Thursday, February 25, 2010

Holy Mostaccioli!

I've been running with this vegetarian experiment for over a week now and things appear to be going well. I can't notice any physical changes - I doubt those would happen that fast. I seem to have the same energy levels. I seem to be sleeping the same. No noticeable weight loss or gain has been observed to this point, so things seem to be going well.

The biggest difference has easily been the culinary creativity. I made a vegetarian baked penne the other night, and despite the fact that pasta al forno is a staple in my Italian-American repertoire, I think that this version was the best. Instead of sausage, I substituted roasted red peppers, capers, Sicilian olives and kept in the mushrooms. I think it was a real hit and the part skim-ricotta and sauce mixture seemed to incorporate the salt and spice of the additional veggies well. Although, the five cheese blend and whole milk mozz baked on top certainly added to the success.

I also made an awesome Thai gyoza soup yesterday with edamame, ginger, shitakes and watercress. I added a bit of Sriracha to the vegetable broth and it really paid off. I always use chicken stock when constructing my soups and I was very fearful that I would taste a serious fall off, but it ended up really nice. I'm starting to incorporate a lot of new ingredients and am really enjoying it.

I did have some weak moments, though. My family suffered a huge loss and I was down in Des Moines for the funeral last weekend. Times of mourning are often times of eating in my family and I found myself surround by a wealth of amazing meatballs, spicy capicolla, dangerous stew meat and piles of Italian beef. It was tough, but I made it through with the help of some awesome antipasti, marinated veggies and mostaccioli. Thank the good Lord for the Latin King!

I'll be back with more updates and tales of my experiment.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Epic Sandwich: 112 Eatery's Ultimate Cheeseburger

The cheeseburger at 112 Eatery would currently land somewhere around the seventh course of my final meal. It's amazingly flavorful for its simplicity and the execution is just about perfect. Also, I think it's one of the best values in the city. Full review here.

Also, please note that I'm being a good boy and am not eating meat - this was part of my Fat Tuesday send off! One week without meat so far!

Happy Eating,


Thursday, February 18, 2010

A good start and a SW Tragedy

The largest hurdle for my vegetarian experiment may very well be variety. We all have our favorite dishes that we make in a pinch and know that we'll be satisfied, but I've lost some of those crucial meals given the new restrictions. Despite the concern, I'm looking at this as an opportunity to really expand on my skills and hopefully I'll generate some new favorites. Last night started off strong with veggie tacos. I made fajita-style poblanos and onions and also cooked up some black beans with a bit of jalapeno. Everything got a good dash of cumin, ancho chili powder, Mexican oregano and a squeeze of lime (s & p are a given as well). A little jack cheese, some salsa verde and a few corn tortillas made for a pretty nice meal that didn't compromise on flavor. Tonight's menu includes roasted broccoli, greens eith homemade vinaigrette and spaghetti with pesto, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms. Tomorrow night? Tiger Sushi for a good friends birthday. I think I'm doing OK on the variety thing thus far.

Also, the name of this blog wouldn't be very significant if I didn't mention the fire that took out Blackbird Cafe and Heidi's this afternoon along with a few other local businesses. This is a tragedy both for the neighborhood and for the proprietors. I really hope they are able to resurrect their establishments and promise I will be one of the first to walk back through their doors or lend a hand (or tummy) if possible. Thankfully all the employees made it out safely.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite images from Blackbird.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Fatest Tuesday

Incredible. Decadent. Heavenly. All words that could be used to describe our dinner last night (or any other night I can recall) at the 112 Eatery. I try and eat sensibly when I can, but Fat Tuesday and the thought of 40 meatless days motivated me to let loose a little bit.

Anyone fortunate enough to have eaten at 112 knows that their menu is steeped in rich food with an accelerated comfort level. Needless to say, I was willing to oblige.

I started the night off with a nice Domaine DuPage and debated what to order with Jess. After some deliberation, we landed on what seemed like an ideal way to shed my carnivorous habits for a few weeks. For our first course we split the bacon, egg and harrisa sandwich as well as the famous 112 cheeseburger in all its melty-gooey brie based glory. More on both of those delicacies to come. Oh, and we had the fries, of course. They're out of control good.

To be honest, we should have pushed away after the first course but decided to split the tagliatelle with foie gras meatballs. Honestly, I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate a day of indulgence than with this pasta. It's delicate. It's complex. It's simply stunning.

That's it though. Now it's down to business. It all started today and I managed to make it through the fast and a day of abstinence from meat. Tomorrow brings day two and a recap of my first intentionally vegetarian meal at home.

Happy Eating,


Epic Sandwich: Caffrey's

There aren't that many great sub shops around here, but I do think Caffrey's is a cut above the rest. They're my go-to for a grab and dash lunch in the Lyn-Lake area and they seem to care about the product their putting out. Looks like I won't be stopping by until after Lent though! Full review here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

57,600 Minutes

I'm horrible at math, but I believe 57,600 minutes is how long I will have to go without eating a speck of meat. No, I'm not a vegetarian, and likely never will be, but I have decided to give up meat for Lent. I will allow myself to eat fish (it aligns with the church) and eggs but that's it. I'm not going to go vegan or take it that far, but giving up meat for 40 days is no small deal for a guy as obsessed with food as I am.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have always dreaded Fridays during Lent because good Catholics (which I am, obviously ;-) abstain from meat. It used to be a big deal to me, but after expanding my culinary horizons, I was able to find ways that made the experience more enjoyable. Make no mistake about it though, I am doing this because I think it is a good sacrifice and reflects well on the season and what it means to us. I think it also represents a great opportunity to further expand my recipe base and cooking skills. I know I will get very tired of this at some point along the 40 days (Day 2?), but I'm committed to getting through it. I felt the same way when I gave up soda and sweets, and I made it through just fine and actually consume far less of each category for having done this. However, I can promise you there's no way I'm going to abandon my precious proteins forever. There's just no way.

My survival strategy is to make sure I'm eating the right foods, but balancing the diet to offset the difference from my regular diet:

1.) LOTS of fruit and veggies - I'll need the extra fiber and natural sugar to feel full and for energy

2.) Beans and legumes - a good source of protein (needed since I'm a beanpole) and a key component of my usual diet. I think they offer one of the better bastions for variety and take on flavors well.

3.) Whole grains - I need to get back to baking my own bread on a regular basis and eating filling grains lower on the glycemic index such as couscous, brown rice, whole grain pasta and quinoa

4.) Soup - I'm a huge soup buff this time of year and will need to hit the stock pot on Sundays so I have plenty of meals ready to go. That way I don't even need to think about what I'm missing out on

5.) Salads - offer the perfect vehicle for lean protein (tuna, salmon, eggs) as well as fiber rich veggies

6.) Whey Protein - I think I'll need to mix in smoothies with berries and peanut butter to help keep some weight on

The above will help offset cravings for pizza pasta and an entire ball of whole milk mozzarella, while keeping my diet not only diverse, but healthy. I'll be taking pics and writing posts about my experience to keep you informed but could really use some help on the following:

1.) Any vegetarian recipes that you really cherish/celebrate - I'd sure appreciate it

2.) A few good tips for restaurants that offer some good veggie options, but also offer a full menu for my companions

3.) Most importantly, a great spot for me to grab dinner on Fat Tuesday - I might as well go out in a protein-rich blaze of glory. I'm thinking 112 Eatery, Saffron and Sapor Cafe as of right now

More to come and happy Eating,


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Brothers Deli was one of my favorite places to grab a big satisfying sandwich on the quick when I used to work near the skyways. I don't get there nearly as often as I used to, but on a recent trip I learned that not a whole lot has changed. Full review here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Epic Sandwich: Colossal Cafe

Colossal Cafe is the tinniest cafe serving up the biggest biscuit sandwiches that I've ever seen. They're a scratch-made shop, and I absolutely love that they aren't cutting corners. The portions are huge, the prices are small and the comfort is colossal, just be patient if there aren't any seats open! Full review here.
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