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

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 ( 

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
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
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 ( 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

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.  


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  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.

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

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

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

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
kosher salt

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  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.

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

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

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

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.