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Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanks & Giving

Fall in So Cal

Thanks Mother Nature (and Melissa's Produce) for giving us the amazing Korean Pear.  Crisp, sweet, refreshing, and generously sized, Korean pears are very different from other "pears" because I think their unique, exotic flavor is superior and their crunchy texture and bright, white flesh inspire me to get busy in the kitchen on a couple of fall recipes.

Double Duty Ingredients
One of my favorite cooking tricks is to try and use ingredients in more than one way, because not only do you get at least two delicious dishes but you've used everything you've bought and wasted nothing.  Starting with the Korean pears, I selected dried cranberries, Meyer lemons, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), pecans, and apple cider as the foundation for both recipes.

Pilgrims Pilaf is a recipe I created a while back and have revised for this Thanksgiving with the addition of diced, fresh, juicy Korean pears.  I used a combination of toasted basmati rice and a wild rice blend as the foundation or to simplify you can easily use Melissa's Basmati with Wild Rice.  To make this a genuine pilaf, you first briefly toast the dry rice in a bit of oil until lightly browned, then proceed according to package directions.  You can use the pilaf on its own as a warm side dish, as a filling for roasted winter squash, or chilled and served on a bed of greens as a fresh, seasonal salad.  Find the base recipe below.

The second recipe is a sweet, flaky strudel inspired by chef Tom Fraker.  Korean pears, dried cranberries, pepitas and pecans are enrobed in filo dough in this versatile recipe that you could proudly place on your Thanksgiving dessert table or enjoy for breakfast the morning after.  Don't make this too far in advance of when you plan to serve it or you will eat it all yourself and there won't be any left for anyone else.  That would make you a bad (but very happy) person, so let's try and keep the giving in Thanksgiving, shall we?

2 wire hangers + mesh produce bags + seasonal embellishments
Usually the Thanksgiving meal is filled with wonderful, tried and true family favorites.  That's all good, but if there's room to fit in something new why not get your own creative juices flowing.  While you and yours enjoy a delicious holiday, please remember to also give thanks for what you're grateful for and give what you can to help others.  It will make everything even better.  Try it, it really works.

(P.S.  Some diced fresh Persimmons would add even more fall fabulousness to both recipes.)

Pilgrims Pilaf
1 1/2 cups wild and basmati rice blend
1 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Korean pear, diced and sprinkled with Meyer lemon juice
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pepitas, lightly toasted
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
Pilgrims waiting for Pilaf
2 green onions, diced
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 cup grape seed oil 
1/4 cup apple cider
1 tsp. Meyer lemon zest
fresh ground pepper & Kosher or sea salt to taste

In a medium pan heat the vegetable oil, add the rice, and saute about 5 minutes until lightly toasted.  Add water according to package directions and cook until done.  Fluff with a fork.

Add the remaining ingredients, toss to combine, and serve as a side dish.  You can also use this as a filled for a cut half or quarter of a winter squash, drizzled with a little oil and roasted at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes.

To serve the pilaf as a salad, let the rice cool to room temperature.  Add the other ingredients to the rice, whisk the dressing ingredients together and drizzle over the rice, toss, and serve on a bed of mixed greens.


Seasonal Strudel
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup apple cider
6 sheets filo dough
1/3 cup Earth Balance (or butter), melted
1 Korean pear, diced
1 tsp. Meyer lemon juice
1 tsp. Meyer lemon zest
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. five spice  
1/4 cup pepitas
1/4 cup pecans

confectioner's sugar for dusting 

Soak the dried cranberries in heated apple cider for at least 20 minutes.  

On a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, lay out one sheet of filo dough and brush with melted butter.  Place a second sheet of filo dough on the first sheet, brush with butter, and then repeat with the remaining sheets.

In a medium sized bowl, toss the diced pear, lemon, brown sugar, spices, pepitas and pecans together.  Place the mixture along the length of the filo stack, leaving at least a 2 inch edge where you'll start rolling the strudel as tightly as possible.  After rolling, pinch the ends or fold the ends under the strudel.  Brush the remaining butter over the outside of the strudel.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes until golden brown.  

Remove from oven, let cool slightly, dust with confectioners sugar, and enjoy.

                    Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Chicago - It's My Kind of Town

Chicago is my kind of town.  Amazing architecture, a beautiful lakefront, iconic food, fascinating neighborhoods, world-class museums, and especially, my kind of people too, people who, smile at you.

Yes, I was born and raised in this city, second to none in my opinion, a great place to visit and a great place to be from. Recently I took a trip back there to revisit special places and to spend time with special friends and family.  Food of course played a key role in my excellent Chicago adventure....

Breakfast day 1 was at a place called Hash House A Go Go, a rustic yet modern diner located in the fancy yet friendly Gold Coast neighborhood.  Nearly every time a waitperson delivered a customer's order cameras were flashing photos of the "twisted farm food" placed in front of them.  My Apple Cinnamon Flapjack was no exception, and no, I didn't finish the whole thing but I wanted to.  HHAGG's are in San Diego and Las Vegas too.

One must-eat iconic Chicago food is the deep dish pizza and my bff Sheila and I ate at Lou Malnati's on Rush Street twice because 1) it's her favorite and 2) I insisted we go a second time.  Honestly I would have gone again but there were just too many other must-eat, must-go places.  P.S. Lou's will also ship their awesome pizza directly to your home anywhere on the U.S. mainland.

The Chicago Diner on North Halsted is not-your-mama's classic vegetarian restaurant, with a modern yet cozy diner ambiance, an expansive menu of standbys, re imagined veg favorites, and original creations, plus the added bonus of knowing what you eat there is not only full of flavor but full of compassion.  I had to order their popular Reuben sandwich because it's one of the dishes I measure vegetarian restaurant excellence with, and it was excellent.

Another night Sheila and I were joined by our bff Joyce for a trip down memory lane dinner at Hackney's in Glenview.  Best known for their old school atmosphere (founded 1939), fried onion ring loaves, and more standard meat + potatoes fare, I'm happy to report that the large pile of fried onions I ate were accompanied by an excellent veggie burger with all the trimmings.  Thank you Hackney's for coming into the 21st century.

My bff Julie took me to Green Zebra on West Chicago Avenue for a wonderful belated birthday dinner.  Green Zebra's contemporary vegetarian cuisine definitely does not include Reuben sandwiches, but does dazzle with dishes like Smoked Salsify Risotto, Crimson Lentil Croquettes, and Carrot Spaetzle. We shared several small plates, a bottle of bubbly, and lots of laughs for my idea of an excellent celebration. 

Two nights later I met my two business bff's Brenda and Patty at RPM Italian in River North.  I'm a big fan of co-owners Guiliana and Bill Rancic and followed the development and opening of the restaurant on their Style network show.  Our dinner was amazeballs (a Guiliana created word which literally translated means excellent), especially these two desserts that we shared.
Pistachio Cake & Gelato with Roasted Grapes, above.

Bill's Chocolate Budino with Salted Caramel &
Cocoa Nibs, left.  Double amazeballs!

View from the Hancock

Sheila in front of the Baha'i Temple
Those were some of the food highlights of my trip.  Other highlights included a memorable visitor tour of the city, drinks on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building, a walking tour of the Kenwood/Hyde Park neighborhood (including President Obama's street and house), the magnificent Baha'i Temple in Wilmette, and especially a meaningful drive through the old neighborhood in Rogers Park with bff Sheila.

 As delicious as the food was, and as fantastic as the sights were, the real highlight of my visit was spending time with the aforementioned bff's Sheila, Julie, Joyce and their families, plus Aunt Pearl (age 97), Cousins Gail and Michael, Brenda, Patty, and Shadowcat Baley Michelle too.

You can take the girl out of the city, but you'll never take the city out of the girl.  Thanks everyone for a very memorable and excellent adventure.  Chicago is one town that won't let you down - it's my kind of town.  (

Love, Nancy