Monday, December 21, 2009

A Classic French Day

There are not many things that make me feel bad about my cooking skills, but one thing I wish I did more of was classic french cooking.  I almost always stray toward the more modern style of cooking, but it is always good to know the basics.  In light of that, I decided to do a steak au poivre, which is basically a peppercorn crusted steak with pepper-brandy sauce.  This is an incredibly fast thing to cook, and it only uses 1 pan, so the clean-up is very fast as well.  I served it with roasted potatoes, and that seemed to be a nice match.  I apparently left my grain mustard at my grandparent's house at Thanksgiving, so I replaced it with brown mustard, but if I were doing it again, I would use grain mustard.

Steak Au Poivre (serves 2)
2 rib-eye steaks
1/4 cup black peppercorns, coarsely cracked (like with a metal pan or side of a knife)
kosher salt
Olive Oil
1 tbsp butter
1/8 cup brandy
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp grain mustard
kosher salt

1.  Mix 1 tbsp of salt with the pepper.  Pour 1/2 of the mixture onto a plate and firmly press steaks into the mixture so the peppercorns stick to the steak.  Pour the other half of the mixture on top of the steak and push it into the steak so it sticks.  Let the steak sit for about 10 minutes.
2.  Meanwhile, film a large saute pan with a generous amount of olive oil.  Heat over medium-high heat until the oil just begins to smoke.
3.  Put steaks (still covered with peppercorns) into the pan for about 3 minutes per side.
4.  Remove steaks from the pan and cover them with foil while you prepare the sauce.
5.  Add the butter to the pan and scrape the bottom to get all the delicious steak pieces off the bottom.
6.  When butter melts, carefully and quickly pour in the brandy.  If you are using a gas stove, tilt the pan so the brandy lights on fire.  In any event, everything will happen very quickly with the brandy, so have everything measured out and ready to go.
7.  Whisk in the mustard until well incorporated.
8.  Slowly pour in the cream while whisking in order to finish the sauce.
9.  Scrape the peppercorns off of the steak and discard (unless you really really like pepper).
10.  Spoon some of the sauce over the top of the steaks and serve.

I apologize for the sideways-ness of the picture, but the program keeps rotating it and I can't fix it.

The Opening of My Drive-Thru

Most Sundays, my friend Bri comes over for dinner and to tell me about the crazy adventures she has.  Not only does she get to tell me tales of things she does, but I get to live vicariously through her as I trudge through the endless drone of law school.  This week; however, she misread her schedule or something, so she was unable to make it for dinner.  Normally a cancellation wouldn't cause too much trouble, but this time I was cooking ribs, and I had been cooking them for the 20 hours preceding the cancellation, so there was no way to cut down the amount of food.  I did find out that Bri got off work at midnight, so I told her to stop by after work and I'd rush her down some food.  Thus, Brian's Drive-Thru was born. 

I cooked the ribs sous vide, meaning vacuum sealed in plastic (like with a Vac-Saver) and cooked in temperature controlled water.  Sous vide cooking allows you to get perfect textures that are simply unable to be created with conventional forms of cooking.  There are a couple food safety concerns, but as long as you serve the food right away or cool it as quickly as possible (like cold paper towels covering it in the refrigerator) you should be fine.  Also, if you are cooking the food for a long time, you should be sure the temperature is always above 140 degrees.  Sous vide is an incredible way too cook meats that are generally braised since you will not lose any of the meat flavor into the braising liquid.  One of my least favorite things that people do is boil ribs before they cook them.  This saturates the ribs with water and leeches nearly all of the flavor from the meat. 

I like making my own bbq sauce too.  Although there are some pretty good store bought brands, you can control exactly how you want the sauce and even make it seasonally appropriate if you want.

BBQ Sauce
3 cups root beer
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
5 cloves garlic, peeeled
1/2 tspn tobasco sauce
2 tbsp Worstershire sauce
1/2 tspn allspice, crushed
12 juniper berries, crushed
1 tbsp chile powder
1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
1/2 lime
1 shot glass full of bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cocao)
kosher salt
pepper

1.  Put a tspn of salt in a mortar and crush garlic with a pestle until it turns into a paste.
2.  Put the garlic into a medium sauce pan and add all ingredients except for lime, chocolate, salt, and pepper.  Stir to combine.
3.  Bring sauce to a boil over medium heat.  When it boils, reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce is thickened (about an hour), stirring often.
4.  When sauce is thick, remove from heat and mix in the chocolate until it is melted.  Then squeeze the lime juice into the sauce and stir.
5.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate.  The sauce is generally better on the second day, but it is very good right away.

Ribs (serves 4)
3 lbs spare ribs
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup chile powder
1/2 cup duck fat (preferably) or 1 stick of butter

1.  Combine salt, sugars, and chile powder in a bowl and stir to mix all ingredients together equally.
2.  Pour half of the mixture evenly over the bottom of a baking dish and put ribs in the mixture.  Pour the other half of the mixture evenly over the ribs.  The ribs should be well coated with the salt-sugar mixture on all sides.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, preferably 12.
3.  Take a large, tall stockpot and fill it nearly all the way full with very hot water.  Attach a thermometer with a clip to the side of the pot.  Heat water on a large burner until the temperature reaches 157.  Reduce heat to low and check the temperature after about 20 minutes.  If it is under 157, raise heat slightly, if it is over 157, add a bit of cold water and reduce heat.  You want to find the stove temperature that stabilizes the water temperature at 157.
4.  When the ribs are done curing, wash the salt-sugar mixture off with cold water.  Pat them very dry with paper towels.
5.  Put ribs into a vacuum bag and put the duck fat or butter into the bag with the ribs.  Seal the bag using a vacuum sealer.
6.  Place the ribs in the water and cook for 20-24 hours, checking the water temperature every hour or so to be sure it is maintaining the proper temperature.  If the water level gets low, add some hot water to bring it back up.
7.  After 20-24 hours, preheat oven to 400.  Brush ribs on both sides with bbq sauce.  Put in the oven for 15 minutes to allow the sauce to bake onto the ribs.
8.  Remove the ribs from the oven and, using a blowtorch, brown the ribs even further.
9.  Brush another layer of sauce onto the ribs and serve.


More Finals Induced Eating

Writing about nearly every interesting thing that I eat makes me much more introspective of my eating behavior.  When I thought about the reasoning behind many of my posts, I realized that I'm a stress eater, or minimally a boredom eater.  Whenever I am immersed in something stressful or involved in some mind-numbing exercise of memorization (like finals studying), I always reach a point where I have to take myself out to eat.  I have no idea how I'm not 400 pounds because by all rights, I should be.  Along those lines, I took  myself out to Trattoria #10.  The restaurant is located at 10 N. Dearborn (http://www.trattoriaten.com/). 

I used to come here with my uncle fairly often back in the day, but I haven't returned in about four years.  I was having a craving for some pasta, and since Merlo and I are still broken up, I decided to get back together with an old flame.

I knew walking in what I was going to get since I have had it several times, and it is definitely my favorite dish there: farfalle pasta with duck confit.  The pasta is accompanied with asparagus, pearl onions, pine nuts, mushrooms, and a beef demi-glace. 

I took the first bite, and it took me right back to the last time I was there.  The star of this plate is definitely the duck confit, it is amazingly tener and full of flavor.  The beef demi-glace serves to add to the intensity of the dish.  I've never had a pasta that has such hugh flavor.  The only complaint I have with this dish is that the beef demi-glace is a little bit glue-y (for lack of a better word).  I would guess that it is made with beef bones that make it more gelationous than if it were made in some other way.  In any event, I'd highly recommend this dish for anyone who tries Trattoria #10.  I apologize for the shadow of my head that's in the picture, but I was in a hurry.


A Quick Pre-Finals Dinner

A night or two before my first final (Criminal Law), I had to make something super quick so I could immerse myself back in learning how messed up Illinois' laws are, and how awful our teacher was at conveying information to us.  I decided on pasta with garlic and oil.  I hadn't made it in a very long while, so it seemed like a good option.  I was not too terribly pleased with it, but I think with a few tweaks here and there, it could work out pretty nicely.

Here is the recipe, I'll mention what I would do next time to make it better after the recipe.

Pasta with Garlic and Oil (serves 4)
1 lb angel hair pasta
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced
1/2 cup chopped parsley, stems removed
kosher salt
pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Put pasta in water and cook for 6-8 minutes.
2.  In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until hot.
3.  Add garlic and a pinch of salt to the oil.  Saute for about 3 minutes until garlic turns golden brown.
4.  Add 3/4 of the parsley leaves and stir until parsley wilts.
5.  Strain pasta in a colander, add pasta to the oil, and toss with a set of tongs to coat the pasta with the oil.
6.  After about 1 minute of tossing, remove from heat and stir in 3/4 of the cheese.
7.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the pasta and add remaining parsley on the top.  Serve.

The problem with this was the lack of any secondary flavors.  It was a bit oily, but that is to be expected in an oil sauce.  If I was cooking this again, I would add in about a tspn of white wine vinegar and a small amount of red pepper flakes when the garlic was browned.  I would also put in some toasted pine nuts for some textural contrast.  I might replace the parmesan cheese with some pecorino romano, but that would probably be less important than the other changes.

One thing that never disappoints is Michelle's Famous Garlic Bread.  It's as if the Lord of Garlic himself descends upon the bread and graces it with his garlicky goodness.  The exterior of the bread is crisp and full of flavor, and the inside is soft and chewy like baked bread should be.  I could rave about it all night.  After much pleading, I finally convinced her to let me put up the recipe.  It seems simple, but it requires some attention do detail to make sure the garlic is done correctly.  Don't be worried about the garlic pieces on the bread.  When garlic is roasted, it softens much of the spiciness and extreme flavor that raw garlic possesses.  I would highly recommend making extra because you will want to eat it for the whole night.  Like Lays potato chips, you can't eat just one.

Michelle's Famous Garlic Bread (serves 4)
1 large loaf of fresh baked french bread, cut lengthwise in half
1 stick of salted butter
10 cloves of garlic, smashed and finely diced
kosher salt
pepper
Powdered parmesan cheese

1.  Preheat oven to 350.
2.  Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until hot.
3.  Add garlic, a pinch of salt, and pepper to the butter and simmer until the garlic begins to brown (about 5 minutes).
4.  Remove garlic butter from heat and brush the bread with the the garlic butter making sure to evenly distribute the pieces of garlic over the bread.
5.  Lightly sprinkle the entire length of the bread with the parmesan cheese
6.  Put the bread on a baking sheet and put in oven for 15 minutes, until chesse begins to brown.
7.  Remove from oven and slice bread crosswise into 2 inch pieces.
8.  Be sure you get a piece because it will be gone before you know it.










I've Returned

After a long hiatus from blogging due to law school finals, I am back.  I know that my priorities have been all out of order this month, but I'll get back into the flow of things now that I have nothing else to do but apply for jobs.  Anyway, I left off blogging on my favorite day of the week...the ever popular Fish Tuesday, and for that I apologize.

I went to the Fish Guy Market located at 4423 N. Elston (http://www.fishguy.com/) for their $10 fish.  On this day, they had the most incredible selection of fish that I have ever seen there.  They had skate, monkfish, hamachi, bluefin tuna, and halibut, among many others.  I had recently seen a recipe for roasted monkfish, plus I have always wanted to try cooking monkfish, so that was my clear choice.  I headed home with my monkfish ready to rock its face off.

When cooking fish, it is almost always a good idea to do a quick cure in salt for about 10 minutes.  To do this, generously sprinkle kosher salt on both sides of the fish and let it sit on a plate for 10 minutes while it comes up to room temperature, then wash it off with cold water.  Monkfish; however, is a very thick piece of fish, so you may need closer to 30 minutes.

Here is how I did the fish.

Roasted Monkfish (serves 2)
1 lb monkfish tail fillet, cut crosswise in half
canola oil
kosher salt
4 cloves of garlic, smashed, skin left on
1 tspn dried thyme
4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut in half
extra virgin olive oil

1.  Generously film a large saute pan with canola oil, and heat it over medium-high heat until the oil just starts smoking.
2.  Put the monkfish pieces in the pan rounded side down.  Cook for about 3 minutes until it is golden brown.
3.  Add in 2 tbsp of butter and allow it to melt, then add in the other 2 tbsp of butter and let it melt.  Continue to cook the first side for another couple minutes, basting constantly once the butter has browned.  Tilt pan if necessary to prevent butter from burning.
4.  Flip the fish over and continue to baste for 3 more minutes.  Add the garlic to the pan and cook for another 1-2 minutes.  The internal temperature should be about 145.
5.  Transfer the fish with the garlic to a plate and cover with foil for about 5 minutes.
6.  Plate the fish and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil on it.
7.  Spoon some of the pan sauce over the fish.  Serve with wedges of lemon and peas.

The crust on the fish was excellent and contrasted with the soft interior of the fish.  The lemon and peas gave it some additional elements of flavor.  If I could do anything differently, it would be cook the fish for about 30 seconds less on each side, to prevent the fish flesh from toughening up.  As I cooked it was not very tough, but it could have used a slight amount less cooking to make it perfect. 


Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Heston Blumenthal Memorial "In Search of Perfection" Post: Chicken Vesuvio

For those of you who don't know, Heston Blumenthal is one of the top chefs in the world.  He owns the Fat Duck in England, and he hosts a television show called "In Search of Perfection" where he refines and perfects a whole bunch of common foods (mashed potatoes, hamburgers, pizza, etc.).  Anyway, Michelle made some amazing Chicken Vesuvio the other night.  Although her rendition was quite amazing, there may be a series of posts in which she/we try to refine the recipe further in order to perfect it.

Chicken Vesuvio (serves 2)
4 or 5 chicken thighs with skin and bones
3 tbsp olive oil (not extra virgin)
3/4 pound red potatoes, quartered (you can peel or not peel.  I prefer not peeled)
6 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed, and diced
1 cup sauvignon blanc
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 tspn dried oregano
1 tspn thyme
juice from 1/2 lemon
kosher salt
pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 450
2.  Film the bottom of a large saute pan with the olive oil and heat over high heat until hot.  Lightly salt and pepper the chicken.
3.  Add the chicken to the pan, skin side down and cook until browned (about 3-4 minutes).  Flip the chicken over and cook until the other side is browned (another 3-4 minutes).  Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
4.  Quickly, add in the potatoes to the hot pan and cook until they are golden brown on all sides (about 10 minutes total).
5.  Add garlic to the pan with the potatoes and cook for about a minute.
6.  Deglaze the pan with the wine and scrape the bottom to get all the tasty chicken and potato bits up.  Reduce heat to medium.  Add the broth, oregano, thyme, and stir to combine.  Return chicken to the pan and bring to a boil (this should happen pretty quickly).
7.  Remove pan from heat and cover.  Put in the oven to finish (about 20 minutes).
8.  Allow the chicken to rest in the pan, covered for about 5 minutes.  Remove cover and squeeze lemon juice over the top.  Serve.

I will keep you all apprised on the evolution of this dish.  This recipe is very solid, but I feel like with just a few minor adjustments it can become sublime.  In the next rendition (which may happen tonight), we will cut down the thyme by a little bit, add the lemon earlier in the cooking process (so it marries with the other flavors a bit better), and add peas for the last 5 or so minutes of cooking.  We may also cook it a bit longer (like 3-4 minutes) because the chicken was slightly underdone right at the bone.  I feel like we could cook it in the steamy environment for longer and not lose much in the way of juciness.  






Starstruck

If you read the previous post you might be wanting to ask me, "Hey Brian, why were you in the suburbs?  There is nothing good out there (except the wine bar that you rave about)."  Well, that is a great and accurate question.  However, this is a special situation fraught with extenuating circumstances because Thomas Keller, the chef of my favorite restaurant on the planet, The French Laundry, was doing a book signing at the William Sonoma in Oakbrook.  Of course I had to go.  The book signing was at 6p.m., and I managed to resist the urge to camp out in front of the store overnight like some crazy person.  I ended up getting in line around 5p.m. and talking/ranting like rock band groupies with a bunch of the people around me.  Like the true superstar that he is, Chef Keller was about twenty-five minutes late.  I somehow scoped him when he was like 500 feet away from William Sonoma.  I'm pretty sure I got a bonus point in his book for being the first person to be aware of his presence.

After waiting for about fifteen minutes from the start of the signing, I was on deck.  I had no idea what to say, but I knew that I didn't want to come off as a raving lunatic who could do nothing but gush about his restaurant.  I also thought about telling him how much I enjoyed In-n-Out burger (since he loves that place too), but I felt that would be stupid.  Rather than think about it further, I figured it would come to me in a moment of revelation. 

It was my turn to get my book signed, so I walked up there with my book all ready to go, but with nothing to say.  Suddenly, and without warning, I invited him out to the wine bar in Elmhurst when he was done signing books.  I fully expected him to politely decline immediately or perhaps just plainly say no (after all, many chefs aren't known for their patience).  However, after my inquiry into his plans later, he responded in a way that I least expected.  He asked me what time and where.  I was completely taken by shock by his response and it took me at least five seconds to gather my thoughts and respond.  Five seconds may not seem like that long, but if you are staring at a person expecting an answer, it feels like an eternity.  Eventually, I spit the answer out of my mouth, and he said that he and Grant Achatz (from Alinea) were going out for tacos.  Tacos?!?!  The two best chefs in America are going out in Chicago for tacos?  I briefly thought about asking if I could come along with him before figuring that he would probably try to get a restraining order against me.  I also thought about trying to cut off a lock of his hair to take with me, but the threat of a restraining order preventing me from eating at French Laundry weighed too heavily on my mind (just kidding Thomas...don't think I'm crazy). 

Anyway, here are a couple pictures of me with Chef Keller.  The first one looks like im lunging at him, which may not be entirely inaccurate.




Mexican Knife Fight

Only a few days after my incredible experience with Mexican food at Tarascas International, I was out in the suburbs.  I felt as if it would be wrong of me not to compare it with my reigning favorite Mexican restaurant, La Hacienda.  La Hacienda is located at 1571 Lake Street in Addison, IL (same parking lot as the Marcus Cinema.  They also have several other locations) and their website is http://www.fernandezfoods.com/.  Let me tell you, this was a heavy weight bout, not unlike Rocky Balboa v. Ivan Drago.  The haymakers were flying, the salsa was flowing, and Hearts on Fire was blaring over the radio.  In the end, only one could be victorious.

Atmosphere
While Tarascas was dimly lit and laid back, La Hacienda was brightly lit with eye-popping colors and Spanish-style architecture.  Basically, La Hacienda looks exactly like most other Mexican restaurants.  However, they do earn points for resisting the urge to have a mariachi band.  I do not much care for crowded or loud restaurants for the most part, so the winner of this round is clear.
Winner: Tarascas

Price
If I had written this post two years ago, I would not have even mentioned this as a category since they were exactly the same.  However, sometime in the last couple years, La Hacienda lowered their prices by about a third.  I think it was $8 for their tacos whereas it was $11 at Tarascas.  Not that $11 is that much for dinner in the city, but it is something to consider.
Winner: La Hacienda

Service
I usually don't like focusing on service since I'm in it for the food, and I always think the service is fine unless it is so unbelievably awful that it can't help but bear on the experience.  I know this is a dealbreaker for some people, so I'll mention it, but I feel like focusing on the service at a restaurant would be like focusing on the wall paint at the Louvre.  Anyway, Tarascas service was fine.  It was really busy, so the waitress was not hovering over our table at all points in time, and we probably waited a few extra minutes than normal.  It wasn't anything that really caught my attention.  La Hacienda, on the other hand, had the opposite problem.  They did not have many people there, so service was way too fast.  The main course came out while I was still eating my soup, and not even when I was nearly finished either.  I'm pretty sure I've had slower service at Chipotle.  When I go to a restaurant, usually I'm not looking to speed my way out of there, so if I have to choose one, the choice is clear.  Keep in mind that this is not a weighty factor in my mind.
Winner: Tarascas

Food
This is undoubtedly the most important factor for me, and it was a difficult decision to make.  On one hand, the tacos at La Hacienda are fantastic.  The chicken is perfectly seasoned and is unbelievably juicy.  The cheese is tangy and is a perfect counterpoint to the strong flavor of the chicken.  On the other hand, Tarascas has the best enchiladas I have ever had and they managed to nail mole (which is pretty easy to screw up).  This was pretty close to call, so I'll also mention that the rice at La Hacienda was significantly better than the rice at Tarascas, which I felt was kind of chalky.  La Hacienda also serves (for free) a bowl of soup that can only be described as Liquid Taco, it is delightful with its smoky cumin and tomato flavor.  In Tarascas favor; however, was the margarita.  I did not have a margarita at La Hacienda, but there exists very little doubt in my mind that Tarascas would win that one, but the doubt does remain.  By the slimmest of margins (pending my drinking of a La Hacienda margarita).
Winner: La Hacienda

Now comes the round-by-round scoring.  Tarascas wins the atmosphere and service rounds.  It also comes within a dangerous proximity of winning the food round.  La Hacienda wins the Price and narrowly escapes with a win from the Food round.  Since the Food column is more important than the others...the WINNER by split-decision AND STILL CHAMPION IS...............  La Hacienda!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That being said, if I were taking someone on a date or something like that, Tarascas would hands-down be my decision.  Not only is the atmosphere more date-compatible, but you will not be out of there in twenty minutes like you would at La Hacienda.

In any event, here are some pictures of La Hacienda.



Glaring Omission

I have absolutely no idea how I have been writing a blog for two months and have not put up the lemon chicken recipe.  It has been unquestionably the dish that I make the most out of all of the things that I have posted.  I apologize for this glaring omission.  Here is the recipe.

Lemon Chicken (serves 2-3)
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, room temp.
1 1/2 sticks butter
juice from 3/4 of a lemon, seeds and pulp removed
1/2 cup wine
flour
kosher salt
pepper

1.  Lightly salt and pepper each chicken breast on both sides.
2.  Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a large saute pan over medium heat.
3.  When butter is fully melted, dredge each chicken breast in flour and shake off any excess so there is just a light coating of flour on it.  Put the chicken breasts in the pan for 4 minutes per side.
4.  Remove chicken from pan and set aside.  Pour out melted butter, but do not rinse the pan.
5.  Put the remaining stick of butter in the pan and put the pan back on the heat to melt the new butter.
6.  When the butter is melted and hot again, put the chicken back in the pan.
7.  Add in the lemon juice and wine.  Cover and cook for 12 minutes, flipping the chicken at the 6 minute mark.
8.  Put chicken on a plate and tent with foil for 4-5 minutes while the chicken rests.
9.  Serve with jasmine rice.


Finals Descend Upon Me

I've been studying/outlining/researching take home finals for the last few weeks.  My extreme lack of blogging can be attributed directly to the most hectic time of the year for me, so I don't really apologize for that.  However, at some point last week, my brain melted from pouring through the Illinois Criminal Code, so I decided we needed to go out for dinner.  You may have noticed a theme here...whenever I get to immersed in something, I need to go out to eat.  It's amazing that I don't weigh 350 pounds. 

So off we went to Tarascas International, which serves Mexican food.  Tarascas is located at 2585 N. Clark and its website is http://www.cocinastarascas.com/.  My friends, Tom and Mike, have told me that this place was really good, but for whatever reason, I never made it there until last week.

I walked in and expected it to be like every other Mexican place I have ever been to (loud, brightly colored, very busy, etc.).  However, the room was dimly lit, it wasn't terribly noisy, it was crowded, but not people-standing-everywhere crowded.  I was also on the verge of tears as I'm certain we won't get a decent table. But we do; relief washes over me in an awesome wave.

Anyway, I had the chicken enchiladas with the mole sauce.  I had some enchiladas from some other Mexican place a few weeks earlier that were no good, so I needed to redeem enchiladas in my mind.  Thankfully, these did the trick.  The chicken was shredded and exceedingly juicy.  Many times in Mexican food, you will get diced chicken that is way overcooked.  Tarascas managed to avoid that pitfall.  Secondly, the thing that doomed the enchiladas the last time I had them was the terrible mole sauce.  I was a bit skeptical about getting mole again so soon, but again, Tarascas delivered.  The mole was dark black, like tar.  It was peppery, nutty, and tasted faintly of bitter chocolate.  All in all, it went perfectly with the tangy cheese and juicy seasoned chicken.

I would be doing a terrible disservice if I were to leave out the amazing margaritas.  I got the regular house margarita, but if you wanted to, it looked like they had some margaritas made with some awesome aged tequila.  I got the margarita frozen and it was a bit strong at first taste.  I was beginning to think their lofty status in the city's margarita pantheon was unwarranted.  However, I squeezed the lime over it and stirred it in, and it was ready to go.  I'm not exactly sure what type of magic lime they served with it, but it sucked out much of the burning alcohol flavor that accompanied my first taste.  It was well balanced, meaning it wasn't overly sugary or tart. 

It would be fair to say that I greatly enjoyed Tarascas.  I'll definitely be going back there.  Check out the pictures.


Thanksgiving Madness

After a trial run Thanksgiving and a Thanksgiving potluck, I was ready for the big show...November 26th, Thaksgiving Day.  We had a tentative headcount of twenty-two people, so there was much preparation to be done.

The menu as I had assembled in my head was turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli casserole, cranberry sauce.  For appetizers, I made watermelon "meat" and bratwursts with a mustard sauce.  Finally, for dessert, I made flourless chocolate cakes and a berry crisp.  My grandmother made the broccoli casserole and the stuffing that went inside of the turkey (not the sous vide one).

Yes, it does take a long time to make all of these things, but I found that if you make a written list (times you need to put things in the oven, etc.) of the things you need to do (thank you hundreds of episodes of Top Chef), you can get it done much more efficiently and you will use fewer pots and pans, so there should be less cleaning.  Also, I like making one dish or element of a dish at a time.  It keeps me better organized and you can measure every ingredient you will need so that you do not mess up halfway through looking for the correct ingredient or measuring something out.  I posted my recipes for mashed potatoes, sous vide stuffing, and berry crisp in my post about Trial Run Thanksgiving, but here are the rest of the recipes that I rocked out.

As a final note, I made sure that we got a turkey from Howard Kaufman Farms.  This farm is in Waterman, IL and raises the turkeys free range until the last few weeks before Thanksgiving.  They feed the turkeys on a diet of soybeans and corn instead of the normal pellets.  The Kaufman's mission is raising the best tasting turkey possible, and they truly seem to care about what they do.  Though these turkeys are a bit more expensive than turkeys from the supermarket, they are worth the extra price for the incredible taste that they deliever.  Plus they are never frozen, so you don't have to worry about thawing the turkey for 6 days in your fridge.  No thawing means that the turkey will taste better too...and I'm done gushing.

Turkey
22 lb turkey (one pound for each person)
1/4 stick butter, softened
salt
pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 325.  Don't listen to anyone who says to start it in a very hot oven then turn it down, it will just dry out the meat.  As most people know, turkey is often very dry already, so you must take every precaution to guard against this.
2.  Take all the stuff out of the turkey.  Dry the outside and inside very throroughly with paper towels.
3.  Rub the turkey all over with butter (I might omit this step, but everyone insisted on it, so I went along with it).
4.  Salt and pepper the turkey.
5.  Cram as much stuffing as you can int the cavity without turnig the stuffing into mush.  Also put a little in the neck cavity so the turkey looks whole.
6.  Put the turkey in the oven breast side up.  Put a thermometer in the thickest part of the breast, making sure that it does not touch the bone; however, make sure the thermometer goes into the stuffing.
7.  Cook until the thermometer says 153 (probably about 4.5 - 5 hours).
8.  During the last couple hours make sure to baste it with the rendered turkey fat.  This will keep the meat moist and ensure a more even cooking.
9.  When the turkey comes to the proper temperature take it out of the oven and immediately tent with foil for at least 30 minutes.  The turkey will continue cooking and rise up to about 160 degrees while it is tented with foil.
10.  After 30 minutes, slice the turkey thinly and against the grain.
11.  Make sure to reserve the turkey fat for making gravy.



Sweet Potatoes
I made this one last year after watching the Food Network.  Traditionally people mash these and serve them in a casserole, but I feel like there is enough mushy stuff already on the table (mashed potatoes, broccoli casserole, cranberry sauce, etc.) that there needs to be some different textures. 

10 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into bite size pieces
2 sticks of butter
2 cups pecans, chopped
12 tbsp maple syrup (preferably type B)
vegetable oil
1 tspn cayenne pepper
kosher salt
pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 450.  Put pecans on a baking sheet.  Once oven hits 450, put pecans in the oven for approximately 5 minutes until lightly toasted.  Remove from oven and reserve on side.  Do not turn off oven.
2.  Meanwhile, put the potatoes in a single layer on 1 or 2 baking sheets (depending on how many you end up making).  Drizzle some vegetable oil over the potatoes and toss together to lightly coat them in olive oil.  Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the potatoes.  Put in the oven for about 45 minutes or until easily pierced by a fork.
3.  Meanwhile, put the butter in a sauce pan and melt over medium heat until it gets foamy (this will happen quickly, so pay attention).  Once it becomes foamy, stir in maple syrup and cook for a minute or two.  Sprinkle in cayenne pepper and remove from heat.  Stir to incorporate.  Keep warm until ready to use.
4.  Toss the potatoes and nuts together, and pour the sauce over the top.

Cranberry Sauce
Even from the time I was little, I always hated the canned cranberry sauce.  There is something kind of repulsive about pouring something out of a can and having it retain its shape.  People seem to like cranberry sauce though, so I decided to make one on my own.  I think I got the basic concept from some youtube video, but had to switch it up since it kind of didn't make sense.

6 cups cranberries, rinsed
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 1/3 cup of port
1/2 lemon

1.  Put the cranberries, brown sugar, orange juice, and port in a medium saucepan and stir together.
2.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.
3.  Once mixture begins to boil, reduce heat to low to simmer and begin stirring frequently.
4.  Continue simmering until mixture thickens and you can see a trail when you drag a spoon through it.
5.  Tranfer to a bowl and squeeze the lemon over it.
6.  Refrigerate.


Bratwursts with Mustard Sauce
I've made this small dish as an element of a "Tribute to Baseball" dish.  I thought it would go well as an appetizer.  The mustard sauce is from the French Laundry cookbook and it is used with fish.  I liked it so much that I tossed it on some bratwurst, I could probably even drink it straight from a glass.  Make this sauce immediately before you will use it and keep it warm, whisking frequently so that it does not separate.

6 bratwursts
1 loaf of italian bread, cut into 1/4" thick slices, lightly toasted
canola oil
1/4 cup chopped leaks (white and light green part only, throroughly washed...leeks are very dirty)
1/4 cup chopped mushrooms
1/2 cup veal stock (most butchers will sell it frozen)
1 chopped carrot
1 tbsp heavy cream
10 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1 1/2 tspn dijon mustard
1 1/2 tspn grain mustard
kosher salt
pepper

1.  Film the bottom of a medium saucepan with canola oil.  Heat over medium heat until very hot.  Add leaks, mushrooms, and carrots.  Saute for 2-3 minutes until vegetables are lightly carmelized.
2.  Add veal stock and simmer for 5-7 minutes until the liquid has reduced to a glaze.
3.  Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside.
4.  Stir the cream into the veal liquid.  Whisk in the butter piece by piece, adding another piece only when the previous piece has melted.  If the butter stops melting, you were probably too slow.  However, just put it over the heat for a few more seconds to get it warm again and continue whisking.
5.  Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a small saucepan or bowl.  Whisk in both mustards.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6.  Grill bratwursts over low heat for 10 minutes per side.  Slice each sausage into 3/4" slices diagonally.  Put one slice of sausage on each piece of toast.  Put a small amount of mustard sauce on the sausage.  Serve immediately.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (makes about 10 cupcake sized cakes)
This cake is for the truly intrepid chocolate lover.  It's so dark that rays of light cannot escape it.  Proceed at your own peril.  This cake calls for a sweet-tart sauce to offset the extreme nature of the chocolate.  I've served it with a pineapple-champagne sauce and a raspberry sauce.  For some unknown reason, I did not make a sauce for Thanksgiving.  Anyway, these could not be easier to make, but they do require a little attention.  Finally, you can make this without the parchment paper trick, but it makes the removal from the pan much much easier after they are cooked, so I'd highly recommend doing it.

8oz. bittersweet chocolate chips (I like the 60% Ghirardelli chocolate chips if you just want to go to the supermarket)
1 stick of unsalted butter
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tspn sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

1.  Heat a double boiler until the water is hot, but not boiling.  If you do not have a double boiler, put 2 same-sized pots ontop of each other.  Fill the bottom pot with 1.5" of water (not enough to touch the bottom of the top pot), and heat the water until hot.  Leave the bottom pot on the heat.
2.  Put the butter and chocolate in the top part of the double boiler and melt together, stirring until smooth.  Take the top pot off the water and set aside so it cools slightly.
3.  Combine the eggs and sugar in a metal mixing bowl.
4.  Set the mixing bowl over the hot water and whisk vigorously until the eggs are warm and the sugar is dissolved.  This should take about 3 or 4 minutes.
5.  Using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer or a hand mixer, whisk the eggs on medium or medium-high speed until the eggs are cooled and tripled in volume.
6.  Preheat oven to 350.  While it is preheating, put a baking baking sheet with a high lipped edge (jelly roll pan) in the oven and fill it about halfway with water.
7.  Gently fold the cooled chocolate and whipped cream into the eggs until the mixture is very chocolate-y looking and well combined.  The key word is gently.
8.  Spray the cups of a cupcake pan with non-stick spray or rub generously with butter.  Cut 10 strips of parchment paper each about 3/4" wide and about 5" long.  Press the parchment strips into the buttered cups to that about 1" of the parchment comes out from above each cup.
9.  Take a ladle and fill each cup up about 3/4 full.
10.  Put the cupcake pan in the water-filled baking sheet in the oven.  Cook for 10 minutes.
11.  After 10 minutes, cover the pan with a sheet of foil and cook for 15-20 more minutes (probably closer to 15).  The tops should look shiny, but set.  Insert a toothpick into one.  If it comes out clean, you are ready to go.
12.  Take the cupcake pan out of the water and let it cool.  Once cool, pull out using the parchment paper ends.
13.  Dust with powdered sugar.  Do not refrigerate.

Here are some more pictures.











Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Potluck

A few times a year we have a potluck dinner.  Usually we have one at Thanksgiving and another at Christmas, but we also threw in one for Labor Day this year.  I like to make something kind of wacky for the main course (after all, I don't have to transport anything so I have to make something a bit more substantial).

I have done lots of types of main courses at previous potlucks like korean bbq chicken legs, lasagna, and ravioli.  I wanted do something that most people had never had, and I wanted it to be reminicent of the fall season.  My attention turned to pork shoulder, but that did not meet either of my requirements.  I began thinking about quail, pheasant, or other game birds, but that was too expensive and time consuming to make a bunch of.  I combined the idea of pork shoulder and game meat and came up with wild boar shoulder.  The only problem was where I could get something like wild boar shoulder.  Fortunately for me I live in a city where every conceivable thing can be found.  I began the hunt and eventually located a place that sold wild boar (and a whole bunch of other crazy stuff).  The place is Chicago Game & Gourmet, and it is located at 350 N. Ogden in Chicago (chicagogame.us). 

As mentioned in a couple previous posts, I went out to the suburbs to begin preparing the boar shoulder.  It is difficult to make really good pulled pork/boar in my apartment because it requires a long smoking period.  Although i have smoked things in the apartment, I did not want to do it again after nearly dying of smoke inhilation the last time.  I decided to take the safe route and just get a nice layer of smoke on it in the burbs, then bring it back here and finish it in the oven.  This ended up working fantastically, though I think it could have used about another hour of cooking to really make it easy to pull apart.  I also made watermelon "meat" for Katie, but I'll run down that recipe in my upcoming massive Thanksgiving post.

The potluck turned out better than I could have hoped.  All the food was excellent and it seemed like everyone had a great time talking to each other (even if the ladies' table (plus John) got somewhat inappropriate and the Bears suffered another loss).  Here is what everyone brought.

Katie brought Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
Joel brought Mashed Potatoes
Jackie brought Sweet Mashed Potatoes and Jalapeno Bread
Mairin & Melody brought stuffing and a corn casserole
Mia brought a Pumpkin Pie with not one but two secret ingredients
John brought a Chocolate Cake
Voelker brought a Reese's Pie
Urgo brought a bottle of Zinfandel (bless her soul)
Last, but not least, Kurt brought Protien Shakes

I really liked everything that people brought (even the protien shakes).  Perhaps I can track down any recipes if there is interest in them.  Here is how I made the boar and its accompanying sauces

Pulled Boar Shoulder (serves 12)

1 6 lb boar shoulder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
20 juniper berries, smashed
1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1.  Put thawed boar shoulder in a large bowl.
2.  In a separate bowl mix the salt, sugar, and juniper berries together until well incorporated.
3.  Cover all sides of the boar with the salt mixture.  Put in the refrigerator overnight.
4.  The next day, take the boar out of the refrigerator and let it come up toward room temperature for about an hour and a half to two hours.
5.  Meanwhile, start a charcoal grill going with indirect heat (coals all on one side).  Allow the coals to cool until the grill is at about 250 degrees (this should take about an hour).  Also put a bunch of cherry wood chips in a bowl of water for at least an hour.
6.  Wash the salt mixture off of the boar and put it in a foil pan.  Pour the apple juice into the pan.
7.  Put the foil pan on the grill on the side opposite from the coals.  Put a handful of wet cherry wood chips on the coals.  Cover the grill with the lid with the grate open and directly above the boar.  Also be sure the bottom is open to maximize the air flow.
8.  When you see the smoke stop (about 30 mins), take the lid off the grill and place a couple briquettes on the hot coals followed by another handful of wet cherry wood chips.  It is important you maintain the heat at about 250 degrees so you don't ruin the boar (never ever let it get above 300).
9.  Repeat this process for 4 hours, turning the pan around at the 2 hour mark.
10.  You can continue this process for 5 more hours (turning the pan every couple hours) or you can put it in the oven at 250 for the remaining 5 hours.  The former option would lead to a more smoky taste, but I had to finish it at my apartment, so I opted for the latter option.  At this point sprinkle the brown sugar over the top of the boar.
11.  In any event, after about 5 hours total of cooking, you should start basting the boar with the fat that has rendered from it every half hour.
12.  At the 7 hour mark, pour the apple cider vinegar in the pan and continue basting every 15 minutes.  Don't worry if the shoulder turns black, it is supposed to do that.  It will not taste burnt
13.  You need the internal temperature of the boar to get over 180 degrees for the fat to liquify so you can pull it.  Ideally you can get it between 190 and 200 so it really comes apart easily, but 180 is your minimum.
14.  Once it hits the proper temperature, take it out of the oven and tent with foil for 15 minutes.
15.  After 15 minutes, take the foil off.  Take two forks and stick one into the boar to hold it in place.  Using the other fork, rake the boar in a downward motion to pull the boar off of the shoulder.  It should come off very easily if it is at the right temperature.  Continue raking until the whole shoulder is in bite sized pieces.

BBQ Sauce
3 cups root beer
1.5 cups ketchup
5 cloves garlic, smashed into a paste
just under 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp worsteshire sauce
1 tbsp chile powder
8 juniper berries
1/2 tspn ground all spice
1 tspn Tobasco sauce or 1/2 tspn cayenne pepper
small handful of bittersweet chocolate chips
juice from 1/2 lime

1.  Combine root beer, ketchup, garlic paste, vinegar, worsteshire sauce, chile powder, juniper berries, allspice, and tobasco in a medium sauce pan.  Stir together to incorporate. 
2.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  When it begins boiling, reduce heat to low.
3.  Simmer for about an hour until the sauce thickens and ths bubbles look like they are stacking on top of each other.  Stir ocassionally.
4.  When it is thickened, toss in the chocolate and stir until melted.
5.  Remove pot from heat and squeeze in the lime juice.  Stir and refrigerate covered (preferably overnight).

Cherry Port Sauce (modified a bit from the Alinea cookbook)
1/2 lb dried bing cherries
1 cup cabernet sauvignon
1 cup ruby port
1 cups low sodium chicken stock

1.  Put cherries, cabernet, and port in a medium sauce pan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  When it hits a boil, reduce to low and simmer until it is the consistency of syrup.
2.  Whisk in stock  and raise heat to medium and bring to a boil again.  When it hits a boil, reduce to low again and simmer until reduced by half.
3.  Strain through a chinois into a clean sauce pan.  Reduce over medium-low heat until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Give it a shot.  Let me know how it turns out.

Thai Food...the Sequel

On the day of the potluck, we needed a quick bite to eat for lunch.  Of course, we went with the old standby of Thai food.  Perhaps I subconsciously wanted to drown out the memory of the grossness that was Bambu Thai or perhaps I just never learn my lesson.  We ordered some delivery of chicken pad thai from Yes, Thai.  Yes, Thai is located at 5211 N. Damen in Chicago (http://www.yesthaichicago.com/).  I have been there before and I greatly enjoyed their pad thai, though it was a bit sweeter than the pad thai at Ben's Noodle & Rice, so I did not like it quite as much.  However, we had not had Yes, Thai in a while, so I wanted to give it another shot.  I think the lesson I should take from this experience is to avoid delivery Thai food.

That is not to say that it is horrible, but I think (after having a couple less than awesome experiences with delivery Thai food) that the key is immediate service.  Yes, Thai does have the most well cooked and juicy chicken of any pad thai I have ever had, which leads me to believe that they cook it separately then add it in at the end (probably the logical thing to do).  However, the delivery pad thai was a bit too sweet and maybe even a little fishy.  It was still pretty decent tasting and certainly better than my awful experience at Bambu Thai the previous day. 

Lesson learned though...no more delivery Thai.  The Chinese do it much better.


Dairy Thai

I was out in the suburbs on Saturday around lunch time to begin preparing for the Thanksgiving potluck dinner the following day.  Since I am tired of the usual fare in the burbs, I wanted to give something new a try.  I settled on Thai food since I am semi-addicted to their delicious cuisine.  I had never been to a Thai place in Elmhurst, so I was curious to try the place that went into the now defunct Dairy Queen space, Bambu Thai.  Bambu Thai is located at 1035 S. York Road, Elmhurst IL (http://www.bambuthai.com/). 

As is my usual custom, I ordered chicken pad thai.  The theory is that if the place can't do a chicken pad thai correctly, then it is not worth eating at.  Well, folks, this place certainly is not worth eating at.  This is the single worst bit of Thai food I have ever eaten.  I have eaten a whole bunch of gross things in my life (particularly when I was in college, like egg noodles and bbq sauce), and I've mostly finished them despite their less than stellar flavor.  I could not even take more than three bites of this pad thai (if it even deserves to be called that).  It was nearly flavorless, and what little flavor it did have was gross.  For some reason the lime wedge that was included with it did not even have any juice in it (that's not a joke).  When you can't even slice a lime correctly, you know something is seriously wrong.

After rejecting the rest of the meal like it was a mismatched organ transplant, I went over to Burger King for a quick bite.  I hate beating a dead horse, but when you get beaten out by Burger King, you are doing something wrong.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Wine Selection

Since I'm cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I also have to make sure that the wine is perfect as well.  Just in time, Cuvee Cellars (545 Spring Road http://www.cuveecellars.com/) steps in with a pair of holiday wine tastings to save the day.  I was thinking that I should go with a Riesling for the white wine and a Pinot Noir for the red.  However, to confirm, I asked John and Craig (the owners), separately, which wines I should get for Thanksgiving.  In an incredible display of on-the-same-page-itude, not only did they both come up with the same varietal recommendations (Sauvignon Blank or Riesling and Pinot Noir), but they even came up with the same producers (Frogs Leap Sauvignon Blanc, Willow Crest Riesling, and Angeline or Meomi Pinot Noir).  I realized that we already had a whole bunch of white wine, including the Frogs Leap and Willow Crest, so we went with the Meomi Pinot and an Audelssa Cabernet Sauvignon (even over my protestations against Cabernet for Thanksgiving).

Here is the rundown of the rest of the tasting

Starting from right to left:
Willow Crest Reisling - Nicely balanced, sweet Riesling, but not one of those cloyingly sweet Rieslings that are gross.  It has a nice balance of acidity with a faint scent of petroleum jelly.  This is going to be delicious for Thanksgiving
Hinman Pinot Noir - This one is on the menu by the glass.  Has a bit of an earthy smell, nice and fruit forward, though I think it may have been lacking some of the secondary flavors.  I like this one, and it would also be a nice choice for Thanksgiving.
Killer Syrah - I went through about a 4 month stretch (like January - May) where all I drank was Syrah, so I'm still a little bit soured on it, though I am coming back around.  That being said, this one was very nice, perhaps because it wasn't as peppery and big as a lot of Syrahs.  It also wasn't as full of glycerin as many Australian shirazes.  Even though it isn't as big as many syrahs, I still think that it would wash out the flavor of the turkey.
 Earth Series Merlot - I really did not like this one.  I felt as if it had too much alcohol in it (I'm not sure what the content was, but it smelled like grain alcohol).  It didn't go down terribly easy, which is usually the hallmark of merlot.
 


  Going from left to right this time:

Grgich Hills Fume Blanc - Last time I was in Napa, I visited this winery and had this wine, so I knew it was good.  This is a great winery to visit, so I'd definitely recommend it.  The wine is super mellow with nice notes of citrus fruit like lemon or maybe grapefruit.  It is probably too mellow for Thanksgiving, but it would be excellent with seafood.
Luna Vineyards Freakout White Wine - This is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and a grape called Tocai Friulano.  Although Cuvee Cellars sold many bottles of this, I was not a fan.  I thought it was too acidic and not all that well balanced.  People seem to like it though, so maybe give it a try for yourself.
St. Clement Chardonnay - I enjoyed this one.  It had a a nice creamy texture and a popcorn-y aroma.  It also had notes of pineapple and other tropical fruit.  Too buttery for Thanksgiving, but delicious on its own.
St. Clement Merlot - As much as I liked the Chardonnay for its buttery-ness, I did not like the merlot for that same reason.  It seemed to overwhelm the fruit flavor and it didn't seem to have that much going on with it.  Maybe some notes of chocolate, smoke, and cherry.



From right to left this time:

Bitch Bubbly - This is a pink sparkling wine that is much too sweet for me.  It does have some interesting floral notes and has some flavors of red fruit.  However, like I said, it is way too sweet.  Not for me.
A to Z Pinot Noir - I love pinots, but this one seemed a little plain to me.  Funny story with this though.  One night after track season ended, we ended up drinking somewhere between 5-17 bottles of this stuff at the track party.  It brings back some fun memories.  It is not bad by any stretch, but it is not nearly as good as some of the other pinots at Cuvee Cellars.
Gine Gine Priorat - I'm pretty sure this is the only Spanish wine in Cuvee Cellars.  It had some nice aromas of black fruit like blackberries or dark cherry, but it was very acidic and had too much of an alcohol smell to it.  I have a feeling if this was left to age for a while longer, it could turn out well, but it was not ready to go just yet.
Obsidian Ridge Cabernet - This was another one that was flying off the shelves.  I first had this one in a side by side comparison with a very fruity pinot noir, and had I not known what each one was, I would have guessed them incorrectly.  This cabernet is very restrained, but in a good way.  It was nice to drink now, but I bet this one would age really well and probably open up a bit more.

Here are a few additional pictures from the night.  I think they are going to have a tasting shortly before Xmas, so you should stop by if you get a chance.



Here are all the guys (left to right) Craig, Peter, John, and Joey




A Rarity

I'm not sure exactly how this all came about, but suddenly Michelle wanted to have Chicken Marsala for dinner.  While that may not seem like an unusual event (because Chicken Marsala is delicious), it is for me because, for reasons that are still unclear to me, she hates it.  Even though I was 99% certain that this was a trick of some sort (like she was going to try to sell me a timeshare or rope me into a ponzi scheme), I agreed for the simple reason that I love Chicken Marsala.  Here is the recipe.  It is one of my favorites.

Recipe (serves 2-3)
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 sticks of butter
1 cup dry marsala wine
1/2 cup mushroom soaking water
1 cup of sliced mushrooms (I like portabello, but we used shiitake mushrooms in this one)
flour
kosher salt
pepper

1.  Fill a bowl with hot water and put mushrooms in it, leave to the side for approximately 10 minutes.
2.  Put a large saute pan over medium heat and start the butter melting while you prepare the chicken
3.  Lightly salt and pepper both sides of the chicken.  Dredge in flour to coat the chicken.  Gently shake as to get rid of excess flour.
4.  When butter is melted and hot, put in the chicken for 4 minutes per side.
5.  When you are about halfway through cooking the second side (6 minutes in), remove the mushrooms from the water, gently squeeze out any excess water that the mushrooms may have soaked up back into the bowl they were in.  Put 1/2 cup of this soaking water (should be a reddish color) into a measuring cup (be sure not to get any dirt that may have settled on the bottom).
6.  When the first stage of cooking is completed (the first 8 minutes), add mushrooms to the pan, then pour in the marsala wine and the 1/2 cup of mushroom soaking liquid.  Cover and let cook for 12 minutes, flipping halfway through.
7.  After 12 minutes, remove the chicken and loosely cover with foil for a few minutes while you finish the sauce.
8.  Add about 1 tbsp flour to the pan and whisk until sauce thickens up and there are no visible traces of flour left (this will prevent it from separating for a while)
9.  Serve chicken and sauce over egg noodles.

...and yes, I did end up buying a timeshare.  It was that good.



Once Again...

I can't believe it has been over a week since I have posted anything, but when school takes you out behind the shed and beats you with a belt, there really is no other option.  I'll try to plow through my last week of eating/cooking now, so these posts may be a bit shorter than usual. 

Last Tuesday, as always, was Fish Tuesday brought to you by The Fishguy Market (http://www.fishguy.com/).  We got there near closing so our options were limited to black cod or black cod.  After thinking about it for a while, we went with black cod.

I had never cooked cod before, so we were in for an adventure.  I wanted to switch it up from grilling, so I decided to poach it.  In the end, I felt like it could have been a little more lemon-y.  That being said, I really liked how the fish was cooked, so I'll have to continue playing with this recipe.

Recipe (serves 2)
2 black cod filets
1 lemon sliced into 1/8" thick disks, plus 1/2 lemon cut into wedges
1 cup white wine
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock (always try to get low-sodium chicken stock)
2 cloves garlic, smashed and diced
1/2 tspn dried thyme
kosher salt
pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 350
2.  Lightly salt and pepper both sides of fish and let sit on the side while you prepare the poaching liquid
3.  Melt stick of butter over medium heat
4.  When butter is melted add garlic and let cook for 2 minutes
5.  After 2 minutes, pour in the white wine, chicken stock and add the thyme.
6.  Allow to simmer for a few minutes while you prepare the casserole dish
7.  Put disks of lemon on the bottom of a small casserole dish untill the bottom is completely covered with lemon
8.  Pour the poaching liquid over the lemons.
9.  Put the fish into the poaching liquid.  It should come at least halfway up the side of the fish.  If it does not, add some white wine until it does.
10.  Put in the oven for 20-25 minutes until done (mine took 25 minutes, but it was extra thick)
11.  Serve with wedges of lemon, and spoon some poaching liquid over the top before serving.




Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thanksgiving Trial Run

I've been appointed as the Grand Wizard of Thanksgiving this year, so I am in charge of cooking for twenty-two people in about a week and a half.  As many of you may know, I can't do anything the normal way, so I wanted to do a scaled down version early to get out many of the bugs that could plague the day in two Thursdays. 

Enter the lovely Miss Brianna.  She, unfortunately for her, has to work on Thanksgiving.  All the selfish people at the hospital can't just quit being sick for even one day, but I suppose that's how it works.  Plus she had every weekend for the entire summer off, so this is some decent payback.  Anyway, she got to experience a Thanksgiving early with us.  Here is how everything went.  I got some of this off the Alinea Thanksgiving, but tossed in a few modifications of my own. 

The turkey and stuffing are cooked sous vide, which means that it is vacuum sealed (in a Vac Saver) and then cooked in a large amount of water that is held at a specific temperature.  When I do it again, I will cook the dark meat at 168-170 degrees instead of the 175 I did today.  I will cook the white meat at 155-157 rather than 165.  If you want to make your own sous vide thing at home, you need a giant stockpot and a thermometer with a clip.  You then fill it almost full of water and clip the thermometer on the side.  Heat the water over low heat until it stabilizes at a temperature, then adjust the heat up or down until it stabilizes at the proper temp.  Also, if you are using a vac saver, you have to be sure there is almost no liquid in the bag.  It doesn't seal if there is liquid in the bag, so be sure the turkey is dry.  You could use a large zip lock bag too, but it might take a little longer because of the air in the bag.  No you won't have a nice turkey to present, but you will have perfectly cooked, not dry turkey.  Since this is cooked well above 140 degrees, there shouldn't be too much of a food safety concern, but I should note that you should either serve the meat immediately or cool it quickly (by covering it in moist paper towels and putting it in the fridge) as to prevent bacteria growth.  I don't want to turn you off of sous vide since it's an awesome way to cook, but you should take heed of those safety measures.

Turkey (serves 4-6)
1 eleven lb turkey, thawed (mine wasn't fully thawed, so butchering it was not easy.
1 stick of butter cut into 3 pieces
6 sprigs of thyme
half of a  package of sage, stems removed
kosher salt
pepper
olive oil

1.  Put 2 large stockpots filled with water on the burners.  Heat one to 170 and the other to 155
2. Butcher turkey into legs, wings, and breasts.  Break bones down with a cleaver and reserve.
3.  Pat the legs with paper towels to be sure that they are very dry.  Put the legs together in a vacuum bag.  Toss in 1 of the pieces of butter, 2 sprigs of thyme and 1/3 of the sage.  Put in a few pinches of salt and some pepper.  Seal the legs in a vacuum bag and put into the 170 degree pot of water.
4.  Repeat, putting wings in one bag and breasts in another with the remaining butter, thyme, and sage.  Put the wings in with the legs in the 170 degree pot and put the breasts in the 155 degree water.
5.  Cook in the water for 2.5-3 hours.
6.  When you remove the turkey from the bag, reserve the rendered turkey fat for the gravy.
7.  Remove the turkey from the bags and put to the side.  Film a large saute pan with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat until smoking.  Put the legs in first, skin side down for about a minute until skin is browned.  Flip and do the same with the other side.
8.  Repeat the browning process with the wings.
9.  Repeat the browning process with the breasts.  The breasts only have skin on one side only, so no need to brown the other side.




Turkey Stock (You may want to start the stock an hour or so before you cook the turkey)
Bones from the butchered turkey
2 carrots, large diced
2 celery stalks, large diced
1/2 onion, diced
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup white wine
olive oil
water

1.  Film a large saute pan with the olive oil and heat over high heat until smoking.
2.  Carefully arrange the bones in the pan.  Cook until the bottom is very brown and then flip.
3.  When both sides are very dark brown (almost burnt), deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping the bottom to get up all the turkey.
4.  Put in the carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaves and cook with the bones for 8-10 minutes until aromatic.
5.  Add enough water to cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 3 hours until reduced by at least half.
6.  Skim the fat off the top occasionally.
7.  If you have time, refrigerate overnight to get the fat to the top.  Pull the fat layer off.

Stuffing (serves 4)
7 cups of whole wheat bread (about 3/4 loaf), cut into medium sized squares
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 package of sage
1 scant cup of turkey stock
1 stalk celery, small dice
1/2 onion, small dice
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, small diced
1 1/4 stick unsalted butter
2 tspn kosher salt
pepper

1.  Put bread in a large bowl.
2.  Melt butter over a medium heat.  Add garlic, onion, celery, sage, and bay leaves to the hot butter, and cook for 7 minutes until onions are slightly browned.
3.  Pour butter and its contents over bread and stir until incorporated.
4.  Gently stir in eggs and turkey stock until incorporated.  Too much stirring will make the bread mushy, and no one likes mushy bread.
5.  Put the stuffing in a large zip lock bag.  Presss out all the air and seal.  Put in the 170 degree pot with the dark meat for about an hour and a half.
6.  After an hour and a half, remove the stuffing from the bag and put into a bread pan.  Put under the broiler for a few minutes to crisp the top.

Gravy
Reserved turkey fat
Turkey stock
flour

1.  In a shallow pan, bring the turkey fat to a simmer over low heat.
2.  Stir 1 tbsp of flour into the simmering turkey fat, whisking constantly until there are no visible lumps of flour.
3.  When there is no flour visible, stir in another tbsp of flour while constantly whisking.  Repeat process until turkey fat is very thick and leaves a trail on the bottom of the pan when you run a spoon through it.
4.  When it reaches this stage of thickness, thin it out with some turkey stock until it seems watery.
5.  Continue simmering and whisking stock until it rethickens.
6.  It should already be properly seasoned from the rendered turkey fat, so no need to mess around with it.  Keep warm over lowest heat until serving.




Mashed Potatoes
6 yukon gold potatoes, peeled and large diced (yukon golds hold liquid better), peels reserved
1 stick of unsalted butter, cold
1/3 cup milk, hot
2 tbsp kosher salt
pepper

1.  Rinse potatoes in cold water to get the surface starch off of them.
2.  Heat a large stock pot of water to 160 degrees, and put potatoes in it for about 30 minutes, be sure not to let it get much above 160 degrees.  This stage is to render the starch which would make the mashed potatoes lumpy.  You will see the water get very cloudy.
3.  Pour out hot water and rinse potatoes in cold water again to get the starch off.
4.  Rinse out the stockpot and put the potatoes in it.  Put in enough water to cover.  Put the peels in a cheese cloth sack and put this in the water as well.  Heat over medium heat.
5.  Once the water gets hot, stir in salt.  Simmer for about 30-45 minutes until potatoes are tender and are easily pierced by a fork.  Discard cheese cloth containing potato skins.
6.  Put butter in a large bowl, put hot potatoes in a potato ricer or china cap and rice the potatoes over the butter.  Mash the potatoes with a potato masher until the butter is melted and incorporated.
7.  Stir in hot milk.  Salt (you shouldn't need much, if any) and pepper to taste.


Here is the dinner, in all its glory!



Who could forget dessert?

Berry Crisps (serves 6)

Filling
1 lb assorted berries (raspberrys, strawberrys, blueberrys, blackberrys, etc.)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tspn corn starch

Topping
1 cup flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped nuts
1 1/2 cup crushed cereal (like corn flakes)
1 handful of crackers, crushed
1/4 cup oatmeal
1/2 tspn cinnamon
1 1/2 tspn pure vanilla extract
1 stick butter, chilled and cut into small cubes

1.  Combine all Filling ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate while preparing the topping.
2.  Combine all topping ingredients in a mixer bowl.  Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer mix together on medium speed until the butter is crumbly and well combined.
3.  Refrigerate the topping while the oven preheats.
4.  Preheat oven to 350.
5.  Mix half the topping into the fruit.
6.  Put fruit mixture into ramekins, generously sprinkle the topping onto each fruit-filled ramekin.
7.  Bake in the oven on a baking pan for 30-35 minutes until fruit is bubbling on the sides.
8.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes while the top sets and the inside cools slightly.
9.  Serve with vanilla ice cream and eat while warm.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What is this Craziness?

Fish Wednesday?  Could it be that Wednesday has usurped Tuesday as the fish day?  No, the wonderfully wonderous Fish Guy Market just had a great deal on scallops yesterday, so I had 3/4 of a lb laying around the house.  On this most unusual day, I wanted to do something special with these scallops to commemorate the first ever Fish Wednesday.  I remembered a few years back on Top Chef, one of the contestants did banana scallops, so I got to wondering how those would go with real scallops.  I figured it would go well so long as it had something sweet and tart to bind it with the scallops.  It seemed pretty clear that I should make a maple syrup and balsamic vinegar sauce, so that's what I did. 

Recipe (serves 2)
3/4 lb of bay scallops
2 bananas, sliced into 1 inch disks
1/2 cup of maple syrup
2 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp lime juice
1/2 tspn of thyme leaves
sugar
kosher salt
pepper
olive oil

1.  Mix maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, lime juice, and thyme leaves in a small pot and place over low heat.  Heat until reduced to a syrupy consistency, which will take about 10 minutes.
2.  Put olive oil in a frying pan and heat over medium-high heat until smoking
3.  Meanwhile, heat a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat
4.  While pans are heating, salt and pepper the scallops and dip the cut sides of each banana in sugar.  Reserve each on the side while the pans heat.
5.  Once the oil is to the proper temperature, put the scallops in the oil.  Leave the scallops sit without stirring for one minute in order for one side to brown.  After one minute, stir the scallops to brown the other side. 
6.  While the 2nd side of the scallops is browning, put the bananas, cut side down in the hot non-stick frying pan to carmelize the sugar for 30 seconds.  After 30 seconds flip banana to the other sugared side and cook for another 30 seconds to carmelize.  Put bananas on a warm plate while you finish everything else.
7.  The scallops should be finished the same time as the bananas, so remove them from the pan.  The sauce should also be finished at this point, so keep it over the lowest heat while you plate.
8.  Put 4 carmelized bananas (which look like big seared bay scallops) in the middle of the plate, put a pile of scallops on top of the bananas.  Put a pile of scallops on each side of the bananas to form a continuous ribbon of scallops.
9.  Pour 2 or 3 spoonfuls of sauce over the ribbon of scallops and bananas.  Pour 1 spoonful of sauce on each side of the ribbon and smear with the bottom of the spoon in opposite directions to make it look cool.
10.  Enjoy.
   



You Guessed It...

Another entry in the vaunted history of Fish Tuesday.  I ended up with some lovely Mahi Mahi filets.  I have this crazy article due later this week, so I needed to do something simple and fast.

I decided to grill them and serve them with a lemon butter sauce, as seen in the following pictures.


Anyway, here is what I did to throw this together.  I can't wait til X-Mas break so I can cook something that doesn't only take 20 minutes.

Recipe (serves 2)
2 mahi mahi filets
1/2 stick butter
1 lemon, juiced with seeds removed
1 cup white wine, preferably sauvignon blanc
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
kosher salt
pepper

1.  Heat grill to medium heat, spray with non-stick cooking spray
2.  While it is heating, put butter in a pan and melt over medium heat.
3.  Once butter is melted and hot, put lemon juice, wine, and white wine vinegar in pan and simmer for 10 minutes while fish cooks.
4.  When grill is at the proper temperature, put fish filets on the grill for 5 minutes per side.
5.  Plate fish, drizzle with lemon-butter sauce and serve with jasmine rice and/or green beans.