Going panini and beyond in the Windy City – and loving it!

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Happy Thanksgiving! Our vegan pumpkin strudel – at least as good as pumpkin pie :-)

Have you ever been afraid to make pastry dough? I have – and I still am! Luckily, my mother-in-law has recently given me the recipe below, which is an easy to make, but also economical (no eggs, no butter!) strudel-type pastry.

I am a big fan of strudel, that Austrian multi-layered pastry which is not just delicious, but also versatile. I literally grew up eating apple strudels, lol Meanwhile, my husband loves ricotta&raisinĀ  strudel, and always wants me to make more. As a matter of fact, yesterday I brought ricotta strudel to a pre-Thanksgiving party at work, and everybody loved it – and how couldn’t they? Light as a feather and delicately powdered with sugar, this dessert can brighten up any meal, and any occasion, Thanksgiving included. I made it for Halloween last month, and I’m making it again for Thanksgiving. We just can’t seem to get enough of it :-)
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Our winter salad: vitamins in a bowl!

What’s quicker to make: toast or salad? When it comes to cooking, this is the kind of thinking I’ve been using lately.

Yep, easy and fast: that’s all I want from recipes these days. Our little baby girl and my job have been taking a lot of my time, and laboring in the kitchen for hours on end just doesn’t seem feasible anymore – for now, anyway. I long for a day when I’ll no longer feel rushed, stressed out and unbelievably tired. Until then, we still have to eat, of course, :-) so I’ve been trying to come up with quick, easy and healthy meal solutions. For us, salads have been the way to go these past few months.

The salad below is what I usually call “a winter salad,” and it strongly reminds me of the years I spent in Eastern Europe during communism. Back then, cabbage represented a very popular food option (our choices were limited to begin with), and cabbage on the menu was a clear sign of winter. Years later, I found out my mother-in-law made this salad as well. However, she also used chopped dill in it – a sensible addition, which provides the cabbage & carrot mix with freshness and an extra flavor boost.

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For the love of pizza! My review of the newly opened 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria

With a baby at home and demanding jobs outside the home, who has time to dine out? Not me or my husband, that’s for sure. We haven’t had the chance to go out in what seems like forever, and sometimes I do miss the free time I once used to enjoy. Thankfully, 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria has recently come to our rescue, when we were invited to the opening of its newest restaurant in Evanston IL.

After opening its first California location in January 2012 to rave reviews, 800 Degrees has been turning out, on average, 800-1,200 pizzas per day, serving 300,000 pizzas in its first year from a single location (wow!). 800 Degrees is also credited with starting the “assembly-line” pizza phenomenon. I couldn’t wait to be a part of this phenomenon myself, so I gladly accepted the invitation to check out their new location. It was an offer I simply couldn’t refuse :-) Continue reading

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A salmon sandwich to remember – and an ode to herbs de Provence

There is something really magical about the flavor and smell of herbs de Provence. Alluring and thoroughly perfumed, this potent herb mix reminds me of summer and makes me dream of future vacations in the South of France. As a matter of fact, visiting France has always been a (culinary) dream of mine. Hopefully I’ll get there one day: I’ll get to touch and smell the endless lavender fields I’ve seen in the movies, I’ll visit some of the famous French vineyards, and I’ll feast on rustic dishes which will remain implanted in my memory forever.

In the meantime however, I am glad to be able to recreate the culinary spirit of France by using herbs de Provence, and I only wish I’d known more ways to incorporate them into my recipes. Sadly, due to my lack of spare time to do any cooking at all (!) nowadays, I have had no chance to do any research or to come up with any new recipes – so I’ve stuck to using this herb mix in some old, tried-and-tested dishes, such as the fish sandwich below. Continue reading

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Veggie and smoked fish salad: my “madeleine moment”

It all started with a sample I was offered at a newly opened grocery store in our area. It was a sample of smoked salmon, meaty and delicately smoky, with a vibrant color and an enduring appeal. I tasted the fish and, like in Marcel Proust’s famous madeleine scene, my mind went back in time to my childhood and to a salad my mom used to make a lot: potato and smoked fish salad. Back in those days any meat was considered a delicacy, and my mom was very excited whenever she could get her hands on some smoked fish from the local general store. Usually it was smoked mackerel – tasty, but oh so full of bones! Nevertheless, we never complained: we just had to spend some extra time taking the bones out. It was food – and this was all that mattered. :-)

With these memories in mind, I decided to buy smoked fish and to remake mom’s salad in an American setting. I found some gorgeous looking smoked rainbow trout and got a piece which weighed a bit over 1lb. In this salad I also wanted to pay tribute to the years I spent in England, so I decided to marry the smoked trout with another very dear ingredient: pickled hot & sweet cherry peppers. Continue reading

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Veggie and mozzarella bliss: my mushroom panino – made in a hurry!

What is one of the things I like about mushrooms? They can cook really fast – and fast is all I need now, when I’m so busy with work and with the baby :-)

Truth is I’ve been incredibly busy these past few weeks, and as much I’ve been meaning to make more elaborate dishes, time has always got in the way. At least with panini and sandwiches you don’t need a lot of time. Plus, you can always use items from your pantry and/or fridge, which means that you don’t have to find a “window” in your day to go shopping, and to make and carry around elaborate shopping lists. I couldn’t do either the other day, so I decided to use up a portabella mushroom, some mini peppers and two ovolini I had been storing in my fridge for awhile to make a vegetarian panino for myself and my husband. Continue reading

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Getting back is hard – so can a pork roulade make a difference? :-)

These past few weeks have been really hectic for me. First, school is back and I’ve been fretting over classes, syllabi, and meeting new colleagues and students. I have been stressed and out of shape intellectually, and going back to a full work schedule has proved nothing short of exhausting. Second, my mom’s recent flight back to Europe was delayed for several hours, causing her to miss a connecting plane in London and to arrive at her destination well after midnight. My mom is a senior citizen who doesn’t speak English, and the whole experience was a nightmare for her, as it was for us. Such stressful events are definitely not conducive to creativity in the kitchen. :-(

Getting back to cooking and blogging was hard. In the end, I found inspiration in an email exchange I had with my cousin, who is a passionate gardener. This summer he has grown tomatoes, zucchinis and cucumbers galore, and he was writing me that he had just finished sun-drying some of the tomatoes. My mind instantly went back in time, to the years we spent in England and to a recipe we used to like a lot: pork roulade stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese and herbs. Continue reading


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