Sunday, February 28, 2010

Happy birthday, Scott and Colin!

We spent the day yesterday at the home of my brother, Al, and his wife, Kathy, seen below with her father, Phil . . .

My son, David, came, too . . .

Scott, the oldest of Al and Kathy's three sons, and Colin, the youngest, have always shared celebrations because their birthdays fall just a few days apart . . .

They are such hams . . .

I love these birthday parties when three generations of family get together. Here's Kathy's brother, Dan, and his wife, Kelly . . .

Al and Kathy are very laid back, and their house has always been the hangout for all their kids' friends. Below, my nephew Kevin and his friend, Shawn, watch me prepare a Greek salad . . . Actually, I think Kevin was just keeping a close eye on the Kalamata olives . . .

I love the openness of Al and Kathy's kitchen, where you can cook while the party swirls around you . . .
Greek salad . . . olives, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, lettuce, feta cheese . . .

The birthday boys with their auntie . . .

Staring contest between David and Jake-the-dog . . .

My nephew, Kevin . . .

Colin and his friend, Jenii . . .

Beautiful cupcakes by Jenii! I'm going to have to try making these . . .

We've gone to these parties every year ever since the boys were born. It's been a privilege, and a true pleasure, to play a small role in their lives and watch them grow up!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Caputo's! Everything else . . .

The most important thing to remember at Caputo's . . . stay away from the cooking magazines! That place is dangerous enough as it is . . .

The antipasto bar doesn't disappoint . . . This so reminds me of Italy!

Some buy olive oil in small quantities . . .

And some of us . . . well, we need a little more . . .

And then there's vinegar . . . Inexpensive distilled vinegars, good only for washing windows and coloring Easter eggs, can be found next to the most sublime balsamic vinegars infused with anything imaginable . . .

The Silver Palate Cookbook, given to us as a wedding present by my sister-in-law Angela, is still one of my favorite cookbooks. I was pleasantly surprised to find this balsamic vinegar with the Silver Palate label among the selection. Of course I had to buy a bottle . . .

I went looking for pancetta (Italian bacon) and found . . . Danish bacon! Danish bacon? Huh. Caputo's always surprises me with a new treasure. I'm going to try out the Danish bacon instead of ham next time I make split pea soup. I'll let you know how it turns out.

I left Caputo's feeling like an alchemist who now has the ingredients for turning base metal into gold. I can't wait to take my cauldron out.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Caputo's! Pasta!

At Caputo's, they take their pasta seriously. Check out the aisles of pasta choices, end capped with cans of tomato purée, gallons of olive oil or jars of delicious giardiniera peppers . . .
You could spend hours just looking at all the pasta shapes that are available . . .

That's four aisles of pasta!

It took me a while to get the picture below. A woman was arguing with her mother (in Italian) about how many cans of crushed tomatoes they would need to make "Bolognese" for the family party. I wish I could have gone to that party . . . (Alas, the ladies did not wish to be photographed!)

One of the nice things about Caputo's is that, although, clearly Italian in character, they are not snobs about it. While you might find an end cap stocked with nothing but Sicilian chocolate nougats with almonds and honey, you won't have any trouble finding Twinkies (if you must), or Ballpark Franks (I didn't forget, David!).

Stay tuned tomorrow for more adventures at Caputo's! Next: What to put on all that pasta!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Caputo's! Peppers!

I first discovered Caputo's in the Italian neighborhood not far from our old house within the city of Chicago. It was a really inconvenient store, with narrow aisles, barely wide enough to push a tiny cart, and very limited parking. But once inside, it was easy to see why people put up with all the hassle.

Being inside Caputo's was simply intoxicating: Lots and lots of fresh produce sold in often messy-looking boxes or bushels, but so fresh . . . a smattering of Italian being spoken very fast and with a lot of hand gestures, cashiers that wore too much mascara, and spoke with a thick accent . . . but they were super efficient, and friendly, and they remembered your name. Clearly, this was a family business.

I remember once getting a bushel of plum tomatoes from Caputo's and making marinara sauce from scratch - a lot of marinara, after all, I had to use up a bushel of tomatoes! I also remember mango season. I adore mangoes and Caputo had the biggest, sweetest and cheapest mangoes to be had in Chicago.

The word has gotten out about this treasure because Caputo's has been growing and opening stores up all over the greater Chicago region. And, lucky us, there's one near our house!

I wasn't expecting the new Caputo's to be as charming as the old one. I was resigned to finding a supermarket that was more traditional, able to appeal to a wider clientele, trendier . . . and, sure enough, the new Caputo's is gorgeous, and huge . . . but somehow, they've managed to keep the ambience. When we walked in, music was playing - Italian music, Dean Martin singing "That's Amore" followed by Pavarotti singing "O Sole Mio." The rest was pure bliss.

The peppers were spectacular today. So many choices in the dead of winter, and so relatively cheap! I couldn't stop smiling! Thank goodness I had my camera, otherwise I would have been filling my cart with too many peppers!

These are called Hot Finger peppers . . .

These might be your basic yellow, green, orange and red peppers . . . but they are far from ordinary . . .

The prices are amazing here! I don't know how they do it. Last week I paid $2.49/lb. for red peppers at another supermarket . . .

Ancient red, banana, poblano and jalapeño peppers . . .

More pictures of this wonderful store to come . . .

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Draw a line. Write a line. There.
Stay in line, hold the line, a glance
between the lines is fine but don't
turn corners, cross, cut in, go over,
or out, between two points of no
return's a line of flight, between
two points of view's a line of vision.
But a line of thought is rarely
straight, an open line's no party
line, however fine your point.
A line of fire communicates, but drop
your weapons and drop your line,
consider the shortest distance from x
to y, let x be me, let y be you.

—Martha Collins
"Lines" from Some Things Words Can Do

I'm fascinated by the possibilities of language as shown by word plays. I liked this one. And here are some other tangled lines - beads left over from a Mardi Gras celebration at work.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

More soup! It's a good day!

I feel like I've been in hibernation for the last few weeks. Truly! I'm on activity time-out until the Spring. I leave for work when it's dark outside, and I leave from work when it's dark outside. At work, we are still dealing with the aftershocks of the re-org that took place at the end of last year. Things are still feeling pretty unsettled and the new roles have not been completely defined yet. This all translates into A LOT OF STRESS! Throw in a little Seasonal Affective Disorder, a dash of yucky weather and a pinch of normal down time, and you now have the recipe for "What ails Maria?" I give this recipe a thumbs down!

So how am I coping? With the help of some good ol' reliables: A little re-reading of old favorites (Bonjour, D'Artagnan, mon ami!), a lot of sleeping, and . . . soup!!!!

The latest medicinal concoction: Great Northern Bean Soup with Butternut Squash.

Over the years, I've made many versions of this soup. Last year, I had a bit of a mishap when I tried making Cassoulet (see blog entry for Feb. 16, 2009) and my crockpot exploded! This time I cooked the beans in the pressure cooker (cooking beans is always an adventure at our house), added pancetta (Italian bacon), Italian parsley and, of course, butternut squash. Now this recipe gets a thumbs up!
I haven't run out of soup recipes yet, thank goodness, because, unfortunately, winter is not over yet. And thank goodness also that my husband happens to like soup . . . almost as much as I do!

GOOD NEWS UPDATE! In November, I blogged about the layoffs at work and I mentioned two co-workers that had serious medical conditions and were about to lose their jobs. Well, both co-workers have found new positions within the company and were able to transition to the new jobs without interruption of their benefits! And, as an added bonus, their health has stabilized and they are doing much, much better! Oh, it's a good day!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

“I have not spent a day without loving you; I have not spent a night without embracing you; I have not so much as drunk a single cup of tea without cursing the pride and ambition which force me to remain separated from the moving spirit of my life.”
—Napoleon Bonaparte,
excerpted from a letter to Josephine, his wife

Well . . . we know they had their problems, didn't they? Still, these words might seduce any woman, even today . . . especially today when letter writing has all but become extinct. It's hard to envision words like that strung together into a text message; as for Twitter . . . I think this might have gone over the character limit . . .

My very own lover is not so eloquent with words, but age has shown me that love is manifested in many ways. He has seduced me with his innate kindness, his patience, his perseverance, his humor . . . and his love for me. I'm still staggered by that love. I am so lucky that my lover also happens to be my husband of twenty five years . . . Happy Valentine's Day, darling!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Drunken Polish Chili - The recipe

Here's the recipe for Drunken Polish Chili:


½ lb. bacon
1 lb. kielbasa sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 lb. ground beef or 1 lb. ground turkey
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon jalapeño pepper (I used the whole pepper; I mean, waste is bad, right?)
1 C. Merlot wine (Lee and I drank the rest of the bottle, same principle)
2 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes, mashed, liquid reserved
2 tablespoons chili powder, or to taste
2 15-oz cans pinto beans, drained


In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until evenly brown and crisp. Reserve juices in skillet, and set bacon aside. Brown the sausage in the bacon juices. Set aside. Cook the ground beef or turkey in the skillet until evenly brown. Set aside. Sauté the onion and green pepper in the skillet juices until tender.

In a large pot over medium heat, mix the bacon, sausage, beef, onion, green pepper and jalapeño. Pour in the wine and tomatoes, and season with chili powder. Cook 20 minutes, stirring often. Mix in the beans, and continue to cook and stir 25 minutes.

Yields 10 servings.

Optional: Lighten this further by using smoked turkey sausage. I did use bacon, but I drained the fat. I sweated the veggies in their own juices.

I paired the chili tonight with some jasmine brown rice from Trader Joe's, which is my favorite brown rice in the whole wide world. If you happen to have a Trader Joe's near you, don't miss the chance to pick up some of this wonderful rice; you won't be sorry!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Drunken Polish Chili

What would Superbowl commercials be without a pot of chili to accompany the entertainment? Actually, although I'm very, very fond of soup of all types, especially those that contain beans, I make chili very seldom because a) I like the meat in soup to only make a cameo appearance, not be the star, and b) I don't generally like spicy hot foods. Yes, I know, I was born in Cuba, and grew up with Cuban food, but, in fact, Cuban cuisine is not very hot.

This recipe was given to me by my friend Julie, who assures me that it has won the Chili Cook-Off at her work two years running. The recipe gets its name from two key ingredients: Merlot (Drunken) and Kielbasa sausage (Polish). I lightened it, as per her instructions, by substituting ground turkey for the beef. And here's the verdict . . . Yum!

I am going to have some awesome brown-bag lunches this week! Lentil soup from yesterday and Chili from today . . . I better keep my eye on that refrigerator at work . . .

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

My husband, who is not particularly fond of sweet potatoes, had two helpings of this soup!

It was tasty, and came with impeccable nutritional credentials . . . and it just warmed us all the way to our tippy toes . . . Here's the recipe:

1 lb. dried lentils, picked over and washed
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, sliced in thin rounds
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled, minced or crushed
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
6 C. chicken stock
1 T. thyme leaves
1 T. oregano leaves
2 large bay leaves
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1-inch chunks
Salt and pepper to taste

Sautée the onion, green pepper, garlic and celery in the olive oil until the onion is transparent. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer, covered over low-medium heat for a couple of hours, stirring occassionally, until the lentils are tender and the soup thickens. If the liquid has been absorbed but the lentils are still a bit tough, add additional water or broth, stir, correct seasoning, and continue cooking until the desired consistency is reached. Serve with a crusty multi-grain bread.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

No animals were killed in the making of this hat!

These were taken at a work event. I love hats, but, seriously, I don't remember this in my job description . . .

Had I known I was going to get a tiger skin-striped western hat, I would have worn different earrings . . .
I've never owned a western hat, but now, I may just have to consider it . . .