Archive for the 'Food/Dining' Category

Expert knows best

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

A Ripened Melon - Chef's choiceI just had a deliciously sweet cantaloupe. How did I know how to pick it? My favorite* chef, Chef Susan aka Chef Q posted some advice on the topic recently. Not only is she an amazing cook and baker, she is also an excellent photographer so her posts are illustrated with helpful images. I forgive her for all the pounds I gained last year due to her cooking (hey, at least I finally started a regular exercise regime) and thank her not just for all the great meals I’ve had the good fortune to experience, but also the helpful material she shares online.

[*] It’s actually a tie with my Mom, but she’s not officially a chef. Of course, that hasn’t stopped her from publishing a cookbook (see some of her recipes here).

Photo credit: Susan Beach

Map of things to do in Budapest

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

A lot of people I know are heading to Budapest these days (whether for pure touristy reasons or for one of the many meetings being held there) so using the My Maps feature on Google Maps, I’ve compiled some annotated recommendations for visitors. These include pastry shops mostly visited by locals with desserts to die for. No, seriously, these are a must and visiting the city without going to some of these would be sad and wasteful.

I also include a pointer to a grocery store with the goal of finding the Hungarian snack Túró Rudi (details: check the dairy section for items that look like a candy bar in a red-dotted wrapper). I would say it’s the most missed item by Hungarians abroad. It’s basically lemony sweet farmer’s cheese coated in dark chocolate. Yum! Wikipedia conveniently has more info, not that words can possibly convey the experience. Some companies new to the country in the ’90s have tried to create other versions (e.g., with fruit filling or milk chocolate coating), but I would rather not even acknowledge those as they’re ridiculous imitations. On the topic of grocery stores, someone recently complained that they couldn’t find any fruits and veggies in them. That’s because other than the gigantic supermarkets, these tend to be sold in separate venues.

I didn’t bother listing most of the traditional sights included in guide books, numerous Web sites and guides will point those out. I do highlight, however, an incredibly touching Holocaust memorial on the Danube (first link on my map). It’s relatively new and not something one would stumble upon by chance, yet definitely worth visiting and now you know where to find it.

Logistics of a chocolate party

Friday, December 14th, 2007

I’m hosting a chocolate birthday party tonight (I can’t believe it’s taken me this many years to think to do it!) and am not sure yet how to handle the logistics of the blind taste test. I guess it doesn’t have to be that complicated, but if anyone has any experiences and lessons learned, please share. I’m supplying about ten types of chocolate (from high-end to not exactly) and guests will bring their own contributions. I’ll remove the wrappers and place the chocolate on plates. I figured I would number these and hand out sheets where people can rank order. But perhaps they should just comment and rate. I’m not sure. Any thoughts? Part of the point is to see who decides that their absolute favorite is the cheapest relatively generic brand vs the super special imported variety.

I’m also looking for any additional ideas for such a party. I’ve gotten some nice chocolate Q&A cards that I’ll spread out across the place. I’m making some large printouts of chocolate photos (using this nifty tool). And I’ll likely have a couple of fondue pots going thanks to gifts from previous birthdays. Of course, I’ll have plenty of other food (and not just sweets!) and drinks (spiced wine anyone?) to allow people to cleanse their palettes between morsels. Anything regarding the chocolate theme that I should add?

Giving credit where its due: the chocolate party blind taste test idea comes from my friend Diane who hosted a very successful version back in grad school so it is a tested concept. I just don’t remember the logistical details.

To those readers of EBlog who used to live in Chicagoland, but no longer do: yeah, I’m sorry you moved, I think you would’ve enjoyed this party.:(

Lentil soup for the New Year

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

Apologies as this is too late for readers outside of the Americas, but hopefully still in time for some. Here is my blog entry from exactly four years ago. All the best for 2007!

Hungarian tradition has it that the first thing you should eat in the New Year is lentil soup. The idea is that the New Year will bring you as much in riches as the number of little lentils. The original idea is fully focused on money. That’s a bit materialistic for my taste so I’m going to think about it in a larger context of riches of all kinds.

So I’ll be making lentil soup today and sharing it will all those who are joining me for New Year’s celebrations. Here’s the recipe in case you’re interested in joining in on the tradition.

Lentil Soup for Good Luck in the New Year
(this is fairly free form, sorry, no amounts specified, go with your gut)

Ingredients:
lentils
onions
oil
carrots
paprika (ideally Hungarian)
salt
water
flour

Preparation:
Take the lentils and after cleaning/sorting let stand in water for an hour.
Chop up some onions and saute in oil until transparent.
Add the lentils, some paprika (ideally Hungarian paprika for authenticity:), and a bit of salt.
Then add quite a bit of water (but don’t fill up the pan completely as more things will be added).
Let cook for about 15 minutes.
In the meantime, chop up the carrots. Add to the soup and keep cooking until lentils are soft.
Take a bit of flour (1 tbsp) and mix it with a bit of water (2-3 tbsp) until smooth. Add a few tablespoons of the hot soup to it and mix some more.
Add to the soup.
Keep on cooking.
If you are a meat eater you can add some cut up hot dogs and cook for another five minutes.
Add a bit of vinegar (start with no more than 1tsp) and a bit of sugar (1 tsp).
Finally, take some sour cream, mix it til smooth and add to the soup. Cook for another minute or so then let sit. Let sit for several hours before consumption.

With that, I wish you all the best for the New Year!

Project 365: #8

Saturday, November 4th, 2006


Featured Wines: Hungarian

Taken: November 1, 2006 (What is Project 365?)

I was at a restaurant the other night and noticed that their featured wines for the day (the week?) were Hungarian ones. I thought that was interesting. I didn’t recognize any of those wines, but I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to wines so that’s not too surprising. I did look through their entire wine list and ordinarily they don’t have any Hungarian wines.

When I took the photo, I thought the shadow of my hand taking it might look interesting. (I didn’t have too much choice over the matter, but I could have minimized the interruption.) In the end, I don’t like it, but so it is.

Project 365: #2

Saturday, October 28th, 2006


Blueberry pie at the Center

Taken: October 25, 2006

We get great lunches at the Center thanks to our wonderful chef Susan Beach. On Thursday, we had more food (and thus more desserts) than usual due to the Board meeting. Dessert of the day was blueberry pie with the usual option of fruits.

Each day, we get amazing soups, entrees and salads in addition to a yummy dessert. Susan is selling calendars with her most requested soup and salad recipes, it’s worth checking out on her Web site.

Soda alternative

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

I’m not about to cut chocolate out of my diet, but it would be nice to reduce calory intake somehow. A while back I decided to give up drinking sodas. I haven’t succeeded 100%, but I have gotten pretty good over time. I used to consume a can of Coke several times a week with an occasional Sprite thrown in there as well. Now I only have such a drink once or twice a month.

When I first mentioned this to a friend, he said this should add up to considerable weight loss. I found that interesting and intriguins since it’s not a particularly painful way to keep extra pounds off. This week’s Time magazine Numbers feature has some concrete information about this:

    15 Number of pounds that a person would gain annually by drinking an extra can of sugar-laden soda each day

I certainly have not lost 15 pounds by not drinking soda, but I wasn’t drinking it daily and I haven’t cut it out 100%. Still, it’s a helpful figure to contemplate.

I have gotten better about drinking water, but I have also discovered a nice alternative. (And I’m hopeful no one on this blog will point out to me the downsides of said alternative, but go ahead, enlighten me.) To add a bit of taste to my beverage, I add a tiny bit of lemon juice to the water. No sugar or anything else, just a bit of lemon juice. It works well, I recommend it.

How-to videos

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006

Via Lifehacker, I found a helpful video on how to peel potatoes without too much trouble. Not wanting to pass on a recommendation without having tried it myself, I dutifully boiled a potato to test the method. It worked great! Note that the water at the end doens’t have to be ice water, it’s enough to put the boiled potato in some cold water.

While we’re on the topic of how-to videos, if anybody missed the instructions for folding a shirt, it’s also worth a visit. I found it harder to follow than the potato-peeling guide though. It may help to look at this piece as well to figure out what’s going on. I haven’t made this technique part of my everydays, but depending on your current method you may decide differently.

The 17c grad student meal

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

JoAnne at Cosmic Variance discusses graduate student culinary experiences inspired by this article in Symmetry Magazine.*

Jonathan Bagger, a Physicist at Johns Hopkins reminisces about his grad student days: “I lived with four housemates in Princeton. We had an ongoing competition to see who could make the cheapest meal. The winner, at 17 cents a serving, was pigs’ feet. Not cooked the way pigs’ feet normally are, but simply broiled.”

At least some people can recall their grad student eating experiences (then again, are these experiences you necessarily want to recall?). For me, several years are a complete blank. What saved me was a fellowship in my fourth and fifth years that came with money to be spent at the student center cafeteria. It was more money than you could possibly want to spend in the dining hall so you ended up inviting friends. That was a nice perk. Unfortunately, it was only after my fellowship with that program had run out that we realized you could spend those points in the faculty dining room eating good meals. Not that I’m complaining. At least I had some regularity in my eating habits for those two years.

[*] If I didn’t happen to own symmetry.org they could have a much cooler URL.

Conclusive evidence found: blogging has tangible benefits

Friday, January 6th, 2006

Birthday chocolates

It’s not hard to find discussions among bloggers (and others) about whether blogging has any benefits. Last month, I happily encountered a very clear material benefit to blogging: chocolates!

A kind reader of this blog noticed that my birthday was coming up and proceeded to send me some very yummy chocolates. Thank you, dear reader, ’twas a very nice surprise, and rest assured, the chocolates have been treated with utmost respect.

Wanna bet?

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

Winnings     Burdick chocolate     Moonstruck chocolates

I didn’t expect to have two posts in a row about chocolate, but such is life around here. There is something extra sweet (not that these truffles need any additional sweetening) about having others buy you quality chocolate. I had just that kind of luck today. I made a bet about something with two colleagues and I won. Lucky for me, they took it more seriously than I did in terms of delivering on the goods. One of them got me some chocolate from Burdick in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The other brought me some truffles from Moonstruck in Champaign, Illinois. As you can see, we are serious about chocolate around here. (Any readers familiar with the make-up of my department may be able to guess from this information the identities of the above-mentioned colleagues.)

I have a pretty good track record in this realm. That’s mostly because I tend to suggest bets only in cases where I am quite certain of the outcome. This often happens in the realm of art. I am no art expert, but my knowledge is not too bad for a non-expert. For example, it didn’t take me long the other day to start wondering about the supposed artist behind this sculpture depicted on a Flickr photo. The Flickrite suggested it’s a Dali, but I was quite sure it was a Brancusi. The little evidence I could find backs up my hunch. But in this case there was no one around for a bet.

The curious part of today’s chocolate story is that the bet I made was more of a fluke. I must admit that I was not at all sure I would win. In fact, I thought taking my position was not very reasonable. But somehow I took it and stuck with it. Hurray for me! (I know this is very cryptic, but I will not discuss the specifics of this bet here.)

Please note that I have posted the chocolate photos in very high resolution versions on Flickr so you can appreciate the details in their larger-than-life glory. For masochists, the Moonstruck chocolate photo may make an interesting computer wallpaper.

Chocolate and some more chocolate

Sunday, November 27th, 2005

Chocolate deposit required

I got to meet a fellow blogger in person finally yesterday. We met up at Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge in Evanston, a place with enough chocolate to keep you coming back for a while. I hope Ethel’s is not considering providing free wifi. That would lead me to spending way too much time there.

I’m going to be having people over for my upcoming birthday and want to make chocolate fondue. Does anyone have any tried and true recipes? Thanks to some gifts from birthdays past, I am well equipped with the necessary pot and accessories. I just need a super recipe now. (Yes, I know how to search for this stuff, I’m looking for recommendations of things that you know work.:) Thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 24th, 2005

Thanksgiving meal

For the first time in a few years I will not be hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Although I love to play host, this worked out well since I was teaching all day yesterday up until 5pm, which does not leave much room for preparation.

That does not mean I will not be cooking. I will be contributing three dishes to today’s feast: rosemary mashed potatoes and yams, roasted squash with potatoes and garlic (you have to log on to Wegmans.com to access that recipe), and a pecan pie. These are just a part of my usual Thanksgiving meal.

Here are the pictures from last year’s dinner that had worked out really well. (I’m afraid I can’t take credit for the absolutely amazing turkey though.)

Creative food drive

Sunday, November 20th, 2005

Browsing people’s Flickr accounts I came across pictures from CANstruction.

Canstruction® combines the competitive spirit of a design/build competition with a unique way to help feed hungry people. Competing teams, lead by architects and engineers, showcase their talents by designing giant sculptures made entirely out of canned foods. At the close of the exhibitions all of the food used in the structures is donated to local food banks for distribution to pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, elderly and day care centers.

The official Web site has pictures of this year’s winners, but I think it’s much more fun just to browse the Flickr photos tagged with “canstruction”. Check out the list of participating cities to see whether you can still catch the show somewhere.

Salami and chestnut puré

Tuesday, October 18th, 2005
Hungarian food

Hungarian food,
originally uploaded by eszter.

One of the things I miss the most from Hungary is food. Over the weekend I was cleaning up comment spam from months ago. In the process I discovered some legitimate comments people had left on this blog a while back. One of them pointed me to Bende.com, a store close to Chicago that sells Hungarian food. I contemplated driving out there, but realized it would be easier to order something online. Here is what I got: Hungarian salami, pickles, sauerkraut, herring in tomato sauce, plum halves compote and chestnut puré. I put in the order over the weekend and already had the products on Tuesday. I chose the cheapest/slowest shipping option.

Sunday pancakes

Sunday, October 9th, 2005
Sunday pancake

Sunday pancake,
originally uploaded by eszter.

A friend of mine visited a few weeks ago and brought me delicious pancakes made from *drumroll please* over 40 ingredients! We played a guessing game: what’s in it? It had everything you can imagine and then some. It was also great.

Although I haven’t quite adopted her approach to making pancakes, she has certainly inspired me to make my pancakes a bit more interesting. On Sundays, I purposefully take some extra time to enjoy the morning and this allows for some gourmet pancakes. This morning’s mix included the following ingredients in addition to the basics: chocolate chips (I always include those!), dried fruits (cranberries, pineapple, apricots) and various spices (mint (!), pumpkin spice, ground nutmeg).

I didn’t have any fresh blueberries at home, but those are one of my favorite ingredients. In fact, the pancake pictured above is of one such mix.

I recommend experimenting with various pancake mixtures. They make for a very yummy treat. Oh, and I don’t eat my pancakes with maple syrup, I eat them with whipped cream.:-)

Chicago restaurant: Paprikash

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

So far I’ve only managed to find one Hungarian restaurant in Chicagoland: Paprikash. It’s not in my neighborhood, but regardless, I’ve made the drive several times already as their cooking is so authentic and good. They have come in at second place on Chicago CitySearch’s Fine Dining list. I’m not sure what the “fine dining” category is supposed to cover. I can certainly think of much more elegant places to eat (as per decor and service), but the food is hard to beat. The staff is friendly and accomodating albeit at times a bit slow, but hey, that’s the Hungarian restaurant experience for you. You can also try out your Hungarian as several staff members speak it, not to mention the other guests. The fact that there are so many Hungarians who visit this restaurant says something about it authenticity and the quality of the food. The live Hungarian and Gypsy music also adds something to the atmosphere. It’s located at 5210 W. Diversey (at Laramie), do try it sometime.

Evanston restaurant reviews

Thursday, June 9th, 2005

Although I still have plans of writing up my experiences with various Evanston restaurants, I found a guide hosted by the Northwestern Associated Student Government with a list of reviews that is worth a pointer. They also cover places in the area past city limits such as the Pita Inn in Skokie. (My recommendation regarding the Pita Inn is similar to theirs, it’s great. You will likely have to wait in line, but given the price and the quality of the food, a little wait (5-10 mins) is definitely worth it.)

Store Wars

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

Learn the ways of the farm with the help of Ham Solo, Chewbroccoli, C3Peanuts, Tofu D2, Obi Wan Cannoli, Cuke Skywalker, Lord Tader and Princess Lettuce. [thanks]

Chocolate in Chicago

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

Here are some spots I’ll have to try this summer:

Blommer Chocolate Store – I’ve had their dark chocolate almond toffee and it’s great!
Chicago Chocolate Company
Hot Chocolate
Lutz Cafe and Pastry Shop
bon bon Chicago