Not So Much….

We tried Sweets and Savories for the first time a few months ago with coupons (Groupons, to be specific) for $5 burgers. As soon as I walked in, I noticed the “close seating” and knew we were in for a rough night: poor couples hoping for a private dining experience were seated in tables about 2 inches from one another. Everyone looked like they were being punished and people were practically whispering so as not to bother their neighbor. No fun!

Once we found a spot away from the crazy close seats, we waited for our waiter to open our wine (apparently the restaurant recently lost their liquor license…not a good sign). We waited-and waited. At one point I was ready to get up and leave. Menus were brought, and yet no corkscrew. Finally, our flustered, overly-dramatic waiter returned and opened the bottle without apologies. Once we told him we wanted the $5 burgers, he snatched our menus away from us before we had a chance to order salads as well.

The burgers arrived-and were just ok. The flavors were there (paired with bizarre frites cooked in beef fat), but the burgers were charred on the outside and rare in the middle. The foie gras was mediocre and kind of reminded me of the prescription canned food I feed my cat. 

5-kobe-beef-burger-at-sweets-and-savories

Kobe Beef Burger, Sweets and Savories Chicago. 

After telling the waiter that we were ready for our check, he went into a 2 minute schpiel about all of the weekly specials available at the restaurant. No thanks.The poorly decorated (no ambiance), small room made me feel like I was in the house of someone who randomly decided to open a restaurant for the night. Skip it.

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Dining with the Divas

I’ve had the good fortune to join a dinner/cooking club with a lovely group of women. Our founder, Jill Warren Kahn, is a talented interior designer based in Chicago who had the idea of canoodling (I know, seriously…I’ve never used that word in a sentence) with her foodie friends once a month for conversation, recipe exchange and of course, food and wine consumption.

The idea is simple: each month the host chooses a theme, and the guests bring a dish based on that theme. Cooking clubs have gained popularity over the recent months, of course out of the food-lover’s goal of stretching the dollar. Culinary magazines are featuring articles on the concept; Bon Appetit even offers this handy Cooking Club Starter Kit.

For our first meeting, the “Domestic Diva Dinner Club” exercised their cooking chops with the theme of “Modern Comfort Food.” What follows are samples of some of our recipes, plus some rather fabulous photos, if I do say so myself.

Viva les Divas!

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Fried Macaroni and Cheese Croquettes, brought to you by Jill

Prepared macaroni and cheese
About 2 eggs
About 2-3 cups bread crumbs (half panko and half traditional italian-seasoned)
About a teaspoon dried parsley flakes (mostly for color)
About ¼ cup flour
Peanut oil, for frying

Prepare your favorite homemade macaroni and cheese recipe, pour into a pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Take out of refrigerator and shape into meatball sized balls. Place on wax paper and freeze overnight. Mix the bread crumbs and parsley flakes together in a small bowl. Put the flour in a separate small bowl. Whisk the eggs together and place in a separate small bowl.

Dredge the frozen balls in the flour first, shaking off any excess flour. Then place them in the eggs, and last in the bread crumb mixture. Place back in the freezer, until you are ready to fry. Heat peanut oil to 350 degrees F (preferably in a deep fryer, but you can also do this in a frying pan on the stove.) Cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until croquettes are warm all the way through. Use your favorite marinara sauce for dipping.

Time to make: 1 hr

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Almond Crusted Chicken Fingers, brought to you by Sheila (& EatinWell Magazine)

½ C sliced almonds
¼ C whole wheat flour
1-½ tsp paprika
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp dry mustard
¼ tsp salt
⅛ tsp ground pepper
1-½ tsp olive oil
4 large egg whites
1 lb chicken tenders

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Line baking sheet with foil. Set a wire rack on baking sheet and coat it with cooking spray. Place almonds, flour, paprika, garlic powder, dry mustard, salt and pepper in a food processor; process until the almonds are finely chopped and paprika is mixed throughout. Drizzle in the oil and process until combined. Transfer to a shallow dish.

Whisk egg whites in a second shallow dish. Add chicken tenders and turn to coat. Transfer each tender to the almond mixture and turn to coat evenly. Place tenders on prepared rack and coat with cooking spray. Bake chicken fingers until golden brown, crispy, and no longer pink in the center, 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve with a variety of dipping sauces.

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Panini with Chocolate & Brie, brought to you by Mandi (and Giada DeLaurentis)

12 slices sourdough bread
⅓ C extra-virgin olive oil
12 oz. brie cheese, thinly sliced
1 (12 oz) bag semisweet chocolate chips
⅓ C thinly sliced basil leaves

Preheat the panini press. Brush both sides of bread with oil. Place in the press, close, and grill bread slices until they begin to turn golden, 1-2 minutes. Remove from panini press and places 2 slices cheese on one slice of bread, top with ⅓ C chocolate chips, and sprinkle with basil. Top with another slice of bread. Repeat with other sandwiches. Return sandwiches to the panini press until chocolate begins to melt, about another 2 minutes. Cut the sandwiches into triangles and transfer to serving platter.

Yields: 6 servings
dsc_00201Official Mascot: Cassidy le Chat.

Light Year: Jenny Gillespie

Jenny Gillespie’s new album, Light Year, is now available for purchase through iTunes! Go on, treat yourself!





Soupçon

My family and I spent time in Florida over Christmas this year with my grandfather, who has lived in Delray Beach for the last 25 years or so. It was a bittersweet holiday since it was the first without my grandmother. Spending time at my grandparents’ house this time around was almost other-worldly; I expected to see ‘Lala’ sitting on the porch reading when I looked up towards the house from the pool. I missed her grand entrances during the cocktail hour in her beautiful suits, our games of Crazy Eight at the marble dining room table and the way she called me Abigail, like no one else does.

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Atlantic Ocean, Delray Beach, Florida.

Two nights before Christmas, my mother, sister and I popped open the champagne and looked through Lala’s cookbooks and recipe files. We found the Petite Marmite cookbook, which held recipes from the fancy Palm Beach restaurant that my parents used to take me and Jenny to, dressed identically in bright sundresses and flip-flops. We found Soupçon: an old Junior League cookbook from the 80’s, and a small brown book of French recipes from the cooking school that Lala spent time at with friends in the early 70’s.

petitePetite Marmite (now closed), Palm Beach, Florida.

Lala’s recipe cards, filed under “meat,” “seafood,” or “poultry,” were written either in her slanted script, my mother’s fluid handwriting or my aunt’s bubbly scrawl. A few recipes reeked of the 1960’s (lots of casseroles, cream cheese spreads, etc.) but some stood out to me as meals I wanted to recreate, and write about. I’m planning on copying Lala’s recipes into a book the next time I visit Delray.

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Je sens juste un soupçon d’ail – I taste just a hint of garlic.

Veux-tu un soupçon de vin ? – Would you like a drop of wine?

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Don’t Sit So Close to Me

Three things have been irking me this week: people who jog in the snow (or even worse, with their babies), people who whistle in public (surely a sign of a latent mental problem or that they’re hiding something), and communal seating in restaurants. I’ll let you chew on the first two on your own time, but the third topic deserves some discussion.

I’ve been scouring the West Loop of Chicago lately, trying to find the perfect place to take my betrothed for his birthday dinner. It’s a special occasion, so I’d like something a little more shi-shi than we’d normally frequent. I’ve never been to Blackbird, or Otom, or Sepia; while their cuisine is enticing, one obstacle remains. Why, in the name of all that is holy, would I want to sit at a table 6 inches away from strangers when I’m probably going to drop over $200 on a meal? A few years ago, I could easily avoid a handful of restaurants in Chicago that force its patrons to engage in this experience. These days, dozens* of the city’s restaurants are taking away something that Americans typically value when eating out: privacy.

communalCommunal Dining Nightmare.

I know, I know…communal seating is “rustic!” It’s economically efficient for restaurants; it creates a bonding experience, it’s European! I don’t need to sit next to strangers in order to enjoy a rustic meal; a multitude of the new restaurants in Chicago are serving trendy “rustic” items like crispy veal sweetbreads, tripe and blood sausage, beer braised bacon, and pickle rolls with corned beef and horseradish mustard. (On a side note, what is with this trend? Gross.) If a restaurant needs to pack people in like sardines in order to break even, perhaps they should consider other ways to pinch pennies.

I’ve only once experienced the camaraderie that could potentially develop during a shared meal. During my final year of college, I was lucky enough to live in Europe and traveled quite often. I visited Paris one weekend with friends and we found ourselves at Nos Ancetre Les Gaulois, a lovely restaurant in the heart of the Ile-Saint-Louis.

parisNos Ancetre Les Gaulois, Paris.

Across Europe, in bistros and beer halls, tavernas, trattorias and tapas bars, people are accustomed to eating at large shared tables. Nos Ancetre was no exception: fueled by the unlimited jugs of red table wine, a language barrier and my reckless youth, I could ignore the couple chomping on their meat besides me. Maybe the next time I visit Europe I’ll be as carefree as my former 22 year old self. But for now, as my almost 30 year old self, I don’t want to experience the first date awkwardness of the couple next to me. I don’t want to be annoyed by the drunk woman talking about how Twilight changed her life. I don’t want to overhear the right-wing couple lamenting about the election. I just want to eat my brains, blood sausage, and bacon in peace.

*Restaurants in Chicago with communal seating (either entirely or in part) include: Avec, DuChamp, Urban Belly, The Publican, Crisp, The Bristol, Eno, Great Lake, Sepia, Smoque BBQ, Townhouse Restaurant & Wine Bar, People Lounge, Twist a Tapas Cafe, Blackbird, Otom, Feed, Osteria Via Stato, Sweet Maple Cafe, Japonais Restaurant, Pasta Palazzo, Veerasway, Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant. Comment if you know of others!


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MenuPages

Thanks for the shout out, MenuPages blog! I guess I’m back, although I didn’t go anywhere. I’ve just been entering into my winter malaise period. Heh heh.

Anyhoo, for those of you not familiar with MenuPages, its a great resource to have for checking out menus before visiting a restaurant. I’m always guilty of this and usually know what I’m going to order (aside from any specials) and how much my food will cost days before I actually eat it.

chi_mapChicago Map, Menupages.

The blog does a great job of summarizing local restaurant reviews each week and providing pontification on openings and closings, food trends, and other Chicago culinary news.

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Winter Malaise

Hey readers. What’s happening. I’ve decided to branch out a bit on No Olives in order to write more often. You see, I’m interested in other things besides food, and I’ve been writing on other topics and actually *getting paid* for it…so why not share here? Anyway, that’s the plan, so expect more frequent ramblings, including my take on everyone’s favorite foodie freak fest, Top Chef.

Today I’d like to address the topic of the holiday blahs. Back when I was a real life lawyer, working on all kinds of intense psychiatric defense cases, the term ‘general malaise’ was thrown around a lot. “Patient complained of general malaise before she ran in front of a car,” that sort of thing. Everyone experiences malaise at some point, but its usually brought to the forefront around this time of year. The holidays bring up memories, emotions, and feelings that you’d sometimes rather not feel. Experts say winter malaise, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is the culmination of the body adjusting to cold winter conditions and being forced into a mundane daily routine because of those conditions. Whatever it is, its annoying. My sister deals with the blahs by using a light box, and I seem to deal with it by alternating between being a complete homebody or a complete control freak.

It’s on days like today that I need to remember that my life, and life in general, is a gift that can be taken away. By shedding expectations of myself and others, especially around the holidays, and realizing and accepting that things aren’t perfect, I’ll become more peaceful.

If you’re starting to feel these blahs and want to break free, go see “Slumdog Millionaire,” one of the most life-affirming movies that I’ve seen in years. Jamal, the hero of Danny Boyle’s new film, was orphaned as a young child due to religious strife, reduced to begging and stealing to survive on the streets, lost the love of his life… twice… and is now being tortured by police after being accused of cheating just one question away from taking the big prize on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Despite this potentially depressing setup, Slumdog is the kind of movie that receives audience applause at the end. It’s heartbreaking, uplifting, and romantic. It’s the cure to these grey days and long nights.

20081112_slumdog_560x375Slumdog Millionaire, Image from NY Mag.

So keep a stiff upper lip, my friends. We’ve got a new president coming to Washington soon, people still want to fill the world with love stories, and Spring’s only a few months away.


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