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Beet Quesadillas

First of all, I’d like to let you know that Jen and I are starting a small baked goods etc. endeavor called Food for Thought. We bake delicious things for you (such as pictured below), you pay us modest sums of money (amount yet to be determined). Perhaps you teach at UofC and want to bring something delightful to your students on the last day of class (surefire way to get good evaluations)? Or maybe you have a meeting and want your participants to be well satiated for maximum paying-attention potential? That’s when you should call us.

Buy our baked goods.

We are especially good at delivering to UofC people on campus and in Hyde Park, but can do all of Chicago, pretty much. FREE delivery! By me! Email UofCfoodforthought – at – gmail – dot – com to enquire.


OK on to beets. If you know me, you probably know I am a beet fanatic. But put them in a quesadilla and we are talking a whole new level of happy taste buds. This was a collaborative invention by me and Johanna. Her additions were the goat cheese and the arugula. The combo: pure brilliance.

Beet Quesadillas
Makes 2

4 small beets or 2 large, peeled and diced
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 onion, peeled and diced
approx. 2 1/2 oz. goat cheese
approx. 1 oz. blue cheese
2 handfuls of arugula
2 tsp. aged balsamic vinegar
4 tortillas

Preheat oven to 425.

Place beets on a cookie sheet in a single layer and cover in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes, or until cooked through.

Place about 2-3 tbsp. of oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, then add onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook them slowly, gently until caramelized. Set aside.

Assemble quesadillas in layers: tortillas, beets, onions, goat cheese, blue cheese, arugula, and a sprinkling of good, aged vinegar. Top with the other tortilla.

I used a panini press for this next part, but you could easily use a skillet: Heat oil over med-high until it is warm. Slide the quesadilla into the pan, and let it cook for a few minutes, maybe 3–5, until the bottom tortilla is beautifully golden brown. Carefully flip the quesadilla onto the other side and let it cook for a minute. Cover with a pot top or a plate so that the cheese melts. Remove the quesadilla and serve warm.

The Soupista, Week 2: Pappa al Pomodoro

I’ve been home sick for the last four days, and I missed most of the stunningly gorgeous, unseasonable weather that Chicago experienced while I was hiding out in my sick cave. I was greeted on my first day back at work with thunderstorms. Sigh. At least I should have my taste buds back soon, and can move on from PB&J and oatmeal. Anyways, the weather reference is a bit outdated in Jen’s post here, but this is my fault, not hers. Just use this as an excuse to close your eyes and transport yourself back to the mild, sunny weekend (maybe with a cup of this lovely soup in hand!).

The Soupista:

I’m not really sure what is going on outside. This so called “Fall” is really throwing a wrench in my warm, cozy soup plans. Seriously, weather. Who wants to eat a thick vegetable slurry when the kitchen is a sweaty, unseasonably warm sauna ?

As a compromise between the offerings of summer and the heartiness of fall, I decided to make my Pappa al Pomodoro, which is just a fancy way of saying “tomato soup with bread mush.” It’s a perfect dish to make if you’ve got tons of tomatoes—fresh or canned—and stale or crusty bread. Really, you can’t mess it up. I usually make big batches of this, because I can’t get enough of it–it’s like a warm tomato hug.

This soup/stew is made a ton of different ways. My twist is that I like to put garlic bread in it, instead of just plain bread. And I like to keep the baguette slices whole instead of crushing them up. The best thing about cooking garlic bread and tomato soup at the same time is that that apartment smells like a back rub given by a jacuzzi; in a word, heavenly.

The secret to terrific Pomodoro(s?) is obviously fresh herbs, tomatoes, and shredded cheese. The secret to terrific garlic bread is to mash all the fresh garlic and herbs into the butter and spread it wholesale on the bread. The secret to a great mixed-green salad is to make it colorful and not drop it on the way to the table.

I also made a banana-y bread. Although tomatoes do not necessarily pair well with bananas, one of my roommates used some of our (seemingly bottomless) orchard apples to make some killer applesauce last week. Sadly, the poor sauce just has been sitting in the fridge. I mixed it with some cheap, brown bananas (19 cents/lb, baby!) for something I creatively named “Banana Applesauce Bread.” Behold my naming prowess! Anyway, the result was a delicious butter-less, oil-less quick bread that is moist and (sort of) healthy.

Regardless of the odd assortment of food, the whole “family” enjoyed the food and the entire meal came in under $15.

Editor’s note: Dear Soupista, Please provide us with the recipe for your banana-applesauce bread. We want to make it, too, and it sounds divine! So does this soup, by the way.

Jen’s Pappa al Pomodoro
Serves 4-6

3 lbs. tomatoes, seeded and cut into pieces
¼ c. olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ c. onion, chopped
¼ c. fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/8 c. fresh sage, chopped
5 c. chicken stock
ssalt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste
shredded cheese to top (Parmesan, Asiago, Romano, etc)

For the garlic bread:
1 medium baguette, sliced
½ stick butter, softened
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
shredded parmesan cheese

In a soup pot, saute garlic and onion in oil for 1-2 minutes. Add sage and basil. Stir until fragrant. Add chopped tomatoes and about a cup of chicken stock. Cover and stew for 10 min. Add the remaining stock and simmer, occasionally smashing with spoon, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and blend slightly with immersion blender until mostly smooth with some chunks.

For bread: Mix softened butter with garlic and herbs in a small bowl. Put bread slices on baking sheet and spread garlic butter on top. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 300 F for 20 minutes.

To serve: Place 2-3 pieces of garlic bread in a shallow bowl. Top with soup and cheese. Garnish with basil or sage leaves. Enjoy.

Let’s Talk Pizza

In honor of National Pizza Month (YES!), I am setting out to conquer homemade pizza. This will be no easy task, and will involve a whole lot of pizza eating, but I am willing to accept this challenge. In the name of research.

According to the Oxford Companion to Italian Food, a pizzalike form has been around since ancient Greece, and then was enjoyed by the Etruscans and the ancient Romans. It was the 19th-century Neopolitans, however, that brought us pizza as we know it today. It began as a street food, but acquired its iconic toppings (and more elevated status) when served by Don Raffaele Esposito to Queen Marherita from Savoy. He served the dough with mozzarella, basil, and tomato sauce to represent the colors of Italy. Grazie, signore. For as many variations as are possible, this classic one is still hands-down my favorite.

Friends, do you have a good pizza dough recipe? And, do you swear by certain tricks or equipment? A particular type of flour? Do I need a pizza stone? I am on a mission to understand this art form, and, simple as it may seem, I know there are many small tweaks and intricacies that can transform the simple into the sublime. So please share!

I’ve tried two different dough recipes so far this weekend and neither has really cut the mustard. I’m not sure if it’s the recipe or my technique–probably my technique. I think it might have to do with the amount of kneading. The first recipe, from A New Way to Cook, was too dry and never really came together. I added more water at the last moment, and then it had a chewy texture once cooked that probably was from being overworked (I can relate).

The second was better, from Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food, but it never achieved that gorgeously smooth texture that I associate with pizza dough. It certainly did not pass the windowpane test. Am I just not kneading it long enough?

Though I haven’t perfected the dough yet, I do want to share this mighty fine combo of toppings with you. Once I’ve found the best dough recipe and technique, I’ll share it here. In the meantime, here’s a good way to use the apples that are so amazing right now.

And really, I’d love to hear from you about your pizza expertise and experiments.

Apple Gorgonzola Pizza
1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
olive oil
1 hunk of pizza dough
1 tart green apple, such as golden delicious, thinly sliced
approx. 2 oz. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
handful of arugula

Preheat oven to 500 degrees (This varies with dough recipe. Again, I’m still working this out. I’ll get back to you.). Place your lightly greased pizza-cooking device (stone, baking sheet, cast-iron pan, etc.) into the oven to warm for 15 minutes.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, warm the olive oil over medium and cook the onions slowly until caramelized. You don’t want them to burn. Set aside to cool.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough until it’s about 1/4″ thick. Lay the dough over the pizza-cooking device and layer toppings: olive oil, sliced apples, caramelized onions, gorgonzola chunks. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the crust is cooked through and golden.

Top with arugula.

Guest Post: Tami’s Barbequed Buttermilk Chicken and Wedge Salad

I get a certain fiendish joy from creatively repurposing ingredients so that what works for one dish, might be folded into others to create a thread throughout the meal. (It’s partly inspired by thriftiness, but mostly an aesthetic preference for a coherence to the plate.) Tami served us this meal in Cape Cod, and the theme here was buttermilk. The ingredient that made the chicken incredibly juicy and tender, also added a creamy brightness to the blue cheese on the wedge salad. Smart ingredient usage and a really delicious meal!

Brainchild of the lovely Chef Tami

I came pretty late to cooking, having been raised by a woman who believed making two weeks’ worth of tuna fish sandwiches for her two daughters, freezing them, and doling them out on lunch day to serve as both main course and ice pack was an appropriate way to feed her children.  It is not.  It is, in a word, gross.  I learned at an early age how to boil water, toast bread, and spread stuff on it – that opened up a whole culinary world previously unknown to me.  Pasta! Raisin bread toast with jam! Hard-cooked eggs! Peanut butter sandwiches! That got me through the next 20 years – well that and having a great sister (who cooks), great friends (who cook), and an amazing wife (who cooks, and sizzles).  I tried my hand at baking, and found it fit well with my love of measuring cups and cake-eating.  But cooking, well, cooking is for people who are comfortable with improvisation, and who are willing to eat the mistakes.  Not me (or so I thought) until I discovered the two greatest cooking resources for lazy, precision-loving, relatively-uncreative people – Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, and Real Simple magazine.  The below recipe is derived from the latter, and is a favorite resource of mine because it combines two wonderful concepts: Real food and easy-to-follow (e.g., simple) instructions.  And it tastes good.  Better, even, than the revelation that was my first hard-cooked egg, and unquestionably more delicious than a tuna sandwich ice cube.

Buttermilk Chicken
Adapted from Real Simple
2 c. buttermilk
8 cloves garlic, finely crushed
salt and pepper
2 tsp. paprika
6 to 8 pieces of bone-in chicken, mixed cuts as desired

In a large bowl, mix the buttermilk and garlic, then add the salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. Soak the chicken, making sure it’s coated, for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours. Store in ziplock bags or a covered bowl in the refrigerator.

Grill each side of the chicken for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Wedge Salad
1 c. sour cream
1/4 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. blue cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper
1 head of iceberg lettuce, quartered to make the wedge
5 strips of bacon, cooked and cut into chunks
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved, for garnish

Mix the sour cream, buttermilk, blue cheese, and salt and pepper together. Position the wedges of lettuce on a plate and drizzle the blue cheese dressing over each. Sprinkle the chunks of bacon, and garnish, if desired, with tomatoes.

Mushroom and Leek Mac and Cheese

My friends Josh and Rachel recently had a lovely, teeny little girl named Eleonora, and a friend got together a food tree of people to take turns feeding them during their first few weeks as parents. My contribution was this mac and cheese, because I figured that if I had just had such a life-changing and scary and amazing experience as giving birth, I’d need some carbs and cheese on hand.

I love mac and cheese, and especially love any opportunity to sneak vegetables into it. I got this recipe from Deborah Madison‘s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which is a tome I turn to often to feed the many vegetarians in my life. There’s a unique kick of dijon mustard in the recipe, which adds some pizazz. Really, is there anyone out there who doesn’t like mac and cheese? It’s a hard thing to disagree with.

I used crimini mushrooms here, though Madison doesn’t specify which in her recipe. I think crimini are great cooking ‘shrooms. They open up and ooze out their juices when you saute them, imbuing the whole dish with flavor.

Mushroom and Leek Mac and Cheese
from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

3 tbsp. butter
1 celery rib, finely chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
2 leeks, white parts only, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1/4 c. flour
3 c. milk, warmed
salt and pepper
1 heaping tbsp. mustard
1 lb. ziti or pasta of your choice
1 1/2 c. grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1 c. fresh bread crumbs

Warm the butter in a saucepan. Add the celery, mushrooms, leeks, and marjoram and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute, then quickly whisk in the milk. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season the sauce with 1 tsp. salt, pepper to taste, the nutmeg, and the mustard.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter or oil a 3-qt. baking dish. Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until barely done. Drain it in a colander, then rinse under cold water. Combine the pasta with the sauce and cheese, then pour it into the baking dish and cover with bread crumbs. Bake until bubbling and browned on top, 25 to 30 minutes.

Mac-and-cheese lover in the making.

My Love Letter to Cheese

Melissa is often my partner in crime when it comes to food. So when Maya sent me the link to this cheese warehouse website, I knew instantly that A) I had to go, and that B) Melissa had to go with me. (All of these pictures are Melissa’s by the way.)

With Google map in hand, we finally made the trek to the nether regions of the Southside a few weeks ago. I’ve been meaning to write about it since. Given that this is Valentine’s Day, I thought it appropriate and sit down today and write this post about my most favorite foodstuff on earth. Cheese. I love the moldy, I love the nutty, I love the stinky, I love the creamy. I love it when it’s aged and hard and sharp. I love it when it’s young and smooth and tastes like you’ve dipped your tongue in a bath of cream. I mean, it’s easy to get rhapsodic about cheese. It’s the most versatile food I can think of, and there has to be–if you try hard enough–a cheese for every preference. It’s remarkable how many avenues a cheese maker can walk down, how many different flavor sensations can be produced from an animal’s milk. It seems such a primal phenomenon–the desire to preserve milk, the basic food that we all start with.

On the Saturday morning of our trek, we pulled up to an unassuming warehouse with a collapsible sign out front. We walked down a ramp in a loading zone toward another sign promising cheese.

When we walked in, we were greeted by the intense nutty, funky smell that is unmistakably cheese. We were surrounded by it, in it. A man with a belly and a beret was standing before a folding table with likely 50 different hunks of cheese, each flying a flag with its name and origin. A few other couples were standing around, and beret man was slicing off tastings of any and all of the cheeses.

We were a bit overwhelmed at first, but definitely impressed by the selection (I use the royal we speaking for Melissa because I’m sure she will concur). All the cheeses that he sells are American, and the range on display was pretty vast. Blues, cows, goats, sheeps, smoked, raw.

This Kelle Blue was one of the most intense cheeses I’ve ever tasted. It was actually kind of a palate-buster, making milder cheeses I tasted afterward seem pretty milquetoast. But when it was in my mouth, it was all I could think of. It seemed to hit every single taste bud with its briny, sharp cream.

Before we really got down to the business of picking cheeses, we explored a bit. We entered the gigantic fridge/cheese cave, with shelves and shelves of packaged cheeses.

We came upon a few doozies of the moldy/stinky varietal.

What we finally walked away with was a blue from Louisiana, a Vermont sheep’s cheese, and a hard goat cheese, and a few slices of aged asiago. They all got consumed as soon as we put them out at a dinner party that night, so I’d say we chose well.

One of the very best things I’ve ever read about cheese is an article by Eric LeMay called “Illegal Cheese.” You can download it from the Gastronomica website, and I highly suggest you do.

So, happy Valentine’s Day, Cheese! Here’s to many, many more.