Thursday, April 29, 2010

Courtesy of Anna D

Man at Very Top of Food Chain Chooses Bugles

It's My Party and I'll Eat What I Want To

Every Wednesday morning, the University of Chicago Law School hosts an event called "Coffee Mess" in which Dunkin Donuts coffee, doughnuts, bagels, and an assortment of fruits and yogurts are provided for law students.

Wednesday mornings have been very difficult for me this year.

Yesterday was my birthday, and I'll be damned if I wasn't going to have a doughnut on my birthday.

Or two.

I'm going to be honest with you: they were very, very tasty.  Marsha Nagorsky, our Dean of Communications (shout out!) challenged me about eating them; what is the lesson of the experiment if, on the one day a year you really can and should eat whatever your heart desires, I choose to eat heavily processed foods?

She had a point.  And here's the answer:  the lesson is that after months of eating unprocessed foods with few exceptions, gorging on two huge frosted doughnuts on my birthday resulted in A) a silty feeling on the roof of my mouth that lasted all the way through two classes, until I eventually got home to brush my teeth and B) several hours of serious stomach upset.

When I say "serious stomach upset", you should read "major diarrhea."

It's all honesty on this blog.

AWESOME way to spend a birthday.

Thankfully, it wasn't all bad news.  My lovely friend Amy has a tradition of baking everyone cupcakes on their birthdays.  Usually that involves the birthday friend articulating their favorite Betty Crocker flavor, but for me, she insisted on making them from scratch.

She was most concerned about making home-made frosting, and settled on fresh-cut strawberries in a sugar sauce.  It had to be spooned in immediately precedent to eating:

Everyone was amused.  Especially when she pulled out a stove lighter to light my candle.

We won't discuss those balloons.

Happy birthday to me!  Thanks Amy -- and everyone else -- for making my day special.  That's kind of a feat, especially since it was a Wednesday in law school with six hours of classes, homework to finish, and things to work on for the clinic.

And diarrhea.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Twenty Six Candles

... Or just two candles that spell out "26".

I turn 26 on Wednesday, and since he'll be in Champaign for the week, Matt surprised me last night with some beautiful new serving dishes.  I was pounding out a motion for Pretrial as he cooked, and when he suggested I come in to see how everything had turned out, I got so distracted by A) the candles and B) how amazingly delicious the mashed potatoes looked that it took me a full five minutes to realize I didn't previously own any of the dishes on which everything was plated.

I've been talking all year about wanting more plain white dishes, because food looks so much better on white.  Matt took notes, and picked this stuff up at Bed Bath & Beyond.  I love how spare it is.

And am I right or am I right about food looking delicious on white? See, e.g.:

He also got me some legit beer glasses, so we can stop drinking beer out of my wine stemware:

That's a Scottish stout which smelled and tasted like (imagine this!) Scotch, because the brewery barrels the beer in whiskey casks.

As for the dinner itself, we had chicken pinwheels with brown sugar-glazed carrots and buttermilk whipped potatoes.  The chicken was really remarkably easy: we hammered two breasts flat, then spread each with some thawed frozen spinach, a goat cheese already mixed with sundried tomatoes and basil, and some chopped Greek olives.

Roll each breast up, and bake in a pan with sides for approximately 45 minutes to an hour.  Voila:

The potatoes were inspired by a meal we had at Province Restaurant this weekend while our TFA friend Kim Clinite was in town.  Matt mashed about five red potatoes with three tablespoons of butter and a half cup of buttermilk.  I love really rich mashed potatoes, filled with butter and heavy cream, but these were so much lighter and with all the flavor; the tang of the buttermilk gave them a great zing, and they came out really fluffy.

We (read: I) ate them all.

Finally, I have no idea what he did with the carrots except that it involved brown sugar and butter and was very tasty.  He later claimed to have only cooked the carrots so as to "have something long" for the presentation on the serving dishes.

Law school got in the way -- as it too often does -- from fully relaxing over this incredible dinner with more than one beer, but as always, the food was great and the company the best I could possibly ask for.  Being more than a quarter-century old is fine by me, if this is my life at 26...

Bad News Bears

When I started this journey, the basic rules I chose to live by were:

1) Don't eat anything containing ingredients my great-grandmother Genevieve wouldn't recognize as a food.  (Rephrased: don't eat anything containing ingredients I wouldn't keep in my own kitchen.)

2) Eat fresh and local as much as possible.

3) Avoid meats from sources I'm unfamiliar with.

4) Take one exception meal a week.

The problem with #2 and #3, of course, is that I qualified them.  It's hard to eat fresh and local in Chicago in winter without dining out at ridiculously expensive boutique farm-to-table restaurants every day.  And aside from the stuff I get from Crystal, my farmer, I'm really never quite sure where meats are coming from.  Since I don't want to be a de-facto vegetarian, this means that every time I eat out, I'm in a sense breaking one of the rules.  So if I eat out more than once, I'm overloading on #4.

Rule #1 was the only hard and fast one.

Then came this:

You can't possibly convince me that Fritos are unprocessed.  They are the VERY SOUL of processed.  So Rule #1 clearly needs a little rephrasing.

Why is this all so hard??

Breakfast of Champions

Oatmeal raisin cookies and a big glass of whole milk to dip.

I don't miss cereal at all.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Musical Viewing Party

Friday night, several cast-mates from the Law School Musical came over to watch highlights of the show and discuss our mutual awesomeness.  An unprocessed feast was in order:

Strawberries, raspberries, olives ... Camembert, gouda, and Irish butter to spread on hearty slices of fresh bread:

Hummus from Cedars, a local Greek restaurant, and five ingredient crackers ("Stonewall Farms") to dip:

Adam came with Shauna, and of course, when Adam and Shauna come, they bring chocolate:

(Coated in Ghiradelli white and milk chocolate).

Caitlin, our remarkably cool producer, came out with fresh guacamole and salsa fresca from a local Mexican place.  No clue why I didn't get these photographed.  But I DID manage to shoot about 300 takes of the massive jug of strawberry lemonade she'd mixed up for the occasion:

We tossed in some frozen blueberries in lieu of ice.  And some shots of blackberry vodka, just because.

Minimalist Dinner

There are three ingredients in this dinner.  Steak, artichoke, butter.

Five if you count salt and pepper.

This Post Is Not About Whole Foods

But the following photo is so dang cute I can't resist sharing it with the great wide interwebz:

I know she looks like a slacker, but in Bean's defense, this is what usually ends up happening to me when I study Evidence, too...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Buy Me Some Peanuts

This week, I took my exception meal on Sunday, using up my quota of processed foods for the week at the White Sox game:

God only knows what was in that hot dog.  But it was coated in grilled onion and pepper, ketchup and mustard, and tasted like heaven.

Also, we should discuss this:

Around the seventh inning, nachos sounded really appealing, and I wanted to make the most of my exception meal for the week.  I have to tell you, though, that these were not nearly so good as the hot dogs.  I'd forgotten that rubbery texture processed cheese has, and how it hardens ever so slightly as it cools, eerily reminiscent of the Gak I played with in my youth.

No, I'll take a quarter pound of ground pork stuffed in intestine lining and topped with sugary tomato paste instead...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fiesta Night and Chocolate for Breakfast

After the infamous meatloaf disaster, a more rational group of people might have thrown in the towel and just dined out.  I mean, Chicago has at least a couple good restaurants.  Not us.

We cleaned up the mess from Thursday and launched right into the next endeavor: fiesta night!  Nan drove up on Friday, so between Matt, Mara, Jen, Nan, and I, we had a WHOLE lot of cooks in the kitchen.  This time, though, everything turned out great:

Jen and Mara made Mara-style guacamole (read: avocados mashed with salt and a squeeze of lime.)  Sidenote: when Matt and I get around to registering, someone remind me to put a masher on there.  Sorry, Jen.

Meanwhile, Matt, Liza Nan and I created a health-conscious seven layer bean dip:

The bottom layer is four cups of black beans blended in the Cuisinart with garlic, cumin, lime juice, salt, and cayenne pepper to taste.  Top that with a spread of organic sour cream (took me a while to find one not containing that dang locust bean gum...).  The next layer is just a couple cups of frozen corn, thawed on the stove with some chopped fresh cilantro and more lime juice.  Finally, a fresh salsa from chopped red and yellow tomatoes, a jalapeno, more fresh cilantro and lime.  The flavors are wonderful, and because it doesn't have any cheese and not much sour cream, it's also remarkably low calorie.

We also heated some C&D ground beef on the stove, simmering with cumin, chili powder, salt, and cayenne, and everyone built their plates...

The last one there is mine, because it is noticeably missing a taco shell or tortilla.  We didn't have the energy -- or, for that matter, room in the kitchen -- to home cook tortillas, and all the packaged varieties contain things like Yellow Number 5, so I stuck with Donkey Chips and was perfectly satisfied.

The only thing we were missing was margaritas.

After the dishes had been washed (thank you, family), we whipped up a quick pot de creme.  

I love that I can say that: "whipped up a quick pot de creme".  

No, wait, I don't love that I can say that, because pot de creme is TOO EASY to whip up and TOO DELICIOUS not to, and this impacts my hips alarmingly.

In any event, we whipped it up and popped it in a fridge, and then I forgot about it because Matt and I dashed over to Amy and Lauren's birthday party (happy birthday!) and when we came home, everyone else had knocked out in sheer exhaustion.  

So we had pot de creme for breakfast on Saturday. 

Nobody minded.

And whipped cream, which Jen and Matt had whisked up the night before.  
Also on the registry: an egg-beater.  Sorry again, Jen.

Mara took the inaugural bite:

... I think she approved.  

There's nothing like one big happy family, all together, sharing a pot of chocolate pudding for breakfast.  

Monday, April 12, 2010

Snappy Garlic Carrot Meaty Loaf-Surprise!

Last weekend, both my ranunculus sisters and delightful seven-year-old niece came to Chicago for a visit, which meant A) the floor of my apartment couldn't be walked across for bodies B) more Apples to Apples than you can possibly imagine and C) near-constant eating.  Jen and Mara haven't yet been featured on the blog, so I am delighted to present them to you in this post.

Perhaps unsurprisingly in this family, they're a little strange.  But lovely.

On Thursday night, Jen and I decided on a whim to make meatloaf and mashed potatoes -- simple enough, and she has a favorite recipe which, when she initially described it, sounded like I had all the requisite ingredients: ground beef, milk, carrots, ketchup, oats.

The trouble began with worcestershire sauce, which I can't eat and don't keep in the house.  No problem, we decided.  We'll just season with garlic powder and salt, and it'll be a little bland but still tasty.

Jen was disconcerted when she discovered I only keep whole milk in the house.  But we shrugged and poured it in.  Then we asked Mara to grab out the oats, and when she handed us the container she found, we realized it had maybe seven individual oats left in it.  So we ripped up some whole wheat bread into crumbs, folding it in.

Meanwhile, we also searched my pantry for potatoes, finding only a handful of fingerlings: not really appropriate to mash.  Meh.  We diced, seasoned, and roasted them instead.

Jen usually bakes her meatloaf in a glass dish, but I don't have one, so we poured the mix into a metal bread loaf pan.  Forty five minutes later, and out came the LEAST. APPETIZING. THING. I HAVE EVER SEEN.

See that yellowish stuff mixing with the ketchup?  It's not mustard.  It's a pool of fat which collected on top of the browning meat; as the ground beef was extra lean grass raised, we could only imagine that the whole milk had done it.

We sopped up a little of the creamy fat pool with a paper towel, then tried to plate it.  Plating didn't help.

It smelled like hamburger day in a school cafeteria, and looked, well, like an oily meat slab.  The whole thing was so off-putting, in fact, it reminded us of the Weight Watchers recipe cards.  So we styled the dish and photographed with a bright flash in an effort to capture the effect:

Snappy Garlic Carrot Meaty Loaf-Surprise!

The best part, of course, was that when we actually ate it, it was kind of satisfying, in the way those old school hamburgers were...

... nobody ever accused the Summers family of leaving food on our plates.