Thai me kangaroo down, sport

I took a trip to our local Asian market this week, which means one thing—we’re getting spicy up in the Webber house.

I grew up eating plenty of ethnic foods, so it’s no surprise that I love them.  Always have.  But when I got pregnant, and for the year following Emmett’s birth, I couldn’t really stomach much Asian food whatsoever.  I gave away all of our ingredients, because even seeing them in the pantry made me feel kind of nauseated and mournful for the loss of my palate.  Recently, though, I’ve been craving them like, well, a pregnant woman. 

Which I’m NOT.

Unfortunately, most of the time I’m craving greasy takeout from various Asian restaurants.  I can’t eat it, because none of the meat is humanely sourced, so I sit in my house crying tears of hot and sour soup and wishing as hard as I can for a really tasty, inexpensive, organic Chinese restaurant that delivers to open up near my house.  Guess what hasn’t happened?  Guess what won’t ever happen?  Until we move to Boulder…

^^When I wrote that, I thought I was joking.  Then I googled “humane meat Chinese food Boulder” and found out that there is more than one offering.  Seriously? I’m boggled by the unfairness of it all.^^

The nub and gist is that I’ve actually gotten pretty good at throwing together “takeout” at home, provided I have the right ingredients.  None of it is even knocking at the door of authentic, but takeout isn’t either, so I’m not going to quibble.  I can promise you that it tastes really, really good.

I’d like to teach you how to do this too, since I know how much you kids like your greasy takeout food.  So over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to run a series called “Asian takeout for white people.”  I’ll teach you how to make a dish (or two) from each of the major takeout cultures, as well as maybe a wee bit about flavor profiles and ingredient sourcing.  My hope is that you’ll take away from this the ability to feed yourself, even when you’re kind of hungover or sick, for little money and with little effort.

*I know some of the members of the blogosphere cook much more authentic Thai/Japanese/Vietnamese/Chinese/Whatever food.  I think that’s awesome.  But for our purposes, I’m simply looking to recreate the flavors and textures that you expect when you make that phone call, hoping for cardboard boxes and styrofoam containers of comfort from your local strip mall restaurant.  Can we agree on that?*

The first step in all of this is going to be locating an Asian grocery store near you.  I live in a small town full of pretty much only white people, and there’s one within 15 minutes of my house.  When I lived in Texas, there was one within 7 minutes of my house.  I assure you, there is one near enough to you that you can go stock up every few months without having to drive cross-country.  And they’re CHEAP.  Absurdly so.  Cans of coconut milk for 99 cents.  Bulbs of garlic for 10 cents.  Lemongrass for pennies.  Just go, and plan to spend some time because almost everything is written in characters that are not part of our 26 letter alphabet.  Also, it smells bad.  But you should still totally go.  Are you with me?

Last night I made the world’s simplest Thai soup, since Chris is still sick and also I really like Thai soups. It looks like a LOT of ingredients, but it’s the simplest thing ever, the ingredients are cheap and readily available at Asian market, and they pretty much all last in the fridge for months, so a single grocery trip every once in a blue moon should do you just fine.

I’d been defrosting a pack of free-range chicken wings ($3 at WhoFo) because on any given day I crave buffalo wings between 2 and 30 times.  Wings also happen to make the best stock, if you don’t have any carcasses frozen.  They’re inexpensive and rich in cartilage, so they give stock the kind of body that you want and can’t get from a box or can.

Ingredients:
1 T olive oil
2 lbs chicken wings
1″ nub of fresh ginger, quartered
2″ nub of fresh lemongrass, split
6 fresh curry leaves
6 fresh kaffir lime leaves
1 onion, small dice
4 cloves garlic, smashed
3 Thai chiles, chopped (more if you dig spice)
2″ lump of palm sugar
handful of cilantro
1 can coconut milk
1 splash soy sauce or fish sauce
2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
10 button mushrooms, washed, stemmed, and thinly sliced
1 sprig thai basil
lime wedges
2/3 C uncooked basmati rice, well-rinsed in cold water

Method:
-In a stockpot, heat olive oil over high heat, and add chicken wings. Sear heavily on both sides.

See the sear? BE the sear.

-Add ginger, lemongrass, garlic, 1/2 of onion, chiles, sugar, cilantro, curry and kaffir leaves, and stir until fragrant
-Fill stockpot 2/3 full with water, and simmer for about 90 minutes, or until the stock is reduced by half.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer.
-Put the stock back in the pot and bring back to a light boil.  Add salt to taste.
-Add carrots and rice and cook until just tender.

Just tender does NOT equal mush.  The grains should have a bit of chew and be individual and pretty

-Meanwhile, tear the meat off of the chicken wings from making the stock and set aside.
-Add mushrooms and meat and simmer another few minutes.  Turn off the heat and add coconut milk and soy sauce or fish sauce.  Taste for salt again.
-Simmer for just a minute or two to combine flavors (don’t boil!), skim off any yellow chicken fat from the top, then serve with garnishes of fresh Thai basil, cilantro, and more diced chiles for those who can handle it.  Sprinkle with the juice of a lime wedge right before eating.

Not pretty to look at, but very pretty to smell and even prettier to taste.  GLORY.

It doesn’t photograph well, but it’s perfectly balanced and rich.  The coconut milk is sweet and fruity, and the heat from the chiles comes through beautifully.  Your house will smell absolutely amazing, and this is plenty of soup for either a family of 4 or a family of 2 with lunch the next day.

Possible cheats/variations:
Vegan: Omit chicken, use vegetable stock, and add diced pumpkin or butternut squash for body
Lazy: Use boxed chicken stock, stir fry some Thai Kitchen brand red curry paste with olive oil, then add stock and complete with veggies and coconut milk.
Low-cal: Use boxed chicken stock, and lite coconut milk (this won’t taste as good)
Low-carb: Don’t use rice or palm sugar, add extra meat and veggies

See what I mean?  The possibilities are endless, and because you’ve got the singing combination of lemongrass, ginger, chiles, coconut, and basil, you’re going to end up with a very tasty, Thai-inspired soup that leaves you feeling like you just ate at a great Thai restaurant, only for next to no money, and without having to put pants on and leave your house.

That’s right. NO PANTS. And the warm bowl of soup will keep your lap warm, even without the thick, fleecy luxury of your eatin’ sweats.

I ate it while watching House, which was doubly awesome because the food was just excellent, and I don’t care how old and moldy Hugh Laurie is, I still sort of have a crush on him because a) British, b) sarcastic, and c) brilliant doctor.

Franks and Dawgs

Day 2: Chicago Trip

At this point, we’d been in Chicago for less than 24 hours, and had already managed to eat and drink our way through Xoco, iNG, The Aviary, and The Publican.

I woke up full.  Still.  So breakfast was Argo Tea.  I LOVE Argo Tea, and my only beef with them so far is that those motherlovers still refuse to bring their heavenly libations to Colorado, even though we’re all overpaid, filthy hippies, and would be the perfect market, and OMG WHY DO YOU HATE ME ARGO TEA???  I started my morning with a coconut chai tea.  Then I had a vanilla bubble tea.  I love their bubbles.  They’re made of nata de coco and winning, and apparently can only be purchased directly from the Philippines, and my only Filipino friend has been thus far too selfish to go get me some.  It’s your homeland, Doug. Just go.

After filling up (yeah, filling up) on about 600 calories of sweetened tea drinks, we walked to the Trader Joe’s area and purchased some goodies.  Trader Joe’s also refuses to open a store in Colorado.  I’m noticing a trend here.  I got two mustards, because my cousin Nate hasn’t brought me any Penn State Herlocher’s dipping mustard yet. Um, hi? Unless Herlocher is ALSO currently under investigation for sexual assault, then I don’t understand the hold up.  Also, I got two squeezy tubes of organic sweetened condensed milk.  I’ve never seen organic SCM before, and I almost cried tears of joy.  Usually I just eat a whole can of the traditional stuff, and then feel round and guilty for a while.

When I was a kid, I used to steal cans of it from my mom’s pantry.  I’d poke two triangular holes in the top with the bar punch, then take it to my room and sip from it for a up to a week.  Unrefrigerated.  I never died of listeria or mold ingestion or anything, which either means that it’s got more preservatives than are strictly considered “safe” for human ingestion, or I was just exercising my superhuman Viking immune system, and that’s why I never get food poisoning.

Back to the trip.  We crossed the street to Franks and Dawgs, which is a hot dog stand in Lincoln Park that features two things that I find imminently fanciable: humanely raised hot dogs and triple truffle fries.  Last time we went to Chicago, we spent hours traveling and waiting for Hot Dougs dogs and duck fat fries.  They were good, and a great experience, but took up a lot of a day.  Franks and Dawgs had almost no line to speak of, got the food out quickly, and is right in the middle of a fun part of the city, so the walk to and from is both fast and interesting.

Also, you get to pick a shame celebrity to stick to your table with velcro so they know where to deliver your order.  We chose shaved-head Britney.  The people across from us had Charlie Sheen.

Must. Learn. To Make. Buns.

Giddyup cheese curds

We both ordered the “Chicagoesque,” which was a natural beef hot dog on a New England-style bun, surrounded with spicy house mustard, pickles, cherry tomato relish, and caramelized onions.  The dog was great, the fixings were flavorful and well-matched, but the bun was the real star.  The New England-style bun is thick, soft, buttered, and griddled.  I’d never had one before, and was just thrilled with it.  We also ordered fried cheese curds (when in the Midwest…) and the triple truffle fries, which were criss-cut fries drenched in truffle oil, truffle butter, and truffle salt.  The whole bill was like $20, and I would have paid twice that for the quality and quantity of food we got.  Very good choice for a cheap, accessible, semi-authentic restaurant.

Way crispier than Hot Doug’s duck fat fries, which = WIN

Who is so full they need another nap?  THESE GUYS!

The longest post ever– a review of iNG, The Aviary, and The Publican

When I last left you, I was napping off a food coma from Xoco in the heart of Chicago.  My next set of stories comes from a few hours later, after we’d located a Red Bull and managed to gird and shower our loins for further adventuring. 

I was actually very nervous about our next meal, at iNG Restaurant, because we were planning to meet our blogging friends Choosy Beggars Tina and Mike for the very first time.  I’ve “known” them via the blogs for a couple of years, and at one point we’d even exchanged packages of regional foods (theirs from Canada, and ours from the depths of Texas) via international mail.  But we’d never met in person, and after that length of time of knowing someone without meeting them, you do get worried that it’ll be totally weird in person, or that they’ll think you’re hideous and boring, or that they’ll actually end up being axe murderers.  It’s the classic struggle that faces people who date after meeting on one of the myriad creepy dating sites on the internet.

Only in this case, I’m pleased to report, they were LOVELY.  Tina is both beautiful and gracious in a way I’ll never be, and Mike was so adorable and Canadian that I almost wrapped him up and stole him to take home to Colorado.  Which I guess IS creepy in the manner of internet meetings, so I’m glad I didn’t go that route.  Kind of.

Fantastic

We initially met for dinner at iNG, after a harrowing cab ride through an area that can be best described as “industrial chic” only without the “chic” part.  The restaurant was well lit and friendly looking, if in a questionable part of town.  The servers wore little ear-pieces for communication with the kitchen (?), which seemed to teeter on the very edge of being douche-y, but never crossed over into douche territory with both feet.  Our server was an obvious hipster with a pretty awesome ironic moustache, but was open and engaging and made us feel welcome.  Also, he had a sense of humor, which I always appreciate, regardless of venue.

Chris and I immediately ordered beers, because Mike and Tina hadn’t arrived yet, and I tend to be much friendlier after a beer or two.  They came out quickly and were delicious.  After our dinner dates had arrived, and Chris had had time to become adequately smitten with them, we made some decisions about what we’d be eating. 

iNG offers a tasting menu and a regular a la carte menu.  The tasting menu is centered around a concept known as “flavor tripping.”  Flavor tripping involves eating a special African berry (known as ‘miracle berry’), which changes the bitter/sour receptors on your tongue to perceive those bitter/sour flavors as sweet.  So licking a lemon after eating a miracle berry tastes like delicious lemonade, rather than sour, mouth-puckering lemon.  It’s really a neat experience, and Chris and I have experimented at home with it before.

The tasting menu for the evening was Thanksgiving themed, and after discussing it between the four of us, we decided to just go for it.  There were several a la carte items that I really had been looking forward to trying, but a tasting menu is almost always the way to go in the nicer restaurants, and would allow us to make innumerable “tripping balls” jokes while eating.  Win.

Our first course actually came in the menu, which was folded into an origami box.  It was a little pipette of carrot soup, which was okay, but kind of difficult to eat and a little underwhelming in flavor for an amuse bouche.  I did like the origami menu, though, because it set the tone for a fun and tricksy meal. 

Can’t beet a good salad, HAR!

The next course (which was the first official tasting menu course) was a salad of beets, cranberry gelee, arugula, goat cheese, and spiced pecans with a small clementine supreme.  On the side was a lemon wedge and a miracle berry tablet.  The idea was to try the salad, then let the miracle berry dissolve on the tongue, then lick the lemon to confirm that the berry was working, and then finish the salad.  The salad was initially pretty bland.  It didn’t have much punch at all, and was dominated by the sourness of the goat cheese, the bitterness of the arugula, and the unsweetened tannin of the cranberry gelee.  BLAH.  It was like a Wendy’s salad without the corn syrup and soybean oil dressing.

Enter the miracle berry.  We let it dissolve on our tongues, which took kind of an awkwardly long time, especially for me because I’m perpetually dehydrated.  We were having a good time, though.  We then licked the lemon, which was indeed sweet and delicious.  So we moved back to the salad.  WOW, what a difference.  The gelee had become sweeter, the goat cheese richer and less goat-y, the dressing more assertive and perfectly matched to the peppery bite of the arugula, and the spiced pecans tasted almost candied and spiced (which, um, hi? DELICIOUS).  Very impressive transformation, and we thoroughly enjoyed the rest of our salads.

Also enjoyed very much the gin and ginger ale cocktail that we got to try before and after the berry.  It was good both ways, and I usually feel like gin is a way that God is punishing me for stealing drinks from my parents liquor cabinet in high school.  So that’s a big deal.  I can’t remember the name of the gin, but I was told it’s the best gin in the universe or something equally superlative.

Bajango says “wha?”

Next course was an oyster, which was kind of a big deal because I don’t normally swing that way.  I was trying to sack up and look culinarily tough for Mike and Tina, though, so I went with it.  It had a cornbread crumble and some celery on top, and was served in a smoked dome with a smoky beer on the side.  It was meant to mimic oyster stuffing, but having never had oyster stuffing, I just had to deliberate on whether or not it was, in fact, delicious or gross.  I went with “medium.”  The celery and cornbread worked well to brighten the smokiness and the briny vag…oyster.  The fact that I didn’t hork it back out speaks volumes as to its palatability.  The rest of the group seemed to enjoy it quite a bit, as well.  And the smoky beer was delicious, even if I can’t remember its name.

Belleh

Another plate arrived, this time bearing braised and caramelized pork belly with brussels sprouts and a sweet potato puree.  OMNOMNOMNOM.  Phenomenal, perfectly cooked, crisp on the outside and meltingly tender within.  Perfect.

Turducken

And then turducken on roasted potato hash.  Sort of.  It was a kind of home fry wodge underneath some confited duck and perfectly cooked sous vide chicken breast slices and somewhere in there was turkey.  I can’t remember the specifics of the meat order.  On top were a few pretty little haricot verts with house-made mushroom veloute and crispy fried shallots.  It was fabulous, and fairly creative, and would have actually been an awesome breakfast, I think mostly because of the potatoes.  My one tiny quibble would be that the sous vide chicken, if left un-seared, gets a kind of pinkish pallor that is visually unappealing.  The dish was beautifully presented, and tasted great, but it was hard to get my brain excited about eating the slabs of chicken.  Maybe that was just me, but I like my meat to have some color on it.

Ignore the fact that I married a man of British ancestry.  Onward and upward!

Screw you, Stropshire

A cheese course!  Only not really!  We were given another miracle berry to awkwardly dissolve, another lemon to lick suggestively, and a plate with three wedges, a balsamic smear, and a few apple wedges.  And nut crumble.  The wedges LOOKED like humboldt fog, stropshire cheddar, and a hard, parmesan-like cheese.  However there was trickery afoot.  It was actually a homemade unsweetened cheesecake of sorts, a wedge of real stropshire cheese, and a wedge of apple gelee.  We tasted them before the berry and got a bland apple gelee, a blander creamy wedge, and OMG HOLYSHIT WHAT IS THIS FOUL ASSAULT ON MY TONGUE stropshire.

I had never eaten blue cheese.  Never.  I always thought the idea was just too repellent, and was really hoping that I’d try it boldly and love it.  Not so.  It tastes like bitter mold and hatefulness.

So, miracle berry.  What can you do to make all of this better?  Answer?  The humboldt fog wedge tasted like a particularly high-end cheesecake, the apple gelee with nut crumble tasted like apple pie (so much so that it was kind of a mind-hump), and the stropshire tasted like THE DEVIL’S BALLSACK.  Still.  Apparently there are limits to what the miracle can miraculasize.

I do not like blue cheese.  Not in a house, not with a mouse, not in a box, not with a fox (and yeah, Tina is totally a fox).

Accompanying the cheese, we were given a red wine that was good to begin with, and after the berry tasted like a rich, delicious port wine. That was pretty incredible.

Finally, dessert came.  It was waffles with butter and syrup.  Only not! Because the waffles were really a graham cracker ice cream, the butter was really a different kind of ice cream, and the syrup was…I don’t know.  Not syrup.  It was good, but I was still reeling from the stropshire, so nothing was quite sweet enough for me.  Also, I think my berry had been overwhelmed and decided to pack up and leave my tongue completely for gentler lands.

This was all ice cream

Overall, it was a very good, fun, playful meal.  I enjoyed it, and with the company, I enjoyed it even more.  Plus, I just think Homaro Cantu is a nice guy, unlike Achatz, who makes delicious food, but seems like a prick.  I think there’s some polish left to be put on the food, and that may be in part due to the limitations of the miracle berry.  The food has to be kind of bland and unappealing before application of the berry, otherwise it won’t be as “cool.”  There’s a part of me, though, that wants all of my food to be honestly good, even without a miracle.  That part of me probably would have preferred the a la carte menu.  The chefs in the kitchen clearly know what they’re doing, and they’re working with great ingredients, so less tomfoolery would have made for a more even experience of goodness with fewer peaks and valleys.

Side note: We also got to watch Hugo do his thing with the noodles, and he looked totally creeped out that some random blonde girl ran up like a fanboy, knowing his name and salivating over his technique.  I am SO pissed off that I didn’t get to try his noodles.  Maybe in a few years, I’ll be able to pull noodles with the same skill.  *insert weiner joke*

After paying a reasonable bill (honestly, it was pretty darn reasonable, given the experience), we moved over to The Aviary.

Sigh.  Oh, Achatz.

The Aviary is Chef Grant Achatz (of Alinea fame) new cocktail restaurant.  It is very difficult to get into, and I had to write a sad, begging letter to be let in at all.  In it, I said I was a CIA grad.  It has helped me to get into restaurants before, since it’s kind of an industry courtesy, and it’s true, so why not?  We got a 10 o’ clock reservation for four, and since it’s right next door to iNG, we were timed just about perfectly.  When we got there, the doorman said something about “you can tell me but you’d have to kill me.”  I realized, after a few minutes, with the help of the group, that it had apparently gotten around the restaurant that I was CIA.  Not Culinary Institute of America.  The spy kind.  Me.  A spy.

At first, I was a little embarrassed, then flattered, then laughing my ass off because REALLY?  What kind of wanker would use his/her CIA connections to get into a restaurant? The spy kind, that is.  And, to think of it, are CIA agents even allowed to admit that they’re CIA?  And why would they be trying to get into a random bar?  Whatever.  Basically, I’m a kind of important as an international woman of mystery at this point, and will probably ride that train for a while.

We were let in and led to a booth in a very dark lounge.  I’ll never understand why ‘Chatz feels like all of his venues have to be nighttime.  It makes me feel kind of uncomfortable, like I’ll be reaching for my glass and end up with a handful of someones titty or something by accident.  And man of mystery or not, that kind of behavior is frowned upon.

A set of four tiny little amuse bouches arrived on the same pedestals that they use at Alinea for some of the one-bite courses.  There was no explanation as to what they were.

What ARE you??

Our incredibly pretentious server came over, not glancing up from his iPhone, thrust a hip out, and explained the menu to us in a manner that stated “Oh good lord, how did I end up with four filthy suburban losers at my table.  I totally thought they were going to be spies or Oprah or at the very least Obama.”  Then he walked away, leaving the amuse bouches on the table, unmentioned.

So we ate them.  Honestly, in this group, it’s probably best not to leave anything that looks edible out on the table unless you want it consumed immediately.  Not even flowers.  They were pretty unremarkable, even if they were appetizing to look at.  Or repulsive to look at.  I couldn’t tell in the fruit bat lighting.

When our server came back and finished rolling his eyes long enough to focus on the screen of his iphone once more, we asked what they were and were told something about manchego, olives, almonds, gelees, foams, and something else.  Hopefully Mike and Tina remember better than I do.

We ordered our first round of drinks, and a few little items off of the “bites” menu.  Yeah, we were STILL EATING.  You’ll find it’s a theme.

Tastes like High School chemistry class with Mr. Arvidson

My first drink was the Oolong, and it was beautifully presented.  A scientific evaporative collection contraption of some sort, with aromatics in the top chamber, gin in the lower chamber, and a bunsen burner of sorts to heat the alcohol into the top chamber, where it married with the aromatics.  When, minutes later, the flame was removed, it all fell back to the bottom chamber and was ready for service. 

Anything you have to open with a sling shot is a win

Have I mentioned I hate gin?  I did not think Oolong would involve gin.  But this was hot and nuanced and sweet without being cloying.  There were a couple of delicate glass teacups’ worth of cocktail, which I enjoyed thoroughly.

Chris ordered a drink called “In the Rocks,” which was a very well-executed old fashioned, served in a sphere of ice that had to be opened with a sling shot.  Very cool.

Tina ordered the “Blood and Sand,” which came without fancy presentation (except for lighting an orange peel on fire), and was incredibly tasty, whiskey-based, and, as another reviewer put it, “not fucking around.” 

Mike, pouring the liquor into his festive lady-glass

Mike got a Hurricane, complete with a green umbrella.  All. That. Is. Man.

Typical Achatz fare, from left clockwise, potato cube, Tina bite, Tina bite

From left going clockwise, waygu, a Tina bite, and rillette

The bites I ordered were the waygu beef, the duck rillette, and the potato cube.  I’ve had similar versions of the potato and waygu at Alinea, where they were delicious.  These didn’t fail at recreating those dishes. The rillette was less good than some I’ve made at home, but just fine overall.  Moaning may or may not have occurred.  Tina ordered 3 bites also, but I can’t remember what they were.

Giant hand-carved ice ball
Wheel of destiny

Second round of drinks!  I was torn between the Candy Corn and the Maraschino.  The server suggested Maraschino (with a silent “you ignorant slut” at the end of the recommendation), so I accepted.  It was a solid, hand carved ice sphere that fit perfectly in the rocks glass, surrounded by some alcohol.  It tasted like vaguely sweet burning, and I enjoyed it very much, after the hair finished sprouting on my back.

Chris got the Cider, which was served in a transparent flask filled with aromatics.  It tasted like hot apple cider, only with the fire of spirits.

The Ginger

Tina got the Ginger, which looked like Thai soup, but was tastier and gently spicy, with a kick of liquor at the end.

Tiny house bottles

And Mike got the 2 in 1, which was a White Lady and house-bottled Negroni.  I only tasted the Negroni, which I’ve never had, but it was really intricate and well-balanced and addictive.

That’s right.  I tasted other peoples’ drinks.  That NEVER HAPPENS.  Such was our love for Mike and Tina.  Sure, I grilled them on their cold sore history (none of us had ever had one, which was awesome), but then we passed all the drinks for tasting, and I’m so glad we did. 

We’d been waiting for some time now to determine whether or not we would be able to visit the downstairs super-secret speakeasy called “The Office.”  Apparently, we were not cool enough.  Not even cool enough for an explanation of what it was or looked like– the server would only smirk and say “it’s Sexy.”

He was such a butthole.

But I would totally go back.  That’s the rub of Achatz’ ventures– even though they’re expensive, and even though the pretense and douchery runs rampant like a stampeding buffalo of dickishness, the food and cocktails are so beyond superb and interesting and experiential that you end up dying to go back, just to have another few hours of magic.  I was again amazed at the creativity and execution of each and every item (barring the amuse bouche).

We finished the night at The Publican, having a couple of interesting brews and some great conversation.  Mike and Tina kept us rolling with tales of Canadian drug busts using only a flashlight and a notepad, and men standing in their underpants, fighting off a bear by clanging two frying pans and making empty threats.  We couldn’t get enough of it, and were so sad to end the night. 

I was full, fat, and happy.  Chris was too, and deep in man-crush territory.  It was just a great night with great food, great drinks, and great people.   Also, the word “great.”

 If you have managed to saw through this enormous review, then bless your hearts.  I’ve got more coming! Topolobampo, Spiaggia, and a great hot dog place.

Friendship and Fried Foods

Every once and a while you come across a friend who will do terribly inconvenient, difficult things, solely because they are your friend and they would never begrudge you anything ever.  Those friends are few and far between, and despite my somewhat abhorrent personality, I have that kind of friends.  I would currently like to give a major interweb shout out to my beautiful and talented friend Miranda, without whom I would not be typing this blog from Argo Tea in beautiful Chicago, IL.

She is currently watching BOTH my baby AND my dog.  My baby doesn’t sleep through the night.  Basically ever.  He’s 14 months old.

My dog is an effusively loving, enormous whomping moron who sheds enough fur in a given 10 minute span to crochet a normal-sized, average-fluff dog.  He lumbers, knocks over small children, chews up pacifiers, and barks at neighbor dogs.

On top of all of this, she personally owns her own 14 month baby AND her own giant gallumping furball of a dog.  So she’s doubled up on both for a long weekend, while Chris and I jet off to Chicago to eat our own weight in ridiculously expensive, pretentious, delicious food.  That’s two self-lethal toddlers, and two dogs who make up for any shortcomings in intelligence by being ENTHUSIASTIC. ABOUT EVERYTHING. ALWAYSALLTHETIME!

Bless her heart.  We’ve only been away one night, and I’m sure she and her husband are exhausted to tears and questioning the net value of a friendship with the Webbers.

I, however, am living it up.  We arrived in Chicago yesterday around lunchtime, and immediately dragged our luggage through the freezing, humid, piercing cold to visit Xoco.

Xoco is Rick Bayless’ most recent venture in downtown Chicago.  I heart Rick Bayless something fierce, ever since seeing how talented and humble he was on Top Chef Masters.  Which he won, and which he totally deserved to win.  It’s basically a Mexican street food restaurant, with lots of tortas (sandwiches), Mexican hot chocolate, churros, chips and salsa, guacamole, and soups.

But okay, the food?  OMFG.  All the ingredients are local/organic and handmade into creations that will blow the top of your skull off of your noggin.  When I say “handmade,” I mean that they hand grind the cacao beans into chocolate.  I mean that they lovingly create every single one of their many salsas by hand, from scratch, every day.  I mean that they hand knead the dough to freshly fry each of the churros to order.  I mean that they make the soft serve ice cream mix from hand scraped Mexican vanilla beans and organic, pasture raised Amish dairy products. 

We were blown away.  It was a jam-packed restaurant that had a similar seating layout to a Panera or something like that.  Nothing fancy, stand in line to order your food at the counter, pay the cashier, and then you get assigned a table number and you sit at that stool/counter/table until your food is brought to you.  We waited about 30 minutes to order, which was expected, and then delivered our gluttonous list of wants to the darling, tiny Mexican girl taking our orders.

Here is the order in which our food was delivered (which is what we asked for, so no judging our priority system):

Chips, salsa and guacamole
Churros with ice cream and chocolate
Sandwiches

The chips were in a generous basket, and were still hot from being fried, and topped with a coarse salt and some hint of bright, fresh lime flavor.  The guacamole was just fresh and excellent and simple, and the two salsas that accompanied the guac were equally good.  One was a salsa verde with tomatillas and some bright acidity.  The red was roasted tomato salsa (I think?) and was rich and deep and incredibly tasty.  I wished I had more of it to drizzle on everything, but was quite pleased to just hog all of the small dish they gave us.

Then the churros.  Oh.  OOOOHHHHH.  *Blatantly erotic moaning*

That was, bar none, the absolute best dessert item I have ever eaten in my life.  And, being the whore for sugar that I am, I have eaten a LOT of dessert items in my life.  I’ve had everything from cupcakes at a famous bakery in Washington D.C., to flights of dessert courses at Alinea in Chicago, to desserts with bacon in them from The Berkshire in Colorado.  I spent a block of school at the CIA learning how to make French pastry from an incredibly French, elderly pastry chef who could knock out a pate a choux with both of his eyes closed.  But these churros (cost for 3 was $3.75) were better than any and all of the above by a significant margin.

Hot from the fryer, buttery, flaky, chewy, delicately sweet and almost eggy with richness, then enrobed with an aggressive dusting of coarse, crunchy sugar and freshly grated cinnamon.  There was a satisfying crunch to get through the sweet, cinnamony bedazzlement, then the slightly toothsome fried ridges that are part and parcel of the churro experience, followed by a tender, decadent pastry middle.  SO MANY SUPERLATIVES.

Oh, and the ice cream– a homemade Mexican vanilla soft serve — was so creamy and rich that I would have happily eaten a bowl independent of the churro.  Except for I didn’t, because the churro was available for dipping.  When the hot churro was combined with the cold ice cream.

Words fail me.

And Chris got a shot of the fresh chocolate for dipping, but I tried that once and it overpowered the churro too much for me to get into it.  Good chocolate, but I was really busy making sex eyes at my pastry.

By the time the sandwiches came, I could barely draw my focus back to my plate, instead of just lusting after a second, third, fourth order of churros.  But I managed.  And it’s a damned good thing I did, because the sandwiches were pretty phenomenal in and of themselves.

I had the conchinita pibil, which was wood-fired suckling pig, shredded and piled onto a toasted bollilo bun, topped with pink, pickled onions and a thin layer of smashed black beans.  It was served with a green salsa, which I tried, and then immediately started drinking the dregs of my ice cream to try and quell the fire.  HOT.  Too hot.  Not the kind of hot where you enjoy it, but the kind of hot where ethnically diverse natives feed it to white people and then sit in the corner laughing while tears stream down our sad white person faces.  Fire.


Chris has the milanese, which was a chicken breast, pounded thin, dredged and fried to golden brown, and topped with local, organic jack cheese, avocado spread, and cilantro crema.  It was fantastic, and I got sandwich envy, so we ended up just each eating half of each sandwich.  It was a lot of food, so I finished about a half sandwich in total.  And I was incredibly impressed by the quality and care and depth that went into each one of these “street food” sandwiches.

Our total for this meal was about $45, which is about how much one would spend at Chili’s.  That just makes me very, very sad.  Because Xoco is at least 200 times more enjoyable, uses all responsibly sourced ingredients, and makes you feel like you just experienced something really special.

And churros.

Then we went home and had a 2 hour uninterrupted nap to let our bodies digest our winnings.  And that was our first meal of many in Chicago.  Stay tuned for stories about bears, frying pans, Canadians, tripping balls, and being mistaken for a spy.

Protect your nuts

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Babies are filthy disease spreaders.  Adorably, snuggly, delicious, filthy disease spreaders.  Like squirrels, only unable to gather their own nuts.  Well, he definitely gets his nuts during his diaper changes, if you know what I’m saying, so I guess “unable to get his own acorns” would be a more accurate description.

In Fort Collins, the squirrels have become dependent on college students, and as a result they eat more Panda Express orange chicken than nuts.  The orange chicken may or may not be made of squirrel flesh.

It probably is.

Anyway, I’m now battling my first of many colds of the season that has incubated into a super-virus in the body of my very small son.  There’s no amount of washing my hands that can prevent me from getting sick when he does.  Mucus comes flying out of his body at a volume and velocity that blows my mind.  And he wipes his nose with his fat little fists, and then grabs his toys and tries to put them in my mouth, then caresses my eyes, then hugs me and wipes his snot on my face.  It’s seriously disgusting.  But what am I supposed to say to him?  “Hey, 14 month old baby. Could you be less affectionate with your mother? K THX BAI!”

And when he’s sick, he can’t breathe with a pacifier in his mouth, which means that every time he has to spit it out to gasp for air, he ends up waking himself up and wailing like an orphan left alone to die in the desert, rather than a spoiled WASP baby in a beautifully furnished nursery with plush Steiff golden retrievers and hand-woven Beatrix Potter bumper pads.

So then, after about 15 trips to his nursery to comfort him and patiently explain that we’re seriously only 50 feet away, and can see him on his video monitor, I end up saying, “f*ck it” and bringing him to my own bed.  He sprawls out on my pillow, snot dribbling everywhere, and then falls asleep soundly.  His breath smells like boogers and Cheerios.

And then I can’t sleep at all, because I’m certain I’m going to crush him like that Indian lady who smothered her baby when she fell asleep breastfeeding on a flight to America.

So we’re tired folk around here.  And tired folk means lazy dinners.  But lazy dinners don’t have to suck, honestly. They don’t have to be made out of frozen pizza and canned cream of whatnot soup.  I present to you an excellent, delicious option for a quick dinner that can be made out of whatever you have defrosted (or mostly defrosted).

Mexican Stir Fry.  Not traditionally Mexican, sure.  But rife with Mexican flavors, and certainly more Mexican than anything Paula Deen calls “Mexican,” usually anything that involves corn and ground beef.

Just slice up an onion, a zucchini, and some leftover shards of beef (I think this was 1/2 of a strip steak that I had leftover from making Philly cheesesteaks).  We never eat a whole steak at a time, even between the two of us, so we use up a lot of meat in recipes like this.  It keeps our budget reasonable, even while eating grass-fed meats.

The “rub”
-2 T Chili powder
-1 T Ancho chili powder
-2 t ground cumin
-1t ground coriander
-1 T kosher salt
-1 T granulated garlic (or minced fresh garlic)
-1 jalapeno, minced (more or less to taste–deseed if you can’t handle heat)

Rub your pieces with your spice mixture and then leave them in the fridge for a few hours to marinate

Then heat up a large skillet on high heat with a bit of olive oil.  Toss in everything all at once, and cook just until the meat browns.  The veggies will stay nice and crisp.  At the very end, toss in a about a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and let it cook for another 10 seconds to burn off.  Serve over garlicky white rice.  Squirt with fresh lime wedge.  Fin.

The whole “stir fry” method is so cross-applicable to other foods, and is the fastest way to get healthy meat/veggies into your belly with minimal effort.  All you need is a sharp knife, a cutting board, and a hot skillet.  And someone to comfort your congested little nugget of a baby while you stir fry, because the oil splatters.

Also, stir fry is CHEAP because you only need a little bit of meat and whatever vegetables you have lying around the house.  Let nobody say that it costs a lot to eat organic, humane foods.

The veggies are coming in handy, too, because my immune system needs all the help it can get, what with Typhoid Emmett running the show around here, and with 6 more months of winter to get through before I can rest knowing that sure, there is tons of cat fur on my pillow, but no visible human secretions.  That’s as classy as we get around here these days.

Prison

After wandering outside in shorts and a tank top to knock the snow off of our DirecTV receiver, I came back in to hear the following commercial advertisement: “Restasis is not for patients who have had herpes of the eye.” 

Even at my absolute rowdiest, I was never rowdy enough to be at a real risk for eye herpes.  Never.  What kind of shenanigans do you have to get up to to get eye herpes?  Butterfly kissing an inner-city prostitute?  Looking REALLY CLOSELY at Lindsay Lohan?  Lending your mascara to the makeup artist responsible for making sure Pit Bull’s pubic hair stays well-groomed?

I don’t know.  I’m kind of miffed with the entire medical community right now.  Because I had my DP session this Monday, and I didn’t enjoy it near as much as you would think.  Why?  Because I woke up while they were balls deep in my arse, so to speak.  After explaining patiently to them that I had an unreal tolerance for most medications, and them promising they’d knock me out good and proper, I still woke up with a camera alllllll the way up my dark star.  The combination of Versed and Propofol was not enough to keep this girl down.  It killed Michael Jackson, but it couldn’t even keep me quiet for 30 minutes so they could assail my neverland ranch.

I did fine during the endoscopy portion of the event.  At least, I think I did because I don’t remember it.  But I woke up HOWLING when they were tromping around in my confederate lands (the south).  I remember that quite clearly.

( * ) <----A picture of the entrance to my confederate lands. They increased my dosage, and I went back to sleep for another 15 minutes, then woke up feeling like I had spent the last 30 days as Bubba’s bitch in a federal penitentiary. As it turns out, my ass is completely normal (as one might expect in someone who went to the doctor FOR HEARTBURN), and my esophagus is a hot mess of abused tissue that may or may not be Barrett’s esophagus.  I’m waiting for my biopsies to tell me what’s really going on in the area of my eatin’ tube. I took the nugget trick or treating that night, and haven’t really eaten much since then.  I’ll get back in the cooking saddle this weekend.  Although I will have some food to post tomorrow that I’ve been saving for a moment when Emmett isn’t trying to grab my attention by bashing his tiny head on things and yelling like it’s my fault.