Roasted vegetable sauce for just about anything

Very easy sauce to pour over pasta (with or without meat), over whole wheat couscous (with or without meat), for saucy meatballs over rice, saucy meatballs over egg noodles, or any ‘baked pasta’ casserole or even to use as your lasagne sauce.

Roughly chop (into similar sized pieces for even roasting) and layer onto a baking sheet :

  • 1 small eggplant (I prefer to use the Japanese eggplant from Whole Foods, but regular eggplant will do)
  • 1 red or 1 “spanish” onion (anything but the sweet variety)
  • Bag of tricolore bell peppers from Whole Foods or Peapod … 1 red / 1 orange  or yellow / 1 green
  • 1 zucchini
Please note: you can use any in season veggie here, the point is to cover the whole baking sheet. The peppers are pretty standard, but you can use root vegetables if you like instead of eggplant.

 

Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables, sprinkle salt and pepper, and press as much or as little garlic as you like over the vegetables. Pop in the oven at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, turning them over half way. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. You’ll know they are ready when they are soft and slightly brown at the edges.
When the vegetables are done, place them in a dutch oven and add 1 3/4 cups of low sodium chicken stock and 1 (15 oz) can of whole tomatoes and their juices (if you are more daring, and are not roasting peppers, try using Goya Sofrito instead of the canned tomatoes). Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for approximately 20 minutes.
Transfer, in batches if necessary, the dutch oven contents to a food processor and puree. To feed kiddos under a year old, make sure you liquify and strain if necessary. Otherwise, you can leave your sauce chunky. Note: if the sauce is too thin, place back in dutch oven or in a sauce pan and boil until thicker. Additionally, you can add tomato paste to thicken.

 

This recipe is enough sauce for 1 lb of pasta. For meals other than pasta bakes, I usually put half in the freezer (just remember to use it within 1 month of freezing and to follow safe practices when defrosting and reheating). Bon apetit!

 

Ingredients
  • 1 red or white onion
  • 5 roasting vegetables of your choice — we use three types of bell peppers, zucchini and eggplant.
  • Garlic – chopped or pressed. 1 finely chopped garlic should suffice — but for us garlic lovers, pressed is best
  • 1 (15 oz) can whole tomatoes
  • 1 3/4 cups of low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
TIP#1: The prep time for this recipe is negligible. Roast times vary depending on your oven. While you are roasting your vegetables, plan ahead for the following day or days and use that time to prep for other weekend and weeknight meals. For example, I cut up veggies and placed them in snack bags to take to work. I also boiled ready cook peas and made Goya Yellow Rice in preparation for Sunday lunch – Spanish-Style Shrimp with Yellow Rice  (for a lower sodium option, follow the recipe instead of using the Goya short cut).
TIP#2: Since I picked something easy for lunch the next day, something that requires little hands-on time (like boiling), I also used this time to pick up around the kitchen/living/dining area, clear out my fridge and freezer of old stuff, and clean my kitchen. It helps that my toddler was in bed by 630 pm.

 

The original “mediterranean roasted vegetables” recipe can be found in Beverly Glock’s 500 baby & toddler dishes cookbook.

Chicken Paprikash while your morning coffee brews

Chicken Paprikash from Women's Day

Well, sort of .. I prep the ingredients during the 5-10 minutes it takes to brew and sip my morning coffee then leave the paprikash in the slow cooker while am at work.

Chicken Paprikash from the editors of Woman’s Day :

All you need is 2 1/2 lb skinless/boneless chicken pieces (I use all thighs, but you can pretty much use bone in thigh or drumsticks, or both!! … ), 2 tablespoons of paprika, 1/2 cup of nonfat sour cream,  and 1 (10 3/4 oz) can of low sodium cream of mushroom.

Note 1: you can make this dish as fatty or as fat free as you like by substituting ingredients. If nonfat/fat-free sour cream is what you are looking for, I recommend the Daisy brand. 

Note 2: use smoked paprika instead of regular paprika for a smokier flavor.

Clean your chicken like you normally would and pat dry. Layer the chicken at the bottom of your slow cooker. In a small mixing bowl, combine the soup and the paprika and spoon over chicken. Cook 8-10 hours. When you are ready to eat, spoon the chicken onto a serving platter using a slotted spoon. Mix the sour cream into the sauce and pour neatly over the chicken.

Serve over buttered noodles with parsley, mashed taters, brown rice, or with a side of salted potatoes. For an even healthier alternative, serve with a side of steamed veggies.

Meet Lady Marmalade, Mr. Overeasy’s cousin

“You must try this new place Marmalade“, said my friend Mike as we drove past it one night, “.. but only if you want to eat the best pancakes EVER”. His beautiful new wife shook her head emphatically in agreement, and raved on about their delicious hotcakes and brioche french toast.

So we did.

We slept in one Sunday morning and were afraid to try our usual breakfast haunts. By 9 a.m. most places are packed to the gills and immediate seating for 2.25 (2 adults, 1 starving toddler) is laughably impossible. “I want to try Marmalade“, I said, “and if all fails we can order Commuter sandwiches from Angel Food Bakery to-go”.

Marmalade, located on the southeast corner of Montrose Avenue and Damen Avenue, had everything going for it when we : 1) found street parking (metered) easily, 2) were amiably greeted and immediately seated, 3) were clearly in a kid friendly restaurant since a kid’s menu, crayons and toys were promptly provided and 4) the host, hostess and serving staff were all kinds of bending over backwards to ensure we had an unforgettable experience (they even brought our son his very first taste of chocolate milk).

Chilaquiles are one of my favorite breakfast meals but I have yet to find a place that makes them better than Uncommon Ground on Devon Avenue (currently my all time favorite breakfast joint on the North side). Much to my chagrin, Marmalade offers a vegan version — no thank you but kudos for being inclusive.  The Pumpkin French Toast on the menu caught my eye until I read the description: “Two slices of our house-baked pumpkin loaf with pumpkin cream and crema de leche, topped with dried cranberries and toasted pecans.” “Wait a minute……..”, crept into my brain as my tonsils started feeling choked by the pumpkin cream and the crema de leche (spanish for cream! which is savory in some Latin American countries). The Artichoke Omeletta sounded a little promising, but I was scared off by the “topped with house pesto” imagining a lake of pesto drowning my omeletta — too early in the day for that mess. I finally settled for the Mayan Omeletta since it is made with ingredients close to my heart (yum! chorizo!). My husband ordered The Lady Marmalade Homemade apricot marmalade, maple cream, and lemon coulis on our house-baked brioche french toast, a chef signature dish. We ordered plain hotcakes for my son.

My head dropped in disappointment when our food arrived. The good news, because I want to remain positive, is that we found the additional seating that is sorely needed at Over Easy Cafe. These two chefs are related, one and the same, or went to the same culinary school (Over Easy reviewed here). The hotcakes and the french toast were liberally covered with powdered sugar (a-la-IHOP, ugh!). The Lady Marmalade was drenched in 3 different sauces — highly unnecessary. My Mayan Omeletta was a paper thin, dry layer of egg surrounding a mound of chucked together Latin ingredients, topped with sauce and sour cream and God knows what.  I have to imagine they cover this in cooking 101 … food enters through the eyes. Don’t assault my senses! The spiced taters and plantains were the bets part of this order.

The Mayan Omeletta

Add 2 coffees and 1 orange juice to that order and you have got yourself a $40 breakfast. Not worth it, in my humble opinion. I am not saying the food tasted bad .. I have had worst, but I don’t feel the need to go back.

TIP# 1- If you are looking for incredible baked brioche french toast served with orange vanilla bean syrup (on the side, thank you very much!), head on over to Angel Food Bakery for Sunday brunch!  Hands down the most incredible french toast on the North side.

Marmalade on Urbanspoon

Tango Sur

Dining out in Latin America is not only about eating good food. People make time for each other, dress up, and expect to be out for a large portion of the evening. It is a social engagement more than a dining experience. The “sobremesa” (after dinner conversation) is perhaps the most important part of dining out and superb food is an added bonus. To enjoy an authentic Latin American restaurant there are several rules: 1) show up early-ish enough to secure a table, 2) do not show up starving .. perfection takes time and don’t forget that 1 Latin American minute is equivalent to 5 American minutes, 3) go with people you love to spend time with.

We started going to Tango Sur when it first opened, when it was a tiny one room establishment with few tables and zero wait time. It is one of our favorite steakhouses in Chicago and the perfect place to celebrate a joyous occasion with close friends and family (for large parties, call ahead first). All grown up and much more popular, Tango Sur offers grown up (leave the kids at home please), cozy, elbow to elbow seating areas. Do not show up expecting to be seated immediately and I am pretty sure they do not take reservations.

If you are not a meatatarian, then you have no business going to an Argentine steakhouse like Tango Sur. Be prepared to eat meat. And for the record, asking an Argentine to provide steak well done is .. well, dumb. If that’s how you must have your meat then go elsewhere. If there is anything Argentine’s know how to do well is to grill a mean steak!!  Also important to note, Argentine’s don’t waste any part of the cow so if you have an adventurous soul I recommend the Lengua a la Vinagreta (poached tongue marinated with vinegar), the Blood Sausage if they still serve it (maybe it’s called Black Sausage), and any tripe dish they might offer (if they ever did, I don’t recall).

I would not request their fruit appetizers. For one, we usually enjoy Tango Sur‘s heavy meals when it is cold. The fruit on the menu is not typically in season. Then there is the obvious. Why order fruit at a restaurant? Their Empanadas are very good but very filling, best order different kinds and share. My all time favorite is their Provoleta — cheese slowly cooked on the grill with olive oil and roasted peppers. The outside is smokey and crunchy, the inside is “melty”. YUM. Beware, it is a pretty salty appetizer. I’ll be honest, I have had everything on their appetizer menu — it is all very good. The empanadas, provoleta and the Berenjena en Escaveche are the dishes that really stand out.

I would never order chicken although I am sure it is grilled to perfection. But… it’s chicken. I want steak!!! Anything you see on the menu that contains the word “Milanesa” means breaded and typically fried. Very good option for a second visit to the restaurant. If you are considering Tango Sur for the first time, order the Parrillada Chef Specials (for 1 or 2) because they offer a variety of grilled meats. My favorite steaks are the Bife de Chorizo (I always request the Argentine cut) and the Entrana with enough chimichurri sauce for every bite! Of course, all their steaks are fabulous and to die for.

Some of the best pasta I have ever had in my life was in Argentina. Tango Sur offers a decent selection of pasta dishes, but I have not tried them. I have faith that they are good, but if I wanted pasta then I would go to one of the countless authentic Italian restaurants in Chicago. At any rate, in case you are missing my point .. I go to Tango Sur for the beef. Sadly, I have never made it to dessert so I cannot say whether it’s worth it to save any space.

If you do happen to try this place, please drop me a note and let me know what you think.

Tango Sur on Urbanspoon

Caramelized-onion, Spinach and Bacon Quiche

Cooking Light

Caramelizing onions can take some time. I have broken this process up in 2 days by caramelizing the onions while making dinner the day before I make the quiche.

The recipe is quite easy and very filling. I like it because it is both savory and sweet, and it is “light” compared to other quiche  recipes —> it is mostly egg whites, contains low fat (or fat free) sour cream, and only 1 ounce of cheese. Awesome!! On some future date I will share one of my favorite recipes for crustless quiche that is heavy heavy heavy on fattylicious goodness.

I use black forest ham instead of canadian bacon, for no reason other than I always forget to buy the bacon and tend to have ham on hand for lunch sandwiches.

Go to MyRecipes.com for details.

She’s a lady…

talking about Lady Gregory’s in Andersonville, located at 5260 North Clark Street.

I will be perfectly honest with you — when I first saw this ‘pub’ opening in the building where my favorite dance school used to be, I thought “sure, that’s what Chicago needs, another Irish bar & restaurant!”. Ireland is, for one, not popular because of their cuisine. Pretty much anyone who has been to Ireland can agree the food is terrible. I have been disappointed by many an Irish food establishment (except Fado — best curried fries ever!).  Case in point, O’Shaughnessy’s located at 4557 N Ravenswood Avenue - great atmosphere, beautiful establishment, perfect place for a beer… HORRIBLE food! Lastly, I was sad to think that Lady Gregory’s would be another flop establishment that had hogged a great corner of prime real estate it could never fill with customers (just like O’Shaughnessy’s).

My husband, son and I strolled by this past summer to poke our heads in and browse their menu. I walked in and immediately walked out — I would never subject my toddler to this place! It was so loud! I was overwhelmed by their menu and figured it was sooooo  typical for a place like this to offer mac-n-cheese and burgers – blecht! How “Irish” I’m sure!

A couple of months later my husband surprised me with a dinner date. He was looking forward to trying this new place in Andersonville he had heard about where the mussels were “to die for”. He could not remember the name but it was walking distance, always a plus for us since parking in this ‘hood is a nightmare most nights. As we approached Lady Gregory’s I turned to him and said “ugh! there is that awful Irish place we looked at this summer, remember?”. Of course he didn’t remember — and, of course, that is where we were headed for dinner (hee haw).

We started off with the most darling and delicious martinis, served in cutie pie mini martini glasses with a side car. We started out with the alleged famous Hard Cider Steamed Mussels, followed by Roasted Tomato and Brie Puffs , and Warm Roasted Beets. We then shared a juicy, cooked to perfection Chipotle Turkey Burger. Wow! What an incredibly unexpected experience!

We decided that night that Lady Gregory’s got our  “best eats in Andersonville” vote!

We have unanimously voted for Lady Gregory’s on several date nights since then and are happy to also recommend the Roasted Beet Salad, the Baked Frech Onion Soup, the Guiness Burger, and  the Ultimate Grilled Cheese — best shared since it is incredibly rich and will make you feel awful (made with gruyere, aged cheddar, mozzarella, brie, roasted tomato concasse, shallots, candied bacon confetti melted in parmesan crusted sourdough — see? I wouldn’t lie to you).

I recently found out that my new love serves brunch … whoa!

TIP#1-Don’t show up starving, our friendly neighborhood heroes can be a bit slow..

TIP#2-Look for parking on Ashland and on side streets. If all fails, and you made time, park west of Ashland and north of Foster. That area usually has good FREE street parking.

Lady Gregory's on Urbanspoon

Breakfast

I have heard people say they don’t eat breakfast, or hate breakfast foods. I don’t understand that at all. Do you not wake up hungry? You can eat anything .. even a piece of fruit with your coffee. I believe with my whole heart that breakfast is the most important meal of  the day.

Others out there are against going out to breakfast or brunch — nobody, they claim, should  pay high prices for eggs. That only makes sense to me if the places they visit offer microwaved scramble on toast, or simple pancakes and muffins. And for the record, it is easy to screw up eggs — you can end up with overcooked rubbery eggs or mess up the tomato/onion ratio and end up with soupy eggs. AND, the thick restaurant style chunks of folded egg are nearly impossible to reproduce. These chunk style scrambles hold their veggies and other goodies in place to make the perfect bite.

The Grind, located on the 4600 N block on Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square is fast, delicious and convenient. It is important to note that we are part of the “8 am Grind club” on weekends. At any other time, this tiny local favorite is packed to the gills and many patrons, strangers to each other, are sharing tables and taking turns eating so as to not crash elbows (or so it seems). The music also seems to get louder. The “8 am club” is mostly parents of tots like us and the elderly. Our cue to leave is when the group of loud cackling hens arrive closer to 9. Cheers ladies! The Grind offers fresh bagels from Red Hen Pantry and baked goods from Southport Grocer, to name a few. They also offer vegan goodies. From their menu, we recommend Sue’s Bagel — homemade pesto and goat cheese with a side salad, the hummus/cucumber/tomato toast (much better made at home with toasted multi-grain muffin and freshER tomatoes), and their French Brie sandwhich (menu name escapes me).  I even recommend the parfait as ridiculous as that is–their granola is awesome!

Grind on Urbanspoon

In the Ravenswood neighborhood, located on the 4900 N block of North Damen Avenue is a small, cutely decorated breakfast  joint called Over Easy. Over easy is overrated, over crowded, and the long wait is not worth it.  We have eaten at Over Easy a handful of times and were not impressed. The egg sandwich is good, but like everything on the menu – the portion size and presentation offend my senses (look at the pictures on their site — it’s like IHOP on crack). And for those of you looking for a nice place to eat with your tots, this is not it.

Over Easy Cafe on Urbanspoon

Angel Food Bakery, also in the Ravenswood neighborhood, is located on the 1600 W block of Montrose Avenue. I will be honest with you, I do not like the baked goods (never had cake there but their baked goods are not to my liking) — I only go there for their brunch menu on weekends! Their fig, brie and prosciutto ‘Commuter Sandwich’ is a delightful combination of sweet and savory. You can snack on curried deviled eggs with bacon wedges while you wait for your 3 pepper + goat cheese scramble, or their delicious mushroom sauce scramble. Anything on their menu is very good (though, egg in a hole.. really?) and the good news is that the service is fast. We have never had to wait for a table. Parking on the other hand isn’t always easy in that part of the hood.

Angel Food Bakery on Urbanspoon

There are many places left to try in the area. I will keep you posted as I learn more !