your level of peckishness. And vegetarian soups can be quite satisfying–though you can’t be afraid to add a little fat. In this case, the culprits are butter, a little sour cream and cheese. But you’ll find the end product to be quite light, yet hearty enough to fill you up when served with crusty bread for sopping. I often forget what a lovely surprise dill can be in tomato-based dishes–it’s far too often limited to applications like cucumber, salmon and lemon.

Resources used: Epicurious.com. Epicurious posted this recipe from a 1997 issue of Bon Appetit.

Leek, tomato and dill soup with shaved white cheddar

    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 tablespoon butter
    3 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (about 2 large leeks)
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    28 ounces tomato purée
    3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
    6 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
    1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    1/2 cup light sour cream
    4 ounces chilled sharp white cheddar cheese, sliced
    Fresh dill sprigs, for garnish

Method: Heat oil and butter in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add leeks, salt and pepper, and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes.

Add the purée, broth, chopped dill and cayenne and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, about 20 minutes.

It’s during this time, when the thickened liquid is bubbling away and the aroma of simmering herbs and vegetables is filling the house, that a certain Penny the Peanut will take particular interest and place herself directly underfoot. Can you spot the Peanut?

Using an immersion blender or in batches in the food processor, purée the soup until smooth. Bring the soup back to a simmer over medium-low heat. Taste the soup for seasoning, and adjust as needed. Gradually whisk in the sour cream.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Arrange the shards of cheddar on top, and garnish with additional chopped fresh dill.