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All things meat

Cooking with the Greatest Tomatoes from Europe: canned tomatoes – tasting fresher than ever!

Have you ever eaten a tomato fresh off the vine? I have – and I can tell you it’s an incredible experience! As a child, I would often spend my summer vacations in the countryside, at my aunt and uncle’s house. The latter (a WWII survivor who had endured terrible times of hunger and deprivation) had a deep respect for nature and an appreciation of its treasures, and he was pretty much obsessed with gardening. Having played all morning in the sand with my niece, I would take refuge in my uncle’s garden, with dirty nails and coarse sand still fresh in my mouth and hair, and I would feast at random – and what a feast that was! Moist apricots just fallen off the tree, sugar sweet, their pulp melting in my mouth; red currants delicate and slightly pungent, with crisp leaves hiding clusters of ruby goodness; last but not least, tomatoes – meaty, slightly fuzzy, with a herbaceous smell and a delicious natural sweetness. I would sink my teeth into a tomato and the juice would start dripping on my chin, utterly thirst-quenching and refreshing, like nature’s perfect elixir. Keep Reading

Harissa pork with mushrooms and chickpeas: one last plate of comfort food before spring time!

This recipe came to me on a whim: I had pork chops in the freezer, mushrooms in the fridge and chickpeas in the pantry, so why not put these three together? It seemed easy enough, but also unimaginative – to me, anyway. And then, I realized there was one thing that was missing: the sophisticated notes of aromatic Middle Eastern flavor coming from harissa. This spice blend was going to be the “glue” to my ingredients, the vibrant burst of color to my dish, and the scent to my entire foodie life πŸ™‚ Keep Reading

Cabbage rolls: the story of the beloved dish we eat at Easter

There is something very enticing in the unadulterated simplicity of some dishes. There’s arguably no sophistication, no gimmicks, just a lot of hard work and some fingers crossed hoping that the dish will please your loved ones. As the days go by, this food miraculously gets better, and its minimalist components come together to create a symphony of deep flavors which defies the initial humbleness of the dish. How can something so simple (some might even say unrefined) render so much delightful goodness? πŸ™‚

Such is the case – and the paradox! – of cabbage rolls. It’s a simple dish which comprises a rather small number of ingredients, and it does not have the sophistication I have learned to appreciate in recent years. And yet, once you take a bite out of the succulent ground meat and experience the amazing taste of cabbage-flavored bacon sporting a delicate hint of bay leaves, you learn that even the most basic dishes can conquer your stomach and inspire your mind.

Cabbage rolls are the quintessential Easter dish in our family, yet as I haveΒ recently discovered, this is not a dish which belongs to Eastern Europe exclusively. Variations of it can be found in many cultures around the globe, from Italy to Japan and from Sweden to a myriad of Middle Eastern countries. Keep Reading

Chef inside the Box review: fully cooked delicious dinners ready in minutes!

I just love Thursdays. Why? Because Thursdays are cooking days! Utensils on hand and spice rack at the ready, every Thursday morning I go into the kitchen and labor for hours, and this enchanted day passes by quickly, like in a dream. Still, with the schedule being as busy as ever, finding time to spend with friends & family or to research very particular recipe ideas can be a luxury: week after week is spent doing projects for work and cooking “standard” food, with very little else to report. Wouldn’t it be great if I got more time to do the things that matter to me the most?

Thankfully, there are dinner solutions for the busy professionals out there. No more worrying over what to cook for dinner, no more scheduling conflicts, no more missed opportunities to free up time for your own personal/family projects! Salvation has a name: Chef Inside the Box 😉 Launched in August 2017, Chef Inside the Box claim to offer “the most affordable meal kits in Chicagoland” and want to save their clients time in the kitchen so they can get back to doing the things they love. I was recently contacted by Chef Inside the Box, who offered to send me a set of 4 meals of my choice to review. Always in need of free time, I said yes, of course πŸ™‚ Keep Reading

Culinary Fight Club Steak Challenge: unique talent competes again – for the common good

Chef Stephen Sandoval celebrating his win in the Chicago Culinary Fight Club Steak Challenge

“Do you want to try it?,” Chef Stephen Sandoval asked me, spoon on hand, ready to share the last remaining bits of Oaxacan mushroom&pasilla purΓ©e. I had been pestering him about his dish, but the music was loud, the smoke cloud-thick, and communication was difficult, so what better way to answer my questions than to let me try his food one more time? The proof is in the food, as they say – and the steak Chef Sandoval had prepared in the Culinary Fight Club competition was a thing of beauty: melt-in-your-mouth, aromatic New York strip steak sitting pretty on a velvety blanket of spicy purΓ©e, with cherry-churri and a crispy piece of Patagonian-style potatoes on top. Brimming with grilled cherries poached in balsamic, the smokiness of the cherry-churri instantly reminded me of the dried prunes I used to enjoy as a child. Same depth of sticky flavor, same unmistakable honest and true aroma, unadulterated and vibrant, like a child in the countryside. With that cherry-churri, Chef Sandoval had to be crowned the winner – and he was πŸ™‚

This was the second time I attended a Culinary Fight Club competition (here’s a review of my first experience), and I am loving these more and more. In addition to raising money for the less fortunate and to promoting Fight2Feed,Β a nonprofit organization that delivers service and support to hungry people across Chicagoland, Culinary Fight Club is also an excellent platform for showcasing talent – and the Steak Challenge held in Chicago this week was a case in point. Joining Chef Sandoval (ofΒ LeΓ±a Brava) at the start of the competition were Chefs Joelle Brown (of Nola Nights Southern Aromas), Geo Phelps (of Chili Rocks) and Corey Rice (a former MasterChef contestant). With such a diverse lineup, we were in for a treat! Keep Reading

Chicken, tomato & arugula salad: the perfect side dish for burgers and hot dogs on 4th of July

I don’t know about you, but we love to eat salads on July 4th. Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of burgers and sausages on our grill to keep up with tradition (check out my posts here, here and here for 4th of July meat-based menu ideas). However, we also have 4-5 kinds of salads on hand, to brighten up the atmosphere and to ensure we eat a balanced meal. Yep, for us, 4th of July is a balancing act πŸ™‚

The salad recipe below concludes my Pure Flavor veggie cooking bonanza, and it’s a salad I will definitely make again on July 4th. Simple yet very effective, this salad succeeds thanks to the crunchy baby arugula and the thirst-quenching cherry tomatoes, whose assertiveness cuts through the richness of the roast chicken and provides it with summer flavors and freshness galore. Keep Reading

Delicious salmon with heirloom tomatoes and millet: celebrating fresh produce, celebrating life

Readers of this blog know that I use fresh produce a lot – and this should come as no surprise: I grew up in a system that made people very resourceful, and fresh produce was always our number #1 food option since meat was pretty much non-existent. Fast forward 20+ years, and fruits and veggies are still my best friends. I love, love, love a fresh, lightly dressed salad or a tart chock-full of summer berries. I love the colors, the flavors, the smell. I love to close my eyes while taking a bite, and to remember delicious treats of summers past spent in my home country. With school out for the summer, my niece and I would visit our relatives’ house, about 20 miles away from the city – and we would stuff our faces with fresh produce all summer long!

Heirloom tomatoes were a regular appearance in our relatives’ garden in the summer. Meaty, slightly sweet and deliciously thirst-quenching, they always gave me a much-needed energy boost to go on with my playing. I remember eating 5 or 6 in one sitting: they were that good, that flavorful! I have tried to find similar tomatoes ever since, and at one point I thought these unique flavors from my past were well and truly lost. What a difference a few weeks makes, though! I recently had the chance to try out some heirloom tomatoes that tasted exactly like the ones I used to eat as a child: the Pure Flavor tomatoes. These tomatoes + me = a match made in heaven πŸ™‚

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