Let us celebrate our independence by adhering to a strict dinner-party menu

While the desserts are patriotic colors, I couldn't commit to a true all-American theme. But there will be many coolers of beer. That's a national pastime I can get behind.

My name is Cavan and I’m a planaholic. So it’s no surprise that part of my routine for getting ready for parties now includes creating a menu on my iPad. Mind you, these menus don’t always make it to the actual party. They’re just for me. I mean, the iPad is busy during the party serving as a cookbook and stereo. It can’t just sit around on the table telling people what the food is.

… That’s why you also create labels for each dish.

Other people do these things, right?

Well. Anyway. Here’s what we have in the works for tomorrow’s Fourth of July party at our house.

I will never get tired of grilling pizzas. It seems hard, but is really so simple. Make a dough that’s somewhat thin and easy to handle, brush some olive oil on it, grill it for a few minutes to let it firm up, then hand it over to a party guest to top it. A few more minutes on the grill, and you’re in Pizza Heaven. Or as close as you can get without owning a wood-fire oven. This is yet another cooking trick I picked up from Sweets by Natalie Kay, proving her expertise even beyond sweets.

Another new trick is watermelon granita. Just like the vodka sodas, these started as a fancy desesert from bon appetit that I quickly transformed into a cocktail. It’s easy and magical. Fill your blender about 3/4 full with watermelon cubes (go small to help your blender out), two heavy splashes of lemon juice and a few tablespoons of sugar. Blend. Top with ice. Blend. Taste and add sugar to get to your own sweetness preference. Throw in some glub-glubs* of vodka.

*I stand by my belief that the best cocktails adjust themselves accordingly as the evening goes on, whether this means increasing or decreasing glub-glubs of vodka as the night goes on. The point is, add however much vodka you can handle. And then add a splash more. You can do it. I believe in you.

I ate. I laughed. I cried. Then, later on, I ate more.

Giordano's Deep Dish Pizza and Sam Adams

If you're going to spend your loved one's birthday alone in a hotel room in another city, make sure beer and deep-dish pizza can be delivered to your room.

Oh, hello!

It’s me again. Cavan. I’m the guy in every blog. Surely you remember me.

When I travel, I focus on food. Golden Gate Bridge. Gorgeous. Alcatraz. OK. But what do I get to eat before, during and after those things? I appreciate all the wonderful aspects of traveling. I just want to appreciate them while eating.

With that, more on my recent trips to San Francisco and Chicago:

Because I won’t pretend I am a sommelier but am in expert in “Hey! This food tastes good!” I am no stranger to wine tastings. I did not, however, know olive oil tastings existed. So while wandering through Sonoma, I was thrilled we made a stop at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards and The Olive Press. I was also thrilled when an employee explained that while we could dip bread in each olive oil, we were also welcome to just drink each one as well. It was incredible. There was an unexpected range of tastes in the unflavored olive oils. Then we spent a healthy amount of time getting to know the fruit vinegars and flavored olive oils, and olive oil ice cream. We joined the Jacuzzi wine club and recently got our first shipment. But I’m also having a ball trying tomato vinegar on cheese, in Mexican dishes and with eggs.

Lucky Creation

Staring at the fish-shaped item for vegetarians to confirm it is not fish-shaped fish for fish-eaters.

Like shooting starchy root vegetables in a barrel: As you saw before, we tried a fish-shaped item for vegetarians at a really great find in Chinatown called Lucky Creation. It was made from taro root and, while I’m not honestly sure what fish tastes like, seemed to have the texture spot on. We also tried a gluten sampler, with what I think were takes on sweet and sour pork, sesame chicken and … well, three other types of gluten. The point is, it was delicious enough that we didn’t mind sharing a table with two other groups and squeezing by the staff in their claustrophobia-inducing kitchen to reach the restroom. Any place that can take a pretentious bastard like me, shove me at a table with two other groups, force me to battle claustrophia as I squeeze my way through the narrow kitchen and into the restroom and still have me grinning the entire time because they offer a whole new world of vegetarian options is good in my book. Or my blog, rather. I haven’t written a book. I didn’t want you rushing to Amazon to buy it. Stay here.

Salty! I looked forward to visiting Millennium for my 30th birthday so much that I memorized parts of the menu and couldn’t wait to discuss multiple dishes with our server, only to be passed from a hostess to a bartender to a general manager to a server during the course of our meal and having such terrible service that I was heartbroken. My much anticipated conversations about the seasonal menu and local ingredients were reduced to, “Yeah, well, just order both.” On the bright side, now I know where to go next time I want to taste my own tears.

Scott's Bachelor Chow

While I dined on gourmet tacos in Chicago, Scott was back home preparing his version of Bachelor Chow -- nachos (plural).

What taco dreams are made of: While in Chicago, I was able to try Big Star with my friend Leah, who writes Eating With Integrity. Initially, we were told we were on page three of the list and likely wouldn’t get a table at all. The hostess then quickly decided she liked us, led us inside, told two people they’d better move on for the evening, and we got a few seats. Our newfound friend didn’t explain her change of heart, but I’m guessing it’s because Leah is adorably pregnant, and it’s never wise to stand between adorably pregnant women and their $3 gourmet tacos. You know what this means: If you go to Big Star, you have to bring Leah. If you bring some other pregnant friend and don’t get a seat right away, then you know your friend is not adorable and likely won’t make good dinner company anyhow. The highlight of the food: roasted peanuts in long bean tacos! I have never heard of such things. I must have more.

Those were my food adventures. They kept me, and, subsequently, you, from my kitchen. But we’ll get back to it soon, friends. I swear on my tomato vinegar.

Where I’ve been and what I ate

Wine Country!

I've never been to heaven, but I imagine it has a lot of grapes and looks like this.

Dear Diary,

Where did May go? I went places and I ate some stuff. Observe:

May 11
What I Did: I had a minor surgery. I am OK. Thank you for asking.
What I Ate: Needing comfort food, I asked Scott for a Blizzard from Dairy Queen. I did not know what Dairy Queen until I got to college, the result of parents who knew ahead of time what a food snob I would become.* So I’ve only gone five times in my life. Four of those times, I got the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard. Once, I got the Pumpkin Pie Blizzard. I regret nothing.
What I Drank: Water with painkillers.

My Birthday Cake from Sweets by Natalie Kay!

May 13
What I Did: Scott planned a surprise birthday get-together at Bradstreet Crafthouse!
What I Ate: My friend Natalie, of Sweets by Natalie Kay, made an amazing champagne raspberry cake. It was delicious, as always. Natalie is amazing. Do you need a cake, cookies, cake pop or other form of baked goodness? Of course you do. Now you know where to get the best ones.
What I Drank: Everything Bradstreet has with whisky in it. I know this because I kept asking the server for new takes on whisky cocktails and she said, “You’ve already had everything we have with whisky in it.” I regret nothing.

Taro Root Fish

Fish-shaped item for vegetarians!

May 14-17
What I Did: Scott planned a surprise birthday trip to San Francisco and Sonoma Valley!
What I Drank: This is a trend with my birthdays. We’ve now gone on winery tours in Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota and good old Wine Country. (Sorry, Minnesota, but you were the worst.) At one point during our Iowa tour, we were invited to the winemaker’s cellar to try some very odd flavors (my favorite thing!) like basil wine and garlic wine. My friend Tonya had to suck the wine from the barrels out of a big tube. I found her later eating what she called a new kind of plant in the winemaker’s farm. It was grass. And it was his yard, not a farm. We regret nothing.
Oh, You Were Asking About My Photo of a Fish-Shaped Item: We ate vegetarian fish, made from taro root, at a place called Lucky Creation in Chinatown. I’ll tell you more later. I promise.

Scott's Cake Pops from Sweets by Natalie Kay

May 22-24
What I Did: Then it was time to celebrate Scott’s birthday, so I went on a business trip to Chicago and left him home all alone. Some people might think this is unfair considering how much Scott had just done for my birthday the week before, but Scott is not one of those people. He is kind and caring and selfless and I am a bastard, so we really even each other out!
What Scott Ate: I left Scott birthday gifts while I was gone. We had a birthday cake for a get-together later in the week, but on his actual birthday, he got to feast on dark chocolate raspberry cake pops, again thanks to Sweets by Natalie Kay. I’d go so far as to say that, were there ever a war between cake pops and cake, I might side with cake pops. I’m just so grateful this war has not yet taken place and we can eat both.
What I Ate and Drank: My 50-minute flight to Chicago turned into a 3.5-hour ordeal. I got to the hotel late, ordered deep-dish pizza form Giordano’s (my Orlando and Chicago habit, I suppose) and had beer sent to the room. I’ve never been a member of a royal family, but I imagine it is not dissimilar to how I spent that evening. I regret nothing.

Good News: I ate other things in May. Let’s wait until June to discuss. Highlights:

  • Another surgery!
  • Attacking squash with a mandolin!
  • Bruschetta Gone Asian!
  • More birthday cake!
  • Big Star in Chicago!
  • Sonoma Valley wineries!
  • That thing that excites you that will make you come back to read more!

*Also: I was chubby and they were trying to help me out.

Never waste a reason to drink Tequila Fresca

Tequila Fresca

It’s Cinco de Mayo! I hope your evening involves Tequila Fresca and Nacho.

If it doesn’t, you’ve made some terrible decisions today. I’m disappointed. What are you doing that’s more exciting to celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Tell me. Tell me now.

If your shame leads you to want to make a meal that consists of more than liquor and a single chip, may I suggest my Layered Potato and Spinach Enchiladas.

Casualties in the kitchen

I’ve had a few deaths in the kitchen lately, which, as a vegetarian, really takes a lot of work.

First the toaster became an overachiever. It would toast, but it wouldn’t stop toasting. And, as it turns out, that step is just as important. Toasting required a vigilant guard who would rip the cord from the wall when the desired level of browning was achieved. (Fun Fact: You can make Slice of Toast just like I taught you to make Nacho. You can even combine the two techniques to make Slice of Cheese Toast. True story.)

Being the cheapest man alive, I was fine with this toast-guarding situation for quite a while. But then the coffee maker shot itself in the face. It’s a grind-and-brew model, and the grinder no longer pushed its contents into the basket to brew. Again, I stood guard, opening the coffeemaker every morning and transferring the coffee grounds for it. This went on for two weeks. Then, this week, I awoke to find a coffee explosion in the kitchen. I think the carafe pissed off the rest of the coffeemaker, as its intended contents now just spill freely onto the floor and cabinets. The white floor and cabinets. But I find showing up to the office sleepy and covered in brown liquid lends a sense of professionalism and mystique.

Pea and Paneer Curry

Pea and Paneer Curry

Then, to complete this vicious cycle, I have been making dishes that are absolutely delicious but, well, not photogenic. First, a pea and paneer career. It tasted like heaven. But no photos could do it justice. While I admit I could not grab a good photo, if you judge Indian food by its appearance … well, good — there’s more for me that way.

Smoky Kale Chips

Smoky Kale Chips

Then we made Smoky Kale Chips. Absolutely delicious. But it looks like we baked leaves and ate them.

I’ll make you something pretty soon. After I bury my appliances.

By the way, thanks for the wonderful comfort food confessions. Cheez-Its with apple sauce. Hash browns. Whiskey. You people get me. Did you not share yours? Do it.

Comfort me, Bachelor Chow.


You're In My Vacation Home Kitchen

You're in My Vacation Home Kitchen. Yeah, I'm wearing a driver's cap with Mickey Mouse ears. Jealous?

As if fate needed to remind me that there is balance in life, I was lucky enough to spend a week in sunny Florida … followed by a week with a cold once I was back home. This added up to two weeks without much time in the kitchen.

While in Florida, we rented a vacation home, complete with a hot tub, pool, and, of course, a large kitchen. Funny how your favorite room in the house is no longer where you want to spend your time once you can see a hot tub out the window, though. So we instead relied on easy meals and my favorite pizza place in Orlando, Giordano’s, for Chicago-style stuffed pizzas with spinach, broccoli, garlic and olives. Yum. Let’s go back right now.

The week following paradise was spent in the middle of a snowstorm back in Minneapolis, fighting off colds. When I’m ill, I immediately want lots of fresh fruit. And I drink an unreasonable amount of mint tea. After that, though, all signs of my normal eating habits are dead to me, as I can barely muster the energy to make it to the grocery store, much less cook. Continue reading