4 year Anniversary of Mindful Meals

Wow! I can’t believe it was four years ago that I started this blog.  It seems like yesterday I rented out my condo, sold my car, and headed off to New York.  If nothing else came from that experience, I think everyone should follow their dreams.  Living in NY/NJ for almost 6+ months was one of the best times ever. The friends I made, invaluable knife skills from Chef Barb at cooking school, and experiencing New York on a daily basis was beyond a girl’s dreams.  And to boot, cross-country manuevers of over 2900 miles to finally get a remarkable internship at Dirt Candy.  I still remember sitting on a couch in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) feeling so lost while reading a card from my Mom telling me to never stop reaching for my dreams. So much has happened in the last four year…I started a website cooking with kids, made my own liquor (and still dreaming about selling it), and moved to the best city ever…Chicago.  I have never looked back on my decision to leave the ‘safety net’ of life.  Thank you to all the great people who went along with me on this journey.  Your kindness,  love and support will never be forgotten.

However, the bigger question is what to make to celebrate this four-year event.  Something new?  Something big? Have a party?  No…it was looking back on the past few years and asking myself what brought me happy memories and I went right back to being 14.  Crazy I know, but whatever.

My Mom might not know this, but it was taco night on the weekends when we were young.  I remember her getting out the cast iron skillet and frying up flour tortillas.  We had chopped tomatoes, shredded cheddar cheese, and sour cream. The old silver electric skillet would be plugged in and turned to ‘high.’  She would brown the ground beef and add in Ortega taco seasoning mix.  I could eat those tacos all night long.

I decided to have ‘taco’ night. Homemade guacamole, homemade seasoning for the meat, and now that I was older a few Coronas!  The taco seasoning mix was from Alton Brown and the guacamole was from a recipe book  my grandma gave me a long time ago.  (Sorry I can’t give credit to the rightful owner..seems I ripped it out of a book).  It was all delicious and have been enjoying the leftovers for days now.  But know this Mom, your tacos are still the best..or maybe it was just you and I in the kitchen cooking together.

Guacamole fixings.  I swear the secret ingredient is cilantro!

Alton Brown’s spice mix for 2 lbs. of ground beef.

The moment before eating!



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Stuffed Cherry Peppers



Peppers are in season right now and there is an abundance of them at the farmer’s market.  I saw these hot cherry peppers and remembered Easter at my Mom’s house last year.  She found a delicious recipe in one of Lidia’s Italian cookbooks using pickled cherry peppers.  We had never seen these before, nor tried them.  After a few attempts trying to figure out how to stuff them via YouTube, we came upon one video that still makes me laugh.  There was this Italian guy (typical accent to go along) demonstrating how to stuff the peppers, but intermittently he would throw in a scene of his motorcycle with a loud revving of the engine and go back to stuffing the peppers.

The pickling of the peppers is a no brainer.  I used this recipe from Martha Stewart’s website. If you can’t find the peppers, Italian markets carry the hot or sweet peppers already pickled.


Here is the recipe…super fast, super easy and one that will surely be on my next antipasto platter.




Bottled hot cherry peppers
imported provolone, in one piece
prosciutto, thinly sliced



Cut out the stems and scrape out the seeds from the cherry peppers. Cut pieces of provolone that will fit comfortably into the cherry peppers. Wrap each piece of provolone in a single layer of prosciutto, then place the prosciutto-wrapped provolone pieces into the peppers. Either serve them as is, or place them in an empty jar and pour enough of the liquid from the jar of cherry peppers to come within an inch of the top of the jar. Pour in olive oil to fill. Cover the jar tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Recipe from here.  Last photo from Amazon.


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Belly Q

Chef Bill Kim has finally opened a restaurant near my house and I couldn’t be more excited.  I first tried his Korean noodle and dumpling restaurant Urban Belly awhile back.  I remember it was the dead of winter, freezing out, and all I wanted was a huge bowl of ramen noodles.  Not only did I get that, but I got duck dumplings, and homemade kimchi. Later that winter I went to Kim’s other restaurant Belly Shack. With eight items on the menu, the BBQ Beef was the only way to go.  His cooking is a blend of Korean and Puerto Rican (his wife).


Then along came Belly Q – a modern Asian BBQ restaurant in the old OneSixtyBlue building right off the Ashland stop. Oh sweet Jesus.  First the place is beautiful. I love the minimal decor, wharehouse-like vibe, with an open kitchen.  The menu, let’s just say I couldn’t decide…literally couldn’t decide. There was gun powder smoked duck, lamb, beef…then noodle salads, then..sides.  And what about that olive oil poached shrimp???  After my friend Carol and I drooled for a while over the menus we decided to split a few things.  First up was the soba noodle salad with the shrimp.  I think by the second bite I had my Sharpie out and was quizzing the waiter about the dressing.  Oh, and the olive oil poached shrimp is definitely the way to go.  Then we got the smoked duck.  It was served on top of a bed of Chinese broccoli with small steamed buns.  There was a trio of sauces, but the hot sauce knocked it out of the park.  After a little research, I found out he bottles that stuff and sells it at his other restaurant. YEAH!

The best was last up…dessert.  It was Vietnamese coffee slush on the bottom, topped with young Thai coconut ice cream, then topped with tapioca heaven balls, and a perfect drizzle of salted caramel.  Could dinner ever be better than that??  Belly Q, be there or be talked about.  I plan on trying everything.



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2012 Movies & Food Pairings

It seems this past year I have gone to A LOT of movies.   I anxiously awaited the release of Jiro Dreams of Sushi a few months ago and researched the best Chicago sushi available to hit before the movie started.  So, I figured I’d take a look at the best movies I’ve seen thus far in 2012 and pair them with either a restaurant or recipe.  Hope you enjoy!

I went to Arami before seeing this movie. After eating here, I immediately made reservations for my birthday, it was that good.  I had read that a week later the head sushi chef B.K. Park left unexpectedly, and the place closed down for two weeks to revamp the menu and get staff back up to speed.  Arami is open now and hoping they are doing well. The movie was one of a kind. Be sure to rent it.

Well, I just couldn’t think of anything else to eat!  This movie was a true story about a funeral director who befriended a wealthy mean ol’ lady and ended up killing her.  He gave away tons of her money to the town folks and the police ended up finding her 9 months later in a deep freeze in her garage under a bunch of frozen food.

I would have to think one would have to go and have High Tea at The Peninsula .

This movie didn’t get mainstreamed, but I absolutely loved it.  My friend Laura made this recipe a few years ago and it has always been a summer favorite of mine.  Poached salmon with tarragon sauce & fingerling potatoes.

This was a great movie to show that growing old doesn’t have to be boring.  India looks so hot that I think I would have to make my favorite Indian drink…Mango Lassi.

A totally CHEESEY love story, but adored every minute of it.  Not to mention it took place in Chicago.  Their first date was at a little cafe that served wine and chocolate.  I’d have wine here and chocolate here.

Yep, I posted it!  And don’t feel bad about it.  If I was in Tampa (a.k.a. Ybor City) I’d be hitting Brocato’s and ordering up some roast pork, black beans/yellow rice and plantains.

Couldn’t put the books down and loved the movie as well.  Gets released this month on DVD…oh yeah.  Can’t believe we have to wait until November 2013 for the second installment. 😦  Either way, I think about the way the characters ate before the games began and I would have to think a trip to The French Laundry  was in order.

It’s rare when a movie like this comes along.  I would put it step with Little Miss Sunshine.  Unassuming, quaint, and will make you smile.  It takes place in New England, two young kids fall in love and run away and the locals try to find them.  All I think you need is a vat of melted butter,some steamed lobsters and a few potatoes. Oh and a rose wine…other than that, you are good to go.

By far one of the most important films I’ve ever seen.  I would definitely have to make creme fraiche cherry ice cream from here.

To finish out the year there are two movies I plan on seeing…

One must go to Sun Wah BBQ and get the Peking Duck.  If you haven’t been, get there!!

I’ve read this book so many times.  The ending is unbelievable.  I’m curious as to how it will play out into a movie. Since Pi and Richard Parker ate Dorado and landed in Mexico, think having a simple fish taco – Mexican style is the way to go.

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Mama’s Sauce

After 30 plus years, I finally decided to write down my mom’s recipe for sauce and meatballs.  Saying that may seem like a no brainer, but she measures nothing when it comes to these two things.   Back in April I painfully went through the process of documenting every spice, egg, bread crumb and can of tomato to get this done properly.  The day finally arrived to type it up and like all good cosmic jokes, the recipe was missing.  As I traced my steps back to the last time I had seen it,  painfully it dawned on me that I had thrown two big trash bags away of old magazines and papers.  Holy crap…it had to have accidentally gotten thrown in with them. So yes, I went dumpster diving two days later to retrieve it.

Friends let us just say this, I had no idea how many little bags of dog poop could accumulate in two days time. As I held back barfing and glaring stink eyes from motorists, (because yes I threw my garbage away in a public trash can on a main street) the lone bag was unearthed.  On a side note, this experience has given me a whole new appreciation for Freegans.  Even the used cat litter that I had pitched in with the old papers wasn’t going to distract me from my task at hand.  Ok, seriously folks, the f*%$^ing recipe wasn’t there.  I’m dying if I’m lying when I say there was cat litter jammed up under my fingernails.

I emailed my Mom in panic; her response and I quote, “type what you remember and I can double-check it”  Ok, seriously again folks…she didn’t even use punctuation when she sent this…  In response I said in shouty capital letters, “5 LBS. OF CHOPPED CHUCK, THAT’S IT!!!”  (Which by the way is a running joke in my family).

After an hour of mild hysteria and OCD washing of my hands and fingernails, I back tracked every place I went…so now the arc comes into the story at this point….I FOUND IT! Here’s the deal now people..after all that it took to get this frigging recipe, please make the best sauce and meatball recipe you will ever try and don’t you dare throw any of it in the garbage!  And note about the actual recipe..these are estimations because she ‘smells’ the meat to see if it is right.  Yeah, that’s what I am dealing with.



2 lbs of chopped chuck

2 lbs. of ground pork

~ 2 cups of bread crumbs

~ 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

4-5 garlic cloves; minced

1/2 bunch of parsley; minced

3 eggs

2 tsp. salt

2 tbs. dried oregano

pinch of pepper

Procedure: Mix all the ingredients together.  Smell. Brown up one as a sample and add anything else that is missing.  Smile…because none of us knows what that smell is and pray you got the measurements right.  In a preheated cast iron skillet passed on to you from your ancient Nona, brown all sides of every meatball.  When finished, add all the meatballs to the pasta sauce to cook for a few more hours.



4 cans of San Marzano plum whole tomatoes

4 cloves of garlic; crushed

1/2 bunch of parsley; chopped

2 tbs. dried oregano

2 tsp. dried basil

2 bay leaves

pinch of salt/pepper



Cover the bottom of a very large sauce pot with extra virgin olive oil.  On low heat, slightly brown the crushed garlic just enough to flavor the oil.  Place a strainer or food mill over the top of the pot and begin crushing up the tomatoes. When all the tomatoes are crushed, bring to a boil and then simmer on medium heat for about 20 minutes.  Then add in the remaining ingredients. Let simmer for an additional 4-5 hours until thickened.

I’ll have Mom double-check this recipe and see if she will provide feedback.  I’ll also pass along her personal phone number for any complaints.  I couldn’t decide what picture to add..the first or her saying “Recipe, who uses a recipe???” or the second one that says, “Good luck suckers with smelling those meatballs, mine always rock.”  Okay I decided to go with the third, which shows my mom’s love of having family and food around the table.  Love you Mom!!

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4th of July – BBQ Ribs

4th of July…just reeks of ribs.  And when I heard that there was a rib contest being held, I jumped at the chance to try my hand at them.  At first, I thought the actual cooking of the ribs would pose the problem, since I didn’t have a grill, but oh no…it was the sauce that gave me the biggest heartache.

In total, I tried 6 different BBQ sauces…Emeril, Ina, Bobby, Greco. My kitchen and clothes were covered in the stuff.  Neurotic me made an Excel spread sheet to see what was similar, what was different, some were cooked, others pureed. What I did learn through this whole process was making a homemade BBQ sauce is worth the effort.

The following recipe from Alton Brown on braising the ribs was 100% easy and exact.  Alton’s recipe calls for taking the braising liquid at the end of the cooking time and reducing it.  I skipped this step and discarded the liquid. Instead I put a glaze of BBQ sauce on top of the ribs and put them under the broiler for 4 minutes.

The BBQ sauce is from Adam Perry Lang.  It is quite involved, but trust me it is worth making.  Total recipe yields about 7 cups; which leaves you more then enough to freeze for a second batch of ribs later on. After all the recipes I tried, this one had the best combinations of everything…spice, sweet and had you wanting to come back for seconds.  Here is the link.  As a little extra treat, I emptied the Jim Beam bottle and filled it with some BBQ sauce to bring to the table.  Oh yeah baby!!!!


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In my constant search for the best breakfast in Chicago, I think I may have found the place.  A friend was in town and had seen this show about Nana.  About a 10 minute drive south of the loop in Bridgeport, sits this very unassuming place.  Large windows fill the place with the warm sun, festive Mexican music playing, and a menu that made deciding on a dish a very difficult thing.  A mother, her family, and a chef who isn’t afraid of butter and duck fat make up the cast of Nana.  A few things stood out…one is the fact they are procuring organic food.  Two…housemade chorizo and giardiniera..and third Rishi tea.

I have never been a fan of chorizo due to the burning sensation in my stomach it gave me and the aftertaste that seems to over power and linger for days.   This chorizo was like no other.  After watching the video (see link above), I can see why it tasted sooooo good.

Breakfast was huevos rancheros. Ola!  A crispy corn tortilla topped with chorizo, refried pinto beans, sauteed vidalia onion and red peppers,  scrambled eggs, poblano cream, guacamole, and queso fresco.  So fresh, so delicious…I had to have the leftovers boxed up.

And on a sidenote..in the pursuit of getting Melicello out into the hands of consumers stay tuned…Plant Chicago is the ticket!  I’m looking for investors…anyone interested??

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