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Over a year since my last post, a recent trip to Maine for my friend Tiffany’s wedding inspired me to write about the source of a great East Coast debate – the lobster roll.

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Lobster roll at Red’s Eats

When J and I drove the Maine coast for our honeymoon three years ago, we ate our fair share of these treats – and learned a bit about the passionate perspectives behind a seemingly simple dish. As described in the New York Times, lobster lovers are divided as to how the meat should be dressed…Mayo? Butter? A bit of salt and pepper? Nothing at all?

On this trip, we made a stop at the famous Red’s Eats, stood patiently in line, and were rewarded with a toasty bun full of unadorned lobster. Red’s provides both drawn butter and mayo on the side, but we found that just a touch of butter was enough so as not to overpower the richness and flavor of the star of the show. Indeed, some purists argue that if the meat is fresh enough, you shouldn’t need much else to accompany it. The roll at Red’s certainly proved this point, though I think a small amount of mayo can be tasty if you’re in the mood.

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The line at Red’s – worth the wait!

What are YOUR thoughts on the lobster roll debate? Or are you not a lobster fan at all and prefer another summer sandwich? Post a comment below!

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I’m baaack!

Hi food lovers,

As you can see from the date of my last post, things have been so hectic since the fall that I’m sad to say my own motto of putting food first has fallen by the wayside. Now don’t get me wrong, wonderful meals have been had (I’ll have to do a post on Mother’s Day chicken fricassee), and hours have been spent (over?)analyzing details of taste and texture. But this blog has been sadly neglected despite it making me so happy to do it. Lately I’ve been recognizing how much I’ve missed swapping food stories with you all, so even though the posts might not be as frequent as before, I’m hoping not to let months go by anymore!

Which brings me to the topic which inspired me to hit the keyboard again…SANDWICHES.

April issue of Saveur – yes please!

Justin and I have long fantasized about owning our own little cafe one day. It would be the kind with big, worn wooden tables, thick diner mugs of good coffee, and a stay-all-day kind of attitude. But the star of the show would be sandwiches. A few of our favorites which would definitely make the cut:

  • Flying Saucer Grilled Cheese: A relic of Justin’s childhood, but no adult should miss out. Take your regular grilled cheese fixins, butter up this bad boy…

…and you’ve got yourself the ooeyest, gooiest, circliest sandwich you’ll ever see. Sharp cheddar recommended.

  • Justin’s Special Breakfast Sammy: Wheat bread, fried egg, bacon (real or veggie), all sealed together with your favorite cheese. Sometimes I wake up to this when I’m about to go in for a 12-hour workday, and believe me, it starts the day off right.
  • J&R’s Sandwich Supreme: Fresh bread slathered with pesto, tomatoes, avocado, fresh mozzarella, and lettuce. There are many iterations – add olive tapenade, arugula, roasted red peppers, or just about anything else your little heart desires (today we had rosemary bread). The key is fresh ingredients whenever possible.

So tell me, what are YOUR favorites? Add a comment below to share your sandwich secrets. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll end up on the menu at a new little cafe…

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My sister slept over the other night, and in the morning we awoke to the smell of hot coffee and the sound of fresh fruit being chopped. Early morning grogginess quickly evaporated as Justin set down in front of us two bowls of his current favorite breakfast:

J's Signature Greek Yogurt

To kick off your day with this treat, just top a cup or so of Greek yogurt (you can find individual servings or larger tubs at the store) with a dollop of honey, a sprinkle of granola, and a handful of whatever fruit you have on hand (the combination of bananas, strawberries, and blueberries pictured above provides a perfect combination of textures and flavors). In addition to its health benefits over regular yogurt (more protein, less sodium), the Greek variety adds a tangy taste and beautifully smooth texture. I prefer nonfat as it cuts down on the richness – Justin believes the richer, the better!

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A big trend right now is taking simple food and elevating it to gourmet status (witness the rise of the designer hamburger, cupcake, etc.). Beyond individual food items, you can see this happening in the recent obsession with upscale street food of all kinds. To see what all the fuss is about, I checked out a couple of hot spots…

When my friend Mara visited town recently, we hit up Gaztro-Wagon, a new sandwich shop on the north side. The proprietor would like to peddle his wares on the street via a food truck, but Chicago currently doesn’t allow them. While he’s waiting to see if his request to change the rules goes through, he’s holed up in a tiny storefront in Edgewater (be warned: this place is literally a hot spot – meaning, no A/C).

Photo by the Chicago Tribune

The chalkboard offered quite a few options, but Mara and I both ordered the lobster roll, which came piled high with plump bits of lobster tucked into warm naan (all the sandwiches here are actually “naan-wiches”). It had a bit too much mayo for my taste, but I may have been spoiled by the lobster rolls I had on my honeymoon in Maine, where the meat was so good there was really no need for dressing. But make no mistake, this was a tasty roll – I loved the thin slice of pickle which layered in an unexpected flavor. With some plantain chips on the side, I was a happy camper. Since I keep reading about the pork shoulder and wild boar belly, I might have to go back soon with husband in tow…

Next up, I finally visited Xoco, the newest addition to the Rick Bayless empire of Mexican dining. I had been meaning to go for months, and my dad and I actually attempted it once but gave up due to the infamous line to get in. This time, my friend Meryl and I braved the wait time and were rewarded with two delicious tortas. Funnily enough, just as you expect bread and get naan at Gaztro-Wagon, here you expect tortillas and get…bread! But not just any bread – picture the perfect baguette, crusty on the outside with a chewy, soft interior. We shared a garlicky mushroom sandwich with goat cheese, arugula, black beans and salsa, and the daily special which paired mixed greens with ricotta. Both were the perfect example of how great ingredients can up the ante of a simple meal. We also contentedly consumed a side of flawless guac and chips and finished up with cinnamon sugar-studded churros dipped in soft serve ice cream. Though the service was lacking (between ordering at the counter and the many runners responsible for bringing the food out, it seems some things get lost in the fast pace), I would love to return in winter for a cup of the famous hot chocolate…and more tortas.

Photo by Serious Eats

Meals like this are a great reminder that food doesn’t have to be unaffordable or served in fancy surroundings to be gourmet!

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We are off to Michigan today to squeeze in a little beach time – a delayed 4th of July vacation, if you will. One of my favorite things about escaping the city for a few days is the almost instant sense of relaxation, which also means a relaxed approach to cooking. Our local market (where we always pick up a couple jars of our favorite tomato sauce) is stocked to bursting with fresh goodies, and we just grab whatever looks good. Dinner on a recent trip was:

Beautiful fingerling potatoes

Broccoli sauteed with olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper (prepared by our friend Kris)

Grilled burgers (meat purchased from the butcher down the street)

While preparing the meal, we like to turn on some music and pour out some drinks (as evidenced in the broccoli photo). Quality ingredients, simple preparation = more time to sit on the porch and watch for hummingbirds.

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Chicagoans tend to have a love-hate relationship with the Taste of Chicago. Traffic, crowds, tourists, long lines for overpriced, mostly underwhelming food — can you tell where I stand? 🙂

But I promise I’m not a festival grinch – I do love the idea of celebrating our city and the food within it, so this year I decided to check out a few of the many other, smaller street fairs on the summer calendar. And I took my camera along…

Andersonville Midsommarfest

Right in our neighborhood!

We sampled the creamy frozen cheesecake, with a coconut-infused crust hidden under the chocolate shell!

Taste of Randolph Street

Known for being the “foodie fest.”

Left: Popcorn shrimp (get it?) with parmesan, chives, and truffle oil. Right: Mac & cheese muffins with smoked gouda and sharp cheddar. Both from Market Bar.

Samosas from Veerasway. Very tasty but could have used some chutney!

Watermelon doused with lemonade from Wishbone. Perfectly refreshing.

Coleslaw, also from Wishbone. Waaay too salty (and I love salt).

The Raven

We didn’t realize quite how kids-oriented this fest was until we arrived to the sounds of the ABC song being performed with guitar accompaniment on the music stage. Oh well, might as well try some kiddie food…

Deep fried cookie dough. Yep, you heard right.

A quick tip if you’re planning to hit some street fairs: many are advertised as free, but when you get to the entrance it feels like the “suggested donation” of $5 or $10 is mandatory. If you’re on a student (or otherwise small) budget like me, it’s tough to spend that extra cash when the food itself tends to be pricey. So, I suggest being selective about where you want to pony up. For example, I gave a donation at The Raven because it supports local tutoring programs, but at the Taste of Randolph I swallowed my pride and said, “Sorry, I can’t.” That extra $10 meant I could try another dish, which I figure is still a way of supporting local business!

And now for the bonus pic from Taste of Randolph…

Can you spot the back of Vince Vaughan's head?

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Ah, Spain. Land of tapas: plates small enough that you can try a million different dishes in one sitting. Well, maybe not a million. Last night we opted for a more realistic count of three.

With my sister as a third chef in the kitchen, she, J, and I each chose a recipe from the “Tapas Deck” by José Andrés. No need to make a grocery list – just take the individual cards with you to the store! It’s said that tapas originated when Spanish sherry drinkers came up with the ingenious idea of keeping fruit flies out of their glasses by covering them with tiny plates bearing snacks. While we didn’t need to cover our drinks last night with small dishes, we did enjoy plating our creations on larger platters.

Justin’s Roasted Vidalia Onions with Cabrales Cheese

This dish initially stalled a bit as the onions didn’t brown as expected (we think it may have had something to do with the type of baking dish we used), but they came out  deliciously soft and sweet regardless, topped with creamy cheese crumbles, pine nuts, and chopped chives. Note: rather than make the extra trip to the Whole Foods cheese counter, we used the recommended substitution of gorgonzola.

Rachel’s White Mushrooms with Garlic and Parsley

This is the perfect dish for mushroom lovers (which all three of us are): a simple saute with olive oil, garlic, fresh thyme, and sherry, finished just as simply with salt, white pepper, and chopped parsley. The recipe notes that this preparation is common in Logroño, the capital of the northern Spanish province of La Rioja.

Lily’s Crab-Filled Cherry Tomatoes

The most complex dish of the evening is probably also the most appropriate for summer given its minimal cooking time. The tomatoes are quickly blanched and skinned, then stuffed with lump crab meat which has been dressed with mustard, mayo, parsley, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and crushed toasted nuts. For a finishing touch, a sprinkling of hard-boiled eggs added a pretty yellow color to the plate. While the tomatoes are small, they are quite rich and pack a good punch of flavor.

We rounded out the meal with a mixed green salad and bread, and some good family chat time. The three of us have been to Spain together before, and I think we’ll be cooking tapas together again!

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