Friday, July 29, 2011

7 Quick Takes


Such beautiful photos by Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks

You may have already noticed this (if you didn't, you must not be looking very closely), but the photos on here recently have been absolutely atrocious.  That is because I've been taking them with my phone, since I broke my camera a couple of months ago.  I can't stand this for very much longer, so I'm in the market for a decent camera.  I really want to work on my photography.  I'm so inspired by what I see all over the web, especially on food sites - people are just creating magic with such simple things.  On my short list of books to get is Plate to Pixel, by Helene Dujardin, the writer behind the fabulous blog Tartelette101 Cookbooks and The Blue Hour never disappoint in terms of photos, either.  They are both so beautifully done.  Anyway, anybody dabble in photography and have a pretty good camera that won't cost me an arm and a leg?


This week in my Slow Food "Food News" e-mail, there was an article titled, "Bad Food? Tax It, and Subsidize Vegetables."  It's by Mark Bittman, who writes opinions for the food section of the New York Times, and wrote Food Matters and a lot of other great books.  I thought it was a great idea, and definitely worth reading.  It's very sad that in such a wealthy country, only the affluent have access to nutritious food options.  This seems like a great way to put healthy food where it's needed the most - in poorer neighborhoods, or so-called "food deserts."


I thought this was pretty funny.  I don't read these types of things unless I'm waiting in line at the grocery store, but when I looked at this I actually laughed out loud.  Kate Middleton aka the Duchess of Cambridge is having a meltdown!  Wait, wait... take a closer look.  Nope, she's just BLINKING.  


I had a picnic in Millennium Park on Wednesday night with one of my friends.  The Grant Park Orchestra gives about 3 free concerts per week in the park, and hundreds of people come with picnic equipment in varying levels of intensity, from mine:

All the way to the most elaborate lawn chairs, mini tables, wine, and complete sets of outdoor dishes.  These people are serious about their picnicking.  And in Chicago in the summer, who can blame them?  3 free concerts a week here, plus a bunch of great outdoor concerts at Ravinia!  Summer in Chicago is fantastic.


At the picnic, we ate:

White Gazpacho, and

Crab Salad Sandwiches.

Based on recipes from this Pioneer Woman post.  Thank you, Ree, from the bottom of my heart!


They had Traverse City blueberries at the grocery store in Chicago!  So naturally, I bought two 2-pound boxes.  I'm almost done with one box, and I'll freeze the other box.  Blueberry muffins for breakfast tomorrow morning!  Followed by a long walk and trips to the city pool and the public library.  Lovely day ahead!


We're going to see Beauty and the Beast tonight!  The tickets were my anniversary gift from the Coppertop Guy.  I'm wearing my bright yellow dress, to look like Belle, and I'm very excited.  I <3 Disney.

Have a great weekend!  Go over to Jen's for more Quick Takes!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My First Guest Post!

Hi friends!

I am guest posting over at Fumbling Toward Grace today, all about bees!  Sarah is one of my dearest friends, and her blog is extremely honest and wonderfully written.  She is also the mother of a beautiful baby girl, who happens to be my goddaughter!  I hope you'll check out some of her other posts while you're visiting her!

Head over there to get the buzz and a new recipe for Honey-Lavender Tea Cakes!  :-)

Friday, July 22, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday


Oh, I tell ya.  What a week.  It has been H-O-T.  And although I really do love it, I find that the constant drastic temperature changes (why is my office kept so freezing cold?!) are extremely exhausting.


Last night a friend and I went to see some mutual friends in The Rose of Stambul, a very little-known Viennese operetta, presented by the Chicago Folks Operetta, at the Chopin Theater in Chicago.  From the company's website:

Chicago Folks Operetta (CFO) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit theater company devoted to the nurturing of live operetta through articulate and dynamic productions. In the belief that the arts serve to illuminate the human condition, we are dedicated to the revival and development of operetta, a popular and accessible form of music and theater for general audiences. In particular, the CFO concentrates on producing both Viennese and American operettas from the early 20th century.

Isn't that great?  They love operetta, so they have decided to bring it back!  They don't just do the Mikado over and over, either.  They find lost operettas, often going to the source in Europe to try to find the original libretti and scores, and then they translate them!  I hadn't seen it in action until last night, but it was fabulous!  Every detail of the show was great - sets, costumes, the orchestra, and not least of all the singing!  The entire cast was so talented.  BRAVI!!!  Get tickets while you can!


My friend's little brother is in the hospital.  Prayers for him, please!!!


The age of Borders has officially ended.  I can't honestly say that I'm surprised.  I mean, for the last several years, I have been going into the store, writing down the titles of all the books that I'm interested in, and then going home to order them on Amazon.  How can you argue with a discount of at least 50% for a book?!  But I will definitely miss it!  One day I'll probably tell my grandkids a story of how, back in the day, there used to be huge stores with thousands and thousands of books, and you could get some coffee and just browse for hours if you wanted... and they'll barely look up from their e-readers and say, "Who cares, grandma?"  Oh well.


This is how I spent my lunch hour yesterday:

Eating a Potbelly's sandwich with my toes in the fountain.


 Watching a dance performance.  So inspiring.  Dance always makes me cry, probably because it reminds me of my little sister.  What?  I'm not crying in public!  It's just really hot, and... my heart is sweating!


Buying lots of peaches.  There's peach cake in my future.  Likely tonight.

Have a great weekend!  Go visit Jen for more Quick Takes!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lavender Buttermilk Pancakes

I've been a little hesitant to sign up for a CSA box.  It sounds like a fantastic idea, but I just... I don't know.  I'm worried about what would happen if the entire box was full of things that one of us didn't like.  What would we do with all that food?  Maybe when we have a family to feed it won't seem so intimidating. 

For now, though, I've discovered this great service to supplement my farmers' market visits: Door to Door Organics.  They deliver boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables, and if you choose, they can all be from local farms!  They just recently started serving the Chicago area, and while I still prefer to choose my own produce at the market, this was a good experiment.  I left a cooler on my front porch yesterday morning when I left for work, and when I got home, it was filled with tons and tons of veggies:

Clockwise from top left: arugula, collard greens, dandelion greens, zucchini,
cucumber, green leaf lettuce, yellow squash, and red leaf lettuce.

I got them out, sorted through them, and then made pancakes and bacon for dinner.  That's just who I am.  Over the next few days, I will be munching my way through most of this solo, since nobody else who lives in my apartment eats leafy greens (unless they are extremely well hidden).  So I deserved pancakes... in advance of my healthy future decisions.  Right?

I always use the last bit of batter to make a bunny. 
 Just like my mom always did.

Lavender pancakes

Lavender Buttermilk Pancakes
adapted from smittenkitchen

The original recipe called for 3 cups of buttermilk.  I only had 2 cups of buttermilk, so I combined what remained of basically every sour-milk product in my refrigerator: buttermilk, yogurt, and kefir.  It was delicious.  If you have 3 cups of buttermilk, go ahead and use it, but if you only have kefir or yogurt, or you need to combine, have confidence that it will taste amazing.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups buttermilk (or a combination of buttermilk, yogurt, and kefir)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
a few tablespoons dried lavender flowers

Preheat an electric griddle to 350, or a skillet over medium-high heat.  Whisk together the dry ingredients.  Add eggs, buttermik, and butter, and whisk until just barely combined.  You like the lumps.  Leave them in there.  Brush the griddle with canola or safflower oil, and use a 1/3-cup measuring cup to ladle batter onto it.  Sprinkle each pancake sparingly with lavender flowers; the flavor is very strong, so be careful not to use too much.  When bubbles form and start to burst on the surface of the pancakes, and the edges are dry, flip them over and cook until golden on both sides.  Serve with warm maple syrup.

Makes about 18 4-inch pancakes, plus one bunny.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Heat Wave Salad

I made a vow when summer started that I would not complain - not once! - about the heat.  I am still not complaining.  I will not break my vow, and I still remember how long and horrible last winter was.  I feel thankful.  But I would like to comment that it is so hot and humid outside this week that I actually have to walk more slowly.  And I don't really feel motivated to cook; my air conditioner is working hard enough as it is.

Persian cucumbers and baby heirloom tomatoes
I actually really like the heat.  I like most things about summer.  Like the fact that things are growing, and even vegetables sometimes taste like candy.  Like thunderstorms.  Like going to the beach, like u-pick farms, like baseball games and hot dogs and incredible sunsets.

So last night I breathed a prayer of thanks for the heat, and made hot dogs and salad for dinner. 

Heat Wave Salad

I wanted to put watermelon in this salad, but my watermelon had gone bad in the fridge.  Did you know that when watermelon goes bad, it ferments a little and starts to taste slightly like wine?  I mean, I don't recommend letting it go bad and then eating it, but I tasted it to make sure, and yup, kind of like wine!

1 Persian cucumber, halved and sliced in 1/4-in half-moons
1 cup baby heirloom (or cherry) tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 nectarine, cubed
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 sprig each cilantro and mint, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon avocado oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss together until produce is covered with dressing.

Yield: One huge serving, or two normal servings.  You can take a wild guess what I did.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Butterbeer Cupcakes

Last week, I came across recipe after recipe for Harry Potter-themed treats in honor of the final installment of the saga which was (in case you live under a rock or something) released on Friday.   Chocolate frogs, pumpkin pasties, rock cakes, oh my!  I loved Rebecca's Harry Potter dessert menu!

But more than anything, I loved the idea of butterbeer cupcakes.  Butterbeer is something of a Harry Potter mystery, since 12-year-olds seem to be allowed to drink it without adverse effects, but it can seriously intoxicate house-elves.  And who knows what it tastes like?  Cream soda?  Root beer?  Hard cider...ish?  I once had a "butterbeer" at a HP book release at Borders, and it was like a butterscotch latte, which was weird.  

So these cupcakes, if you want, could also just be called butterscotch cupcakes.  The cake is exceptionally moist, and is flavored with both cream soda, vanilla extract, and butter flavoring.  A word about butter flavoring: I had my doubts.  It says "artificial" right on it, which usually makes me crinkle my nose and walk away.  But you know what?  Once in a while, you just have to take a chance.  When I opened the bottle and smelled it, my nose did not crinkle.  Not one bit.  And it's only a little, and it's not like you're making these cupcakes daily (right?).  So just go with it.  Go with the butterscotchy goodness.  

They are also filled with butterscotch ganache, and frosted with butterscotch buttercream frosting, and then drizzled with more butterscotch ganache for good measure.  Have I said butter enough times?

Did you see HP7P2 yet?  What did you think?  Did it live up to the hype?  To your expectations?  Did you weep for about half the movie, like me?  I thought that scene when the Hogwarts teachers are putting all the defensive spells around the castle was such a powerful allusion to prayer, that I had tears streaming down my face.  I am sad that there are no more Harry Potters to look forward to.  But at least we still have cupcakes.

Butterbeer Cupcakes
adapted from this recipe from amybites

Also awesome?  Golden Snitch Butterbeer Cake Pops.

For the cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon butter flavoring
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup cream soda

For the ganache:

1 11-oz. package butterscotch chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream

For the buttercream frosting:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup butterscotch ganache
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon butter flavoring
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, until well incorporated.  Beat in vanilla extract and butter flavoring.  Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, and beat to combine.  Add buttermilk, and mix.  Add next 1/3 of flour mixture, mix.  Add cream soda, mix.  Add remaining flour mixture, mix.  Fill each cup 3/4 full, and bake for 16-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool completely.

Meanwhile, combine butterscotch chips and heavy cream in the top of a double-boiler, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (be careful not to let the bowl touch the simmering water).  Stir until the chips melt and the mixture is smooth.  Set aside and cool to room temperature.

For the frosting:

Cream the butter until it is light and fluffy.  Add ganache, vanilla, butter flavoring, and salt, and mix to combine.  Add the powdered sugar and beat, slowly at first (don't want to end up covered in sugar) until it's incorporated, and the quickly to reach a light and fluffy consistency, adding a little milk or cream if it's too thick, and a little more sugar if it's too thin. 

Transfer room-temperature ganache to a small plastic squeeze bottle.  Poke the spout into the center of each cooled cupcake and squeeze slowly until ganache starts to come out of the top.  Continue until all cupcakes are filled.  Frost, and drizzle with more butterscotch ganache.

Makes 22 cupcakes.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Grilled Chard Salad

In my family, we've always celebrated birthdays when it's most convenient for everyone to be there.  Both my parents are singers, and they would sometimes be traveling when one of our birthdays happened.  Instead of missing the celebration, birthdays became moveable.  So even though my dad's actual birthday was a few days ago, we celebrated it yesterday.

We had decided ahead of time that we wanted to float in tubes down this little river that ends at Lake Michigan.  There were six of us, and seven tubes (one for the cooler full of beer), and it seemed like a great plan!  That's assuming that it's hot and sunny in July... which it sometimes is not in Northern Michigan.  The high yesterday was only about 72, and it was cloudy, which made for an interesting trip down the river.  We definitely still had fun, but by the end of the 2-plus-hour journey, we were all a little blue and shivering.  Especially me, since my tube had started slowly deflating about halfway through.  Oh well.

My mom and I are a pretty great kitchen team.  We marinated some boneless pork chops in Wicker's Original marinade, which you can (and should) order here.  We grilled the pork chops along with some sweet corn on the cob, and this chard salad, and made a peach cobbler (using this recipe, substituting peaches for rhubarb, and omitting the almond extract), which we served with ice cream from Moomers, the little ice cream shop down the street.  You can see the cows that provide milk for them right outside their window.

Grilled Chard Salad

1 bunch chard (red, rainbow, whatever you want)
1 cup cherry tomatotes
1/4 cup pine nuts
olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon

Rinse the chard well, and chop into 1-inch pieces, discarding the very end of the stems.  Toss with olive oil in a large bowl, and then pour out onto a piece of aluminum foil.  Using another piece of foil, fold the edges to make a sealed packet.  Place on a hot grill for about 10 minutes.  Remove, open the packet, and empty the chard into a serving bowl.  Add cherry tomatoes and pine nuts, dress with a little more olive oil and the lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve warm.

Yield: 6 servings

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sunrise, Sunset

We're up in Traverse City for a long weekend, and I'll have some recipes to share later, but for now, I just wanted to share a couple of photos: one from last night as we drove up here, and one from this morning, on my parents' property.

Hope you're having a beautiful day where you are!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I take the phrase "LOL" very seriously.  In terms of online chatter, that is one thing I just do not throw around.  Sometimes I'll read these blogs, and they'll say,

"I just made macaroni and cheese for dinner LOL."

"I love peas LOL."

"I reaaaallllly need to clean my bathroom LOL."

And I just think, are you really L-ing O L right now?  Really?  Because of macaroni and cheese?  Peas?  ...Needing to clean your bathroom?  Why is that funny?

I imagine these stone-faced people, in dark rooms with only the blue light of their computers, writing ROFL without cracking a smile.

I only write LOL if I am, in fact, laughing out loud.  Or shaking with silent laughter.  Like when I'm reading something like this.

Smiley faces, on the other hand... well, I am out of control.  If I don't watch myself, every paragraph of an e-mail will end in a smiley face.  But that's another story.  :-)

What are some things that make you LOL?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Best Hummos

My Papa immigrated from Armenia with his parents when he was a little boy.  He was a small man (only 5'7") with dark, curly hair and sparkly eyes.  My grandmother, Bajee, on the other hand, is a tall Welsh woman (5'8" without shoes on), who loves to wear high heels and big hats. 

I take after Bajee in a lot of ways: We're both tall, loud, and bold.  We both love to sing and read.  We both have very close relationships to God, and relish the beauty of creation.  We both like to make things with our hands.  We both like to be alone.

Southern Colorado, where Bajee lives.  What, don't you go hiking in hats like that?
Though I may seem Welsh through and through, and stick out like a sore thumb at Armenian gatherings, I still have an Armenian middle name, and a thoroughly Armenian nose.

Told ya. (That's my beautiful goddaughter, by the way.)
I also love Armenian food.  If you're unfamiliar, Armenian food is similar to Lebanese or Persian food: lots of lamb and pilaf, stuffed grape leaves, yogurt (or madzoon, as my mom always called it), mint, and hummos.  It's amazing.

I wanted to share our family's hummos recipe with you, because I've never tasted anything that holds a candle to it.  Make this, and you'll never go back.

Armenian Hummos

adapted from The Armenian Cookbook

Please note that you don't drain the garbanzo beans before blending them.  I did that the first time I tried to make this on my own, and it doesn't work.

1 14-oz can garbanzo beans (chick peas)
1 clove garlic, smashed
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup taheen (I know you think it's called tahini.  It's not.  ;-))
olive oil, paprika, and chopped parsley, for garnish

Pour the garbanzo beans and their liquid into a blender, and blend until smooth.  Add garlic, lemon juice, and salt, and blend until combined.  Finally, add taheen, and blend again, just until combined.  Pour into a shallow bowl and sprinkle with olive oil, paprika, and chopped parsley.  Serve with lavash (pita) for dipping.

Friday, July 8, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Leftovers Edition!

This week, my quick takes are devoted to removing the stigma applied to the phrase:
"We're having leftovers!" 

"Leftovers" does not have to mean "week-old stuff that got haphazardly thrown in the microwave!"  With a little forethought and imagination, and you can turn your leftovers into things that are as good, or even better than the original meals they came from!


Grilled chicken and veggies

You've already fired up the grill, so why not make the most of it?  This particular firing-up provided us with not one, not two, but THREE dinners this week!  While the coals were gettin' good, I squeezed some lemon juice over 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs and let them sit and marinate for about 20 minutes.  While that was happening, I cut up some veggies (orange peppers, zucchini, and baby pattypan squash - use whatever looks good at the farmers' market) into big chunks (I don't have a grill basket and I do not like losing little pieces of veggies to the fiery coals below), tossed them in a bowl, and coated them with olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper.  When the grill was ready, I gave the chicken a sprinkling of salt and pepper and tossed it on the hottest part, crowding the veggies around.  I cooked them for about... 8-10 minutes per side.  I still haven't mastered the perfect-grill-heat techniques.  I'm getting there.  We each got to eat 2 chicken thighs, and as many veggies as we wanted.  We were full and very happy.

Homemade maltagliati pasta with Italian sausage, tomatoes, and grilled favas.

After the chicken and veggies came off the grill, I replaced them with fava beans in their pods that had been tossed with olive oil and salt.  They cooked while we ate dinner, and after dinner I got them off the grill and let them cool a little, then shelled them and put them in a container in the fridge.  Forethought!  Because the next night for dinner we had homemade whole wheat pasta with Italian sausage, heirloom tomatoes, and grilled favas!  Here's the key: take a leftover item, and combine it with at least one fresh item, to create a brand-new totally reinterpreted meal!


Red leaf lettuce, tomato, spicy brown mustard, mini baguettes, swiss cheese with caraway seeds, grilled chicken

The "How Dare You Call Me Leftovers" Chicken Sandwich

Serves 2.

2 mini baguettes
4 cold grilled skinless boneless chicken thighs
4 slices cheese (swiss with caraway is amazing, but any creamy, flavorful cheese will work)
4 slices red leaf lettuce, washed
6 slices tomato
spicy brown mustard

Split each baguette in half, butter each side, and place them flat-side-down in a skillet to toast.  Meanwhile, slice the chicken into 1/2-inch slices.  When the bread is done, spread the bottom thickly with mustard, and then arrange the chicken, cheese, tomato and lettuce on top.  You will think you've died and gone to heaven.


Cole slaw!
I had some people over for the 4th of July, and I made a TON of cole slaw.  I sliced up half of a purple cabbage and half of a green cabbage, grated a few carrots, and put it all in a huge bowl in the fridge.  Then I took out as much as I thought my guests might eat, and dressed it with a traditional mayonnaise-based slaw dressing.  The next day, I dressed another portion of it with leftover (!) peanut mmmm sauce (which I had used for noodle salad last week) and sprinkled with cilantro and sesame seeds for an Asian slaw that I took to another BBQ.  Then last night with my chicken sandwich, I dressed it with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.  And I stuck it in my salad for lunch today.  HA!  4 meals and counting!


Mozzarella Sticks keep in the freezer for a while, and only take minutes to fry!  Mid-afternoon hunger pang?  Leftovers to the rescue!


If you got overzealous at the farmers' market, and came home with too many ripe strawberries, make some jam!  You don't need any fancy equipment if you use it up within a week or two.  I did this last week when I knew that my strawberries wouldn't last through the night, and in jam form, they are still kickin'!  Here's the recipe I used (a half batch, because that's how many strawberries I had) for Strawberry Balsamic Jam.


Yesterday's watermelon juice was made possible by more 4th of July leftovers: chunks of watermelon and a splash of ginger syrup, with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

And there you have it!  Leftovers are redeemed!

Head over to Jen's for more Quick Takes!  Have a great weekend!