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It's about food, restaurants, recipes and just plain eating.

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Instant" Soup

I was told the man needed more protein in his diet. So be it.

I had planned to make a soup using oven dried/roasted cherry tomatoes and some carrot & celery sticks, which I would dice and add to the soup. Instead, I opened a can of chicken broth, added another can full of water and a fat bullion cube.

The diced carrot & celery went in, along with about a half cup of lentils. Seasoning was oregano, black pepper, red pepper flakes and ground cumin & coriander. Simmered until the lentils & vegetables were tender and added about a half cup of barley. More simmering and what the hey, I added a few pieces of the dried tomato anyway because tomato is wonderful for perking up a bland soup.


Into containers it went and into the fridge for reheating. Alas, I forgot to bring some to work with me for my lunch. I hope the man enjoyed some himself and is boosting his protein with lentils & barley.

I'll ask him.

Quotable quotes; in the category Maybe I Can't Paint But I Can Make Soup!

"A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting." Abraham Maslow

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Not Leftovers - Reincarnation!

Do you save all those packets of ketchup, mustard, soy sauce and other condiments that come with your take out order? I know I do. I often use the ketchup when I just need a spoonful or so if I 'm making baked beans, cocktail sauce or something else requiring "just a bit". I usually don't even keep a bottle of ketchup in the fridge - unless my packets are all gone.

I also keep packets of soy sauce, egg roll sauce, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, honey mustard and just about anything else that I haven't used up with the meal. They come in handy.

Today, I'm trying an experiment. Some time ago we had tacos and there were many packets of red & green, mild & hot taco sauce left over. A couple days ago we had take out chicken and nearly half of it was left. Yesterday I made rice pilaf (think homemade Rice-A-Roni if you're unfamiliar with this dish). Today my lunch is going to be Arroz con Pollo en salsa verde (rice & chicken in green sauce).
I got out my trusty lunch crock reheating machine - read about this little wonder here, here & here - and added the leftover rice pilaf. Chunks of leftover chicken went on top and a couple packets of green taco sauce from the Bell of the Taco, popped on the lid and plugged it in. In a few hours - piping hot chicken & rice in spicy green sauce!

I think I'll write a book & call it The Ketchup Packet Cookbook and include all my recipes that rely on packets of leftover condiments. I'll let you know how it goes.

Quotable quotes; in the category Food For Thought?

"Leftovers in their less visible form are called memories. Stored in the refrigerator of the mind and the cupboard of the heart."  Thomas Fuller

Monday, July 21, 2014

More Than Just A Sandwich! Restaurant Review

There is a restaurant in Park Ridge called Panino's. According the the free online Miriam Webster Dictionary a Panino is usually a grilled sandwich made with Italian bread.

To be sure, Panino's serves a variety of sandwiches, some of them grilled and some on Italian bread. And they serve much, much more.

I often go for the Blue Cheese Burger, a favorite of mine, and so filling I often share a burger & fries (or soup) with a co-worker. Eating the whole thing leaves me unable to contemplate dinner later in the day so . . .

The burger is very good - well cooked to order and dressed simply with lettuce, tomato, sliced onion & pickle slices on a grilled bun, the bun hearty enough not to fall apart and tender enough to be bitten easily. The fries are the sort that are coated. Not my favorite but I'll take them if the soup is not one of my favorites.

Ministrone and a delicious Cream of Chicken soup are available every day, with a third "Soup of the Day" which changes seemingly at random. All the cream soups are good. The Tomato Basil with Rice is exemplary. Order a hunk of Italian bread & butter with a bowl of soup for a light but satisfying lunch.

Other burgers, all in the $8 - $9 range, include Mushroom Swiss, BBQ & Cheddar, BBQ, Bacon & Cheese and one with Avocado sauce, Bacon, Jalapenos & cheese. All come with fries or soup.

Sandwiches include the ubiquitous Italian Beef, a couple subs, a wrap or two and several versions of a steak sandwich. I hear "Da Pot Roast" (both the sandwich and the dinner) is to die for.

The salads are beautiful, generous and varied. Greek, Caeser, Chopped, Caprese, and Antipasto are only some of them. The greens and vegetables are fresh and crisp, the toppings ample and the dressings delicious and served on the side. From $3.50 for a side to $9 for the salads including breaded or grilled chicken they're worth the price.

Typical appetizers include fried mushrooms, baked clams, chicken wings and calamari as well as mussels and toasted ravioli. Two pages of pizza include Chicago & East Coast style, Pan, Stuffed, Artisan Neopolitan and Calzones. Name your poison and they'll make it fresh for you. Thin slices and "Grandma Pizza" slices are available at lunch for $3 to $4 each.

Paninis, Tostinos and Timpanos (a sort of stuffed pasta pie baked in a pizza crust with cheese) are also on the menu, as are dinner entrees ranging from pork chops (breaded or grilled) to skirt steak to pot roast, shrimp & ribs and chicken, BBQ or fried. Italian dinners include chicken or eggplant Parmigiana, Vesuvio, Marsala and Saltimbocca. Pasta dinners, too numerous to mention, range from spaghetti to ravioli to lasagna and everything in between, including seafood choices.

Fresh baked bread is served during dinner. A recently introduced wine list includes several reds, whites, Italian and other beers, sparkling water and soda pop. Catering, Lunch & Daily Specials and delivery are all available.

The Park Ridge location of Panino's is open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Sister locations include one on Broadway in Chicago and one on Dempster in Evanston. Visit their website at or the individual web sites for more information or to view the full menu.

Quotable quotes; in the category Don't Worry, You Won't Go Hungry!

"And I don't cook, either. Not as long as they still deliver pizza."  Tiger Woods

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Effortless Bento - Book Review

I was asked to read & review a new bento book and happily agreed. Effortless Bento, edited by Shufu-no-Tomo, is among the newest bento books on the market.

Exhaustive & encyclopedic, this book includes information on all aspects of bento making from choosing a bento box & keeping it clean to choosing & preparing foods ideally suited for a bento lunch. Tips for freezing uncooked foods are included as well, and there is even a section on sterilizing your bento box.
The "Effortless" part of the title refers to the numerous dishes that can be prepared in multiple servings and frozen or refrigerated for later use. Shelf life is indicated for each recipe as well as thawing tips (some foods can be packed frozen and allowed to thaw in the bento box) and reheating guidelines.

The layout seemed confusing at first, but after a second read I understood the sense of it. Frozen foods are presented first, sorted by type of meat (pork, chicken, seafood, beef), then refrigerated foods, similarly arranged. Each section starts with a few full bento lunches, including photos of the finished meal. Recipes for the dishes shown, and for others, follow.

Next is a section of side dishes, arranged by color. In bento making, including foods from five different color groups (red, green, yellow, black & white) is considered essential for good nutrition. This is followed by a section of easy to make pickles and convenient store-bought sides.

Recipes include step-by-step instructions, numerous photos and extra tips to ensure success. Also included are tips for packing wet foods, side dishes, sauces and "extras". Recipes for many "standard" or favorite recipes are here as well as some that may be new to you, as they were to me.

What's missing is a glossary of Japanese foods & equipment such as agar, certain vegetables, a Japanese omelet pan, and information on where they can be found. If you live in an area where Asian markets are plentiful you should have no trouble. A little research online or at the library can help you become familiar with these foods & techniques. That said many of the ingredients should be easily found in most supermarkets.

If you're looking for cute animal faces, apples cut into rabbits, hot dog octopi or sandwiches in the shape of cartoon characters you won't find them here. Instead you'll find simple, substantial bento lunches that will appeal to the adult appetite as well as to kids.

For someone new to bento making, this may be the only book you'll need. My guess, though, is that you'll want to add to your bento library as you gain experience and become more adventurous. If you are familiar with bento already, consider this a good addition to your collection.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


I have been making pilaf a lot lately. It's a strange thing about pilaf. I love it. I have eaten it all my life. My mom made it all the time. It's about the ONLY thing I have not been able to make successfully. Until lately.

I don't know what I'm doing right.

My sister in law makes amazing pilaf. As good as or better than mom's. She claims hers is not very good, that her sister's is better. I don't know about that. The only time her pilaf did not come out well was at Thanksgiving. They did not have any bullion (or some other key ingredient). I suggested using some of the broth from the roasting turkey instead. The pilaf that day was terrible.

Well, I have watcher her make it several times and hopefully picked up a few tips. But be warned - I don't make it quite like she does. For one thing, I add onions, which she does not. For another, I toast both the rice AND the noodles. She toasts only the noodles, adding the rice later. No matter. Here is how I have been making it lately. Give it a try.

Dice an onion fairly finely and saute it in butter over medium heat until translucent & beginning to turn golden (I usually use olive oil or canola oil instead of butter but do what you wish). Use a heavy bottomed pan.

Next, add rice & noodles. I usually use a scant cup of rice which makes enough for supper for 2, and for leftovers the next day.  Add a similar amount of noodles. If you use the type that come in little round curled up "nests" use 3 or 4. Otherwise I'd say 3 - 4  "handfuls" of thin egg noodles - the kind sometimes called vermicelli that are much thinner than spaghetti.  Slew these around in the oil or butter until the noodles are toasty brown.  I said brown.  Not tan, not beige, brown. The browner the better - just don't let them burn. You can season this with herbs and/or red pepper flakes if you wish.

Now add water, broth, stock or what have you. I use water with a spoonful of chicken bullion, or stock or broth, if I have any on hand. Add anywhere from 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 times the amount of rice.  If you used a cup of rice, use about 1 1/4 - 1 1/3 cup water or broth.  You will have to experiment a bit here since your "medium heat" might be hotter or cooler than mine which will affect cooking time and the amount of water lost to evaporation.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover and leave it alone for 15 - 18 minutes. Don't lift the cover to cook, just trust it to do things right.

Here is the secret. Are you ready?  Uncover the pilaf and place a folded kitchen towel (NOT a terry cloth one - one that is like a feed sack) over the pilaf, place the cover snugly back on the pan and move the pan off the heat.  Leave it for at least 10 minutes. 15 is even better. This allows the rice to steam and to finish cooking completely. Don't omit this step! I often stick the pan in the oven (as long as it's not turned on) to get it out of the way while I finish cooking the vegetables or whatever else needs finishing.

Ready to eat? Uncover the pan, remove the towel and fluff up your pilaf with a fork or spoon.  You should have a pan of fluffy rice flecked with dark brown noodles. The rice should be tender, the noodles not mushy. Did you do it right? If not, don't worry. Just try again with more or less water, higher or lower heat, longer or shorter cooking & steaming times. If you're lucky, you'll achieve delicious pilaf perfect for serving with anything or just on its own.

P.S. leftover pilaf is great for stuffing peppers, stir-frying or reheating just as it is. Corn, peas or leftover cooked vegetables can be popped into the pan last minute and covered for a bit just to heat through.

Quotable quotes; in the category; You Gotta Have Rice!

"Without rice, even the cleverest housewife cannot cook."  Chinese Proverb

Monday, June 2, 2014


It's been a long time since I posted about bento - mostly because I have not been making or eating them (except in my mind).

Here is a sort of "fusion" bento I made which was quite tasty and attractive.  Since we "eat with our eyes" looks actually ARE everything!

The bento contains, clockwise from upper left, mini ham & cheese sandwiches on homemade bread; a "kinpira" of sliced carrot, peppers & onions cooked in sesame oil with mirin, red pepper flakes, sake & soy sauce; a Japanese style potato salad - potatoes & carrots doused with a little mirin, rice vinegar, a pinch of sugar & salt, then dressed with mayonnaise and garnished with oven roasted tomatoes; and sliced nectarine.

I had intended to add a few boiled edamame but I forgot until it was too late.  As it was, I could only finish half the potato salad & kinpira.  I kept the leftovers for the next day & enjoyed them again.

Even though this bento is packed in a serviceable but plain plastic sandwich box, it's still pleasing to the eye as well as the stomach.  Enjoy your bento and let me know what  you had!

Quotable quotes; in the category If You Ain't Got This You Ain't Got Nothin'!

"A kitchen without a knife if not a kitchen."  Masaharu Morimoto, Japanese Chef

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Picture This

Still no pictures - when I cook I want to eat, not take pictures.

I made some delicious pork chops last night.  I intended to make Tonkatsu, a Japanese pork cutlet pounded thin, dredged in flour, egg & panko bread crumbs and fried.  It's served with rice and shredded cabbage & is delicious.

But when I got home I did not want to go through all those steps.  Instead, I channeled my sister and made something based on a dish she made for me once. She roasted chicken in the oven and glazed it with honey & mustard.  Awesome!

Because it was nearly 90 degrees yesterday I did not want to turn on the oven. Instead, I cooked the chops in a skillet.  They were cut very thin and were boneless.  All I did was season them with a seasoning blend, sliced an onion thin, sauteed the onion in oil and added the chops.  I turned them until they were well browned all over and nearly cooked through.

A plop of grainy, spicy brown mustard went into the pan along with a hefty dribble of honey and a goodly splash of whiskey.  I stirred it all together and kept turning the chops until they were coated with the glaze and cooked through.

These would be good with anything - rice, scalloped or mashed potatoes, and any kind of green vegetable.  Try them and see if you like them.  A quick and easy week-night main dish!

Quotable quotes; in the category Don't Talk With Your Mouth Full, Just Keep Eating!

"You can never put too much pork in your mouth as far as I'm concerned."  Lewis Black, Comedian