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March 2006

Kopi Cafe and A Trip to Bali


There is always mad research to do when devising an upcoming trip itinerary. It’s such an exciting process, from the actual decision of the location (I usually go for the tropical and exotic) to the purchase of the ticket (thank God for frequent flyer miles) to the extensive emailing (setting up hotel arrangements and such). I love it all and there is no better place in the city to get globally inspired than Kopi Café. This Indonesian-influenced (but completely worldly) café is one of the warmest, brightest spots in Chicago to just chill and grab a cup of African tea or a slurp down a piping hot cup of fair-trade coffee (Kopi is Indonesian for coffee).

I try to make my way up to Andersonville as much as I can if only to sit a spell and dig through their library of travel tombs, phrase books and guide books for sale. It’s so easy to conjure up my next adventure via their dusty bookshelves and a vegan peanut butter chocolate bar, and I especially adore watching a bubbly troupe of globetrotters plow in from their latest trip (leather-bound journal in tow) and deconstruct their adventures to anyone who will listen (the wait staff is always delighted to hear about your journeys, as well as receive a post card from you from the road).

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Target Sells Pierogies? You Betcha~

Dscf0201I know this will sound totally crazy, but Target has some of the best frozen pierogie that I've come across.  I would usually never buy food from Target, but when I happened across these potato and cheese filled Polish pierogie, I had to give them a go.  They're super easy to make:  You literally just put some butter in a pan and fry them for five minutes on both sides.  I, of course, slam some Greek cheese yogurt and applesauce all over them and eat the entire box.  They are just that good...crispy, buttery and so oozing with soft potato and gooey cheese.  I almost had a heart attack when I tasted the first one....but I had to stop buying them---really, no stomach can handle a dozen pierogies in one sitting.  I guess it's called "restraint."  Well, good luck with these little gems.

Homestyle Cooking--Namely Chicken and Dumplings

Dscf0207I just got back to Chicago from the most relaxing week home in Tennessee, where I did nothing but eat, eat, and then eat some more.  I don't know why I pull a full-on gorge every time I head home--it must be all the mountain air.  My family and I drove the short jaunt over to Georgia to have lunch with my Granny and when I tell you she makes the most delicious chicken and dumplings...they're like nothing I've tasted.  Her batch last week was superior to any other she's whipped up recently and I will have to learn to make them next time I head home.  Her dumplings are light, but dense...creamy and buttery...and dotted with tender morsels of chicken pulled from the bone, plus tiny bits of chicken could definitely make a full meal of them, but oh no!  No Southerner would ever do that---she also made (for lunch no less) tender pot roast with potatoes and carrots, soft green beans, buttery rolls, dressing, and the most mouthwatering cream style, peppered corn.  It's a feast for every meal down there and makes me want to get out of the restaurants and get straight back in the kitchen.
Maybe when I get back from Bali in a few weeks, yeah?

Unforgettable Food at Cafe Nhu Hoa

Dscf0175There are some meals that simply haunt me and my Imperial Eggroll entree ($7.95) at Cafe Nhu-Hoa is one of them.  For some reason, I cannot get a single speck of it out of my head...maybe it was the freshness of all the  trappings that surrounded it?  I was stunned to find such crispy and verdant sides hogging the plate...usually in the dead of winter, greens are starting to look a little shabby.  So, you've got the tiny eggrolls--ground shrimp and crab that are just lightly fried.  They're packed on a platter with chilled vermicelli noodles, slivered cucumber, grated carrot, poppin' bean sprouts, and handfuls of fresh lettuce, mint and basil.  You take each little bit of egg roll and drop it dead center into a big leaf of lettuce and then add a bit of every single garnish on the plate. I love to first dip the  petite eggroll into a bowl of slightly spicy peanut sauce and then when I have my whole wrap complete, I dunk the whole kit-and-caboodle into a small bowl of  nuoc mam (the super delicious fermented fish sauce).  This is a dish that will certainly propel me through the rest of winter.
Cafe Nhu-Hoa:  1020 W. Argyle St.

Trattaria Peppino: The Suburbs (and Italian) Done Right

3847_1The air was thick with indecision. It was loaded with panic. And it definitely had the stench of fear all over it. Welcome to the walk-up counter at Trattoria Peppino, where the hungry line is long and the gem of a menu even longer.
Credit my building anxiety to all the regulars in line behind me that know exactly what they wanted. Quick-decision, order-at-the-counter deals are a hellish experience for a chick that labors over every dish and asks millions of questions. Being introduced to a bustling walk-up counter deep in the 'burbs ain't no walk in the park for me.

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Feta Cheese Appetizer: So Damn Good (and Pretty)~

Dscf0194For some crazy reason, I always seem to forget about this delicious appetizer.  It's the easiest thing in the world to make and I whipped it up the other night to take to my pal Jamie's party.  This photo is of the uncooked version, but once it comes out of the oven, it is a sight to behold.  Really, all you do is lay out some feta cheese(I like Bulgarian and French the best--Greek is far too tangy for my tastebuds) in a shallow baking dish and douse it with a bit of olive oil.  Then throw on some slivered red onions, chunks of fresh garlic, sliced black olives, diced tomato, dried basil, a hit of dried oregano and some fresh lemon.  Toss it in the oven and bake at 450 for about 40 minutes.  Then, at the very end, pump it up to broil for about 5 minutes and get the top all bubbly and lightly browned. When it's  done, throw on a ton of fresh basil and served with some toasted bread (I love the Pane Tuscan from Trader Joe's).  You will die.  The feta becomes so creamy and smearable and the Bulgaria feta emits the most mouthwatering wine flavor (which of course, is why it is my favorite).  Just the best appetizer ever and everyone always loves it.

Cafe Mariano and a Lovely Cafe con Leche

Dscf0189I am absolutely, 100%, bona-fide a travel hound.  I can't get enough of the plotting, the planning, the research--all the usual mayhem that goes along with discovery.  I'm barely even on my next trip before I'm planning the next one and the next one and the next one.  The thing is, though, the more I learn about other cultures, the more  I wonder if I'm living in the right I doing the right thing, living the right life...all that good stuff.  Should I not be shacked up in some insanely cheap, remote part of the world, just eating & drinking, snorkeling, reading and researching my next trip that I can now afford because the little hut I live in only cost $2 per day? 
But, then of course...I happen across some random hovel--this time it's Cafe Mariano (2246 N. Milwaukee Ave.) and I get a taste of a whole new country (Cuba)--one that I've been dying to go to...but haven't quite made it yet.  And, I think, "Well, hell yeah!  I'm in the right city, doin' the right thing." 
I've been tipped off by another foodie (thanks Jeff B.), spent less than $3 and had a fantastic cafe con leche and some pan con mantequilla (Cuban toasted bread with at least a stick of butter oozing out of it---for proper tastebud effect, dunk bread into coffee).  Where the hell else am I gonna get to traipse the whole globe and fill my belly with new wonders without spending a small fortune (besides Chicago)?
It's all good, baby...the sun is on it's way back to this part of the world, there are new international restaurants poppin' up on every corner, and I'm on my way to Bali in a few weeks.  Life is right on.

A Week in the Life of a Food Writer {From The Raving Dish}

Dscf0139This has been an absolutely insane week of eating. It's almost ludicrous to think of what entered my belly in the past seven days. I started and ended my week with a fire-blistered, tomato smeared, thin-crust pizza at Spacca Napoli, 1769 W. Sunnyside Ave. Not only is the pizza incredible and the cappuccino out of this world, but the owner, Jonathan, treats each table with care (even joining in a much-needed limoncello shot). But that was just the bookends. Here's what a week in the life of a food writer looks like:

In the span of seven days, I managed to try several new restaurants, Cornerstone Cafe among them. A sunny breakfast/lunch spot, I waltzed in after it had been open four scant days. Though the kitchen has a few kinks to work out, the thick, made-to-order oatmeal (served with heavy whipping cream and brown sugar) and fluffy pancakes are worth going back for (as I did with friends on Saturday). It's like your grandma's warm country kitchen, but with a suspended flat-screen TV instead of a static-emitting radio.

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A Week of Belly Debauchery

Dscf0062This week, I ate out no less than ten times--more, I'm sure.  I had a bunch of bar and restaurant reviews due to various editors and it was a busy week stuffing my face.  I will say I enjoyed cuisine from all over the world, including new treats from Laos, Vietnam, Tunisia, Mexico, Italy, Thailand, Japan and the good old USA.  Though it was a dandy week for my belly, I'm about to get on a new eating program--hardcore.  I simply must start cooking at home once again.  I had made this dish the other night--so simple and delicious.  Mozzarella and parmesan cheese smothered polenta with a homemade tomato sauce and some lovely buttered shrimp with fresh basil and chunks of fresh garlic.  Seriously, it is rare that I find a dish this fulfilling when I eat out and it cost me far less.  I don't even want to think about how many dollars went into my tummy this week.  Stay tuned for all the glorious details of my new restaurant discoveries, and in the meantime...make something at home.  Or, am I the only one with this problemo?

Wikstrom's Gourmet Foods: Delightful Swedish Pancakes

Dscf4033Little did you know that this adorable Scandinavian grocery/deli in Andersonville was dishing out some delicious Swedish pancakes for a few measly dollars.  Not only do you get two buttery, paper-thin pancakes with homemade lingonberry sauce on the side, you can chill out and drink cup after cup of FREE coffee by the big windows overlooking bustling Clark St. There are only four tables, so get there early on the weekends...and if you go during the week, there's usually not a soul in sight.  They also have the most fantastic selection of chocolates around (it's slightly terrifying to me that I could stand for hours and stare at the shelves full of chocolate bars...salivating, dreaming, wishing, smelling and gently caressing each rainbow colored package).  **And, if you like spinach and onion, they have this little triangle pocket of a spinach pie up by the cash register for .75 that are made every few days by an Assyrian neighbor.  Make sure to take it home and heat it up in the oven, though, because these folks just microwave them and they tend to get a little soggy.  They're much better crisped and flaky--just out of the oven.
Wikstrom's Gourmet Foods (5427 N. Clark)