Saturday, February 11, 2012

I had lunch with my husband at Brunch Cafe (in Fox River Grove, IL).  Yum!! I had the California crepe.  Scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, avocado, bacon and spinach all in a crepe.  I like this because there is a nice subtle sweetness to the crepe that make the whole thing taste special and different from just a scramble with the same ingredients.  Few things I would change.....I wish there was more of a texture that could be brought to it by the bacon and the crepe itself feels a bit greasy/buttery to me.  All in all, not bad.  Not the best...and certainly not the worst!  The service here is always good - fast, nice and keeps a full glass of whatever.  We haven't been to any other of their locations, but this is one restaurant everyone in the family agrees to go to.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I thawed out the tomato sauce I made on January 10th.  In my usual manner, this dinner was made up of lots of different things for everyone to put together their dinner how ever they want.  I made spaghetti squash, not healthy (aka non-whole wheat) spaghetti, chicken breasts, and eggplant. Then just put the sauce over whatever you choose.  Needless to say....didn't go over so well.  Only 2 out of the 5 of us liked this dinner. I am not sure what this feeling is that I get when my family doesn't like my dinner. Inadequate, frustrated, angry.  Over people not liking food...really?  My family not eating my food brings out such negative feelings. I just don't have an "oh well" feeling when people, especially my family, doesn't like my food.  I just can't let it roll off my back like I let most everything else.

Here is the chicken.  I bought chicken that was on sale - it had the bone and skin on it, but for $1.99 a pound, I boned and skinned it. I put it on tin foil (helps in the cleaning department) and put it in the oven at 375 degrees.  After about 20 minutes, I put the sauce and cheese on it and put it back in the oven for about another 10 minutes.  A kind of a healthier chicken parmigian.
This is the spaghetti squash.  I "stabbed" the squash about 10 times all around it, then put in the microwave for 6 minutes.  Once it was all soft, I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, and scraped out the squash with a spoon.  It just shreds on its own and is SO yummy.  With the sauce over it, it is even better.  My daughter also likes it with just parmigian cheese. Very healthy and delicious meal or side dish. 
Here is the sauce and the "unhealthy" noodles.  It was my compromise dish.  
This was just for me - no one likes eggplant.  I cut it into pieces , put it into the foil lined pan and put it in the oven with the chicken.  After about 15 minutes, I put sauce and cheese over it.  Simple and yum, just minimal protein.
This was my plate - eggplant, chicken and squash.  I loved it all, but our eldest daughter is the only other one who liked it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

We got sent a cake from a bakery that made one of Oprah's "favorite things" (her favorite was their Key Lime Cake).  It was from We Take The Cake and we received their 6" layered red velvet cake. Here is their description from their website:
"A classic Southern treat! It's a mild chocolate cake with a wonderful crimson hue and the texture of (what else) velvet. We use all the traditional ingredients such as buttermilk, vinegar, imported Dutch cocoa powder and red food coloring. Then we layer and cover the cake with cream cheese frosting and top it off with white chocolate curls! So delicious!"
It weighs 2.5 pounds and is absolutely fantastic!  What a treat!!  It's actually a problem because that I all I can think about eating.  I had some this morning and can't wait to eat it again. What am I going to do?!?!!?  I added their link to my blog page.
The cream cheese frosting is so thick and rich and see the drizzle of white chocolate over the top? It gives the frosting a bit of a crunch.  The cake is so smooth and moist!  Every bite is a taste treat!
Which is more fun to look at - the cake or the flowers?  The flowers were made by our oldest daughter.  At her high school they are having a art festival and she was in floral arranging.  She made the dog of flowers at the class and loved it.  And yes...and the cake. Really good to look at, just doesn't make me as proud. I ate the whole thing (HEY - piece not cake!!).  

Monday, February 6, 2012

My friend, Chris, brought me an amazing place!  Issacson & Stein Fish Company 800 W. Fulton Market, Chicago. I didn't buy anything.  I was too overwhelmed and not prepared. Not only are there many kinds of seafood (shellfish to fish to squids) at amazing prices, but they also clean your fish, right there, for no charge. What was amazing is that there was no smell.  Nothing.  Actually, not quite totally true.  Outside the market it smelled wonderfully of chocolate, from Bloomers Chocolate factory.  I bet Willy Wonka's factory smelled this good.

Whole fish
Look at this giant head-on shrimp.  Chris is holding it so you get an idea how huge this shrimp is!!!
$19.95 per pound caught wild in Nigeria.
You stand in line once you have bought your fish and they will clean them right there.  When we were there, 2 guys were doing this, moving the line along quickly.

Now to decide what I am going to make and do a quick trip to the city.......

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I went to 2nd Street Bistro last night in Highland Park, Il. I had made a reservation and read the review through Open Table and Yelp.  I love using both those sites to find new places and Open Table to make reservations. Parking in downtown Highland Park is tricky.  We got lucky.  If you are going, make sure to get to this area a bit early to account for this possible problem.

Few interesting things about this restaurant.  This is a BYOB restaurant with no corkage fee.  Almost every table had brought with their own bottle - or bottles. The clientele was "older"....Let's just put it this way, we were the youngest in are part pf the restaurant by about 15-20 years. Their chef is young....28 years old, but he is SO impressive.  I liked his food A LOT.  Different, but in a very good, comfortable way.

Ok...let's start with the things that bothered me - to get it out of the way.

The choice of music is bizarre!  George Thorogood "Bad to the Bone", Ozzy Osbourne....very weird to hear that music with that type of food and clientele.  It got quite loud in there (not so enjoyable), so you can't hear the music very well, but we did, and were shocked!  This music with the heavy beats and rythms  may have even caused the volume of the conversation to rise....maybe if there was classic it would have been a quieter restaurant, which I would have preferred.

The tables are way too low.  Here is a picture my husband took of my legs when I tried to sit with my legs crossed. As you can see, I couldn't sit straight, facing my husband, with my legs crossed. I am not that tall either....just 5'6".  My husband is 6'3", so it was even more uncomfortable for him.  And the chairs aren't comfortable either.

This empty water glass was a common sight at our table - not good.
Now onto the food.....
This is on the table.  These thin crackers are delicious and different.  As you can see, there are different "flavors".  I didn't have a favorite, which says a lot about the choices they served. One bad thing...when we finished them all - they didn't ask if we wanted more. I am sure we could have asked for more, but it would have been nice if they asked.
Crispy Pesto Marinated Windsor Bay Calamari, Baby Organic Greens, Spicy Tomato Ragout
This was yummy.  Light batter and slight pesto taste.  The tomato wasn't very spicy.  I think that is part of the challenge when you  have people bringing their own wines.  You never know what they are going to drink since no pairings can be suggested.  We had a late harvest Riesling, so it tempered this dish  - almost dulling.
 I had two "minors" (appetizers) for my meal.  Almost like my own tasting menu.

This was not on the menu online, but it was on our menu last night.  It was a spring green lettuce mix with roasted squash with fresh cranberries. There might have even been some goat cheese in the salad. I have never eaten a fresh cranberry.  It was delicious in the squash.  A nice sourness with a firm texture, nice contrast to the mashed, roasted squash. Not sure what the reddish sauce was at the bottom, but was sweet, which was a great contrast with this salad.  A bite of everything together and it was a great dish.
Roasted Corn and Gulf Shrimp Fritters, 3 Sauces - Sour, Sweet, Spicy
The three sauces (left to right) was a chipolte mayo (spicy), blood orange sweet (sweet) and myer lemon  cream (sour).  These were more corn than shrimp in these fritters.  These were nice and crunchy with a smooth inside, but shrimp did get lost.
This was our dessert.  Our waitress, Carla, suggested this carrot cake - she correctly said it was large enough for 2.  One of the other dessert options she mentioned included salted caramel, which my husband asked for some on the side.  They did this with no issues - you can see it in the small bowl on the top left of this picture. The dessert choices all sounded great, but I don't like when restaurants tell you the desserts and not tell you the prices.  It is awkward to ask the prices and I feel like they count on that. This was $12....more than either of my "minors".  Of course, we didn't know the price until the bill came.
All in all, a great dinner at a decent price.  We will go back, but I hope they can fix these few problems to make it an even better experience.

By the way...they had braised short ribs on their menu.  Our "neighbors" were very kind and were talking with us (I gave her one of my cards with my blog info on it!!).  She had ordered the braised short ribs.  I told her my adventures in braised short ribs and asked to take a picture so that I can compare mine with "professional" braised short ribs.  Mine looked similar....oh well.  I tried.

I have never made short ribs.  I keep seeing customers buying short ribs.  They are very affordable.  When I ask them how they make it, most of them say braised.  I have never done this technique before.  I looked online to Food Network and found the recipe with the highest rates.  It was by Anne Burrell.  Here is her recipe for Braised Short Ribs - and below I added my pictures and comments.


  • 6 bone-in short ribs (about 5 3/4 pounds)
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I didn't have this.  I forgot to buy them)
  • 2 carrots, peeled, cut in 1/2 lengthwise, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato paste (this is just shy of a 18 ounce can of paste)
  • 2 to 3 cups hearty red wine (Cabernet sauvingnon)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
  • 2 bay leaves


Season each short rib generously with salt. Coat a pot large enough to accommodate all the meat and vegetables with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Add the short ribs to the pan and brown very well, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Do not overcrowd pan. Cook in batches, if necessary.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. (Per the advice of our butcher at work - I set my oven to 350 degrees)
While the short ribs are browning, puree all the vegetables and garlic in the food processor until it forms a coarse paste. When the short ribs are very brown on all sides, remove them from the pan. Drain the fat, coat the bottom of same pan with fresh oil and add the pureed vegetables. Season the vegetables generously with salt and brown until they are very dark and a crud has formed on the bottom of the pan, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape the crud and let it reform. Scrape the crud again and add the tomato paste. Brown the tomato paste for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat if things start to burn. Reduce the mixture by half.
Return the short ribs to the pan and add 2 cups water or until the water has just about covered the meat. Add the thyme bundle and bay leaves. Cover the pan and place in the preheated oven for 3 hours. Check periodically during the cooking process and add more water, if needed. Turn the ribs over halfway through the cooking time. Remove the lid during the last 20 minutes of cooking to let things get nice and brown and to let the sauce reduce. When done the meat should be very tender but not falling apart. Serve with the braising liquid.
See how brown the ribs are getting. I kept turning it to try to get all sides browned. I sprinkled kosher salt all over the pieces before I put them in the pan. The house smells SO good already!!!
Here is the pureed vegis browning. The color gets less bright - more brown. You can see see crusty bits in here. And it smells delicious!!!
After browning the vegis, adding tomato paste, adding the wine, reducing it, I added in the browned pieces of meat
After adding the meat, I added the 2.5 cups of water and added in the bay leaves and thyme.  I put the cover on it and put it in the oven.  
Here is a piece with the sauce over it....yummy looking right???
Here is the finished product.  Look how beautiful and brown these pieces are!
This picture captures the problem my family had with this....the texture.  This is exactly what it is supposed to be like....but no one liked the "stringy" texture.  In fact (GULP) I ended up throwing away most of this dish.  It killed me....hours to make and cook, besides the money....all gone and not liked.  Ouch!!