Cookbook Review

I love flipping through cookbooks and marking all of the recipes that I want to make some day. But what about the recipes that don’t automatically appeal to you, they get left out. You may be missing a really delicious meal.

A few of us started a cookbook club. What better way to hear about recipes you might not have ever made? So much better than reading random reviews, you actually know the people who make it and if they say it’s good, it probably is.

We started with Milk Street by Christopher Kimball. He used to host the cooking shows Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen. A great cooking show that tests a recipe a hundred different ways until they come up with the best possible outcome.

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I started off with the Vietnamese Caramel Fish and Herb and Pistachio couscous. Both definite do-overs.

I have never prepared fish this way, it’s poached in a aromatic caramel sauce and topped with jalapeños and cilantro.  The Couscous was really good. It’s a make ahead dish and gets better the longer it sits, perfect for a party. I would suggest not tossing in the pistachios if it’s made far ahead in advance, reserve for the last minute.

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I went on to make the Spanish Pork Bites (pinches Morunos)

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Crispy, tender and flavorful tidbits of pork, it was good, no leftovers good.

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Along with that I made the Brussels Sprouts with anchovies and garlic. I am convinced you can add those two ingredients to anything and it will be good. The anchovies take on another flavor once cooked. The sprouts were charred and crispy and the honey adds a hint of sweetness. I will make these again but next time try roasting them in the oven opposed to on the stove.

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I was happy with this cookbook and have a couple more recipes saved on my “to-make” list.

Chicago

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I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Chicago, my first time! The day of travel would have been just fine if the plane actually took off and arrived at the gate when it was supposed to, however we had a lot of down time on the tarmac. Dinner reservations were at 8:45 that night so we went straight to the room and back out into the city in search of the restaurant.

Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard was a must do. Unfortunately her flagship restaurant The Girl and the Goat was booked out until November so we decided to try her Asian restaurant Duck Duck Goat. “Reasonably authentic Chinese Food” is what the waiters say when they greet you at the table. The place was buzzing for a late Thursday evening. The space was tight and the volume loud. Sitting almost too close for comfort next to other diners, we ordered off of the “chef recommended” menu. I only have a couple pictures since the lighting wasn’t doing me any favors.

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We started off with the wood fired duck hearts.  The were tender, smoky and served on a creamy bed of garlic aioli. Delicious.

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Along with those we ordered the duck spring rolls, braised pork belly and ended with the   char siu bao. The bao dough was probably the best I have ever had, so light and fluffy. It was all really good. Happy with our decision we moseyed on closer to the hotel to meet a friend for a drink.

The next day we walked out on the river and hopped in a water taxi toward Willis tower.

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Not wanting to wait in line for the sky view we kept on walking to Union Station where I had my first Chicago dog.

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I’ll come clean, I don’t really like hot dogs. I felt that I had to try it and see what all the fuss was about. Eh, it tasted like a hot dog that had too much stuff on it. I won’t need another one.

The rain started to arrive as we were along the riverwalk so we tucked into a winery for a couple glasses of wine. I really dig the vibe of the river front, I can see spending warm afternoons out there listening to music and people watching.

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Cold and ready for a hot shower we went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner numero dos.

Reservations weren’t until later that evening so we started at a speakeasy bar called Brando’s. Remembering I am too old for crowds, we weren’t sure if we would be able to stand the elbow to elbow nowhere to sit room. However the happy hour prices and delicious dirty martinis swayed us to fight the sporadic nudges of the flannel wearing strangers. Then a barstool opened up and we made ourselves comfortable until dinner.

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Rick Bayless, he’s my favorite . He was who graced the screens of my early culinary classes and whom I grew to admire years after. Eating at his restaurant Frontera Grill was the first thing that came to my mind when I decided to finally see Chicago. I wish I had a better experience to share but it was just very underwhelming.

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We started with pork tamales and tamarind margaritas. Both were just OK. I’ve had much better in San Diego and our waiter was less than gracious.

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The entrees were molé enchiladas and a fish dish. The fish was better than the enchiladas. If you want really really good Molé Enchiladas head to El Comal or JV’s tacos in San Diego. Can’t be beat.

The best thing we had were probably the plantains, they could have stood to cook a little longer but dipped in crema and molé they were pretty darn good.

 

Unsatisfied we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel.

I had the next day solo, so after lounging in bed with multiple cups of coffee I ventured out. I walked down to Navy Pier and had a mango smoothie along the water. I had some company stop by.

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I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the afternoon so I just started walking along the lake.

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So unreal, just breathtaking! Are we sure this is a lake?

I found myself not far from Lincoln park, I decided that would be my destination and a place to stop for lunch.

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I found a little restaurant outside the Lincoln Park zoo that suited my needs. A glass of rosé and a sandwich. The wind picked up and my toes were going numb, yes I wore flip flops, duh!

I also found that cabs were much easier than ride shares out there, do you guys agree?

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Back at the hotel I poured a big glass of Syrah and submerged myself in a piping hot bath. We were invited to an event at the House of Blues later that night, so with time to kill we went to the hotel bar for a bite to eat and a drink.

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The short trip ended with an open bar, live music, late night pizza and amazing company!

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It was a perfect little getaway. I love being in a new place, it’s one of my most favorite things. Like any place, I could have used a couple more days. If I ever get back there, I have a list ready!

 

 

 

Tzatziki

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When I was younger, Trader Joe’s Tzatziki was a staple in my refrigerator. As I have gotten older and really learned my way around the kitchen, I found it’s much more delicious homemade. As most things are.

A creamy greek yogurt sauce with garlic and cucumber, its a great partner to a lot of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes. Or to just dunk a warm piece of pita bread in.

I used this as a topping to some chicken shawarma pitas. Easy to make there is really no excuse to buy it, sorry Trader Joe’s.

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INGREDIENTS

3/4 English cucumber, peeled and grated

4 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled, finely minced

1 tbs lemon juice

2 tbs chopped fresh dill

1 tbs GOOD Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 cups Greek yogurt

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Directions

After the cucumber is grated allow to sit in a fine mesh strainer, sprinkle with a dusting of kosher salt and let sit, this will bring out the moisture in the cucumber.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt,  garlic, lemon juice and dill. Season with salt and pepper. Chill.

Squeeze as much liquid out of the cucumber as you can using cheese cloth, dish towel or aheavy duty paper towel. Add to the yogurt mixture and combine well. Chill until ready . Drizzle with olive oil before serving.

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Jamaican Jerk Shrimp with Mango Salsa

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Fun fact, did you know that mango skin is related to poison Ivy? I found out the hard way years ago after I developed a rash on my hands and face from devouring a case of mangoes. Maybe that isn’t such a fun fact.

It’s hard to beat a perfectly ripe and juicy mango. Delicious on their own but they are also perfect partners for seafood. Mango salsa cools the palate from the spice in this recipe. Save a batch of seasoning for a super easy weeknight meal and don’t be afraid to venture into another type of seafood, this would be good on salmon or a meaty white fish.

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*recipe adapted from MyRecipes

INGREDIENTS

1-2 mangos, peeled and chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/2 red onion, diced

salt to taste (garlic salt is even better)

2 lbs large raw shrimp

2 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoon Jamaican Jerk spice mixture **recipe below**

1 tablespoon coconut oil

Combine the first 5 ingredients together and set aside.

Toss shrimp (tails on or off it’s your meal) with olive oil and spice mixture, mix to coat. Heat large skillet or grill pan over medium high heat. Add coconut oil, when hot add your shrimp. Cook 3 minutes per side or just until shrimp turn pink.

Serve on a bed of mango salsa. Coconut rice would be a wonderful team player.

**JAMAICAN JERK SPICE MIXTURE

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1/3 cup paprika

2 tablespoons ground allspice

4 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well, store in an air tight container.

 

 

 

Sneaky

The other night at dinner Kaili had told me she finished all her hot dog. I told her she could grab her Halloween candy and pick something for a treat. Once the candy was ingested I went over to the table where I noticed a rather large amount of hot dogs on Averi’s plate. I knew that I never gave her that much so when I asked Kaili about it, she admitted she put her food onto sisters plate. Little sneaky shit.

We decided to battle the crowds at Balboa Park for December nights last Friday. The International houses were open and serving a few of their countries delicacies. As much fun as it would have been to linger longer and try more food, the amount of people with two little kids is an anxiety attack waiting to happen. I have learned that the older I get, the more I hate crowds and especially lines.

We really didn’t get much out of the experience aside from the girls going on a few overpriced carnival rides, free entry to a couple museums and a visit with Santa.

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We ended up leaving the park for a proper dinner and found ourselves at a very unpretentious old and quaint Italian restaurant for dinner called Volare. I haven’t been really excited about a meal out in a long time. Shane might tell you I order wrong but I just think I have become a tad snooty with my food. However, I did not order wrong here and everything I tried was delicious. We were not disappointed and I can’t wait to return.

 

 

Summer Moments

Kaili is finally getting comfortable in the pool. Between swimming with her friends and swim lessons, I am hoping she becomes a very strong swimmer.

We had a nice visit with friends and it took the sun going down to finally get everyone out of the pool.

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The weather has been spectacular, making it very difficult to stay inside.

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I made an Indian feast for family using this recipe as my always go to for Chicken Tikka Masala. I made some Dal and Raita and bought Trader Joe’s frozen Naan and Samosa’s. We were all happily stuffed at the end of the night.

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I also made Chrissy Teigen’s Pineapple Grilled Shortribs and you guys, they were Ahhhhmazing. I will describe them as candied meat or a very tender and sweet beef jerky.

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Kaili has her last swim class, it’s bittersweet. She really loves it and asked me if she could have a playdate with her instructor. Every day she gets a little bit braver.

Farewell Kindergarten

 

Well that was quick wasn’t it? Doesn’t seem very long ago that we walked her to school for the first day of Kindergarten. She loved it, made great friends and had wonderful teachers. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off the elementary years.

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I won’t lie, having her in school from 9:am -3:45 pm everyday was pretty sweet. So now having her home all day is going to be an interesting challenge. I might  will have to call in my trusty helper wine to make the days go by a little easier. In reality it should be a pretty good summer with a nice break from the mundane as we take a trip up to Washington state…..For more wine!

I made the teachers a fun little gift bag that I’ve had saved on my Pinterest board for years. I am finally finding a reason to make some of these cute gift ideas.

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Inside I put a beach towel, sunscreen, chapstick, coconut body wipes, a fruit infuser water bottle, a magazine and a bottle of rosé.

We have enrolled Kaili back in swim lessons and although she’s only been to two of them so far, I am definitely seeing improvements. We’ve got to get this girl to swim or at least not drown, that is a great start.

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And to kick off summer, I took her to the salon for a new haircut.

Taking a few inches off and adding layers, I think it looks great. She is now ready for hot sunshiney days