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Monday, March 26, 2007

With Milk Or Cream And Sugar!

I'm a little annoyed, but secretly pleased at the same time.

I just walked by the coffee place at work. This is like a mini-starbux where you can get coffee drinks, specialty teas and sandwiches at ridiculously high prices. But they give you those nifty cardboard cup "sleeves" so I guess it's not all that bad.

Here's what I'm annoyed/pleased about.

As I walked by, I came in from the outside. The door to the building is next to the coffee stand. Some of their supplies are visible through the window from the outside, but not visible when you stand at the counter because they are obscured by machines and people.

Through the window, I saw cans of Hershey's syrup - - - those giant gallon size cans like they sell at the Mega-Lo-Mart. Dark shiny brown tin cans emblazoned with the Hershey's emblem.

I'm not sure why I'm annoyed. I guess it's because I at least like to preserve the illusion that my $5 cup of mocha-java-frappa-chino contains real, quality ingredients. Not that Hershey's syrup isn't a quality product, but it kind of spoils the ambiance to know that your coffee became "mocha" simply by the addition of the same thing that turns your kid's milk into a treat rather than a chore. I mean, maybe I'd feel better if it was a giant can of Ghirardelli or Valrhona chocolate syrup. Maybe.

But I am secretly pleased because Hershey's chocolate syrup is exactly what I use when I make a mocha-java-frappa-chino at home.


I'm a secret junk-food-coffee-drink junkie.

Here's how I make 'em.

Make a pot (or even just a cup) of coffee as strong as you like it.

Heat some milk in a pan or in the microwave. Add a good glug or two of Hershey's syrup (or Nestle's or the store brand, it really doesn't matter). You could also just add a couple squares from a Hershey's chocolate bar or a couple of Frango Mints, a spoonful of m&m's, whatever - just so long as it's sweet and chocolaty. Hey, you could even add some Swiss Miss hot chocolate powder. I'm telling you, anything will work!

Get out a coffee mug or latte cup or whatever you like to drink from. Just be sure it's big enough to hold the coffee and the added milk. Pour the prepared coffee and the hot chocolate milk into the mug. Stir to be sure it's well blended. And be absolutely sure not to leave any of the chocolate in the bottom of the pan (you can probably heat it right in your cup if using the microwave - no chance of wasting any)!

Now, just to be sure your specialty coffee drink falls into the junk-food category (why drink it otherwise), get out the can of Ready-Whipped dessert topping, give it a few good shakes, and squirt on a swirly dollop of heaven.

And if you have any, and if you're serving this to your mother-in-law, or if you just really love yourself, sprinkle some chocolate shavings on top of the whipped cream. The crowning touch!


Quotable Quotes: In the category I'll have what she's having.

"Coffee, coffee I must have, and if someone wishes to give me a treat, ah, then pour me out some coffee"!

Lieschen's Aria from "The Coffee Cantata" by J. S. Bach

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

So Much Food, So Little Time . . .

There is a restaurant near us called Wholly Frijole. Don't let the name fool you - this tiny eatery serves up gourmet Mexican food that you would willingly stand in line for. I have, and I don't stand in any line for anything!

When they first opened they had a single tiny room with maybe four tables for four and a short row of those tables-for-two-across-from-each-other down the center of the room. Shove them all together and you had a table for 6 (or 8 if they could wrangle extra chairs). Leave a inch of space between each and there were three "couples" tables at which you could admire what the diner next to you was having without turning your head.

It was worth it.

Since then they have expanded into the store front next door. The decor of the new room does not show the care and artistry employed in the original, which features air brushed cacti, sunsets and red and green starbursts, but the extra space makes about 30 additional customers very very happy.

This place serves salmon, lamb, fillet, red snapper, as well as traditional tacos and burritos, all expertly prepared and all featuring their signature chipotle mashed potatoes and a tiny ceramic dish (think paper-cup-of-cole-slaw-with-your-hot-dog-platter) of the house beans. The chef used to be on staff at one of the swank Mexican restaurants in Wicker Park - the one with a name I can't pronounce that means "grasshopper" or something like that.

Dishes come with your choice of soup or salad. If they have tortilla or black bean soup go with that. If you're with Bill, order the house salad. He'll let you taste his soup. The best of both worlds. My favorite dish is the grilled vegetable plate - slices of onion, jicama, chayote and other vegetables grilled and leant up against a mound of the mashed potatoes and garnished with a grilled green onion tied in a knot. rrlllggghmmm (Homer drool).

The other day, I made tortilla soup at home. There was a recipe in the paper. I didn't follow the recipe exactly, but the soup was good. You need proof? Bill took the leftover one inch of soup to work the next day to eat with his left over spinach pie. Bill doesn't eat ANYTHING he doesn't love.

With my soup I had a salad. I based it on the house salad at Wholly. While I could duplicate neither dish exactly, my efforts were worthy of repetition and of sharing. Here are approximate recipes.

Tortilla Soup

Cut a few stale leftover corn tortillas into 1/4 inch wide strips and fry in hot oil until crisp. Drain and reserve (or just use some store bought tortilla chips).

Saute minced garlic and onion in olive oil with a bit of canned chipotle pepper and its sauce, some cumin, cayenne, salt, pepper, dried parsley and dried oregano. Add about 1/3 can rinsed garbanzo beans and smash them so Bill won't know they're in there.

Add a 15 oz. can of chicken broth, an 8 oz. can tomato sauce and enough water to rinse out the tomato sauce can. Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup canned or frozen corn kernels and heat to simmering. Taste for seasonings (I added a splash of lime juice - vinegar is also good - and a dash of tabasco) and serve with a dollop of sour cream and the tortilla "croutons" for garnish.
2 generous servings.

Wholly Salad for One or Two
(Bill doesn't eat salad)

Wash and dry five large romaine lettuce leaves. Slice five radishes and dice some tomato.

In a salad bowl place a dab (about 1/2 teaspoon) of spicy brown mustard, a blob (a few tablespoons) sour cream and a few bloops (a few tablespoons) olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, dill and other herbs of your choice. Mix well.

Add the lettuce, tomato, radishes, and about 1/4 can rinsed garbanzos and about 1/4 cup corn kernels and toss well. Some shredded carrots or red cabbage would not be out of place. Garnish with a few more of the tortilla "croutons".

I don't know how to make chipotle mashed potatoes but how hard could it be? I imagine you'd want to cook some garlic with the potatoes and when mashing, add some of the sauce from the canned chipotles or (if you want to bother) some of the chiles that have been mooshed in the food processor.

A little rant: It should never be 72 degrees f in March in Chicago - even if it's only meeting and not exceeding the record for the date.

Quotable Quotes: In the category Bread or Democracy

"Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch".
Orson Welles

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

But What Do I Say NOW????

I can see this might be a daunting venture. Somehow, when I knew I was going to send a newsletter every three months or, later, every year, it was no problem to find new things to write about. I just kept a file of topics and half written essays to pull from, collected quotations I liked, filed recipes and craft ideas and sometime in November, pulled them together into a newsletter to be included with my holiday card mailing. But now I have this BLOG breathing down my neck demanding I come up with something clever and wonderful all the time.

I think the problem is its immediacy. With the newsletter I had time to write and edit, copy it, write out envelopes, fold, stuff and mail it. But with this blog thing, with a single keystroke it's out in the blogosphere for all to see RIGHT NOW!!!!! Oh, the pressure!

Saturday night was Louise's mom's 90th birthday party. The family planned a party at the Suparrosa restaurant in Woodridge. That's about a 40 minute drive (depending on traffic) and two toll booths (one on 294, one on 88) from our house in Chicago. You pay attention more when you are caravaning with two other cars. You notice crazy drivers more and wonder why in the world you willingly put yourself in a situation where you have to share the road with such people. Like calmly sitting in the dentist's chair and allowing him to put a hypodermic needle or a high speed drill in your mouth without protest. But I digress.

We had a private room closed off from the rest of the restaurant by a wall of French doors. The floor was uneven stone, the walls painted in that blotchy Tuscany style in shades of sunny peach, golden yellow and creamy beige. There were picture boards everywhere. The fun part was trying to remember in whose house you had seen some of the pictures before - - - that one is in a frame in Louise's mom's dining room. That one is on the bookshelf in Louise's living room next to the TV. I know I saw that one before, but where???

Dinner started with trays of bruschetta and antipasto - thin slices of salami, capicola and mortadella; mozzarella rolled into cones and stuffed with black olives; artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers. Then came a nice salad, pasta marinara, luscious green beans, Chicken Vesuvio and (what do you expect, this is Louise we're talking about) sausages cooked with peppers. And on each table was a plate of roasted garlic cloves drenched in olive oil with a mound of grated Parmesan cheese to dip the bread in. Yummmmm!!!!!

Before dessert, Louise's brother Chris asked if I would lead the guests in singing Happy Birthday. Being properly educated I felt equal to the task and graciously accepted the challenge (after first threatening to leave the room). If you can believe it, this was the first time I can remember when a group of 50 people, with no accompaniment, managed to sing Happy Birthday all together, in tune and on key. Either I'm a great leader or they all are fine musicians. You be the judge.

Louise's maiden name is Kardaras. In-laws with bakery connections brought the birthday cake and a whole tray of baklava cut in huge restaurant-size pieces. What goes better with an Italian dinner than Greek pastry? Good coffee!

Quotable Quotes: In the category And what will you be having?

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people". Orson Welles