From Scratch

Now that most of the major winter holidays have passed, I've started to reminisce about what I will miss most about this notorious "Windy City" season. Feeling unmotivated to go outside despite this timid winter weather? Nope. Experiencing "my eyes are bigger than my stomach" syndrome on all too many occasions due to the sudden scads of food that present themselves at every holiday? Nope. Having hands the texture of sandpaper throughout the winter months? Nope. One thing that I will miss? With the holiday season, comes the promise of my mom's homemade bread. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, there's always mom's raisin bread. Sometimes it even fills up every meal of the day - it's that good. I've even come to freezing it so I can sneak some during the non-glacial months of the year. Because of the power this bread has had over me, I've never really ventured into the realm of bread making myself - let's be honest, I never really had to. However, that all changed when I got a peek at the Flour cookbook. There were so many tempting recipes, I just had to make my own. (Sorry mom - don't worry, your raisin bread still takes the cake.)

Last week I was feeling inspired and made the basic brioche. Not only was it easy, all considered (aside from the whole testing your patience thing - making bread is a labor of love, do not expect to indulge in the fruits of your labor until at least 24 hours after you start making the dough), but it was multi-purpose too. The recipe I used makes 2 doughs. So with one, I made a basic loaf of bread and with the other I made brioche au chocolate (brioche filled with a light layer of pastry cream and sprinkled with semi sweet chocolate chips). Believe me, you'll have trouble waiting the 35-45 minutes for these suckers to bake, much less waiting the 2-4 hours for them to proof after you've assembled them. Like I said, labor of love. The waiting makes them all the more worth it.

Plus, the bread itself makes the perfect base for toast, grilled cheese, or really any kind of sandwich. This week I've found myself making any excuse to have a sandwich at every meal. Peanut butter, tofu "egg" salad, you name it. If I had some semblance of the ingredients in my fridge, I made it and put it on some brioche.

If you don't have access to something like the Flour cookbook for your foray into bread-making, I would highly recommend going to your local library (this is in stock at CPL, don't worry I already checked) - and checking out the Soup and Bread Cookbook. The perfect remedy for winter's doldrums meals of "whatever I can heat up quick in the oven." 

Bread. It's something so basic and one of the simplest staples - that we tend to take for granted. When in reality, it's not all that difficult to make yourself. Some weeks might be more challenging than others to fit it in, but folks, that's what the beauty of the freezer is for - keeping your labor of love fresh for when you need it, even if it's a week or so later. At least give it a try. You won't be sorry. Promise.

Bread also goes quite well with another recipe I tried my hand at making from scratch this week - gnocchi! I made whole wheat gnocchi with cremini mushrooms and peas in a light butter sauce (aka - some melted creme fresh, so yum!) - and of course topped with some fresh shavings of parm. It was surprisingly easy and came out amazingly well for a first attempt.

What have you attempted to make from scratch this winter, dear readers?


Collectives and Channeling

I woke up the other day feeling not quite ready to brave the gloomy day that greeted me outside. So, I did something I rarely ever do. I turned on the tv. Not neflix, not hulu, not a dvd. The real, live public broadcast tv. As I surfed my way through morning cartoons and infomercials, I stumbled upon good old WTTW, Channel 11. And what did I happen upon, but an episode of Wisconsin Foodie. I can't even quite pinpoint what it was that made me stop, but I'm sure glad I did. The particular episode I caught featured the Underground Food Collective. After doing some research online, I was hooked. Just reading their about us section, speaks to the very core of what it means to me to be a "foodie."

Our training and travels give us a sense of the possibilities for food. This is more than just recipes; it's about how food is experienced and enjoyed. We carry these lessons with us as we cook.

Food isn't about how renowned the head chef is, or how many of the dishes are sprinkled with novelty, high-priced ingredients. It's about the experience of sharing food, gathering around a table, and working together to create something - a dish, an atmosphere, and orchestrating an evening - that someone else is going to enjoy. These guys get that. And for that, I applaud them.

After my "underground" discovery, I headed to a source of Chicago-style inspiration, Ipsento Coffee. A while back I had bought a bloomspot for a free coffee class there and I headed over to try my hand a pulling shots and steaming milk. My first attempt had too much channeling (it's an "espresso" term, don't worry about it) and was pretty awful. But my second shot, paired with some steamed milk, made my very first latte one to be proud of (even if my attempt at latte art left something to be desired. ("Well, it looks like... something. At least your lines are symmetrical." I'll take it for a first try.) At my day job, I witness the orchestra of making an espresso-based drink multiple times in a day, so it was nice to get my hands dirty and try it out for myself. Kind of like playing "queen" for a day - well, yesterday, I got to wear my barista hat (who needs tiaras, anyways?).

After a night of "coffee talk", I went home determined to finish out my day with something sweet. I had peanut butter on the brain for some reason. Probably because I was salivating over the Nutella specialty drink at Ipsento - and what goes better with Nutella than some peanut butter? Eh? So I set out to make the Momofuku Milk Bar peanut butter cookies. I've only made two of the cookies from their recipe book so far, but I haven't been disappointed with either one. This peanut butter cookie has that special Momofuku twist. Before making your batter, you make a quick caramel and peanut brittle (probably the easiest peanut brittle I've ever attempted! - caramels really aren't as scary as you think people) that gets chopped up and mixed into the batter. Genius, right? Like, why didn't I ever think of that - genius. I know. My mind was slightly blown as well. And the result was just as impressive. I had one at lunch today and I haven't been able to shake thinking about when I can have another. Can tomorrow come already?

While I wait for tomorrow,  and dream about peanut butter cookies, share with me what has inspired your inner foodie lately, dear reader!