When Do You Leave?

travel, translation, italian, iphone, europe

travel, translation, italian, iphone, europe

Every day for the past two weeks I have been asked the same question. I am unsure if my friends and coworkers can’t wait to be rid of me, or if they are as anxious as I am for the grandest adventure of my life. This includes that time I walked across the US/Mexico border and spent the day traipsing around Tijuana.

I have been fortunate to travel domestically (and to Canada and Mexico last year) since college. Most of these trips involved visiting friends in cities I had never seen. Glamorously, this also included crashing on couches or in dorms. When you rarely sleep well at someone’s place, be it a relative or friend, staring at the ceiling on an air mattress or on a couch is irrelevant.

This vacation may signal what psychologists call “adulthood.” A thing that I often avoid at all costs. The trip involves zero couches or air mattresses. It also features seeing some of the world’s greatest art, origins of the modern city and the finest cuisine.

When do I leave, you ask?

The scheduled departure is this Friday evening. The destinations, if you haven’t been subjected to my repeated questions or discussions, are Rome, Florence, Venice and, at long last, Paris.

For the past four to five weeks, I have been researching every travel guide and blog I can find. Rick Steves has become my close personal friend. For one week he accompanied me on my commute, sharing stories on Rome at Night, the best churches, Trastevere and walking through the countless museums that house priceless treasures.

Another few days were comprised of mimicking an “Italian for Travelers” CD my girlfriend picked up. Should I be concerned that all of the hotel dialogue was about the rooms being small and too expensive? I still need to learn how to ask where the library is and what noises Italian animals make.

Then I hit the podcasts and apps. In a true measure of nerdiness (or being curious about the world), I found lectures on the great artists. This lecture from Washington University Professor William E. Wallace was particularly fascinating about Michelangelo as artist, sculptor, foreman and aristocrat. One might call him a renaissance man.

All this crammed research made me wish I took more art and world history classes in college. I realized I would’ve paid a lot more attention if I were going to Rome and Florence at the end of the semester.

I haven’t done as much research on Paris, mais j’espère que les années de français sera de retour à son arrivée à Paris.

This trip will mark the first time I haven’t been in Chicago for my birthday. Instead, I’ll be in the eternal city and Florence. In lieu of buying me a drink this year for my birthday, feel free to send me some euros my way.

Mille grazie et merci bien to my lady friend for agreeing to join on the adventure and to all my jet setter friends who have shared their experiences on places to see, places to skip and reminding me to plan to time to enjoy la dolce vita/la belle vie.

I’ll try to update BachelorBasics with pictures and vignettes when I can. If you want more, follow me on the social channels (links are up top).

No one has asked when I come back. I think they know that I wasn’t kidding when I replied that I wasn’t.

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11 Holiday Cooking Tips I Wish I Knew Sooner

I feel like there should be blurring or black bars for this shot.

I feel obligated to share that I’m eating cold, left-over pizza as I write this. The leftovers are all gone from Thanksgiving. A few weeks ago I started planning what new things I’d try this year. For fellow home chefs, holidays are the day we have been training for: making stocks, timing multiple dishes to finish at the same time, drinking enough to keep up with/tolerate the relatives, and avoid spilling anything on yourself thereby making others question your competency. This year’s turkey day served as a warm-up for Christmas.

The shopping and prep work started a week ago. I hit 5 stores to get all the ingredients. Since I don’t believe in making lists, instead, relying on my faulty memory, where was I going with this…Ah! Yes. Shopping. All told the meal cost about $60-75, which is lower than normal for my family.

Onto the cooking stories and lessons, lest I bury the lede any deeper. Here are the things I wish I knew before embarking on today’s feast. These are now useless until next year. You’re welcome for my planning ahead to help you.

A. Don’t apologize. However things turned out is how they were meant to be. Embrace it. Learn from your missteps, and do better next time. Enjoy the people you’re with and the time you have together. In the end, that’s all that matters. Not that you brined, smoked, and photographed a trollop of a bird, made mashed potatoes of the perfect texture, constructed gravy that would make grandmothers weep.

2. Make-ahead stock. Purchase turkey wings. Roast those with halved onions, roughly chopped celery, some salt and pepper for 45 minutes at 400 degrees. Flipping 20-25 minutes in. Then de-glaze the pan with 2 cups of water. Once you have gotten most of the bits off the bottom, add 10 more cups of water. Simmer the wings/bones/aromatics for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Upside: this is mostly a passive activity and beats store-bought stock which is loaded with sodium.

D. Salt your food. I usually omit this step and rely on salting dishes individually. This bothers me largely due to watching cooking shows where chefs lambaste contestants  for not seasoning their dishes. All the dishes I made today needed salt. Otherwise the flavors were balanced. So, as a reminder, salt your food.

4. Delegate photo duties to someone you trust. When handling raw turkey and most meat, you don’t want to be spreading those bacteria to your phone. I had my sister take a few of the pics as I manhandled the bird on the grill. In retrospect, I should have discussed my preferred angles and framing.

5. Mashed Potatoes as God intended.  Heat milk/cream and half a stick of butter. I always used to add them cold to the hot potatoes. When you heat the fats, it makes for a much creamier end result.

6. You can’t eat all day, if you don’t eat breakfast. I had 2. My usual cereal upon opening my eyes. Then I made hash browns with my sister. Homemade hash browns. Added that with bacon, poblano, onion and cheddar for a frittata/omelette.

7. Post and post often. Your friends won’t invite you to friendsgiving if you don’t fill their feeds with food instead of kind notes about how thankful you are. By constantly posting, you’re screaming to the world that you have better food than they do. And that you need attention. But I prefer the former justification.

8. If you aren’t getting the necessary compliments on social media, take the direct approach. Text friends extreme close-ups of the bird or crudites. Possibly calling them, then rushing off the phone. “Gotta go check on my turkey smoking on the grill.” If possible, use a hashtag during the call. The more incoherent the better. I suggest #nevergohungry

9. Try something new. Every year I change something. Some of the changes are small. Some are new dishes. A few years ago, I started making stuffin muffins. Now, largely because of the hype I’ve created, all my friends request I bring in leftovers on Monday. This year saw two changes. First, was smoking the bird, which freed up the oven for other dishes, and was one less pan to wash. The second modification was a second gravy. I roasted poblano peppers after the turkey was done, then blended them with 2-3 cups of my finished gravy.

10. Find someone to wash dishes. Based on my straw poll, very few people like doing dishes. I’d consider marrying someone solely for their willingness to always wash dishes.

11. Embrace tradition. Maybe yours is guessing which relative will become uncomfortably intoxicated. Who will disappear before the dishes are done? If you don’t have any, create some! My family always watches Home Alone. This year I fell asleep sitting upright. No apologies.

 

Coq au Vin

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God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.
-Voltaire


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Stop. I know what you’re going to ask.

French food, Andrew? How are you going to use tortillas avec la cuisine française? I’ve opted to take a break from my paramour, at least for one meal.

Earlier this week, I joined a friend for dinner at Bistro Voltaire, a French restaurant in River North. After practicing my French while reading the wine list and menu in my head, I decided on getting coq au vin. I don’t think I have ever had it at a restaurant, largely because taquerias don’t offer it. Previously I attempted to wing it by cooking chicken in half a bottle of red wine. While that was tasty, it was far from the elegant and tender chicken on a bed of mashed potatoes I got at Bistro Voltaire.

Similar to when I was first exposed to arrabiatta sauce at an Italian restaurant, I decided I would master coq au vin. I read a few recipes to see if there were any extra ingredients I didn’t spot in my inspiration dish–mushrooms, pearl onions, carrot, thyme. The ingredients are straight forward. This dish necessitates some basic kitchen competencies: sauteing, knife skills, and patience. Most of my kitchen creations are great for after work when you don’t have a lot of time. This dish will take about 90 minutes to make, but it’s worth tout les temps.

les ingrédients

  • 6 chicken thighs (you could also use chicken breasts, but I’d suggest bone-in chicken)
  • 3 strips bacon, cut into lardons (large chunks)
  • 1/2 package mushrooms (I used baby bellas. The restaurant used button and oyster ‘shrooms.)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 onion, medium dice
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 2 cups red wine (Pinot noir worked well, and be sure to pour some for the chef.)
  • 1 cup beef stock/broth
  • 1 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1/8 cup of flour
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6-8 sprigs of fresh thyme

préparation

In an effort to be as French as possible, I started cooking this at 8PM and attempted to get all my mise en place out of the way like a real chef. If you’re cooking with a date, congratulations. You’ve managed to either get someone into your home or invite yourself to their home. If you have an extra set of hands to help, chopping duties can be split up. Additionally, your sous chef can help wash, peel, cut potatoes for mashed tatters or take care of making pasta.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  1. Heat a dutch oven to super hot. I let mine heat over medium-high for about minutes while I chopped up my ingredients.20131117-083529.jpg
  2. Brown the bacon until all the fat renders. Then remove the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate, leaving the artery-clogging bacon fat.20131117-083537.jpg
  3. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel, then season with salt and pepper. Drying the chicken ensures that it will sear better, forming a crisper exterior. If there is moisture on the skin or meat, it has to cook off before the meat can sear. Sear for 5 minutes on each side. I had to work in two batches. Remove the chicken to a plate with a paper towel, then cook the remaining chicken. Don’t crowd the pan. It prevents you from properly searing the meat.20131117-083519.jpg
  4. Once all the chicken is seared, remove all but a few tablespoons of fat in the pan. I poured out about half the fat. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the onions and carrots, stirring occasionally. We aren’t looking to brown the veg, merely soften them. Cook for about 5 minutes before adding the mushrooms and garlic clove. Cook those 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add the tomato paste, then flour. These only need to cook for a minute or two to remove the raw flavor. The tomato paste adds a meatiness to the sauce, while the flour will aid in thickening the sauce.
  6. Combine 1 1/2 cups wine and 3/4 cup of beef stock in a measuring cup. This is also a good time to pour yourself another verre de vin. Add the wine/stock combo to the pot, stir to mix. Then return the chicken and most of the bacon to the pot. You can’t make bacon and not have a piece. Add the thyme and bay leaf.20131117-083550.jpg
  7. Bring the liquid to a boil. Put on the lid. Then put the put in the oven for 30-40 minutes. I checked the temperature after 35, and it displayed 170. Parfait!
  8. Serve with mashed potatoes (I added bacon to mine). For round 2, I’ll be serving this with egg noodles.

So, the dish takes some work, but is definitely doable and amazingly worth it. The sauce is phenomenal. I’ll be using up the thyme for some other dishes this week. If your date doesn’t profess their love for you after eating this, either you messed up OR you need to find someone else.

Rich Kids of Instagram Got Nothing On Me

Here are my photos from last night’s Yelp Elite event at E+O Food and Drink in Mount Prospect. If you’re an elitest like I am, you find complete bliss in the exclusivity of being invited to private dining events. It gives me a glimpse of what life must be like for Adam Rapoport at Bon Appetit or Phil Vettel over at the Tribune.

“How do you get on the list?” you ask.

Start reviewing your experiences for the places you frequent. The main focus is building community, so interact with others. Like or comment on their check-ins. The neatest (I’m bringing ‘neat’ back) element is interacting with people that you primarily know from the app/online.

Another fun bit is being in a room with a bunch of other people who constantly photograph everything they put in their mouths. No judgment. Just good food and good people. Maybe you too will meet your Yelp wife at an event.

A Case for Singlehood

Thom

There were no less than three weddings today, according to my Facebook feed. I liked zero of those status updates. Not that I don’t love weddings or celebrating that a friend found someone in a homeless place. I’m convinced those are the lyrics Rihanna meant to use. The issue is that I view weddings as a zero sum situation, especially if I wasn’t invited. In fact, as soon as I learned the meaning of a “zero sum game,” I realized how many things I think of as such:

  • A dollar for you, is one dollar less for me
  • Love
  • Happiness
  • Women
  • Fried mushrooms
  • Corner pieces of pizza
  • Sunscreen

I’m not positive, but I think Thomas Malthus‘ theory (that there are a finite amount of resources on Earth) was written after he read the Society page of his local paper.

Continue reading A Case for Singlehood

The Greatest Salad Ever Made in the History of Carb Avoidance

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“Do you like Mexican food Andrew?” my cousin asked me last night.

After a short pause, she continued, “What am I thinking? Of course you do.”

Anyone who follows me on Instagram or Facebook, or regular readers of my infrequent posts on here, knows I have a problem. Well, I have many problems. The principal issue I’m referring to is the love affair I have with comida Mexciana. Fresh salsas, gooey queso, crisp lechuga and succulent meats wrapped neatly in a warm tortilla. I assert there is no such thing as “bad” Mexican food. Perhaps I’ve had good luck in experimenting with different taquerias. Continue reading The Greatest Salad Ever Made in the History of Carb Avoidance