Pen &am; Palate

Pork Tenderloin with Blood Oranges

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This morning I woke up to snow on the ground. Again.

Welcome to my least favorite time of year: Early spring. Early spring is an evilly deceptive couple of weeks. Starting in late March and extending, sometimes, all the way into May, it pairs the hope of warmer weather with the brutal reality of frigid, subzero days, days weighted down by one’s horrible 10-pound jacket and the awful knowledge that spring — real spring, t-shirt weather spring, put the coat in storage spring — probably won’t turn up until June. IF EVER!

If February depresses me, March and April make me feel vaguely murderous. There is sunlight now, thanks to Daylight Savings, so I no longer want to spend all day in bed reading trashy mystery novels — and yet some higher power, the soul-crushing force that is Mother Nature, is conspiring to keep me indoors, miserable, bored, deprived of Vitamin D, and in the mood to spill blood.

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SAV_BFBA_FINALIST_2014

We are completely thrilled to be finalists in Saveur’s annual best food blog awards, in the writing category, and we would love, love, love it if you guys voted for Pen & Palate.  Voting closes this Wednesday, April 9th. You have to register, but we promise it only takes 10 seconds! Just click here! And you get to choose a cute avatar. (I chose cake.) We’d be very grateful for your support.  Thanks!

-Lucy and Tram

For those of you who are new to the blog, here are some of our favorite posts from the archives:

Thanksgiving Tamales

Thanksgiving Tamales

Grease Fire

How to Start a Grease Fire

pen and palate cioppino

Cioppino

 

South America copy

Todo Junto

Pen_and_Palate, Spanish Tortilla Sandwich

Spanish Tortilla Sandwich

Pen and Palate Vietnamese Coffee Panna Cotta

Vietnamese Coffee Panna Cotta

henryviii

Spinach and Cheese Empanadas

Health Cocktail

Health Cocktail

lobster

It’s Only a Lobster

Moderately Healthy Lentil Sausage Soup

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Lately I’ve had a lot of deadlines, which means I’ve been giving myself a lot of leeway in the “eating like a functional adult human” department. I have this tendency, when I’m stressed out by work, to let everything else – cooking, sleeping, making my hair look nice, fulfilling other basic obligations – go by the wayside. During these trying times you can usually find me in my bed with my laptop and my cat, wearing my kimono, and eating takeout pad thai.

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Ron Artest Ice Cream Cake

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The best Valentine’s day I ever had was spent at a gay sports bar in Chicago with two of my best friends watching the NBA All-Star game. You probably wouldn’t have known it was a gay sports bar, save for the fact that there were figure skating Barbies adorning the display cases and what looked like high school boys wrestling in spandex unitards on the flat screen televisions. My guy friends weren’t particularly interested in the game beyond critiquing the tragic business casual ensemble that Alicia Keys chose to wear during the half-time show. (In case you’re wondering, the more appropriate outfit to wear would have been a sparkly basketball jersey with “KEYS” bedazzled on the back and some bitchy high heels.  Duh.) About an hour into the show, my boyfriend Romeo showed up and I was in heaven, surrounded by the people I love, the sport I love, watching my favorite basketball player Derrick Rose perform dazzling feats of athleticism.

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There’s this new falafel place in my neighborhood, housed in a store front that was formerly home to a greasy, fluorescent lit hotdog joint called CJ’s Diner.  When CJ’s Diner was shut down by the health department for rat-related reasons, they closed for about a month and emerged, triumphant, like the mythical phoenix from the ashes, as AJ’s Diner.  Alas, the resurrection was short lived, and the restaurant formerly known as CJ’s closed.

I ventured out into the frigid weather yesterday because I was in desperate need of some plexiglass and a new toothbrush.  After completing my errands, I felt that I might have had a touch of frostbite, and so I ducked into the newly opened falafel restaurant to warm up.  The place was still ill-lit and run-down, but seemingly free of rodents.  I decided it would be rude to not order food, so in the interest of politeness (and laziness.  Also self-servingness. Romeo looked at me as if I was his sun and stars when I came home bearing Mediterranean food.) I decided to order something. While perusing the takeout menu, which was full of the standard fare one would expect in such an establishment, I came across a sentence that stopped me dead in my tracks.

“Come into one of our locations and try one of our dishes made by our world famous 5 star chef…”

Wow! Like seriously, WOW! When I think “world famous” and “five star” in Chicago, the first name that comes to mind is, yes, Grant Achatz of the Michelin-starred Alinea.  People are wait-listed for months and months and do embarrassing things like beg for tickets on twitter to get into his restaurants.  I cannot confirm or deny anything, but let me tell you, the beef shawarma was spectacular.  As the menu promised, it was indeed “grilled to perfection”.  I don’t care what anyone says about Achatz, the man knows his way around the stove.

And that is why, when he is on the Huffington Post giving some real talk about grilling steak at home, on a regular gas stove for mere mortals, I drop that plexiglass I am holding in my hands and force my vegetarian boyfriend to drive me across town to pick up steak.  I tried his technique tonight, and Grant was right, as usual.  The only drawback is the tremendous amount of smoke that is produced during the cooking process, which is a fine thing in baba ghanoush, but not so much lingering in your apartment for hours afterwards.  But if a culinary superstar chef can find time in his busy schedule to moonlight in a fast food place, I can deal with opening a few windows.

Boozy Mexican Hot Chocolate

Spicy Spiked Hot Chocolate Pen and Palate

I spent New Year’s Day curled up on the couch cultivating a nice hangover and enjoying my favorite winter pastime, which is binge-watching television, specifically IFC’s new French zombie series Les Revenants (which is better than it sounds). Every 55 minutes or so, however, I was forced to emerge from my couch cocoon to find the next episode on a shady illegal streaming site with a humanoid pot leaf as its corporate logo. To pass the time while waiting for each episode to load, I could not help but mentally replay the events of the previous night at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party.  I’m generally a pretty happy drunk and I had a great evening, but at some point over the course of the night my true (jerk) colors came out.  Did I really accuse that lovely woman, a friendly acquaintance that I’ve had maybe half a dozen conversations with, of having white privilege simply because she had the audacity to enjoy Lost in Translation? My closer friends didn’t get off easily either. I also recall accusing one buddy of being “the biggest misogynist I know” and “racist”, both of which are patently untrue.

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Hibernation Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder Pen and Palate

A few weeks ago, while divvying up the grocery shopping, Rob and I accidentally doubled up on the bacon. I noticed this at the end of our excursion and tried to amend the mistake, but Rob balked, insisting that we were past the point in our shopping trip of putting things back (!!) and that we would merely have to live with our mistakes. To be fair, once I start second-guessing my grocery choices I am unstoppable in the “hold on let me just swap these six things super-quickly” department. In an effort to keep the peace, I snuck only one package back onto the shelves. So we ended up with four pounds of bacon.

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 A new take on a classic dish.

Christmas Mocha Cookie Crisps

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What is up with America’s national obsession with “Christmas cookies”?

It only recently occurred to me to wonder. I was discussing this with Tram, like, “duh, we should do a Christmas cookie post,” and she was like, Okay, sounds good! “So… can you explain to me what the deal with Christmas cookies is? Is there a religious reason?” (Ha! As if any Christian holiday traditions are based on religious reasons.)

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Spinach and Cheese Empanadas, Fit for a King

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This recipe is dedicated to my little brother, who despite being as thin as a rail and blessed with the metabolism of a very fast hamster, was diagnosed with gout at the tender age of 22. The doctor remarked that he had never seen this particular affliction in one so young, and that it is usually the disease of unusually large, prosperous, middle-aged men, such as Henry VIII. You develop it by eating too much steak, organ meats, and other rich foods and the best way to treat it is a massive overhaul of one’s diet. Upon learning of this diagnosis, my brother went to Macy’s and bought himself a deep fryer for Christmas.  He had a gift card, he said.

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