Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this week:
We’ve written about our love of the Hatch green chile before, but if you’ve never heard of them, they are green chiles grown in the Hatch Valley in New Mexico and only available for a few weeks out of the year. We’re not sure what makes them better than regular green chiles, but they are hands-down the best. Considering the distance between New Mexico and Illinois, as well as the lack of any respectable Tex-Mex dining options in Chicagoland, we didn’t think we’d be seeing any Hatch chiles around these parts. So we were beyond surprised and excited to see that an upscale grocery store a few towns over was having two glorious days celebrating (and selling) the Hatch green chile! We bought a bunch of the roasted chiles, portioned them out and stocked our freezer. We’re looking forward to many batches of green chile chowder this winter.
If you ever need to find us on a weekend during the summer, check any and all local art festivals. The Port Clinton Art Festival last weekend was a quick train ride north, and it was one of our favorite festivals this season. There were a ton of wonderful artists and an impressive variety of delicious food options.
We couldn’t resist purchasing this glass bowl from the festival and had fun chatting with the artist to learn how he makes the bowls.
Anybody need some jalapenos? The plants in our little terrace garden have produced way more jalapenos than we can use before they spoil, so we harvested the ripe ones (and there are still a ton more on the plants!), filled up four quart-sized ziplock bags and stuck them in the freezer. As a Texas girl, it makes me happy to have an entire shelf of our freezer dedicated to green chiles and jalapenos.
While it’s not necessarily my favorite (*understatement alert*), football season is pretty much the best time of year according to Dan. He especially enjoys the fantasy football league that he has participated in with his brothers for more than a decade. They had their draft last night, and Dan tells me that he’s got a good line-up for his team formerly known as the Texas Trainwrecks. Now that we no longer live in Texas, he needs to come up with a new team name. The Illinois Windburn is the top contender currently, but he’s open to any and all suggestions.
- Now that it’s back-to-school season (Already? Please don’t go, Summer!), school lunches are a trending topic of conversation. The nonprofit group DoSomething.org recently launched a website called Fed Up, where students can post pictures of their lunches—the good, the bad and the ugly (mostly ugly)—and visitors to the site can vote “Eat It” or “Toss It” for each photo. The group plans to compile the data onto a map showing the state of school lunches across the country for distribution to school districts and nutrition advocates. Filter the photos by “Toss It,” and be oh-so-thankful that you are no longer in school.
- Speaking of school lunches, here’s an interesting slideshow of the history of American school lunches.
MournCelebrate the end of summer by grilling something delicious this Labor Day weekend. Here are some ideas from Gourmet Magazine (sticky balsamic ribs and corn on the cob with cheese & lime for me, please) and a few from Cooking Light (I’ll have the barbecue chicken sliders with a side of grilled stuffed jalapenos, thank you.)
- Something we are looking forward to this fall is a quick trip back to Texas for a visit that will obviously have to include an afternoon at the State Fair. It’s always fun to see what new (mostly fried) concessions they will have each year. The 2014 “Big Tex Choice Awards” finalists include deep fried “breakfast for dinner,” fried Gulf shrimp boil, and the original State Fair brew—funnel cake ale. Yum?
Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this week:
My brother J and his boyfriend came to visit us last weekend, and we loved showing them around. We’re proud of our home and the life we’re building here in Chicagoland—sharing it with our people makes it even more special. And we still think that the architecture boat tour is the best way to see the city (even when the tour guide’s best—only?—interesting quip of the day is “art deco echo”).
We forget how good this potato leek pizza is. With pre-made pizza dough from Trader Joe’s and already-cooked bacon leftover from the weekend, it’s also really quick and easy for a weeknight meal.
It only took 9 months of living here and several visits from family to finally update our condo’s white walls, at least in two of the bathrooms. I found this “Devine Color” line of removable wallpaper at Target and used the “Compass and Gold” in our foyer powder room and the “Firefly” (with coordinating paint) in our guest bath. I’ve never installed “real” wallpaper, but I have to imagine that the peel-and-stick, remove-and-readjust aspects of this wallpaper make it easier to hang than the kind you glue to the walls. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I look at the
entire corner of 2-3 wonky seams that I messed up and need to fix.
Dan sometimes gets strong, random cravings that dictate our next meal, such as shrimp with Old Bay seasoning. Hence, Friday Night Shrimp Boil at Casa de Conrad!
We love Asian food and eat it at least 3 to 4 times per month. In addition to favorites at local restaurants (the sole fish fillet in chili bean sauce from Lao Sze Chuan, wasabi shumai from Coast Sushi, and pretty much anything with kimchi in it from Joy Yee’s Noodles, to name a few), we have several go-to homemade Asian dishes that we often crave: Korean chicken, ponzu sea bass, beef & broccoli stir-fry, and Thai coconut curry soup. When we saw Ching-He Huang make her “Three Cup Chicken” on an episode of her show “Easy Chinese,” we had to try it as a potential addition to our homemade Asian recipe repertoire. It’s easy to make with ingredients we typically have on hand (since we cook Asian food at home fairly often): cooking oil; garlic; ginger; chicken thighs; soy sauce; rice wine (also called mirin); toasted sesame oil; brown sugar; and basil. The recipe needs a bit of tweaking to achieve the thickened, slightly sticky sauce that characterizes this dish, but it has just the right mix of Asian flavors we enjoy, and we’ll definitely make it again.
Dan had a quick work trip to Madison last Friday and I went along for the ride. It’s a great little city and we thoroughly enjoyed our 27 or so hours there.
One of Dan’s friends from work went to law school in Madison and after they were done with work, he took us to the Terrace at the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union. Described as “Madison’s most popular back porch,” it’s a lovely spot to unwind for a few hours on a beautiful Friday afternoon in the summer, sipping cold beverages, listening to live music and watching the boats and people. Even though it’s a huge outdoor space and was pretty crowded that day, it still felt relaxing and intimate—like hanging out on the back porch with friends at your favorite neighbor’s house.
Dan’s friend talked up the Madison farmer’s market quite a bit, so we had to see what the buzz was about Saturday morning. Wow. The market is HUGE, with vendors of all kinds stacked booth to booth all the way around the Capitol Square. Quite impressive! Street musicians were playing throughout the square as well, including this band that could have been auditioning for the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” costumes and all.
Our trip to Madison would not have been complete without sampling some meats in tube form and various kinds of cheese. The trio of cheese spreads and “Wisconsin’s Best Wurst platter” at The Old Fashioned did not disappoint. (Not pictured—only because it wouldn’t fit in the picture with the other food—the giant plate of fried onion strings that I had to force myself to stop eating. It’s probably a good thing for our health and waistlines that we don’t live in Madison.)
Shout out to Dan’s brother J and our sister-in-law C for recommending the Showtime show “Ray Donovan” to us. It’s a little like a Boston version of “The Sopranos” meets a Hollywood version of “Scandal” and is hands-down our current favorite show on TV.
In a “lemons to lemonade” moment, we salvaged a disappointing dining experience at one restaurant with take-out from another. All week, we had looked forward to Thursday night, when we planned to sit outside at La Macchina, eating a delicious dinner and watching the final “Let’s Dance Evanston!” concert of the summer. From the moment we were seated at La Macchina, the service was deplorable. Dan finally had to go inside to ask for someone to even take our drink order, and they sent one of the cooks out to attend to us. He brought us our wine and appetizer, but no one ever spoke to us again, until Dan again had to go inside and ask someone to send out the check. Unhappy and still hungry, we passed by Soulwich on our way home. We’ve been wanting to try their food, so we got the Indonesian Ginger BBQ Pork sandwich and homemade Asian slaw to take home and share. Both were so delicious that we ended up glad that our initial dinner plan fell through.
You know that moment when you try a dish at a restaurant and realize that you will henceforth be compelled to return to that restaurant simply to eat that menu item, and that you will order it every single time you dine there? The kale salad from Found Kitchen and Social House is that dish for us. It’s somehow light yet also hearty, with the perfect balance of flavors and textures from the kale, swiss chard, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and (a recent addition) blueberries, all dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Every time we order it, Dan wonders (out loud, usually to our server): “How do they make KALE taste so good?” Although our homemade version of Found’s kale salad can never be as delicious as the original, we discovered a trick to making kale taste good, for a salad that comes pretty darn close to restaurant-quality. The key is massaging the kale with a little olive oil, salt and lemon juice. I discovered the secret while looking for vegan recipes in the book “My Beef with Meat” by former firefighter Rip Esselstyn, who explains why massaging kale softens its texture and improves its flavor: “Massaging [kale] salad drives the lemon juice and salt into the cell membrane of the kale and lightly ‘cooks’ it, making it much more tame and less ‘angry.’” (He had recently read a reference to kale as “angry lettuce,” which makes a lot of sense if you’ve ever taken a bite of plain, raw kale.) We will still crave Found’s kale salad (and order it whenever we go there), but it’s also nice to be able to satisfy our craving with a quick and easy homemade version, and to know we have a backup plan if they’re ever crazy enough to take it off their menu!