Can I just say that I am COMPLETELY surprised at the salmon that resides in Lake Michigan.

Lets go back a few steps.  Over the 4th of July my parents came into town for a weekend of fun times.  With a packed schedule including seeing Garrison Keillor tape a live show of A Prairie Home Companion at Ravinia, some White Sox baseball with fireworks and eating out (it’s really what we do best).  Another fun thing that came up was a guy that works with my Dad has a boat on the Southside and invited us to go fishing on the Lake.

Ok, admittedly I have an idea about the water in the lake that is most likely false.  In my head I kind of have it figured that for the most part its gross.  I think it’s one too many times on the architectural boat tour where they talk about how so much of the city is built on garbage, random no swim warnings and the Asian Carp invasion that just sounds scary. So when we talked about fishing  I surprised when salmon came up as what we were probably going to catch.

Long story short

Scene: Boat on Lake Michigan
Cast: Mom, Dad, Awesome Southside Fishing Guy 1, Just as Awesome Fishing Guy 2 and me.
Within the first 20 minutes Mom and I were done. Seasick as all hell.  This has officially ruled out “boat guy” as possible boyfriend material (this is the second time it’s happened by the way so I guess it’s not a fluke)

The rest of the FIVE HOURS Dad with the help of SSFG 1 & 2 caught a couple of really pretty nice sized salmon. We usually fish for stream trout so these fish seemed quite big by our standards so we were happy.  And no, we are not mad at Dad if you were wondering, it’s the coolest thing he’s ever gotten to do here in Chicago and our puking and misery were not going to ruin that. And the Dramamine did kick in after about 3 hours so I did have some of  the time was much more pleasant (Mom never shook it though, total bummer)  After SSFG1 broke down the salmon in about 5 seconds we were back on our merry way from the depths of Calumet Marina.

It’s delicious. I am so happy with it; it’s mild not fishy and better than I had expected.  We froze, divvied and FoodSavered it all up and tonight I decided I needed a bit of a healthy meal.  I mixed some yellow curry paste with fat free Greek yogurt and orange zest/juice and put 1/2 of it on the salmon.  I preheated the over with the pan in it (trick I love by the way) and in it went. Ten minutes later – viola. I added the rest of the curry mixture and my little side dish of orzo with zucchini and what a lovely Tuesday meal it was.

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So I went to Austin for the first time earlier this month for 9 days and attended South by Southwest. I have a couple of friends who had been living there since January who are super foodies so they knew the lay of the land when it came to food and made sure we hit some amazing spots.  

They ruined me.  I ate some of the most amazing tacos I have ever had in my life.  So lets back up a little.  Unbeknownst to me, Austin is full of food trailers – Airstreams and variations of the like parked in lots, sometimes clustered with other trailers that serve some of the best food street food I’ve ever had.  

First stop: Torchy’s. 

Torchy's Taco Trailer

Torchy’s Tacos , located on South First Street was my initiation into the world of taco trailers. The menu is creative and exciting, but I decided to start my first trip (yeah, I went back more than once- what?!) with something fairly traditional; Green Chili Pork Taco, the description reading “Slow roasted pork carnitas simmered with green chilies and topped off with queso fresco, cilantro, onions, and a lime wedge served on a corn tortilla with our green salsa.”  

Wow, just wow.  I mean COME ON!  I had been warned beforehand that part of the magic of these tacos is the tortilla’s and that’s no joke.  The double layered corn tortillas were the perfect texture and flavor, and the perfect vehicle to shove the porky deliciousness into my mouth. (and please don’t take that last sentence out of context. Ever.) 
My second Torchy’s taco (different day) I decided to go a little on the dicey side: Brushfire – Jamaican jerk chicken, grilled jalapenos, mango, Sour cream, and cilantro served on a flour tortilla with our Diablo sauce. 

Brushfire Taco- Torchy's Tacos

The Brushfire- not kidding on the fire part!

So, once again totally delish but watch out baby- they are absolutely not kidding on the fire/diablo/jerk part! My mouth was en fuego, my nose was a-running but boy was I happy! 

Second Spot: Izzoz Tacos 

Izzoz Tacos Austin TX

Izzoz Taco Trailer- Austin

Izzoz, literally a stones throw from Torchy’s was always stop #2 in the taco crawl.  (On a complete side note my friend is totally the mayor of Izzoz on Foursquare- Woot!)   I bring you: The Slowrider 

Izzoz Tacos- The Slowrider

The Slowrider- awwww yea.

Braised Machaea pork, Cotija cheese, cilantro and carmelized onion.  First time it actually melted my face right off it was so good. Face. Off.  Second time, I have to say slightly less impressive (but not by any means bad) and I wondered why.  My friend found some Austin blogs that explained the phenomenon: Apparently, the young guy on the grill (owners son) always turns out great food but the old guy with the white hair (who was working when you had the bad taco experience) is not up to par. I guess you need to learn their schedules. 

Next up: Other Austin trailers, Hey Cupcake and Cutie Pies!

Yesterday was one of those mornings I woke up and realized I had eaten out way too much in the last few days and needed some nutrients ASAP.  Plus my Costco card has arrived from my mother so I need to clean out my freezer a bit so I have room for more stuff! Its time for some super improv in the kitchen. 
Lets see what do we have: frozen chicken thighs, oh there is that lemongrass I bought that I never knew what to do with, a few stalks of celery, 1 sweet potato, an onion, some lentils and some barley.  (Just so you know the process of how this all starts I just begin pulling things out and setting them on the counter and see if I can visualize a way for them to “go together”  I have no plan at this point, it’s totally winging it, which means once again you are not going to get a recipe here) 
Lemongrass is the wild card here.  I looked it up a couple of weeks ago and it says you can chop it in big chunks and add for flavoring during cooking and then take out when its’ ready or slices it super dooper thin and leave it in there. As I’m very unfamiliar with the lemon-tensity I am going to approach with caution.
I have some curry paste in the fridge and I figure that’s probably going to be the best compliment to the lemongrass.  So I pull out the slow cooker and start piling stuff in.  Chunked up the onion, garlic, celery and sweet potato.  I dissolved 1 chicken bullion cube (I was out of boxed stock) in 6 cups water mixing in the curry paste- 3 heaping tablespoons maybe?  Finally I nestled in the frozen chicken thighs (bone in, I would take the skin off next time though) and dumped in some lentils and barley and crossed my fingers.

6 hours later

At first glance it appeared a little thin and greasy (hence removing the skin next time).  I fished through and pulled out all the lemongrass and it smelled very lemony. I shredded the thighs off the bone and removed all the skin and started stirring it up.  The sweet potatoes were so done that they instantly thickened the stew and I had maybe a 1/2 cup sour cream in the fridge so I plopped that in for a creamier factor.  A big pinch of salt and a healthy splash of balsamic to brighten it up were the finishing touches. 
I will say yesterday the stew was good- not over lemoned or curried but a little blah.  I let it sit overnight and tasted again this morning and it was much better.  The flavors really had time to meld together.  I think upon reheating I’ll add some peas for a fresh touch.

So, insanity happened on Super Bowl Sunday.  I didn’t go out, I didn’t drink too much.  I was very happy the Saints won but the insanity happened here:

Nachos bigger than my head

Nachos for one?

 

Uh did your face melt off yet with how amazing these look?  I just recovered mine so don’t feel bad.

Saints vs. Colts – I say Who Dat! and bring on the Southern flavored menu. I will have to make wings, mostly because I love wings and it’s an excuse to make them. Alton Brown has a fantastic recipe for wings that is a bit time consuming  but totally worth it not to have to fry them and still have them turn out all crispy. Other than that, jumbalaya? Cornbread? Any creative ideas of a fun Super Bowl menu that reflects both teams?  Should I do a Creole twist on nacho plates because that could be fun.  And what part of the menu is going to represent the halftime act of The Who? 

Oh, this is exciting!

2009- what can I say? I’m really not sorry to see you go.  I mean I made out ok and I have TONS to be thankful for, but it was just one of those years that sort of breaks your spirit down, kicks it a little, rubs some mud on it and then gives it a dirty look.  My culinary world had its ups and downs with both fantastic successes and epic failures. 

It was the year of pizza, Trader Joes $1.99 crust literally changed my life.  I mastered sauceless pizza in a manner that actually inspired others near me to do the same.  Spinach, carmelized onions, bacon, cheeses, veggies and don’t forget peaches all made appearances on the blank canvas of crust. The pizza stone however, was less of a triumph and now mostly serves as something that sits in the oven and helps keep temps even.

It was the year of completely failing cheesemaking in the most grand manner.  I believe that would be considered #CheesmakingEPICFAIL in the Twitter world.  It still hurts to talk about.

It was the year of steak-a-tizers every time I went home, even this Christmas when a wonderful friend actually hauled his charcoal grill over to my parents and prepped up some home grown tri tip on the driveway during a blizzard.

It was the year of the most decadent ribs at the Blumers which I hope continues in 2010 once they get back from Austin (Are you reading this Marc?)

It was the year of dipping my toe into the world of baking with pumpkin bread. 

As far as eating out 2009 was the year of frugality.  Dining out shifted from a night out at somewhere fancy pants to a BYOB or low key spot with simple food prepared exceptionally well.  Mado chartucherie, Nhu Lan pork sandwiches, Lawrence Fish Market sushi and XOCO churros and hot chocolate brought me joy this year.  Dinner club nights were less frequent but still some of the best meals I’ve had in this city.  The loss of my Cuban restaurant still brings a tear to my eye and a pre-prohibition cocktail at In Fine Spirits is always a welcome treat.

And this year?   I want to continue all the joy and togetherness with that the kitchen brings to my life because one thing that I did realize this year it’s about passion.  The best prepared beautiful food served without soul is meaningless.  So this year is about appreciation, sharing and making sure to remember what it’s really all about.

And maybe becoming less scared of dough.

Happy New Year – Cheers to 2010!

Want delicious cinnamon coffee with out the cloying sweetness of those syrups? And it never works to just mix in a dash of cinnamon at the end because the spice is too oily so it just sits on top and forms a weird skin.

Tip: Add a few shakes of cinnamon to the grounds before you brew.  Deeelish!