Monday, March 31, 2008

Candy hustlin'

Kids in California are making bank off their peers sugar addictions. Check out the story on the Daily Press.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


A friend of mine is married to a vegetarian. She says it doesn't bother her at all; she has no problem cooking up hippie hash or testing the latest eggplant recipe. She's down with tofu, garden burgers and she's well versed in the language of seitan. But every now and again she gets the primal urge to sink her teeth into the real thing and when this happens, she knows the only fix is barbecue.

Lately she's been hankering for the stuff and yeah, she knows a handful of places in the city where she can dine in peace with her meat-shunning man-- but not for barbecue. No, if she's going to roll-up her sleeves and relish in a tender slab of beef, she wants to be in the company of someone who gets it. Not someone who's going to be left ordering from a side menu of cobbler and coleslaw. So she left the leaf-eater behind and asked me to meet her for some southern fueled fare at Smoque in Albany Park. Lip-curled and appetite in tow, I happily agreed.

The two of us, famished and ready to sling back some brisket, headed over to the restaurant's small (seats about 50) corner location. I knew nothing about the place so my expectations were nil. Upon walking in I was greeted by a staff person who, rather forcefully, told me to get in line. Lucky for him, I'm down with this kind of demanding behavior, so I followed suit and took stance amidst the seemingly starving mess of people. Every table was full when I arrived, but the turnover rate here is ridiculously fast. Maybe it's because of the order-at-the-counter and then cross-your-fingers-that-there's-an-empty-seat dining style. By the time I ordered (about 12 minutes later) a few spots had already been cleared. Now all I had to do was sit and wait for the husky cook to call number 75.

It was only a matter of minutes before I was walking back over to the counter to grab a metal tray full of sliced brisket, barbecued baked beans, cornbread and coleslaw (just under $12 after tax). The beans were a notch above that canned guy's "secret recipe" and were doctored up with hearty bits of pork and onion. The dried out cornbread served in a small aluminum ramekin almost smacked the smile off my face. I love cornbread and I didn't even want another bite after the first taste (dipping it in the soupy red barbecue sauce didn't help either). But the pile of sliced brisket brought me back to a happy place. It was tender and fell apart effortlessly when I stabbed a hunk with my fork. Thank God I only went with the half order; by the time I finished it didn't even look like I made a dent. My friend had the brisket sandwich and left nothing but the bread behind.

The restaurant's website boasts some schpeal about rivaling the smoky staples of Texas, which I'd say (at least for someone with her roots in the sticks) is a little far-fetched. But as far as Midwestern barbecue is concerned, Smoque definitely holds its own. Maybe next time we'll head a little farther South. After all, nothing--not even marriage--should come between a girl and her barbecue.

3800 N. Pulaski Rd.
(773) 545-RIBS

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Confections of a white chocolate fiend

My friend Phil is obsessed with white chocolate, in fact I think it's safe to say he's an even bigger fan than myself (and I've been known to have a few ravenous binges with the stuff). So whenever we meet up for coffee, we make it a point to scout out a new dessert incorporating this painstakingly sweet confection. Let me just say that Phil and I have met for coffee on an almost weekly basis since I moved to this city in August; together our sugar intake could keep the mills in business for years to come.

One thing I've noticed in our scavenges is that white chocolate has done some serious growing up over the years. These milky chunks, once a mere staple for Easter bunny molds and pretzel coating, are now the shining star in a whole mess of sugary concoctions. Some of our discoveries have left maddening cravings while others, overpowered by stronger flavors, barely made an impression.

Here are a few of our favorites:
  • White chocolate peanut butter cheesecake at Panes Bread Cafe
    • No further explanation needed.
  • Raspberry white chocolate peanut butter by PB Loco at Southport Grocery
    • This one is like death for me. I can't even keep a jar of plain peanut butter in my apartment-- throw white chocolate into the mix and I'm done for.
  • Choclatea bar with pistachio and green tea by smile chocolatiers at The Coffee and Tea Exchange
    • White chocolate takes the lead here-- disappointing for green tea fans, but that stuff's for drinking anyway.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Cakes to crackers

I’ve been too busy lately to hit up the grocery store, which usually isn’t a problem since I eat out so much. But on the rare occasion that I actually attempt to work in my tiny studio, I quickly fall into bored eating. And this is when I realize that my kitchen easily (and embarrassingly) matches up to that of a frat boy's; an empty fridge with a door full of beer and condiments, a shelf stocked with liquor and a sink piled with dirty glassware. To my credit, there was one lonely apple left in the fruit basket, a single canister of oats and a cupboard stuffed with exotic spices.

I grabbed the oats and studied the Quaker man's face for a while, dreaming up some scandalous history for him involving a string of mistresses and a murderous streak. And then I wondered what to do with him. Oatmeal? No, I was out of milk and the stuff is a tasteless pile of mush when made with water. Granola? Nix that, the feat would be useless without honey or maple syrup. Scottish oatcakes? Of course! I remembered an article I read by Cynthia Clampitt on Hungry Magazine about this UK staple and how it's ungodly easy to make. All you need are the oats, baking soda, butter, a dash of salt and some hot water. So what the hell, I gave it a whirl.

After kneading the dough and 35 minutes of baking and another 30 minutes of cooling, my oatcakes were ready. I tore off a small piece of the flatbread in a hurried excitement, plunked it into my mouth and cringed. It was just a solid, chewy hunk of oatmeal. But really, what was I expecting given the bland ingredients? Perhaps the Scots need more sugar in their diet, or maybe I need to cut back on mine (probably the latter). It's not that I was anticipating a ton of flavor (the cakes are typically eaten with honey, preserves or some other sweet confection). I just wasn't thinking they'd be so dense and chewy, nor did I have the slightest clue if this was even the proper consistency. So of course, I had to give it another go.

What would happen, I thought, if I rolled out the dough until it was nearly paper thin? My first instinct was that it would burn and ruin yet another baking sheet (and my oven was still recovering from the horrific smell of last month's unattended granola incident). My second thought was that it would turn into some delicious crispy, healthy treat. Fingers crossed and no oats left to spare, I followed Clampitt's recipe just as before with a few minor tweaks. This time I rolled the ball of dough out until it took on the appearance of a thin-crust pizza and nearly doubled the baking time: 25 minutes on one side and 25 on the other.

The end result was a crunchy wholesome cracker that motivated me to make a cheese run to Whole Foods. I picked up some brie and honey, forgetting completely that I probably should've grabbed some real food for the week.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


I had lunch here a few weeks ago and I'm still salivating over the interior of this place. Typically I would note the food first, but the burnt orange and scarlet red walls covered with oversized photos of painfully gorgeous people left a bigger impression than the fresh guac and raspberry mojitos.

According to the lovely hostess, Carnivale's concept is a celebration of women and shoes. Now, if you're having visions of Sarah Jessica Parker hailing taxi cabs in frilly dresses trying to get to Mr. Big, rest assured that this is not an episode of Sex and the City. Actually, Carnivale is more like sex in the city; it's an excellent place to bring a date, or really anyone you want to impress. Even if your dinner companion bores the hell out of you, you can still leave this restaurant with a strange sense of elation, thanks to the lavishly seductive decor and Latin infused fare.

Before even thinking about appetizers (and ignoring the fact that it was barely noon), my friend and I ordered up some drinks. She went with the waitress's suggestion; Carnivale's signature raspberry mojito. I kept it simple with a flute of Yellow Label Champagne. The drinks arrived and I immediately had cocktail envy. The fresh berries muddled with mint, rum and lime juice were reminiscent of a smoothie joint I visited with Laura in Atlanta, except this thick concoction had an indulgent kick.

After getting over my lame drink choice, we moved on to some guacamole, made-to-order and served with fresh lime wedges (it's amazing what this stuff can do when squeezed over warm tortilla chips). Apparently everyone else in the place had done the same (the servers push the app pretty hard, but you can't argue when it turns up just as good as promised).

It was then time for some real food. And by real food I mean salad. But this wasn't your average bowl of greens thrown together in a vinaigrette and topped with some shredded cheese and stale croutons. No, this was a beautifully prepared beet salad. The ruby hued veggies were sliced thick and neatly lined on a long white rectangular tray. Sandwiched between each glistening circle were huge triangles of aged manchego. Tart, tangy and healthy-- a nice balance after those sugary beverages.

I plan on heading back to Carnivale soon, this time for a sexy dinner date. Stay tuned.

702 W. Fulton Market
(312) 850-5005