My Thoughts About Food

On our road trip to Lake Erie, my husband Vaughn and I started listening to Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. Between buzzing through Chicago traffic and meandering through mundane corn and soybean fields, my mind focused on Pollan's thoughts on food.

I started to think about why I eat the way I eat, and why my views are changing...

Why do I use butter instead of margarine?

Why do I eat so much salt?

Why am I so picky about where my food comes from?

More to come on this topic...


Pie Extravaganza!

This morning I dragged myself out of bed a little earlier than usual to go to the Evanston Farmers' Market with my in-laws Gary and Sue and my husband Vaughn.

Oh the plethora of goodies!

The market was in a parking lot behind a parking garage and in front of the building where Sue works. There were about 30+ vendors from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. It was about double the size of the Athens Farmers' Market!

Vaughn and I were amazed by 1) the amount of produce 2) the variety of produce that each vendor had. We bought several kinds of lettuce that we had neither tasted, seen, nor heard of before. To or bag we added little golden plums that both Vaughn and I mistook as huge golden cherries.


The other things we bought were shitake and crimini mushrooms, various cuts of beef, some raspberry jam, and sour cherries and tart Lodi apples for pies.

After picking up a fabulous cherry pitter and a silicone baking mat I set to work pitting the two quarts of cherries while Sue went running.

When she returned I made dough for the crust (following Alton Brown's recipe) and Sue prepped the cherries and apples for pie stuffage.

The cherries were surprisingly sweet for being sour cherries. The recipe called for ... 1 1/4 cups of sugar! We nixed that only added a half cup, which was plenty!

Here's the result:

Something fishy is going on with the color and quality of the photo on here. This upload looks a lot different from the image on my computer...

Once I figure that out and fix it I'll post a new one!


Chocolate Pasta

Rossi Pasta of Marietta, Ohio makes pasta in a wide variety of flavors.

50 and counting...

While browsing the local section of Kroger in Athens, Ohio I spotted a delectable rarity. Their Chocolato Cabernet Tagliarini is concocted with dark cocoa powder and Cabernet Sauvignon grape seed flour for a flavorful finish.

Chocolate and wine packed in pasta form is much too hard to resist!

I bought a package and looked up recipes online when I returned home. Much to my dismay most of the recipes were for dessert preparations doused in chocolate syrup and piled high with raspberries! I must confess that I'm not big on sugary sweets - GASP! - unless really in the mood for them.

I took this as a challenge and decided to create my own recipe that incorporates this pasta varietal.

After my first sampling of duck at Méchant Boeuf in Monteal and my recent encounter with quail at the Hopleaf in Chicago, I realized that either bird would be a tasty accompaniment to the pasta. Both have very rich, succulent dark meat that leans toward the sweeter side, more so the quail though.

I have also recently tried whole fresh Mission figs and discovered their delightfully light, slightly sweet and almost grassy flavor.

While browsing through the Joy of Cooking today I came across a recipe for Pan-Seared Duck Breasts with Fig and Red Wine Sauce.


Begin by prepping the Fig and Red Wine Sauce:

Yield: 6 servings

This sauce can be made a week ahead and kept in a covered container in the refrigerator. If possible, use the large Calimyrna figs rather than the smaller, darker Mission figs.

Combine in a medium saucepan:
2 cups fruity dry red wine, such as a Zinfandel
1/4 cup duck or chicken stock or broth
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
One 2-inch strip lemon zest
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 bay leaf
Pinch of ground cloves or allspice

Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Add 16 dried figs, stems removed.

Return the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently until the figs are very soft but still retain their shape, about 45 minutes. If the liquid reduces to less than 1 cup before the figs are soft, add a little water.
Remove from the heat, and remove the lemon zest and bay leaf. Puree 3 of the figs with 1/3 cup of the poaching liquid in a food processor or blender, then stir this mixture back into the remaining figs. If needed, thin the sauce with wine, stock or water.

The recipe for the Pan-Seared Duck Breast is as follows:

Yield: 6 Servings

Have ready:
6 boneless, skinless duck breast halves

Combine in a nonreactive bowl:
3 tablespoons raspberry or fruit-flavored vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons minced onion, shallots, or scallions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Add the duck breasts to the marinade. Turn to coat, then cover and refrigerate for 2-12 hours

Remove the duck breasts from the marinade, scrape off the solids, and pat dry. Brush both sides of the breasts and a large heavy skillet with olive oil.

Heat the skillet over medium-high heat until the oil begins to smoke. Add the duck breasts and cook until the first side is lightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Turn and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Remove duck breasts from pan and let rest on a carving board for 5 minutes.

Slice each breast against the grain on the bias. Be sure to keep the slices together for presentation.

Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water until al dente (for this pasta it only takes 3-4 minutes).

Drain most of the liquid off, leaving a small amount in the pan.

Add a portion of the prepared sauce to the pasta, just enough to coat, and toss together.

To assemble the plates:

Twirl a mound of pasta around a large fork or tongs and place in the center of the plate of your choosing (removing fork).

Fan out slices of duck breast around the base of the pasta.

Remove figs from saucepan and nestle a couple onto the plate.

Drizzle duck breast with remaining sauce.

Garnish the top of the pasta with one long dark chocolate curl if you wish.


I have not tested this recipe yet, but I will once I find a vendor who sells duck breasts. Whole Foods sells whole frozen ducks, but I'll save tackling a whole bird for a rainy day. When I get around to preparing this dish I will be sure to add photos to the blog and update the recipe if need be.

Feel free to test out this recipe, if you can find the ingredients, and let me know what you think!



Homemade dill pickles are a delightful treat during the summer months! Whip up some pickles for your next barbecue or give them to your family and friends.


Below is the recipe I used to make these pickles. I took it from my mom's copy of The Complete Guide to Home Canning, Preserving, and Freezing. This book from 1976 was put out by the United States Department of Agriculture as a reference guide for safe canning practices.

Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles
Yield: 7 quarts

17-18 lbs of cucumbers, 3-5 inches in length, packed 7-10 per quart jar
2 gallons of 5% brine (3/4 cup pure granulated salt per gallon of water)
6 cups (1 1/2 quarts) vinegar
3/4 cups pure granulated salt
1/4 cup sugar
9 cups (2 1/4 quarts) water
2 tablespoons whole mixed pickling spice

--Per Quart Jar--
2 teaspoons whole mustard seed
3 heads garlic, if desired
3 heads dill plant, fresh or dried
1 tablespoon dill seed

1. Wash cucumbers thoroughly; scrub with vegetable brush; drain.
2. Cover with 5% brine (3/4 cup salt per gallon of water). Let set overnight; drain.
3.Combine vinegar, salt, sugar, water, and mixed pickling spices that are tied in a clean, thin, white cloth; heat to boiling.
4. Pack cucumbers into clean, hot quart jars.
5. Add mustard seed, dill plant or seed, and garlic to each jar; cover with boiling liquid to within 1/2 inch of top of jar. Adjust jar lids.
6. Process in boiling water for 20 minutes (start to count the processing time as soon as hot jars are placed into the actively boiling water).
7. Remove jars and complete seals if necessary. set jars upright, several inches apart, on a wire rack to cool.

*Notes at the bottom of the entry.


I went to the Garden Fresh Market on Skokie Blvd. on Sunday and rummaged through the mound of pickling cucumbers to find 17 lbs of the best cukes.

That night I washed and scrubbed each of the cukes and tossed them into Vaughn's five gallon brewing pots to soak in a brine overnight.

On Monday I had a hell of a time trying to find Ball canning jars. I went to five different stores before I found them at a Jewel-Osco!

I started the canning process when I got home from the store. Barbara, the cleaning lady, and I struck up a conversation about pickles. She is Polish and she makes very traditional fermented pickles. Barbara told me she uses water, salt, a chunk of fresh horseradish, a whole stalk of dill from her garden, mustard seeds and other spices. I'll have to try that technique sometime!

Happy Pickling!



-I'm not sure how they fit in so many cucumbers per quart jar. I was only able to fit 4 in each (they were about 5 inches and very plump). I had to make another batch with sliced and speared cucumbers, which are much easier to fit in the jars. I ended up with 7 quart jars of whole pickles, 5 quart jars of pickle spears, and 2 pint jars of pickle slices.

-Pure granulated salt is non-iodized table salt. Make sure you look at the label before you put it in your basket. Here's an image of Morton's packaging.

-Water: I used tap water because it's convenient. But I highly suggest buying drinking water at the grocery store. Not distilled, not spring...drinking! It's just plain old water that has been filtered to remove heavy minerals and it is not treated with chlorine, fluoride and other chemicals like tap water.

-Use your favorite pre-packaged pickling spice (found with other spices in the baking aisle), or you can make your own. There are plenty of recipes for whole pickling spices online and in cookbooks. Just remember to use whole spices!

-The processing time is based on feet above sea level. Twenty minutes is recommended for those living below 1,000 feet above sea level.
If the recommended processing time is 20 mins or less, increase the time by 1 minute for every 1,ooo feet (i.e. 0-1,000 ft: 20 mins; 1,000 ft: 21 mins; 2,000 ft: 22 mins.)
If the recommended processing time is 20 mins or more, increase the time by 2 minutes for every 1,000 feet (i.e. 0-1,000 ft: 30 mins; 1,000 ft: 32 mins; 2,000 ft: 34 mins)

-You know your jars are sealed when you here a "ping" sound from each of the jars a few minutes after they come out of the canner and the lids are firm when depressed. If the lids are properly sealed (sealing compound on the lid fully adheres to the jar), the pressure inside the jar decreases as it begins to cool and creates a vacuum. The "ping" is the center of the lid being sucked in by the vacuum.

Test the seal by depressing the lid. If the lid gives then a seal has not been made. Immediately put the jars back into the boiling water and processes for another 20 minutes. If the lid does not seal a second time the contents of the jar should be thrown away. There is too much of a risk of contamination.


Quail at the Hopleaf

Vaughn and I traversed the north Chicago streets to one of our favorite food and drink joints: the Hopleaf Bar on North Clark.

We started with their specialty: Belgian-style mussels steamed in Whittekerke white ale with shallots, celery, thyme and a bay leaf. One of the best parts about the dish (besides the delicious mussels) is the broth leftover in the cast iron pot. The broth is best sopped up with the pain d'epi that they serve up along side (a french baguette that is snipped with shears to look like a wheat stalk). With this I had the Three Floyd's Alpha King pale ale.

For my entree I had the pan-roasted quail with morel mushrooms, fava beans, asparagus, whipped potatoes and an Ommegang/bacon sauce. I was blown away. I've never had quail before (vegetarian since the 10th grade), but I would describe quail as a cross between turkey and duck, and all that big flavor in such a tiny package. The meat was juicy, sweet and rich. The Ommegang and bacon sauce paired beautifully and added another layer of flavor to the dish. Usually I love a big helping of dense, chunky, flavorful mashed potatoes, but the silky-smooth whipped potatoes were a much better match with the rich quail meat. I paired the entree with the Atomium Grand Cru, a delightful beer heavy on the orange flavor and aroma with a hint of coriander.

We ended our evening with dessert - a rarity because we usually stuff ourselves. We had the lemon curd served in shortbread tart cups laced with rosemary and a little dollop of strawberry rhubarb. I'm a sucker for lemon curd and this desert was delightful. The tanginess of the lemon curd, sweet and tart combination of the strawberry rhubarb, and the fragrant herbal flavor of the rosemary was refreshing. So long chocolate cake drenched in chocolate and more chocolate!


More Food Photography

Vaughn's raspberry wheat beer.

A little green bowl of lychee fruit.

Wooden platter of fresh carrots.


Food + Photography

I love photography and I love food. So the natural path to head down would be food photography. There's just one catch. I'm usually photographing food I cook for my meals. I would much rather eat it right away than let it sit around while I snap a few photos!

I need to find a chef who is willing to let me photograph their food. That shouldn't be too hard, right?


Bonjour! Hi!

In search of dinner, Vaughn and I strayed from online reviews and guidebooks our first night in Montreal. We walked the cobblestone streets of Vieux-Montreal, peered into windows and scoured menus placed outside the door. It didn't take long to stumble upon a resto serving up food with an unpretentious French flair.

After greeted with the usual "Bonjour! Hi!" we were seated quickly at a window table. If it wasn't so drizzly the windows would be open to the street, which would have been lovely. The server returned promptly to take our drink order: Vaughn ordered a Griffon Rousse (red ale) and I ordered a Chaval Blanc white ale served with a slice of lime. Both were delicious.

Vaughn and I were excited by the menu: duck shepard's pie, game meat loaf with porto fois gras, fish of the day with chorizo and sauteed squid. However, we were even more tempted by their burgers. Vaughn ordered the lamb merguez burger (lamb sausage) and I ordered the halibut BLT.

I dove into the fries first. The fries were cut in-house, perfectly fried and piled high in an aluminum measuring cup. I loved that little detail. House-made ketchup and mayo accompanied the tasty fried morsels (Canada seems to love mayo). It wasn't your usual Miracle Whip or Hellman's. This was house-made with garlicky seasoning. Delicious!

To offer a healthy addition, the meal was accompanied by a heaping pile of salad topped with a savory vinaigrette. There were possibly six or seven different kinds of greens with julienned carrots and ruby beets. The only thing I didn't like was the frisée. I just don't like it. So picky.

The burgers were served on a deep golden brioche bun. Buttery, flaky, with beautiful fine crumb. The thick slab of halibut was unbelievably fresh and seasoned very well. A mild white fish like halibut needs a little help to bring out the flavor, and this one wasn't bland at all. The bacon was a delightful smokey addition to each bite without masking the delicate flavor of the halibut. And the toppings, well no on really thinks about the usual burger toppings, but the lettuce and tomato tasted like they were picked that day.

We highly recommend it to anyone visiting the city and trying to find a funky little resto offering simple, mouthwatering food. Vaughn and I will definitely be dining here again when we return to Montreal.

Bon appetit!


Montreal: Coming Soon

I haven't been neglecting this blog...I promise! I have been super busy for the past few weeks. Graduated from college, prepared for my wedding, got married, and the new hubby (Vaughn) and I just got back from our honeymoon in Montreal.

BUT, after the 4th Vaughn and I go back to Athens to pack/clean the apartment then drive all of our stuff to Chicago. So...not a whole lot of time to update until we get settled in Chicago next week or the week after.

Next entry: Dining in Montreal...