Thursday, March 3, 2011

Big News

It seems that lately all I ever write about are changes... here's another one

This is not a blog I ever imagined writing. I think I've taken about a thousand deep breaths and I'm still not sure exactly how to say what needs to be said. But, here it goes.

Presidents are limited to serving 8 years in office & this girl is apparently limited to serving only 2 terms in Chicago. I am quickly approaching my 8th year here and I'm feeling my heart pulled in a new direction.

With that said, I'm leaving Chicago in the near future.

Sometimes you feel things in your heart that you cannot ignore. And this is one of those times. I know I can be impulsive but my crazy decisions in the past have led me to this beautiful life I now have.

So, what do I feel? Strangely... its the pull back home.

That is not something I ever, ever thought I would feel. But, as I get older reality has set in & money starts to matter & family is missed & opportunities present themselves.

My mom's involvement in the new Main Street Market gives me an opportunity to pursue both of my passions - growing & cooking food. I'm hoping to be able to help her sell some great produce, maybe some canned items, and I'd really like to foray into handmade pastas & maybe even some artisan ice cream.

I've had the opportunity to teach some cooking classes here in the city & find it incredibly rewarding. I'm hoping to be embraced by my hometown & I'd love to teach there as well.

My head is overflowing with ideas on how I can bring my culinary passions to Richland County. I want to share what I've learned with my community.

Ultimately, I'd love to open a small restaurant in Olney. I have no illusions that this will happen over night but that is my big picture goal and what I'm striving towards. To feed my community would feed my soul. I envision this quaint little place where people feel like they're coming to their grandma's house to eat. Good art, great music, amazing food.

So, last night I put in my notice at the amazing restaurant where I work in the city. Lula has given me such fantastic opportunity and I am proud to say I've worked there. I've also witnessed a writer & a musician transform into restaurateurs at one of the best little spots in the city. The owners give me hope that one day my own dream will come true.

I will be working for another 3-4 weeks at Lula. After that I will be teaching classes & doing some other work until I make the big move at the end of MAY

I'm hoping to come down a few times before then and get reacquainted so hopefully I can see some of you before I become a familiar face around town again.   

In all of this I have to mention my amazing family who have been so supportive of my impulse. They blow my mind with their greatness everyday. I love you.

And Jared, you are incredible. Thank you for supporting me, listening to my crazy, loving me and encouraging me. I would not be doing this without you.  

To my Chicago friends who have become like family to me (ok i'm crying now) I cannot imagine life without you guys. You've made me, me. These 8 years have been incredible. This city is forever a part of me. It truly is home & I'm scared to death to return to the middle of nowhere. You all are pieces of me and I thank you for supporting my dream even if it means leaving. I want to see each and every one of you before I go. I love love love love love you all and I would not be where I am today without each of you.

I cannot wait for some sunsets like this one - last memorial day in my parent's back yard 

So, here's to hoping there is room for a democrat cubs fan in Southern Illinois. Wish me luck.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hot Buttered Rum Cider

Baby, its cold outside. Why not warm up with some warm cider & booze?

This drink will be featured at my mixology & small bites class next week. So, I thought I'd give you all a preview. The drink is a play on two classic winter drinks - Mulled Cider & Buttered Rum. If you're not a drinker, or are going to a party with a bunch of squares, you can leave the alcohol out & still have a really delicious hot drink. Traditionally it is served in a mug with a cinnamon stick for garnish. Happy drinking.

(For 6 servings)

6 c. apple cider
zest of 1 orange - use a peeler rather than a micro plane so you end up with long strips of zest
zest of 1 lemon - use a peeler rather than a micro plane so you end up with long strips of zest
3 allspice berries
2 sticks cinnamon
2 star anise
2 cloves
1 t vanilla
thumb size knob of ginger
6 T butter
6 T brown sugar
1/2 c. dark rum


Bring all ingredients except rum to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium & simmer for 15 minutes. Cover and let steep until just warm. Add 1/2 c. of your favorite dark rum.

Vanessa Recommends:
Use more rum than the recipe calls for... let's be real I was just being politically correct there

Use Cockspur 12 year Barbados Rum for delicious notes of toffee & nut. $33.99/750mL

Use Seedling Organic Cider
Locally produced - no preservatives & cold pasturized

Use one whole vanilla bean instead of extract
Kilo Kai Spiced Rum for great taste on a dime $16.99/750mL - only $1 more than Captain Morgan Spiced Rum with better flavor & finish.

Serve warm in a mug garnished with a skewer of candied ginger & twist of orange to mix it up a bit.

Cider mix can be made & chilled without rum & then used to make drinks later. Just add 2 T of rum per 1 cup of cider.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

something new

I've recently decided to test the culinary teaching waters.

I have always loved teaching others & sharing food with them and this seemed like a logical step for me. I have been told I have endless patience so I'm sure that will help my foray into engaging with amateur cooks.

Most of my cooking in a teaching capacity has been done with kids so I'm really looking forward to working with adults & then hopefully offering classes for kids in the future as well.

I'm really grateful to Efrain - the owner of Clandestino for allowing me to teach classes under his company name.

My first class will be taught with my good friend Lauren & is called
Entertaining on a Dime: Cocktails & Small Bites

The class will feature 3 classic wintertime cocktails & 4 seasonal small bites. Class lasts 3-3.5 hours & costs $40 per person including all materials, food & alcohol. All skill levels are welcome & class will be inviting and not intimidating for the non-cook!

For more information or to sign up please go here. Hurry though, class size is limited to 18 students.

I look forward to cooking with you!

love, vanessa

Look ma, one hand!

Okay, maybe I shouldn't joke about my little accident but sometimes humor is the best medicine. Recently, I was pretty severely burned by some very hot soup at work. The burns cover the majority of the back of my left hand and have proved to be a hurdle in my life the last week.

This is my hand on Dec 1st (4 days after the incident) 

However frustrating being off work from a job I basically just started & absolutely love has been, it has forced me to do some reflection.

First of all, I realized that I have an incredible support system & group of friends both here in Chicago & back home. My friends here haven't missed a beat in making sure that I'm taken care of, at my doctors appointments on time & laughing through the pain. Friends & family who can't be here in person have also been so great about sending encouraging words and being positive for me when I thought I couldn't be.

In the words of Jay-Z when the grass is low the snakes will show. I'm so happy to say that so far I haven't found any snakes in my time of need. I really am blessed with some of the greatest people in my life. I cannot thank them all enough.

Secondly, I realized how much I really do love both of my new jobs. The only time I really broke down and cried was when my burn specialist told me I wouldn't be able to return to work after a week. Hearing that really broke my heart. I enjoy what I do so much and I am grateful for tears over not being allowed to go to work. I know there are many people who cry because they have to go to work. My co-workers & bosses have been so sweet & supportive this past week as well. They've fed me, made me laugh, and have been reminders of why I enjoy what I do.

I'm pretty sure I scared the doctor when I started crying. I had shown little emotion as she scrubbed my wound, poked & prodded it, & talked me through cleaning procedures. Then she said "you won't be returning to work next week" and I had a melt down. Her blank look told me that not many people get emotional when being told they are going on mandatory vacation.

This has also cemented what I already knew - that I'm stubborn to the max. I love being able to do things for myself and I loathe asking for help. I've certainly been humbled this week. Asking for help with zipping my coat, carrying things, washing my hair. Makes me appreciate my little left hand. One of the most difficult parts of this injury -aside from not being allowed to work- is the fact that I can't cook for myself. When I do have free time I generally like to spend it in my kitchen. However, I've spent some good time one handed hunt & pecking some recipes I will get to try as soon as I heal :) And yesterday, despite Lauren's attempt to stop me I cooked two over-easy eggs, cut & toasted a baguette, and made myself a sandwich without any assistance. Small milestones.

Finally, I think that (what I consider) my speedy healing is attributed to my already healthy lifestyle. I've seen vast improvement in my hand in just one week. Each time I change my bandages it looks better & better. I always eat healthy foods & drink tons of water. This week I've been careful to consume lots of protein & keep myself super hydrated. I've kept a positive outlook (95% of the week) on my healing & have refrained from any medication other than my prescribed burn cream. I have been relatively pain free (minus my first few cleanings), have not had to rely on painkillers & am happy to say that I'm letting my body take care of itself.

Our bodies are amazing & I really believe that we get what we give. I'm so thankful that I treat my body & soul with respect. I'm reaping the rewards of a speedy recovery.

This is a picture of my hand today (December 4th) just one week after my accident! 

Special thanks to:
Lauren: for coming to the ER, taking me to the doc, letting me sleep & shower at your house, not slapping me when I was on morphine, keeping me positive, & for just being a generally awesome individual.

Karla: for letting me sleep at your house, for braiding my hair & for making me mac & cheese

Mom & Pop: for listening to me complain about my hand, reminding me to stay happy, and for not driving here to coddle me because that would have driven me nuts.

Mike: for telling me to stop acting like a badass and forcing me to go to the ER, for holding my purse & for making awkward conversation on the drive to the hospital

Jason: for being so concerned about my well-being, making me feel comfortable, reassuring me that the doc bills are covered, for giving me book recommendations & for being an amazing restaurant owner. I'm blessed to work for you.

Jared: for keeping me laughing throughout and for thinking I'm beautiful even if I'm disfigured

The Lula crew: for being genuinely concerned about me, for feeding me delicious protein I need for a quick recovery, & for reminding me why I love what I do. 

Darnesha: for driving me to the doc, reminding me of all the good things I have, and for always being there in a pinch.

Claire: for dedicating your yoga practice to my health this week it means a lot to my yoga nerd self. 

To everyone else who called, texted, and left me love on facebook: you all brightened my days.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Easy & Delicious Buttermilk Biscuits

Fresh, hot biscuits make a wonderful addition to any cool-weather meal. This is the most basic recipe ever and takes only a few minutes to get wonderful results. Please note: this is a SINGLE PERSON recipe so it only makes 5 nice sized biscuits. Feel free to double or triple the amounts if you have a crowd.

This recipe is for savory buttermilk biscuits. If I want to use these for breakfast or to make shortcakes I simply add a crust of large sugar crystals to the top of the biscuits before I bake them.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
For 5 biscuits you will need:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
3 T. very cold butter (REAL BUTTER)
3/4 c. + 2 T buttermilk

First, combine all the dry ingredients and add the butter in large pieces. Make sure the butter is as cold as possible. And, work quickly.

Using your thumb and first finger as if you are going to "snap" work the butter into the flour. Try to work quickly and not let the butter melt. Don't allow butter to remain lumpy in the flour. By "snapping" you will spread the butter into thin sheets & this helps create flaky biscuits. Don't over work the flour as this builds gluten and will result in very tough dough. You want to handle the dough as little as possible but don't be afraid to work the butter in. Lumps aren't good either.

When the butter is properly combined it will resemble slightly wet sand. From here, add the butter milk and mix gently with your hands. Some people suggest using the food processor for the entire process. However, I think this over-works your dough & for me, making biscuits is "hands-on"

Once the buttermilk is incorporated turn the dough onto a lightly floured board. Very carefully, using your HANDS not a rolling pin, pat the dough into a 1/2 inch thick round. The less you work the dough, the better the biscuit.

Use a circle cutter to cut biscuits to your desired size. I usually get 3 biscuits at first. Then, I very gently push the dough back together & can cut 2 more. The 2 biscuits from the 2nd batch will be a little tougher than the first 3 due to re-working the dough, but they will still be tasty as long as you didn't over-work them in the first place. I usually bake them in a 9 inch round pie pan (glass or metal I don't have a preference). I rub some butter on the bottom.

If you want to have a sweeter biscuit don't forget to dust the top with some course large-crystal sugar. Otherwise, pop them in the over for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown on top. If you want softer sides on the biscuits bake them touching each other. If you prefer crustier sides bake the biscuits spaced apart.

This literally takes about 7 minutes to make the dough & cut the biscuits. It is well worth the time to have hot, fresh bread with dinner. Enjoy.

Especially good with Venison stew...

A Fall Meal

Fall means hearty flavors and warm food that sit in your tummy and make you want to snuggle up for a nap. I want to share a recipe for venison stew that is sure to warm you up. If you cannot find venison you can subsitute with beef obviously. Beef contains more fat so use less oil when searing so you don't end up with a greasy stew.

As some of you may know, I'm currently unemployed & living on a budget. This stew was incredibly inexpensive to make & for a single person I ended up with several meals.

I won't share this as a traditional "recipe" as most cooking is just going with your gut. You can add more veggies, subsitute things you don't like & really make it your own. So, I used about 1 1/2 pounds of venison. Because it was not meat from a grocery store I'm not sure the exact cut. I would guess it was shoulder or some other semi-tough piece that is better for long slow cooking. If you're substituting for beef I'd use brisket, rib meat or plate.

For veg I chose portabella mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, stewed tomatoes, frozen peas & corn that I had cut & frozen this summer. Feel free to add anything you and your family enjoys.

One thing I won't budge on - even when on a budget - is the type of canned tomatoes I purchase. Make sure when buying canned tomatoes/tomato product you select something either in a glass container or one that advertises a "lined" can. The acidity coupled w/ aluminum in the cans is not healthy.

Method: I started in a cast iron skillet however, I had to switch to a much larger stainless saute when I realized how many veggies I actually had. If you have a large cast iron vessel I reccomend using it. If, not use something stainless. Just don't use anything coated with non-stick stuff.

Add a thin coating of olive oil to your pan and get it hot. I mean really hot. When you can see oil shimmering in the pan add your seasoned cubes of meat and DONT TOUCH THEM. Let them stick to the bottom of the pan. This will give you beautiful caramelization & believe me, they will loosen from the pan when they're ready. I promise. When the meat has detached from the pan on its own turn the pieces. Cook until they're nicely colored. Then, add the onions & garlic. Lightly season the onions & garlic with salt and black pepper. Let them cook down & become fragrant. Cook until there is little liquid left in the pan. Don't let the meat/onions burn but let them go. At this point you want to deglaze the pan.

I chose to use 2 items for deglazing. I used The Bruery - Autumn Harvest Dark Ale and Apple Cider Vinegar. I used quite a bit of beer...maybe 15 or 20 ounces and just a splash of vinegar. I let this cook out for a little while. Until it smelled less like alcohol and more sweet. At this point I added the carrots, potatoes, mushrooms & 1 can of stewed tomatoes with all the juices and water to just cover the veg.Here, I seasoned with a bit more salt & black better, dried thyme and a dash of cayenne pepper. Then, cover the pan and let it be.

Cook until the potatoes and carrots are just tender. Don't let them go to long. Nobody wants mushy carrots & potatoes. Now that the potatoes & carrots are done you can add the frozen peas, and corn. Taste the liquid in the pan and adjust the seasoning if necessary. I find that if I season each component as it goes in the pan you will have to do less adjusting at the end.

Now that your broth is flavorful its time to thicken it and really turn this meal into a stew. I chose to use a cornstarch slurry to thicken mine. Its cheap & doesn't leave a starchy flavor. If you've never used a slurry before don't be scared. Dissolve an equal part cornstarch and cold water. I'd start with a tablespoon of each and work from there. Its much easier to continue thickening to your desired viscosity than it is to thin out goop. Bring the pan to a boil and add the slurry. Stir & let it come back to a boil. Cook for a minute and test the thickness. It is important to note that the slurry doesn't "activate" until it comes to a hard boil. Don't add more slurry until its really boiling again. Be patient. Add more slurry until the stew is thickend the way you like it.

In a separate entry I will post a recipe for easy & delicious buttermilk biscuits that make a great addition to this stew. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

End Hiatus

I can't believe it has been a almost a year since I last posted. So much has happened... I've worked in 2 more kitchens since then & had a host of incredibly good & incredibly bad experiences.

So, why the new blog name? I guess the reason behind the change is three-fold. First, I feel like its a better fit for where I am in life right now. When one's life is "on the line" it is usually in peril. Lately, I've felt like times have been pretty perilous. I am not experiencing a lot of stability. But with the instability has come a lot of growth. As a cook, a leader, & as a human in general.

Secondly, as Monsanto continues to torture small farmers like my dad I truly believe their lives are closer & closer to being on the line. Maybe not their physical lives, but their livelihoods. Everything they've worked their entire life to acheive is on the line.

Finally, being on the line is a restaurant term. When I'm at work I am literally working "on the line." I don't really know the history behind why a restaurant kitchen is called a line. A reasonable assumption would be because it is linear. We all stand in a row... But we all know what assuming does.

After I changed the name of the blog I found out that Grant Achatz has a new biography out called Life on the Line. Now I feel a lot less creative. But, for the record, I had no idea that book existed til I had already created this blog. wah wah.

Anyway, I'm back. I'm happy to be blogging again & I hope to continue to fill the interwebs with stories, food politics, insight, recipes, and a glimpse into life as a line cook & the daughter of a farmer who is battling Monsanto.

Happy Reading.