Monday, May 21, 2012

Chicago Italian Ice, Instead of NATO

1068 W Taylor St, Chicago, IL (between Carpenter St & Aberdeen St)

Mario's Italian Ice. Taylor street. This place is a mainstay of Chicago, and Taylor street itself. I have been coming here since I was a teenager-watching the neighborhood shed the Jane Addams Homes (a token building still holds on- there is talk of turning it into a museum...) and don expensive townhouses and trendy restaurants. I found myself there this weekend, rather than in the midst of the NATO summit protests.

Each spring I wait in anticipation for this gem to reopen (they close for the winter), dreaming of the watermelon Italian lemonade (Italian ice) with chucks of watermelon and lemon rinds. The perfect taste of summer and childhood memories. So many memories circle around this place.

I can picture the cars lined up on a hot summer night while my high school friends and I clamor to join the long queue that forms late in the evening. We are all moths trying to make our way to the brightly lighted counter obtaining the nectar, the essence of summer.

I remember heading over there for a treat after Italian mass at The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii with Don's (my boyfriend at the time) mother- a lovely Italian momma that took me under her wing to introduce me to all Italian-American- her pastas, foccacias, desserts, Italian language and expectations. She treated me like a daughter throughout, even after her son and I parted ways. I'd go over to her house and together we'd cook and she'd continue teaching me Italian as only a mother can do. She was probably the reason I dated her son for as long as I did.

I remember heading there before the fourth of July fireworks one year when I somehow convinced my family that standing amongst what appeared to be the entire city, and then some, to watch fireworks was a good idea. The line on days like that is thick, but always worth the wait. A calm anticipation keeps order- I don't believe I have ever experienced pushing or shoving even though the three lines are never very clear. It is a place where, while waitng, you can chat with your neighbor who may be from anywhere- people come from far and wide.

If you've never been, you are missing out. Go there, now~ and try a watermelon (or a peach when it is in season). And while you're there, pick up a bag of lupinis. They are a fun addition and an acquired taste, but one worth acquiring.

Here's to summer!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pain Perdu (aka French Toast), Asparagus and Orange Butter sauce (Recipe)

Last Sunday, since my family celebrated Mother's Day on Saturday, rather than Sunday (less competition at restaurants), my friend and I had our own non-Mother's day brunch. Along with the mimosas, complements of my friend, we also had French toast (Pain Perdu) with asparagus and a lovely orange beurre blanc sauce with a fresh strawberry salad to cut the heaviness of the French toast dish. All about balance, right!?! I recently have gotten into making normally sweet things, savory. (More to come on that front, promise!)

(This recipe will yield enough for 2, you can double it- no problem!)


1 bunch of asparagus
olive oil
salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Then, wash the asparagus well (tends to have sand in the tips). Place in baking dish and drizzle olive oil and roll the baking dish back and forth to coat same. Add salt (since this was a special occasion, I used my red volcanic salt, but regular salt will do.) and pepper. Bake for 7ish minutes, depending on the size of your asparagus. I prefer it to remain firm, yet cooked. It is easier to cut into pieces later. Once cooked, slice into 1-2 inch pieces and put on the side.

Next, prepare the French Toast mixture.


2 eggs
1/2 heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to preference)
1/4 teaspoon pepper (or to preference)

6 slices of French bread, the good crusty kind, cut into 1 inch slices. (suggestion- cut it the night before and leave it out so that it will be extra absorbent)


In a bowl, whisk together all the ingredients (except the bread), transfer to a bowl that has enough surface area to accommodate your 6 bread slices. Place your bread slices in the mixture for 3 minutes each side to absorb thoroughly. While soaking the bread, preheat the large skillet, and margarine. Make sure the skillet's heat is even before placing your egged bread into it. Cook until each side is nicely browned.

The Sauce:

3/4 cup white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
1/4 cup orange juice (fresh or squeezed- depending on what you have around and if you want to get a little fancier, you can switch the regular orange juice out for blood orange juice- it will be a little more tart)
1 thinly sliced shallot (or again, for a slightly different taste, you can use a small white onion, diced)
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon of orange or lemon zest
6 tablespoons of butter
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons more of orange juice


In a skillet, bring to a boil wine and juice. Add shallots or onion. Allow to reduce (about 10-15 minutes) until approximately 1-3 tablespoons (don't measure it, just eye it). Whisk in cream and allow to reduce again until approximately 1/8th cup. Reduce heat to low. Add butter, one tablespoon at a time. Once all the butter has been combined, you can either strain the mixture or if you want the added texture of the shallots, you can skip the straining exercise and add the 2 tablespoons of juice and the zest, then salt and pepper to taste.

If you decide to strain the mixture do so into a heat-proof bowl to avoid shattering. Then add zest and remaining juice. Once sauce is complete, you are ready to plate.

(If you decide to include a salad, prepare that beforehand as to not waste time after.) I included just a simple strawberry salad- mixed greens with sliced fresh strawberries and a simple vinaigrette.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chik'n cutlets and mushrooms in lemon white wine sauce (Recipe)

In continuation of yesterday's meal preparation, here is the recipe for the Quorn Chik'n cutlets and mushrooms in lemon white wine sauce:

1 package (4 pieces) Quorn naked chik'n cutlets
1 tablespoon butter (or margarine)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
½ cup diced onion
3 cloves diced garlic
1 cup white wine
1 cup vegetable stock
Sprigs of parsley chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup lemon juice

Heat skillet. Once the heat is balanced, add your butter and olive oil. Allow butter to melt, then add garlic and onion. Once the onion is translucent add your chicken pieces. Cook until browned. Toss in mushrooms. Mix in the wine and stock; add salt and pepper. Allow to simmer. Add lemon juice. Cook until there is only a small amount of liquid left in the pan.

Place on top of pasta and sprinkle with parsley or prepare potatoes and greens to have along side. This recipe is quite a versatile addition to lots of meal combinations. You could also add this to a nice salad. Endless possibilities!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kale Pecan Pesto (Recipe)

A couple nights ago I realized I have very little in my refrigerator that easily screams dinner. Throwing aside my go tos, I decided to be creative. The following recipe is what I created...

Kale Pecan Pesto


1 bunch of roughly chopped curly kale (steamed)
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans
5-7 cloves of garlic
1 large lemon
½ cup white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
½ tsp Chili powder (optional)
½ cup shredded parmesan cheese (or less- up to you)
1 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wrap garlic and pecans in foil and place in oven for approximately 20 minutes.

In a food processor, combine the steamed kale, pecans and garlic, pulse until well blended. Using a spatula, scoop off the sides of the processor to make sure all is well combined. Add parmesan, salt, pepper, chili powder and lemon zest and again pulse until mixed. Again, remove any stray pesto mixture from the sides of the processor. While blending, add lemon juice, white wine, and olive oil. Remember, you can always add, but taking away is not so easy.

Mix in the pesto sauce with your favorite pasta and serve (or you can add a little more to make it an extra filing meal. I added “Chicken” cutlets and mushrooms in lemon white wine sauce to the pasta for some extra protein) Recipe to follow....

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Gnocchi!!!! (Recipe- vegan)

I love gnocchi. The little lead bullets of goodness are the perfect vehicle for any type of sauce. Forever did I think these dumplings were a difficult and mysterious creation from the Italian god of perfection, probably together with Bacchus (because wine shouldn't be left out of a good meal). Anyway, back to my discovery... I decided to try to make these delightful creations, only to find out that they are SUPER easy!!  So, here it goes...


1 pound Yukon gold potatoes
3/4 cup of flour (or enough flour for the dough not to be sticky)
salt to taste


Bake the potatoes in the oven until soft- approximately 1 hour or so, depending on their size. Once baked allow to cool.

Remove the skin. In a large bowl, using either a ricer or a fork, mash them up well. Add flour and salt; mix together. Keep adding flour until the dough doesn't feel sticky. Let rest for approximately 5-10 minutes.

During this period of time you can get the water pot started (like you would for any store purchased pasta)

Take a handful of the dough and begin rolling it between your hands to form a log. Then, on a floured cutting board, continue rolling until the dough roll is about the size of your thumb (unless you have really large thumbs, then roll it a little thinner.) Once rolled, cut the dough every inch. Make an imprint in each piece and then roll slightly to create the barrel look. Place on the side (not touching) Do this until all the dough is formed into the individual pieces.

Once the water in your pot is boiling, place your gnocchi into the salted water. Allow to cook until the piece begins to float (approximately 3-4 minutes). Remove from water, place in bowl with favorite sauce and mangia! This recipe feeds about 3-4 people.

Banana Blueberry Bread (Recipe)

Standing in my kitchen reprimanding myself for allowing another two bananas to go uneaten before they became "baking bananas", I noticed the blueberries and I had yet to touch as well. These were still in their prime, but I knew if I ignored them long enough they too would not be saved from the compost pile. Since I am always excited to buy fruits and vegetables, but often neglect them once they arrive in my refrigerator and become just scenery to my exhausted after work or early morning bleary just searching for coffee eye, I felt that what better use then to add the blueberries to the banana bread!

Here's the down and dirty for making the bread:


2 medium sized well ripened bananas
4 oz softened butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
 2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
2 teaspoons Amaretto (optional)
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup of fresh blueberries


Prepare loaf pan- oil (butter) pan then flour it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix and/or sift together in a medium sized bowl the dry ingredients, except the sugar (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt). Put aside for the moment.

In a large bowl cream together the sugar and butter. Once well combined, add the banana (you can mash it beforehand or if ripe enough, just throw it in- it will mix up just fine), eggs, Amaretto and vanilla. Mix well- I use a hand mixer, but it isn't necessary, just faster.

Stir the dry ingredients into the banana mixture. Mix until it is combined, but don't over do it. Then fold in the blueberries. Pour batter into prepared pan and place in oven. Cook for approximately 1 hour, or until the center is cooked (toothpick test method).

Let rest for 5 minutes in pan then loosen sides and place on wire rack to cool completely. (or at least as long as you can stand to wait to try it- I usually only last until it is just a little cool. The adage, do as I say, not as I do comes to mind at the moment...)