October 2010


Ahhhhh-tumn. Time for delicious foods that satisfy your appetite. Foods like squash, (see previous post), nuts, oats, and falafel.

As my schedule has changed so that my days off with the lady are more staggered than previous, having a day off together is something that we take seriously. Today, we decided to explore the areas of Wicker Park, as a late night traipse through the internet found me wondering about this coffeeshop that looked amazing. Why was it amazing? Well, because it had a Delorean in the window.

See?

See?

That’s right. There’s a coffeeshop with a Delorean in the window. It’s awesome, and the coffee isn’t bad, either. Granted, we come from a land of rich, foamy drinks with mile-high crema and ristretto shots that make you jittery with glee, but after a month in the city, we’ve found a spot that can make a rosetta in a coffee just like Mom* used to make.

See?

See?

They didn’t have the Cafe Nico, the world’s most amazing coffee drink, but with a bit of creativity, a Macchiato with a dash of citrus syrup and a shake of nutmeg did the trick. They served it in a clay dixie cup with a shape that made it look like a crumpled cup. Nice and classy. Just the way I like my coffee.

Our day took us to many different stores in search of that last perfect piece for the Halloween costume. I was looking for a gun, because if you know anything about me, you know I love giant guns, and she was looking for a cape.

Here’s a helpful piece of Holiday advice- If you haven’t found what you’re looking for by the day of your Halloween bash, just give up. I don’t mean to be pessimistic about it, but with everyone scrounging for their own version of slutty cat ears/tail/warden/Ma Fratelli from the Goonies, you just won’t find the right piece for your costume. You might find a good Ma Fratelli costume, but you sure as hell aren’t going to find a sexy one.

Not Sexy Enough

Still Not Sexy Enough

I ended up not getting a giant M-16, because really? Do I really want to be the guy going around carrying an M-16 on Halloween, even if it IS tipped with a neon orange cap?

No I do not.

So we walked up Milwaukee street a bit turned the corner, and there is the old standby, Sultan’s Market. If you’re from Chicago and you like Falafel, go eat there. For $3.75, you get delicious Falafel Sandwiches in a pita with hummus, cucumber salad, and spicy, medium or mild sauce. With three giant Falafels. It will fill you up! I was going to take a picture for you, but I ate mine very quickly. Go there. You’ll see. It’s totally delicious.

It is also a lot bigger than the last time I went there, about two or three years ago. They put in a salad bar, not that there’s anything wrong with that, and they bumped out the restaurant part to the space next door. I suppose it’s good for them, judging by the line that formed out the door right after we got there. I assume that since we are such beacons of good taste, both in Coffee and food, everyone flocked to figure out what the commotion was about.

The answer? It’s a budding friendship between a party of two and two delicious falafel sandwiches. So, long story short- If you’re ever in the neighborhood of Milwaukee, Damen, and North, Run, Don’t walk, to Sultan’s Market for delicious Falafel sandwiches.

***

 

*by “Mom”, I mean the baristas at Vivace.

Here’s a good recipe that you can make at home with a little bit of time, and not a whole lot of ingredients. It’s spicy, a little sweet, yet well balanced and something you’ll want to eat all the time, assuming you like curry, cranberries, and zucchini.

Israeli Couscous Salad with Cranberries and Zucchini

1 Cup Israeli (large pearl) couscous

1 small zucchini, diced

1 yellow squash, diced

Handful of Craisins

Curry Powder, hot

Take One cup of Israeli Couscous and a little more than a cup of water, a little salt and pepper, and set on the stove to cook. Let it boil, cover, turn down the heat, and let it simmer for about ten minutes.

When the liquid is fully absorbed, fluff it up, let it sit, and add a little bit of oil so it doesn’t stick. If you want, you can sautee the zucchini and yellow squash, but the residual heat of the couscous should be sufficient to cook them.

Add a handful of craisins, and sprinkle with curry powder. The spice of the curry compliments the sweetness of the craisins, and it is a meal that you can eat all week.

Last night, we had the windiest weather that we’ve seen in a long time. When I went out yesterday, trash cans had been tipped over, and garbage was strewn about the street. Umbrellas, inside out and useless, were discarded on random street corners, and people were bracing themselves against the gusts of 60 miles per hour.

I had gone up to get a suit fitted for a wedding this December (classy suits for classy gents and nothing less will be accepted- that’s their motto that I just made up), and I stopped at a Halloween store to check out costumes. It is worth noting that there are very rarely the Halloween stores that are open year round. Some people at the store were amused and amazed by the fact that they just sort of pop up for a month and then disappear for a year. It’s like looking for a spot where you went to a party, only to find remnants at best. That’s going to be Yankee Bill’s come November 1st.

In any case, I looked there, and then went down to meet the lady at her place of business downtown. I had to wait in the lobby, as outside on Michigan was far too blustery for me to bear.

She came out, we walked down to 8th and State, and got a couple excellent ideas, which will be told at a later time and date when we get everything together.

Wind, wind, wind. We caught a bus back uptown, stopped at a few places along the way, and got a delicata squash at the store.

I had some store bought gnocchi, and that seemed like a good idea for a hearty, filling vegetarian meal. Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Gnocchi with Maple Glazed Squash in Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Ingredients:

1 Delicata Squash, peeled, seeded, and small diced

1 clove garlic, sliced wahfer thin

1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup

Sage leaves, rolled and chiffonade (fancy thin strips)

Gnocchi, 1 Package fresh

Butter, 4 Tbsp

Salt

Pepper

Parmesan of a grating kind

***

Start 2 burners on the stove. Put a big saute pan on one, and a pot for boiling water on the other.

Boil some water.

Add some oil or a little butter to the saute pan, set at about half heat, tossing in the diced squash. Season with salt and pepper, give  a generous shake, and let it sit until it begins to caramelize, about five minutes. Add some sage and sautee a bit more. Check the squash to see if it’s fork tender. It should be. Add your shot of maple syrup, give the pan a couple quick flips, and dump the squash bits in a bowl for later.

Wipe the pan, add the butter on low to medium heat, and toss in some more sage.

Is your water boiling yet? It should be. If it is, put some salt in there, and add your gnocchi. When they float to the top, give them an extra minute or two to cook, and then get out your strainer and drain those gnocchi. Turn your butter pan up to med-high. This’ll start the butter browning process.

When they’re good and drained, toss the gnocchi in the frying pan with the butter, flipping them about with great zest and vigor. Reintroduce them to their new bedfellows, the squash bits, and let them have a quick courtship in the pan, shaking them all about before they decide to be bound in marriage by Pastor Parmesan.

Cut the heat. Grate the Parmesan. (And hey, get a wedge. Any parm worth its salt does not come out of a green bottle). Toss it a little more. Then, serve it in bowls. It’s very good. Hearty, filling, rib-sticking, and unprocessed.

Delicious Squash, Sage, and Gnocchi

Delicious Squash, Sage, and Gnocchi

 

As I’ve stated in the previous post, I’ve now moved to Chicago. With a bit of brevity, I’ll say that I’m back at Whole Foods, and I am part of the meat department.

Why? Well, for the time being, I was done with seafood- done with the city of Seattle (not in my heart, mind you, but done with that chapter), most definitely done with the smells (sorry, but I got rid of my seafood clothes dresser), and just…done. I find it interesting, though, that I was first in Fish in Chicago, then Fish in Seattle, and now Meat in Chicago.

Seafood is appropriate for Seattle. Chicago is a meat town. Boy, is it ever.

So far, I’ve gone through hundreds of pounds of brisket, dozens of pork shoulders, a fair count of lamb chops, and, for some ungodly reason, thousands of pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

I can understand why people think they want it: It’s simple and healthy. Here’s why they really buy it: It’s boring, it tastes like nothing, and it’s so bland that if it’s messed up, you can blame it on the recipe. It is the tilapia of landmeat.

What makes people think this is okay? In the service case, we have whole chickens, ducks, split breasts with the bones in, boneless breasts with skin, and thighs, drumsticks, wings, all of which are infinitely more tasty than a boneless, skinless breast. Not everyone who eats these things is on “doctor’s orders”.

Oh, “Doctor told you to eat more boneless, skinless chicken breasts?” No, they did not. They said eat healthier. Here’s a newsflash: You can still eat healthier without sacrificing your chicken in a flurry of feathers and discarded fat.

It’s really difficult, because I see people coming in buying pork, and buying bacon, and buying a steak, and buying beef jerky. People whisper in my ear as I pass them their Andouille Sausage, “Doctor said I shouldn’t have this, but I love it anyway.” Guess what! You’ve just made me feel bad, because I’m not helping! I was more able to serve people in their eating choices in Seafood, but from behind the meat counter, I realize that Chicago, and the Midwest in general, has got an eating problem, and they’ve got it bad.

Whenever someone is looking at ways of making their diet more heart healthy, they most often fail to account for the handful of snacks that they eat, the samples that they chow down at the grocery store (that piece of brisket that you just ate? 100 calories) or that they add five times as much salad dressing as they need (just a thought-that extra salad dressing alone can add 1-200 calories to your meal, and that’s not even Ranch). What a nutritionist or a doctor needs to do, rather than sending someone home with a tablet to analyze their eating habits, is to actually see where it is that they’re getting hung up. People need to know if it’s the salad dressing, the pats of butter (nothing is ever a pat anymore. It’s not even a smear or a smattering. It’s a slather.) and cheese (nothing wrong with cheese, just the proportions of cheese to other stuff) on the baked potato where you scoop out and eat everything but the skin. The only reason you eat the potato at all is because of the butter. And the salt. And the cheese. And the bacon.

Now, with the chicken breast, the skin is not the problem. Nobody says that you have to eat the skin. Still, the skin browns, and crisps, and imparts flavor into the meat. With the boneless, skinless variety, you have to marinate it in oil, salt, sugar, etc, usually putting on too much, and then adding too much oil to the pan, thus shallow frying your meal hoping for it to brown, which it will never do. The only way that you’re going to get a deep brown on your chicken breast is from the sugars in the marinade that you put it in.

When viewing your diet from the standpoint of a healthy breakdown of caloric intake, a healthy mix is going to be, on average 30% of your calories from protein, 30% from fat, and 40% from starches and carbohydrates.  Now, fat has 9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein only have 4 calories per gram. You’ve probably been made aware of this a few times, and it’s probably somewhere in your head, but it’s important to note for a couple of reasons:

1) If something says that it is 96% fat-free, that means that it is 4% fat. 4% fat has almost 2.5 times more calories than 4%protein or 4%carbs. In a 4 oz. serving of something, something that says that it’s 96% fat-free can have 50 calories from fat alone. It’s not that fat is bad for you, because everyone needs some in their lives. However, by reading and understanding what’s on the label of your food, you can get a better grasp of why you may feel poorly when trying to eat healthier.

2) When you think about it, chicken skin does not take up that much of your dinner plate, but what it does is add a buffer to an otherwise boring dinner. How many times have you served those boneless skinless chicken breasts to a reception of “Chicken? Again? Auuuuugh!” (yes, Charlie Brown is at your dinner table. Just go with it). Just because a chicken has skin does not mean that you have to eat it. The skin of a chicken is healthier than you might think. It means that you don’t have to put much, if any, oil in the pan. It serves as a vehicle for making a healthy pan sauce after deglazing, thanks to the caramelized bits it leaves behind. And nobody says you have to eat it. Use it during cooking, and take it off at the table if you don’t feel like eating it. It’s a far better thing to not eat the chicken skin than it is to not eat the potato skin left sitting on your table.

I write all this down for a couple of reasons. First, I loathe American eating habits. It goes back to my return trip to America from a stint in Italy, where I was sitting, bleary-eyed on a bus from O’Hare back to Madison, watching a woman cry as she pawed through a box of teddy grahams at 11:30 at night. 11:30 at night! I can understand if you work 2nd shift as I sometimes do, and you have to get a bit of energy. Still, you don’t need to be eating an entire box on a bus trip merely because there’s nothing left to do. Turn on the overhead light and read. Listen to music. DON’T EAT WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE A MEAL SCHEDULED!

Get up and walk around. Realistically cut calories and portion sizes wherever you can. Please try not to eat so much fried food. Today’s Chinese food is not healthy. Remember when something that came out of a wok meant healthy and crisp food which retained its health benefits? That doesn’t happen anymore. I heard the statistic the other day that some exorbitant percentage of children under the age of one year old (50% or above, I think) eat french fries on a regular basis. It costs less to buy a bag of frozen vegetables that feeds two to three people heartily than it does to buy a large order of fries which will usually be consumed by one person.

***

I made the mistake of eating McDonald’s on the road out here in Sioux Falls, SD. I could only finish half of it. It didn’t fill me up in the way that a meal should. I was not satiated. I had the feeling that I didn’t want to eat anymore, but not for any good reason. Since when does our appetite dictate that we can’t taste anything but salt? I was left wanting.

Sadly, on the other side of the spectrum, when it comes to a boneless, skinless chicken breast, I am also left wanting. It doesn’t mean that I won’t eat it- It’s food. It is calories, and energy, and lean protein, but like the fries, I won’t be satisfied.

You can still have the skin and be content. If the skin is on, it gives flavor and, yes, calories, but it still falls within the realm of healthy eating, assuming that you maintain a good ratio of protein-fat-carbs. If you need it to be healthier, take the skin off after you cook it. Just don’t let me come over to your house and find three half empty bottles of Hidden Valley and bottles of soda.

I want you to eat healthy. I want you to eat right. I want you to make the right choices when you eat, and when you do, to enjoy the flavors that you’ve created. I want you to enjoy eating, but most of all, I want you around.

And So Does He

And So Does He