Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crepe-y Kind of Night

As the weather begins to turn cold and the leaves fall off the trees, something even more insidious kicks into high gear for me.  That's right, finals studying for law school begins.  Every day essentially ends with me feeling the same way - ike I had been choked at the bottom of a pool.

However, as a reprieve to the seeminly neverending grind of school, was tonight's dinner, which Michelle prepared.  If you have read through previous posts, you would know that I love eating breakfast for dinner, so as a dash of summer and the accompanying happy feelings, she made crepes with strawberries and bananas with a side of bacon.

She had never made it before, but it turned out gloriously.

I have discussed the recipe for crepes before here http://lawschoolfoodguy.blogspot.com/2009/10/breakfast-for-dinner.html, and I assume you know how to cook bacon, so I'll focus on the filling.

For the banana portion, she simply sliced up a few bananas and set them to the side.

Strawberry Filling
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt

1.  Melt butter over medium heat.
2.  Once melted, put in brown sugar and stir til bubbly
3.  Add strawberries and lower heat to medium low
4.  Stir slowly until strawberries render their liquid.  Cook for about 10 more minutes to reduce juice a bit
5.  Stir in pinch of salt
6.  Serve

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fish Tuesday 2.0 (a.k.a. Fish Wednesday)

One Sunday afternoon, we were wandering around near the train station when we saw a sign for something called "French Market."  Our interest piqued, and we ventured inside what I was sure was part of the train station (it was) to figure out what exactly the French Market was.  To my never ending delight, what was once a urine-soaked haven for Chicago's denizens of the night, had been transformed into something of a permanent farmer's market.  After gleefully walking up and down the aisles, viewing the vendors' wares, I finally came upon the butcher/fishmonger.  It was here that the idea of Fish Wednesday was born.  If you have been reading this blog for long, you will know that one of my favorite parts, if not my favorite, of being unemployed was Fish Tuesdays at the Fishguy Market, so needless today I was thrilled at the prospect of a weekly fish day returning.  Anyway, the French Market is located between Randolph and Washington with entrances on either Clinton or Canal.  The website is http://www.frenchmarketchicago.com/

Since the glorious discovery of the French Market, I have cooked for two Fish Wednesdays.  The first one turned out relatively decent, but as you can see, I tweaked and changed it all a bit to make it even better. 

For the first recipe, I got the recipe for the bbq sauce out of a magazine that arrived at work (sorry, I forgot which one).  I thought that it would go perfectly with fish since it was light and fruity, but the recipe without my modifications, was awful.  I think there is some promise in it, but I'd definitely cut down on both the tomato juice and tomato paste.  Fortunately, the mustard glaze was so good that I kind of forgot about the awful bbq sauce.

Salmon with Blackberry-Bourbon BBQ Sauce (serves 2)
2 salmon fillets
4 tbsp grain mustard
5 tbsp sugar (I used regular sugar, though next time, I'd use brown)
1 tspn soy sauce
0.5 cups blackberry jam
0.75 cup tomato juice
0.5 cup tomato paste
0.25 cup bourbon (more if you want to drink some, which I'd highly recommend)
2 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp dijon mustard
0.25 tspn cayenne (adjust if you want it more or less spicy)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
0.5 tbsp chile powder
kosher salt
pepper

1.  Mix grain mustard, soy sauce, and sugar in a bowl to form a thick paste.  Salt and pepper salmon, then spread the mustard glaze on the salmon liberally.  Let the salmon sit at room temperature for 10-20 minutes so it is no longer chilled.
2.  Mix all other ingredients in a medium-sized sauce pan.  Set the pan over medium-low heat and cook for about 20-25 minutes.
3.  While the sauce is cooking, preheat the oven to 450.  When the oven reaches that temperature, put the salmon in the oven on a baking sheet covered with foil.  Let the salmon cook for 10-12 minutes.
4.  Drizzle some sauce (if you like it) on to the salmon and enjoy.  I think I would serve this with green beans or spinach.

Here is my tweaks and upgrades on that recipes, including the scrapping of the bbq sauce entirely.  This very well may be the best fish dish that I've ever cooked.  I got this recipe from the recipe finder on bravotv.com, but it was so poorly written and confusing that I pretty much made up my own method of doing it.  You have to be vigilant when making this since there is a bunch of stuff going on at once.

Part 2
2 mahi mahi filets (though any light fish fillets will be fine).
2 slices of bacon
6-8 red potatoes, sliced into thin discs
2 shallots, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
olive oil
2 beets, peeled and sliced into batons
3 cups baby spinach
0.25 cups white wine
0.5 tspn white wine vinegar
1 tbsp butter
0.5 cups white wine
juice from 0.75 lemon
3 bay leaves
0.25 cups cream
1 tbsp grain mustard
4 tbsp butter, cut into 1 tbsp chunks

1.  Preheat oven to 450.
2.  Put potato discs in a single layer on a foil-covered baking sheet.  Drizzle potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Put in oven and cook for about 15-20 minutes until they turn nicely brown.
3.  Wrap each mahi mahi filet with a piece of bacon, being sure that the bacon does not overlap itself.  Salt and pepper and set to the side.
4.  For the sauce, in a medium sauce pan, melt 1 tbsp of butter over medium heat.  When melted add 1 of the diced shallots and cook until just turning brown (about 3 minutes).  Add bay leaves and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant.  Deglaze with 0.5 cup of white wine.  Sprinkle in the lemon juice and let it reduce until it looks syrupy.
5.  While sauce is reducing, film a large saute pan with olive oil and heat it over medium-high heat.  Add in the remaining diced shallot and the garlic and cook until turning brown (about 1 minute).   Add the beets and cook, stirring constantly, until the shallots are nicely browned.  Deglaze with the 0.25 cup of white wine and then add in the vinegar.  Reduce heat to medium-low and stir while it all cooks together and pan is nearly dry.  Add in the spinach and stir it around until the spinach has wilted.
6.  Film a frying pan with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Put the fish, presentation side down, into the pan and cook for 1 minute until bacon is nicely browned.  Flip fish over and cook for another 1 minute.
7.  While fish is cooking, remove the potatoes from the oven and set aside.  Opening the oven should reduce the oven temperature to about 425.  Set the oven for 425 and put in the pan with the fish for about 6 minutes.  Turn off the oven.  While you are completing everything else, put the potatoes in the warm oven to heat up.
8.  Now that the sauce is reduced to a syrup, add in the cream and mustard and return to a boil, whisking.  Once it is boiling again, whisk in 4 tbsp of butter, 1 tbsp at a time, adding a new one only when the previous one has been incorporated.  Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a cup or bowl.
9.  After that whole marathon, here is how I plated it.  Put a ring of potatoes down around the plate.  Put a large spoonful of spinach and beets in the center.  Top that with the fish and then drizzle with the strained sauce.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Da Bears!

I promised Mrs. Urgo that I would put this up, so here we go!  Two Sundays ago, the Bears began what we all surely expected to be a middling or even disappointing 2010 season.  However, in the spirit of hope, competitiveness, and drinking, we all crowded around the television for at least the first week of football.  We had the privilege of watching the game at the fabulous Casa de Urgo in Elmhurst (and using the awesome kitchen).

Since football pairs best with red meat for some reason, we decided to grill some steaks.  Also, since no one would stand for me spending 3 hours cooking in the morning and making a giant mess, I wanted to keep it simple.  After much conversing, we settled on steaks with a shallot and port butter with a side of secret potatoes.  I'm not sure how she got the secret recipe, but since they were delicious, I imagine it was probably something pretty wild, which I would love to do not want to hear about.

I made the butter the night before just because it was not feasible to do in the morning of the game.  I told Jessica that we should get ribeye, filet, or NY Strip.  I figured ribeye would be the best option since it is the least expensive, however; apparently the world went crazy when she went to buy the meat and the ribeyes were over $150, so we ended up with some even better porterhouse steaks.  Great success!

Our goal was to eat at halftime, and the way the Bears were barely keeping up with the hapless Lions, we figured a disappointing end could be in store for us.  The fact that it was against Detroit made it even more disheartening since you all know, or should know, about my deep animosity for Detroit.

As for my steak cooking showing that day, I would give myself a B-.  Some of the steaks were cooked correctly, while others were kind of overcooked.  I purposefully added time from how I usually cook steaks since the last steaks I cooked were woefully undercooked, but that was more likely caused by the steaks being exceptionally thick instead rather than the usual timing being off.  Next time it is 4 minutes per side, and no more, E. Coli be damned. 

The one thing that I made that surely shined through was the delicious shallot and port butter, which Mrs. Urgo kept and was apparently spreading on lots of other things in the following week(s).  As we all know the Bears ended up winning because God hates Detroit.  Here is the recipe for the butter, so you too can revel in the Lions losing the next time.

Ingredients
1 stick plus 1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 shallot, diced
0.5 cups ruby port
0.5 cups cabernet sauvignon
pinch of cardamom
pepper
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
kosher salt

1.  Take stick of butter out of the fridge or freezer and let it sit out for an hour or two to soften.
2.  Melt the other 1 tbsp butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
3.  Put the garlic and the shallot in the melted butter and cook until just starting to turn brown about 4-5 minutes.
4.  Add in the cardamom and pepper and cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds.
5.  Pour in the port and cabernet.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low.  Cook for about 20 minutes until wine is thick and syrupy and reduced to about 1/4 cup.  Remove from heat and let it cool for a while until close to room temperature (you can put it in the fridge if you want).
6.  Mash up the softened butter in a bowl with the red wine vinegar and a little salt.
7.  Pour the reduced port and shallot mixture into the butter and stir together with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment.
8.  Spread out some plastic wrap on the counter.  Spread the butter mixture across one end of the plastic and roll it up in the plastic wrap so it looks like a burrito.  Twist the ends to make it tight.  Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. 
9.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Inspiration

A few weeks ago I went to Gilt Bar, which is probably my current favorite regular restaurant in the city.  They do really simple food, but they do it very well.  I had a dish there called "The Purist," which was simply pasta, parmesan, and black pepper.  For having so few ingredients that we eat all the time, it was mindblowing.

One night after eating this delightful pasta, I was craving it at home, so I decided to give it a whirl.  I had no idea how they actually prepared it, so I went to improvise.  I was about halfway through the sauce (and thinking about cheesecake for some reason) when I realized that the sauce was way too thin.  I didnt want to put flour in it because I don't like thickening sauces with flour.  Looking through my fridge, I pushed aside the milk and eggs, and sitting there, like the hidden grail, was the answer!  Cream cheese!  I sliced off about an ounce of it and put it in the sauce to add some body, and it turned out just like I hoped.  I also started thawing some chicken, but it wasn't thawed in time, so I didn't use it.  That was a fortuitous turn of events, since I ended up liking the dish way better than I would have if the chicken ended up in it.  I'm pretty sure it was the best pasta I've ever cooked, and I'm glad Gilt Bar inspired me.

Anyway, here is the recipe.

Ingredients
1 box penne pasta
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 oz. cream cheese
kosher salt
pepper
3 cups loosely packed baby spinach
2 tbsp butter
4 cloves of garlic, diced
black truffle oil (optional)

1.  Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add the garlic.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until just starting to brown.
2.  Add in chicken stock and cream and cook until simmering.
3.  Add cream cheese and whisk until it is melted and incorporated.
4.  Let the sauce simmer for 5 minutes until reduced slightly.
5.  Meanwhile, start a large pot of water boiling, salt it, and add the pasta to begin cooking for about 8 minutes or until pasta is al dente.
6.  Put spinach in the bottom of the service bowl.
7.  When the sauce has reduced a little, add in a pinch of parmesan and whisk until combined.  Continue this process until only about 1/4 of a cup of cheese remains.  Reserve the cheese on the side to finish the dish.
8.  Add salt and pepper to the sauce to taste.
9.  When pasta is done, drain it and put it over the spinach and toss to combine.  Pour the sauce over the top and toss again.  Cover with foil to hold the heat in and cook the spinach.
10.  Remove the foil and lightly drizzle with black truffle oil, if using.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mecca

I realized that I will never catch up on the two month absence that I took surrounding finals and the ensuing winding down period, so I'm just going to do one (major) highlight and then move on to present day.

You might be thinking something like, "Brian, you eat a whole bunch of awesome food all the time, what one thing could you have possibly eaten in the last two months that could possibly warrant the only retroactive post?"  Ponder not, for the highlight was the fine dining Mecca of America (I say the world), Alinea.  As if it needed an introduction, Alinea is located at 1723 N. Halsted and its website is alinea-restaurant.com.  Obviously I had us opt for the longer and more opulent of the two menus.  Were we up for the challenge of 26 courses over 5.5 hours?  Only time would tell.

We were seated in the upstairs dining room on the far left.  The very first thing they brought out were centerpieces that looked like flags.  They informed us, cryptically, that they would come into play later.

The first real course after the mystery centerpiece was described as English Pea, Iberico ham, sherry, and honeydew.  It was served in a drinking glass and basically consisted of peas of different textures and temperatures (ranging from deeply frozen (like in liquid nitrogen) to room temperature).  The peas were served whole, in a puree, and frozen so they shattered when you took a bite.  The ham, honeydew, and basil were made into a gelee and served atop the whole dish, and the sherry was spherified, so it popped in your mouth.  I thought this dish was a brilliant opening course.  I really enjoy cold things to start meals, so this was already starting pretty highly.  The saltiness of the ham gel brought out the natural sweetness of the peas and the honeydew added a different type of sweetness.  If I was coming up with the dish, I probably would have stopped there, but the Alinea people threw one extra twist in there with the sherry which added some nuttiness and acid to the dish.  Overall, I loved it and was primed for the remaining 25 courses.  As always, the opening "wine" was a champagne cocktail consisting of Szigeti "Cuvee Prestige" with elderflower, Peychaud's, and some chili pepper.  I thought the sparkling-ness of the cocktail cut through the thickness and sweetness of the pea puree.  The next four dishes used this same cocktail.  I also don't have pictures of them since I remembered that Chef Achatz isn't a particularly huge fan of people taking pictures in the restaurant, so we tried to do it as quickly and discreetly as possible.

The next course was described as Lobster, lychee, gruyere cheese, and vanilla fragrance.  This dish had butter poached lobster that was rolled in gruyere and lychee and impaled on a vanilla bean.  They then dipped the lobster mixture in tempura batter and deep fried it onto the vanilla bean.  When served, you pick up the vanilla bean and eat the fried puff off of the end of the bean.  I thought there must have been some mistake since it was only the second course and already my mind was blown, but apparently that was the order they meant to serve it in.  The sweetness and sea flavor of the lobster was curious (in a good way) with the vanilla.  The cheese added some saltiness and creaminess that I never would have thought of and the lychee added just a hit of acidity to round the whole thing out.  Mike asked the waiter if he could just bring 24 more of these since he was sure that it couldn't be topped.

The next two courses were served at the same time.  The first one I had enjoyed before the last time I was at Alinea.  It was Yuba, shrimp, miso, togarashi.  Basically, they roll up some yuba, which is the skin that renders ontop when you boil soy milk and deep fry it so it ends up looking like a cinnamon stick.  Then they twist a shrimp around it and cook it onto it so it stays on.  They garnish it with seseame seeds and orange and serve it in an inkwell full of miso mayonaisse.  You will probably get tired of hearing this, but it is an amazing dish and I am definitely glad they kept this one on the menu.

The other course was called Chao Tom, sugar cane, shrimp, mint.  Apparently Chao Tom is a Thai dish involving sugar cane and shrimp.  In typical Alinea fashion, they pushed it to the extreme.  Here they took some compressed sugar cane and infused it with a heavily reduced shrimp stock and garnished it with some mint.  I described it as shrimp gum since you cannot swallow the sugar can, you merely chew it until it loses the flavor.  It wasn't the best course of the night, but it was surely interesting.  I never imagined it could be food (maybe because it really isn't), but that is part of the magic of Alinea.

The fifth course was a shot called Distillation of Thai flavors.  I believe it was lemongrass, fish sauce, and tamarind.  They evaporated much of the water out of each of the elements so they were left with a powerfully flavored shot.  They told us that it was to prepare our palates for the following course.  The shot was essentially like drinking pad thai, and I love pad thai.  I was curious what we were preparing ourselves for, but I was excited nonetheless.

Finally on the sixth course, we found out what the centerpieces were for.  They brought out a wooden plank that had two metal stands that they assembled at the table.  The waiter took the flag portion of the centerpiece and draped it over the metal stand.  He then spooned some braised pork belly onto the centerpiece.  Another waiter brought each of us a tray with various accoutrements to assemble our own dish.  Apparently this was Alinea's take on a Thai spring roll and the accompanying tray was full of things that would go with the pork belly such as limes, garlic, radishes, etc.  This was Mike and Michelle's favorite savory course of the evening.  I have to admit that it was a bold move to have people eating with their hands at such an amazing place, but I loved it and it was very fun.  It was served with a 2008 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige.

The seventh course was described as King Crab, rhubarb,  lilac, fennel.  It was probably the most surprising course of the night as it was actually three different preparations.  It moved from a cold preparation to a hot one and it was served in an "apple bowl" whereby it was a layered bowl and each layer contained a different preparation.  I'm just going to copy the description from the Alinea Mosaic forum since it had way too much going on to remember.  As the course progresses, we move from cold to hot and increase richness from top to bottom. Each level contains different combinations of crab and rhubarb. In the top section, we mix the crab meat with minced shallots and make a dressing with sour cream and lime juice. We make a rhubarb pudding by pureeing rhubarb cooked in its own juice, red wine vinegar and sugar. While the dressing is rich, acid from the sour cream and lime juice give it a cleansing quality. Chervil juice, lightly set with gelatin adds a clean herbaceous note. Ginger candy adds sharpness. Additional acidity comes from lemon that we aerate with a siphon canister. We top it with a quenelle of buttermilk-jasmine sorbet to add a light spring-floral note.  In the middle is the crab salad. We introduce the rich element of avocado coated with crushed fried almonds. It is placed in between two pieces of crab meat dressed in lemon-ginger vinaigrette. We garnish with braised mustard seeds dressed in mustard vinaigrette, compressed rhubarb slices, shaved fennel salad, fennel fronds, slices of green fennel top, a square of red pepper, chervil pluches and mung bean sprouts.  The bottom section is the richest, served hot. It is crab, rhubarb and cippolini onion glacage. Inside is glazed fennel, sweet and sour onion, and rhubarb braised in red wine, red wine vinegar and sugar. We make the glacage by slowly cooking fennel, shallot, garlic, and leek in butter and deglaze with vermouth. We add a heavy cream flavored with fennel, star anise and black peppercorns. We reduce the mixture until its thick and add a little whipped cream. We coat the components and brown it lightly under the salamander. Over the top we sprinkle pink peppercorn skin, diced preserved lemon and star anise powder.  As you can plainly see, this dish is out of control.  My favorite was the bottom course, but it all mixed so well together that it is hard to imagine them out of context.  The King Crab was served with my favorite wine of the night, a Josmeyer Pinot Gris "Brand" Grand Cru, Alsace 2005.  It was like drinking cantaloupe and candy.



The eighth course was Octopus, red wine, lavender, fava bean.  This was served in the "palm bowl."  In this service piece, the solid part of the course is assembled on a spoon which fits into a notch on the bowl, and in the bowl is a soup of some sort.  Here, the octopus was marinated in red wine and served with lavender (on the fork), and in the bowl was a fava bean soup.  I did not particularly care for how chewy the octopus was, but the grilled flavor on it was nice and the fava bean soup was tasty.


The ninth course was probably my favorite savory course.  It was called Lamb, reflections of Elysian Fields Farm.  Alinea gets some of the best lamb in the world from Elysian Fields Farm in Pennsylvania and this was their tribute to the farm.  The lamb was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and skewered on a rosemary sprig.  It was joined by fried lamb fat, polenta, a meaty lamb flavored puff of some sort.  In short, it was simple (as far as Alinea goes), but spectacular.  The flavors came together perfectly.  If I was a lamb and was going to be eaten, this is how I would want to be served.  This was served with a 2005 Araujo Estate "Altagracia" Cabernet Sauvignon.  I'm pretty sure this was my favorite red wine of the evening.

The tenth course (yes, we are only a third of the way done) was my favorite "repeat" course as this is always on the menu.  If you go back to my Valentine's Day post, you can see my attempt at this dish.  It is a cold potato and black truffle soup in a wax bowl with a hot fried potato hanging above it on a pin draped with a shaved black truffle.  To eat, you remove the pin and drink the whole thing down like an oyster.  It is difficult to imagine a better single bite on earth.

The next three courses were served at the same time, sort of like an intermission (except you were still eating, so I guess it wasn't really an intermission).  They were 1.  Malt, english toffee, bourbon county stout, blueberry; 2. Bacon, butterscotch, apple, thyme; and 3.  Nutella, bread, banana, chocolate.  Of these, my favorite was the malt course.  It was ice cream, but it had some interesting salty and savory elements to it.  I have had the bacon dish before, which is served hanging on what looks like a bow.  I had pretty high hopes for the nutella course, which looked like a rock dusted in chocolate; however, when you would bring it to your mouth, you would inhale the chocolate and it would make you cough, which was unpleasant (even though the flavor was nice).  These were served with a Vinhos Barbeito/Rare Wine Co. sherry.


The next course was a play on clam chowder entitled Surf Clam, celery, tabasco, oyster, cracker.  The chowder portion was turned into a gel and it was topped with a perfect balance of all the other flavors, served inside of a large clam shell.  It was pretty much the best clam chowder I've ever had (and that is with all due respect to the now-defunct Seafood Shack in Florida).  It was served with a Krug "Grand Cuvee" Brut Champagne.  The toasty flavors of the champagne really went quite nicely with the creaminess of the "soup."

The next two courses were my least favorite of the night.  The first of these two was Green Almond, yuzu, wasabi, rice milk.  This course was a single green almond partially encased in gelled rice milk with dots of yuzu and wasabi on each corner.  I've had many one bite courses at Alinea that blew me away, but this one failed to evoke any particular response.  It wasn't like it was bad, but I expect pretty high things from Alinea.

The next course was definitely my least favorite of the night.  Whereas the above Green Almond course was one bite and just not particularly mind-blowing, I openly disliked this one.  It was called Salad, ranch dressing, soup, powdered.  The waiter told us that the chef gets the vegetables from a lady farmer up in Michigan and she drives them down each night before turning back to her farm.  It is a pretty cool story, but I just didn't like anything about the dish.  It was a variety of raw vegetables (carrot, radish, etc.) dusted with a powdered ranch dressing that you ate with your fingers (sort of like eating a healthy version of Cool Ranch Doritos, only if the Doritos tasted a little like mud).  After you finished eating the salad part, they lifted up the top half of the bowl to reveal a ranch dressing soup.  I'm unclear how this was any different from eating pure ranch dressing, but apparently it was.  Perhaps it's because I don't like salads generally, but this course was not good.  It was served with a Radikon 'Oslavje' Venezia-Giulia 2004.  I can't particularly remember this wine, but I think I liked it on its own, but not with the course itself.


I also wasn't a huge fan of the next course (Sardine, horseradish, arugula flower, tomato), but I can definitely appreciate what was being done with it.  As with most Americans, I have rarely, if ever, consumed a sardine, so the flavor is completely foreign to me (pun completely intended).  As such, Alinea serves a one bite portion of sardine skewered atop an antenna.  While you may not enjoy sardines, it is only one bite, so you do not really have a choice of whether you want to eat it or not.  I don't know if this turned me around on sardines, which are a very very strong flavor, but I'm glad I tried it.

The nineteenth course (yes, nineteen) was one that almost forced me to come here by myself about three weeks prior (Squab, charred strawberries, lettuce, birch log), so I'm glad it stayed on the menu for our meal.  Apparently the development of this dish came during the winter when they wanted to do something with a burnt log.  Along those same lines, they wanted to add a bunch of black elements to blend in with the log.  After having this, I was inspired to try to char my own strawberries, and I can tell you that it was certainly not an easy feat.  Anyway, the squab was perfectly cooked and slightly gamey, but the charred strawberries added a really interesting taste (I mean, who has had charred strawberries before?) that cut through the gaminess.  It was served with a 2004 Domaine Jamet Cote-Rotie fromt he Northern Rhone.

The next course was one that I have had a couple times before, but it never fails to amaze me, the Black Truffle Explosion.  It is a single bite ravioli that is filled with an exploding black truffle ball.  As with my adventure to Tru with my brother and sister, you have to be 100% sure your mouth is fully closed when you bite into this or there will be black truffle juice everywhere (and not in your mouth, where you would want it).  It's one of the more perfect one bite courses of all time with its beautiful black truffle taste.

The final savory course was a "time travel" course meant to be reminiscent of early 1900s Paris.  It was called Tournedo a la persane.  It was a piece of wagyu beef that was cooked sous vide to a perfect medium rare, surrounded by tomatoes, peppers stuffed with rice, and bananas.  It may not have been my favorite savory course (which likely goes to the lamb), but it had some amazing flavors and I would love to eat it everyday.  It was served with a 2005 Anima Negra from Mallorca Spain.

Onto dessert!  The first "dessert" was Lemon Soda, one bite.  It was some lemon powder mixed with something to make it fizzy sealed inside of some rice paper.  Once it hit your tongue and the paper dissolved, you got an interesting fizzy sensation on your tongue with a nice hit of lemon.  It was probably more of a palate cleanser than anything, but it was fun, sort of like eating grown up Pop-Rocks.

The next palate cleanser was Transparency of raspberry and yogurt.  This is like a hardened raspberry fruit roll up (very glass-like) dusted with rose petals and yogurt powder.  You have to be extremely careful with this dish because if you pull on it too hard, raspberry powder will explode everywhere (I know from experience).  Once you get it in your mouth though, it has a sweet raspberry flavor that is heightened by the florality of the roses and then finally restrained by the slight tanginess of the yogurt.

The first of the real desserts was Bubble Gum, long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche.  The waiter brought a long test tube out and would not tell you what was in it (like they did for all the other courses).  Rather, they told you to suck it all down at once and try to discern the flavors from there.  Being a test tube shot expert thanks to my college days, this was no problem.  The first flavor was definitely bubble gum, but after that it was difficult to figure out.  However, what I did figure out was that it was a nearly perfect flavor combination.  They could have brought  me four of those for dessert and I would have been happy.

The next dessert was a play on a cup of tea (Earl Grey, lemon, pine nut, caramelized white chocolate).  I don't particularly remember this dessert (because of what came next), but I remember I did like the caramelized white chocolate with the tea flavor.


Finally, at long last, we are at the end!  For the final course, they took all of our glasses off the table and spread a large grey mat across the table before reassembling our place settings and glasses.  The waiters brought in a dizzying array of bowls, pourers, glasses, and spoons and placed them on one end of the table.  Once they had completed this arrangement, they departed (like the calm before the storm).  Into the room walks the legendary Chef Grant Achatz.  Time stopped (possibly my heart too) as he approached the table to "perform" the final dessert.  His hands moved at blurring speed taking liquids and various gels out of their holders on the table he began spreading pools of sauce all over the mat (no plates for this course).  When he was nearly done, one of the waiters approached with what looked like a smoking loaf of stale bread and put it in the middle of the table.  Chef Achatz smashed it with a hammer and explained to us that it was chocolate mousse frozen in liquid nitrogen.  He then placed some menthol crystals in it and departed.  I was already pretty happy with this whole experience, but this took it to a whole new level.  Once I broke out of my shocked state I began eating the dish (Chocolate, coconut, menthol, hyssop).  There was too much going on for me to fully remember.  Besides the mousse, there were pools of hot mint chocolate gel, menthol sauce, coconut sauce, chewy coconut, piles of chocolate powder, and all other varieties of menthol and coconut in different temperatures and textures.  It was the singular best dessert I've ever eaten even discounting the fact that we were nearly touched by culinary God.  It's not an incredibly difficult flavor combination (chocolate, mint, coconut), but the variety of temperatures and textures is what made this dish as amazing as it was.  Every bite was something totally different, and it was a perfect way to end this amazing dinner.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Meal

One day at work a magical card that gives me free dinners for some reason appeared on my desk.  Of course, I thought this must be a mistake so I set out to use it before someone figured it out and took it back from me.  So we set out for Marche, which I have always wanted to eat at.  Marche is located at 833 West Randolph and its website is http://www.marche-chicago.com/.  Marche serves what seems to be French bistro food.

As soon as we walked up I commented that the place looked almost cavernous (and big restaurants are always trouble).  Needless to say, I was a bit disturbed even before we went in.  I ordered the lobster bisque because lobster bisque has a special place in my heart as the first "nice" thing that I ever ate.  In the 20 or so years that I've been eating lobster bisque, I've never had one as flavorless and generally awful as the one at Marche.  It was thin, watery, unsalted, and had no lobster or lobster flavor at all.  Other than that, it was fine.  Curiously, the manager came over to see what was wrong.  I said that I was content just to move onto my next course, but he insisted (almost as if he knew something was wrong with the bisque) that I get something else.  I ordered the french onion soup, and it was pretty good.  It was the salty version, which I prefer to the sweet onion version.  The bread was slightly crisped which is the proper way to do it.  The cheese was extremely hot since I think they just made it.  Anyway, here is a picture of the lobster bisque.

For my main course, I ordered a skirt steak with bernaise sauce.  Inexplicably, it came coated in some sort of red wine sauce.  Even more improbably, they put the bernaise sauce on the side.  I can only assume they would hope I wouldn't notice the wrong thing being on there.  The sauce they ended up putting on it wasn't even good.  Everything was so bad that we just ended up opting out of dessert. 

Just to pile on further...for some reason the chefs just stood around for nearly the entire dinner.  I'm not sure who was making the food, but it certainly wasn't the guys who were standing near the stove.  Generally the decor looked like something that was designed by a person who just took 11 hits of acid.  The whole time I imagined that Gordon Ramsay would pop out at any second and start yelling things like "you donkey!" or "disgusting!"  Marche has soured me completely on the other restaurants owned by the same group: Red Light, Opera, and Gioco.  

In a possibly related note, I heard Marche is closing, so you will not accidentally end up there. 

Fish Picatta

One weekend we finally made it back to the Fish Guy Market after a several week absense.  It seems that being employed is drastically reducing my fish consumption, which is unfortunate.  Sorry that this was so long ago and I don't remember the recipe.  I'm sure it involved lemon, white wine, capers, and butter and I probably made it the pan after searing the fish.  I served it with angel hair pasta with a little parmesan cheese and butter.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

One Fish, Two Fish

Shortly after the Alinea meal I prepared, we went out to C-House.  C-House is located at 166 East Superior Street (the Affinia Hotel) and its website is http://www.c-houserestaurant.com/.  As  you might be able to tell from the name, C-House focuses on seafood.

To start things off, Michelle had the clam chowder and I had the foie gras apptizer.  I felt like the clam chowder was a little thin, but otherwise the flavor was good.  The foie gras was seared and spectacular.  It was flavored with seasonings that made it taste a bit like pad thai.  Flat out amazing

For the main course, we had the Fish and Chips with homemade ketchup and tartar sauce and Poached Sturgeon with Jonah Crab, Preserved Lemon, Spring Onion, and Fennel.

The fish in the fish and chips was very tasty, but the sauces that went with it were a bit off the mark.  The poached sturgeon was like eating a mouthful of spring, and it was a very nice thing to eat just as the weather was beginning to change for the season.

For a side dish we got the phenomenal truffled mac & cheese.  Like at Smith & Wollensky's, I probably could have made a whole meal out of just this.

We ended with my favorite part about C-House...the Candy Bar.  With the Candy Bar, you order a variety of small desserts for about $2 each and you get to try a whole bunch of different stuff.  Some were better than others, but overall this idea was amazing.  Starting from the bottom left going counterclockwise:  lavender lemons, chocolate truffles, salted fudge brownies, molasses fudge sandwich, and vanilla cupcake.

My favorite was the molassses fudge sandwich, though the whole concept was fun and creative.



Lucky Number 100

Who ever would have thought I would have made it to 100 posts before getting bored or distracted, but here we are. 

A while back, I had Bri and Bill over for dinner.  Apparently Bill had been a shadow reader of this blog for a while, so it was nice to have him over.  As such, I felt I had to impress him.  I had been eyeballing an Alinea recipe for quite some time, so this was the perfect time to give it a whirl.

The recipe called for the fat cap of a kobe ribeye, but I substituted that for a top roast that I got from the spectacular Whole Foods.  I know that is a bit like replacing a Bentley with a 1993 Civic, but the kobe was $50 per pound.  Next time I would use a more tender cut of meat.  Perhaps not a kobe fat cap, but maybe a regular ribeye or something.  Anyway, here is how I did it.

First, I made some lime rocks by whisking together some sugar, egg whites, kosher salt, citric acid, and lime juice.  I made the mixture into disk-like shapes and then put it in the dehydrator for about 12 hours.  I also tried putting it in the oven, but those browned and turned out quite poorly.  Once the mixture is dry, break it up into pieces and reserve.

Next, make a soy sauce pudding by mixing soy sauce with agar agar with an immersion blender and refrigerate.  Once it is gelled, slice it into cubes and put it in a blender and mix on high speed until smooth.  If necessary, add some water or soy sauce to get the mixture to be smooth like pudding.  Refrigerate until you need it.

Cut the steak into long, rectangular strips and seal in a vacuum bag.  Put the bag in 138 degree water for 30 minutes to make a perfect medium rare steak.  Once the steak is done, transfer the bags to ice water baths and let them cool for 15 minutes.  Once the meat is cooled, cut the steak into long, narrow strips.

Cut very long, thin slices of a cucumber on a mandoline.  Reserve.

Cut several dozen small planks out of a honeydew melon.  Reserve.

To assemble, heat a cast iron pan over high heat.  Put the strips of meat into the pan and cook until charred (about 1 minute).  Remove and slice the meat crosswise into small planks.  Make a long line of overlapping honeydew on the middle of each plate.  Cover the honeydew with some beef planks with the charred side facing the diner.  Drape the cucumber slice over the top of the beef.  Put the soy sauce pudding in a squeeze bottle and draw a line down the middle of the cucumber and pool some at one end of the dish.  Stick some lime rocks and pink peppercorns on top of the cucumber.  Enjoy!

Return of the King

After a long, finals induced hiatus, I'm back.  I'm going to do a series of short posts to get caught up unless a particular thing requires a longer post.  Here we go....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Baconfest: The Vendors

We arrived at the Stan Mansion (2408 N. Kedzie) shortly after 11:00 for the artery-cloggingest day of the year, Baconfest!!! (at least until they invent Butterfest).  As soon as we strolled into the front entrance, we were overtaken by the intense aroma of smoked bacon, it was wonderous.  The Head Bacon Man (a title I hope one day to attain) told us that the restaurants were upstairs and the vendors were downstairs, and he recommended starting with the vendors.  We heeded his advice and went to the basement.  What we saw in that basement may have altered my life forever.  In short, it was bacon everything (smoked bacon of all varieties, bacon shirts, bacon candy, bacon cupcakes, bacon lipbalm, bacon dog food, bacon chocolate, etc.).  I imagine that basement is what heaven looks like.

Anyway, we sauntered around the room sampling each vendors wares and deciding what we were going to come back to purchase.  The first actual bacon we had was from Nueske's Meat Products.  Before we ate it, they told us it was applewood smoked.  I bit into my inaugural piece of Baconfest 2010, and we were off.  The bacon was delightfully salty and sweet, with lots of smoky flavor too it.  It was some spectacular bacon, but I thought it was too heavily smoked for me, which is weird because it was applewood (and not hickory) smoked, and applewood is not a terribly assertive smoke.  Either way, I was glad to kick off Bacon Day with some excellent bacon.  Apparently the blood flowed out of my brain in a fit of excitement, so I forgot to take a picture of the good people at Nueske's, but in any event, it was awesome, and its website is http://www.nueskes.com/.  If you like really smokey bacon, this is the place to be.

The next place on our path also doubled as the strangest thing I ate during Baconfest (and possibly in my entire life, which is really saying something).  It was Torani Bacon Syrup.  Today they were sampling Bacon Pepsi and Bacon chocolate milk.  I began with the Pepsi.  I took a big sip to start off and it tasted like Pepsi, only with the distinct smack of bacon.  I probably should have expected that since it was bacon syrup and all, but I'm pretty sure no one could accurately anticipate what Pepsi and bacon would taste like.  No matter how much bacon Pepsi I drank, I could not get my mind around it, so I'm pretty sure I didn't like it.  On the other hand, the Bacon chocolate milk was amazing, like nothing you could imagine unless you have been stirring your chocolate milk with a bacon strip for your whole life.  The creaminess of the milk and chocolate went oddly well with the fattiness and smokiness of the bacon syrup.  I could definitely imagine myself drinking more bacon chocolate milk and also having a heart attack by the time I was 35.  Anyway, if you want to get some bacon syrup (or any other of their many syrups), the website is http://www.torani.com/

Next on our epic journey was my personal favorite regular bacon (as in, not from a restaurant) from Dreymiller and Kray.  Like the Nueske's bacon, Dreymiller's was applewood smoked; however, this bacon did not have the same overly assertive smoked taste that I wasn't particularly fond of with Nueske's.  Rather this one, the applewood smoke taste blended in the background and really let the delicious (and it is delicious) bacon flavor shine through.  For those of you who do like a more asssertive smoke, they also make a hickory smoked bacon (although they didn't have any with them).  I also don't think that this one was quite as salty as Nueske's which was kind of nice.  The guy working the stand was awesome, and he even invited us out on a tour of their bacon making facilities (out near Elgin) because of Michelle's quest to get as much possible free stuff.  Although both bacons that I had from the vendors were great, to my taste, I give the edge to Dreymiller's and Kray (in fact, I bought some of their bacon when I returned).  Dreymiller's website is dreymillerandkray.com (but it is currently under construction) and their phone number is 847.683.2271.  I may be taking him up on h is offer after finals in May since I've always wanted to know how to make bacon (maybe a special treat for Canoe-a-palooza?).

Next on the Bypass Surgery Express was More Bakery, which was serving three types of cupcakes: bacon-maple, bacon-bacon-bacon, and BLT (which did, in fact, have a tomato on top).  I, of course, opted for the bacon-bacon-bacon and Michelle went with the bacon-maple.  The bacon-bacon-bacon was a piece of candied bacon, bacon frosting, and bacon batter.  It sounds, and is, extremely bacony, and hence delicious.  It did have a fair bit of sugar on/in it (as it was a cupcake) which made it a nice break from the saltiness of the other vendors.  Michelle ended up buying something called bacon brittle, which we have yet to eat.  I want to go back and check out more of More Bakery.  More Bakery is located at 1 E. Delaware Place and its website is http://www.morecupcakes.com/


Our next stop brought us to a butcher that I didn't even know existed that is within 5 minutes from our house, Holzkopf Butcher.  They were sampling one of their varieties of barbeque sauce, of which they have several.  It was sweeter than the sauce that I make, but not so sweet as to be like one of the grocery store brands (KC Masterpiece (if it still exists), Sweet Baby Ray', etc.).  I think that this would be very good on ribs, which aren't as sweet as something like pork shoulder.  I definitely want to check this place out (I mean, it's 5 minutes from my house!) so that I don't have to drive all the way down into Lincoln Park every time I want good meat.  I may have a hard time getting over Geppetto's (really named Gepperth's), but I'm hoping Holzkopf can really wow me.  As an added bonus, they sell Dreymiller & Kray bacon.  They are located at 6155 N. Broadway and they apparently do not have a website.
The next stand was for Provenance Food & Wine, which is a small, high-end grocery store.  They were serving something called bacon cheddar and black truffle salami.  The cheddar was very tasty as far as cheddar goes, but it somewhat overwhelmed the bacon flavor, so I didn't really see the point of the bacon being in it.  However, the black truffle salami was absolutely splendid.  For lack of a better way to describe it, it tasted like very good salami except with a strong hint of black truffles.  I absolutely love black truffles, and, in my opinion, you can pretty much improve anything by adding black truffles to it.  This salami was no exception.  This was another one of the products that I purchased.  Provenance has two locations in Chicago, so look them up!  Their website is http://www.provenancefoodandwine.com/
We chugged along to the next stand which was selling Baconnaise.  Baconnaise is exactly what you think something called Baconnaise would be: bacon mixed with mayonnaise.  The guy, who was also wearing a bacon suit, told us that all the proceeds were going to charity; however, in a strange twist, he was giving away jars of the Baconnaise.  Unless he really dislikes charity, I couldn't understand the free products.  On the other hand, I didn't really care, I got more free stuff!  I tried some of the Baconnaise on some pretzels.  It would be difficult to mess up a combination of bacon and mayonnaise, and the good people at Baconnaise surely did not mess it up.  I can't wait to put out a big bowl of Baconnaise at my next party.  Their website is http://www.baconnaise.com/
The following stand was serving chocolate dipped bacon.  They had both milk chocolate and dark chocolate, so I, of course, tried both of them.  I felt that the bacon dominated the milk chocolate, so beyond a bit of added sweetness, it didn't do much for me.  The dark chocolate, contrarily, asserted itself from the beginning, and right when I was going to complain that the chocolate was too strong for the bacon, the bacon made a stunning comeback and exploded with flavor.  They were selling some bacon I was pleasantly surprised by the tastiness of the dark chocolate bacon.  This may have been Bleeding Heart Bakery, but I'm not totally sure.
After the anonymous vendor, we went to something called Bacon Hot Sauce.  Hot sauce has a special place in my heart since me and Urgo mapped out Horse Skull Fire based on a sleep-deprived vision I had while on an airplane.  Unfortunately, we were both pretty busy, so Horse Skull Fire has yet to get off the ground, look for it at specialty retailers near you in the future (around 2020).  Now that I'm done with that tangent, I can get back to an actual hot sauce.  Bacon Hot Sauce keeps the name simple and leaves no doubt about what you are going to eat.  Bacon.  Hot Sauce.  That is all.  Unlike some of the other products here, the bacon played a secondary role in Bacon Hot Sauce, which was nice if you like the taste of hot sauce.  Also, the hot sauce wasn't trying to prove anything and it had just the right amount of heat before I would have written it off as too spicy.  Again, Michelle dropped the blog-hammer and we ended up with a free bottle of Bacon Hot Sauce.  Like the Baconnaise, this will be served at my next party.  Get your own fire-breathing pig bottle at http://www.baconhotsauce.com/.
The last stop on our list was Jake's Country Meats which is located in a town called Cassopolis, Michigan (somewhere near New Buffalo).  Bonus points for Jake's for resisting the Michigan-urge to make their hand into a mitten and point out the location of their city on their hand.  I would have probably walked away if they did that.  Anyway, they were serving three types of meat sticks: honey ham, jalepeno, and barbeque.  My favorite of the three was the honey ham.  It wasn't quite bacon, but it was salty and sweet and delicious.  The jalepeno wasn't quite as spicy as I would have liked out of a jalepeno stick, and I barely remember eating the barbeque one, so it must not have been  my favorite.  They also get bonus points for letting me pose with a pig statute.  If I lived closer to Jake's, I would be there all the time, but I could definitely see myself ordering some of their other meats to give it a shot.  I'm always on the lookout for a new smoked meat vendor.  Their website is http://www.jakescountrymeats.com/.
Lastly, we stopped at a stand that wasn't selling any bacon (weird); however, they were advertising for something called "Camp Bacon" which might be the best combination of words of all times.  Once I came down off my high of hearing about "Camp Bacon," I realized that I would be unable to attend this year.  However, if you want to have, what I can only imagine would be, the experience of a lifetime, look up Camp Bacon on June 19 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The website is http://www.campbacon.com/, but it is apparently not working just yet.

All that was before we even went upstairs to any of the twelve restaurants which were all serving bacon related dishes.  This was going to be a marathon.

Tastes Just Like Chicken

As mentioned before, I went to the Fish Guy Market to pick up some fish and ended up with a pork chop for lunch (which was delicious), but I also ended up buying some softshell crabs and some sturgeon.  The sturgeon looked very dense and meaty (like a steak), so I was intrigued by it.  The fishmonger told me that it was, in fact, like steak, so I could grill it with high heat, roast it, or do anything that I would normally do with steak.

After looking at it for a while, I chose to do a barbequed sturgeon.  I also wanted something that would mimic a normal summer side dish, and my mind immediately turned to mashed potatoes.  However, I have made mashed potatoes dozens of times, so I wanted to do something different.  I took off to Jewel to figure out what I was going to make.  When I got there, I came across some parsnips and remembered the last time that I was at Tru for dinner they served a barbequed salmon with a fried parsnip log.  I figured I could make a garlicky  parsnip puree (courtesy of Tyler Florence, just changed a bit) that would be an interesting substitute for mashed potatoes.  I knew that I was going to do the crabs very simply (floured and fried in oil with some lemon), so that was well settled.

I made my own barbeque sauce as I always do (using Sprecher root beer as the base) and adding some fennel seeds instead of juniper berries as the seasons are changing and I wanted to get a little away from the winter sauce that I make.  I then briefly grilled the sturgeon to brown it on the outside, put it in a pan and basted it with the sauce, and cooked it in a very hot oven (450 degrees) for 8 minutes to finish and bake the sauce on .  To my surprise, the sturgeon was nearly the exact same texture as chicken, so it was particularly suited for barbeque sauce.  Also surprisingly, the parsnip puree tasted like coconuts which paired nicely with the vinegar-y sauce.  The crabs were beautifully crisped and sweet.

Sturgeon (serves 2)
2 sturgeon filets
kosher salt
pepper
barbeque sauce

1.  Preheat oven to 450 and a grill to high heat.
2.  Put the sturgeon filets on the grill 2 minutes per side turning 45 degrees after 1 minute to make grill marks on each side.
3.  Put the sturgeon in a frying pan and generously baste with barbeque sauce.
4.  Put the pan in the oven for 8 minutes to finish cooking and to bake on the sauce.
5.  Remove from oven and baste again with more sauce.  If you want, use a blowtorch to singe some of the sauce to give some interesting variation in taste and texture.

Parsnip Puree
1 lb of parsnips, peeled and large diced
1 cup cream
1 sprig of thyme
4 tbsp butter
1 head of garlic, sliced horizontally
kosher salt

1.  Put parsnips in a sauce pan and put in just enough water to cover.
2.  Bring the water to a brisk simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes until parsnips are extremely tender.  Remove parsnips from the water, but reserve water on the side.
3.  While the parsnips are simmering, put the cream in another sauce pan and put the garlic (cut side down) and thyme in it.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
4.  When the cream is done, put the parsnips in a food processor with the butter and a couple tablespoons of the water they cooked in.  Puree on high until it gets smooth.
5.  Once smooth, with the food processor running, pour in some of the cream in a thin, steady stream until puree is the consistency you want it (should be like slightly thinner mashed potatoes, but not liquidy).
6.  Add kosher salt to taste.

Sofshell Crabs
3 softshell crabs
kosher salt
pepper
flour
lemon
canola oil

1.  Lightly sprinkle both sides of each crab with salt and pepper.
2.  Film the bottom of a saute pan with canola oil and heat over medium-high heat for a few minutes until hot.
3.  Dredge each crab in flour and shake to get off the excess flour.
4.  Put each crab top-side down into the hot oil and cook for 3 minutes.  Flip the crabs and fry the other side for 3 more minutes
5.  Serve with lemon wedges.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Return of the Fish Guy

I hadn't cooked fish in a while since I got a job and all (which makes it difficult to get to my fish guy by 6), so I decided that I would do it on Friday.  I headed over to the Fish Guy Market (http://www.fishguy.com/) to pick up something.  While I was looking, I was drawn to the sturgeon.  I talked to the fishmonger, and he said that sturgeon is very much like chicken, so I should roast it at high heat.  I also wanted to eat soft shell crabs, so I got three of those.  While I was checking out, I got distracted looking at a kurobuta pork chop, and decided that I wanted it for lunch.

They told me just to cook it simply to let the pork flavor really come out.  I decided on a white wine-cream sauce.

Ingredients

1 kurobuta pork chop
kosher salt
pepper
1/2 cup white wine
juice from 1/2 lemon
pinch of thyme leaves
1/4 cup heavy cream

1.  Preheat oven to 450
2.  Put some oil in a frying pan and heat it over high heat until it is smoking.
3.  Using some tongs, hold the fat side down into the oil to render some fat for about 30 seconds.
4.  Put the pork fully into the pan for 4 minutes per side to brown.  Dump the oil out of the pan.
5.  Put the pan in the oven for 8 minutes until chop is done.
6.  Take the chop out and wrap it tightly in foil while you make the sauce, but do not discard the fat.
7.  Put the pan over medium heat and quickly pour in the wine to deglaze, scraping the bottom to get up all the pork bits stuck to the pan.
8.  Squeeze in the lemon juice and add the thyme leaves.  Let it reduce for about 3 minutes, then pour in the cream and whisk to incorporate.
9.   Put the pork chop on a plate and pour the sauce over it.

A Blast from the Past

Maybe its my abject horror caused by dealing with some interesting dinners while I was growing up, but I have never wanted to eat skirt steak at all.  However, I was aimlessly wandering around Jewel trying to figure out what I wanted to make for dinner when I stumbled upon some skirt steak.  I decided that I would give it a shot to try to right the Good Ship, Skirt Steak.

It turnded out amazingly, made me rethink my whole idea of skirt steak.  I think this might get added to the rotation of weekday food since it was so easy and delicious.

Ingredients
2 one pound skirt steaks, excess fat trimmed
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, smashed
juice from 3 limes
1/2 tspn red pepper flakes
1/2 tspn cumin seeds, crushed
2 green onions, leaves cut off, cut in half
4 tbsp brown sugar

1.  Combine all ingredients except for steak in a blender.  Blend on high until mixture is smooth.
2.  Put the steak in a large zip lock bag.  Pour contents of blender into the bag.  Toss the steak around in the bag so that each of them is completely coated.
3.  Let the steaks sit in the bag in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
4.  About 5 minutes before you are ready to begin cooking, take the bag out of the refrigerator.
5.  Preheat the grill to high.  When it is ready, put the steaks (still coated in marinade) on the grill, 2.5 minutes per side.
6.  When it is done, you can finish with a blowtorch briefly to give it some more color and char the tips.  Wrap the steaks in a double thick layer of foil and let it sit for 10 minutes.
7.  Remove the steak from the foil (but don't throw out the juice).  Slice the steak crosswise and pour the juice from the foil over the steak.
8.  I served it with some mushroom Rice-a-Roni.  It was pretty good, but I could have made a mushroom rice better myself.  I also made some caramelized onions (thinly slice an onion and cook in oil over medium-low heat for 20 minutes until caramelized), which went very nicely.

A New Twist on Pork

I've made Pork Tenderloin with a Cranberry-Balsamic sauce many times over the last year.  I felt that with the turn of the weather, I wanted something lighter and Spring-y.  My mind immediately turned to oranges.  I wanted to make an orange sauce of some sort, when i stumbled across an orange-rosemary glaze that sounded like I could tweak it a bit for what I wanted.

I think it turned out pretty well for a first try.  Next time, I would try to get a bit more orange flavor in there (possibly reduce the orange sauce separately) to really make it perfect, but this has a bunch of promise.

Ingredients
1 pork tenderloin
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 tspn rosemary leaves
kosher salt
pepper

1.  Lightly salt and pepper the pork tenderloin.  Preheat oven to 450.

2.  In a small saucepan, combine the orange juice, corn syrup, and rosemary.

3.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and then reduce the heat to medium-low.  Simmer for another 10 minutes until smooth.

4.  Heat some oil in a large saute pan over high heat and brown the tenderloin on all sides for 1 minute on each side.

5.  Brush some of the orange sauce all over the tenderloin and put it in the oven for 15 minutes.  Reglaze every 5 minutes while it is in the oven.

6.  Remove from the oven and wrap it tightly in foil for 5 minutes before slicing.

7.  I served it with green beans.  When I cooked them, I used a little bit of the orange sauce to glaze them with.

Yet Some More From Early Easter Day

I'm apparently doing a backwards chronology of Easter weekend, Memento-style.  While I was out shopping for stuff for Early Easter Dinner, I stopped at Brand BBQ Market for lunch.  Brand BBQ Market is located at 2824 West Armitage and its website is http://www.brandbbqmarket.com/.  Some of you with especially good memories may remember my ill-fated attempt to eat there before.  For reasons that still elude me, they are not open for lunch on weekends, but they are open for lunch during the week.  To me, Bucktown doesn't seem like an especially business-vibrant community whereby people would be eating lunch all the time during the week, but who knows.  In any event, I had off work on that Friday, so I decided to check it out.

Fortunately, it was open this time, and I got a sweet parking spot right in front.  Plus, that day was the first 70+ day of the year, so the city was teeming with life.  I'm going to break this down into categories broadly described as "The Good," "The Indifferent," and "The Bad."

The Good:  drinking out of mason jars, pulled duck, the delicious buttery bread, wood paneling, chalkboard menus, the awesome waiter (and possibly owner), and iced tea.

The Indifferent:  All seven types of bbq sauce

The Bad:  The fries

To elaborate a further, the sandwich itself was really good (but to be honest, if you screwed up something called pulled duck, you probably have a bigger problem).  I also appreciate the broad swath of sauces that they tried to cover (from what I remember there was classic, smoky, signature, bourbon cherry, peach, some type of mustard, and one other one), but none of the sauces were particularly noteworthy.  The fries were awful.  They were soggy, green, and tasted like bug spray.  Gross.

Brand has a few more upscale options than Smoque, but for the same price, Smoque is much better. 

Early Easter Dinner

Before I got into any of the many issues at August Grocery, I should have mentioned my early Easter Dinner Day.  As is tradition of the last three years, I make a rack of lamb with a rosemary plum sauce each easter.  This year, I was going to my uncles house to eat ham on actual Easter, so I had to adjust my plans to keep the tradition alive.

This time, we were going to head out to Cuvee Cellars after, so I invited Vu out to come and eat with us.  As per usual, the lamb was amazing.  I think I finally got the fat crisping part down because that was better than usual.  Vu ended up eating the plum sauce like it was ice cream after he finished his lamb.

Here is the recipe and a picture.

Ingredients
1 rack of lamb, frenched
2 plums, pitted and cut into halves
2 plums, peeled and diced
1/2 cup of red wine plus 3 tbsp of red wine
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp butter
2 sprigs rosemary
1/2 cup veal stock (you could also use chicken)
kosher salt
pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 350.
2.  Put the plum halves in an oven poof pan with the sugar, three tbsp of red wine, two tbsp butter, and one sprig of rosemary.  Cover the pan with foil and put it in the oven for 30 minutes.  When plums are done take them out one at a time, remove the skin (it should come off easily) cut each half in half (so you have quarters) and put them back in the pan and toss with the sauce.
3.  While plums are roasting, put 1/2 a cup of red wine, the veal stock, and 1 diced plum into a pan.  Simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes.
4.  Put plum halves, and the red wine-plum mixture into a blender, and blend on high until smooth.  I like to thicken it with a bit of Ultra-Tex 3, but as that is not a very common kitchen thing, you could probably add a little flour if you want it thickened, or even make a little roux in a pan and pour the plum sauce into the roux.
5.  Heat a frying pan over medium heat and put the last tbsp of butter in it.  Put the last diced plum, the leaves from the last sprig of rosemary, and a pinch of salt and pepper into the pan.  Stir frequently for 3 minutes until plums are cooked through.
6.  Increase heat in oven to 450.  Lightly sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper.
7.  In a large saute pan, heat some olive oil over high heat until it begins to smoke.  Put lam, fat side down into the oil.  Brown for 2-3 minutes and then flip to brown the other side.  Transfer the lamb to a baking sheet, fat side up.
8.  Put the lamb in the oven for 15-18 minutes until it is medium rare.  Take out and wrap tightly with foil for 5 minutes before slicing.

Home Alone

Last Saturday, I skillfully avoided going to something called "Saddle Up."  Saddle Up, at least the impression I had, involved a variety of hillbillies, hilljacks, other such hill people, every jackass in a frat from miles around who finally found an excuse to wear both flanel and a cowboy hat without being mercilessly ridiculed, and a mechanical bull.  Needless to say, I was not going to go to Saddle Up.

Instead, I bought myself a New York Strip Steak from August Grocery Store (1500 W. Diversey, http://www.augustgrocerystore.com/).  I was kind of excited about August Grocery since I read that they are friendly people who teach cooking classes.  I could assuredly have gone to a closer meat shop, but I wanted to get the feel for August Grocery since I was interested in taking a cooking class there.

When I walked in, I saw the fresh produce on the table immediately in front of me, some pre-prepared food on the shelves on both the right and left, and a small meat counter directly ahead of me (the fish counter was a little farther back).  However, I didn't notice any customers, so I figured I would have a good chance to talk to the workers to see how this place works (and pick up some steaks).  I approached the meat counter to examine the wares.  I think I came in too close to closing time to get a good impression of their full product offering, but what they did have looked very fresh with good marbling.  I decided what I wanted and looked up at the workers to signal that I was ready to make my choice.  Strangely, they did not respond.  I stood there, semi-baffled, that I had apparently worn my invisibility cloak that day without realizing it.  What?  You say invisibility cloaks don't exist?  That's right, these people must have just been unhelpful (since they clearly had no other customers).  I stood there slack-jawed (maybe I did belong at Saddle Up) at their apparent lack of attention.  Eventually after 7-8 minutes of me staring intensely at them, someone approached and got me my steak.  As you could probably guess, I didn't bother asking them about cooking classes or anything else since I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to ever come back.  I walked my steak over to the cashier and she rung me up for a total of $63.  I questioned this absurd price, and she simply repeated that it was $63.  I think she sensed from the dumbfounded look on my face that something was amiss (and the fact that I only bought a little steak).  Eventually she corrected the price to what it should have been.  August Grocery, I will not be returing to you.  I'm also not going to tell you about the typo on your website, so take that!

I returned home with my steak, and since I was going to be home alone, I could make anything that I wanted.  The possibilities were boundless.  Since I never get to eat bernaise sauce normally, I decided that I was going to make that.  I haven't made bernaise sauce since Christmas 2008, so I was excited t do it again.  Bernaise is one of the most satisfying sauces to make since it requires just the right touch (even over a double boiler) to make it perfect.  If you do it too long, the eggs scramble and its ruined, if you do it for too short, its too liquidy and not good.

I made it as well as I ever had, so I was very pleased with myself.  I should have used juice from actual lemons though, instead of ReaLemon, but it was late and I was tired so I didn't want to go to Jewel to get a lemon.  The consistency was perfect, but it was fake sour, so it wasn't quite where it should have been.  Anyway, here's how I did it.

Ingredients
1 tspn fresh tarragon leaves
1 tspn white wine vinegar
1 shallot, finely diced
black pepper
3 egg yolks
1.5 egg shells full of water
4 tbsp butter, melted
lemon juice
kosher salt

1.  Bring the water of a double boiler to a boil and put the top pot on it.  You can use a saucepan with sloped sides if you want, but you really need to be careful about scrambling the eggs if you do it without a double boiler.

2.  Put the shallots, tarragon leaves, vinegar, and  a few grinds of black pepper in the pot.  Gently stir around until the vinegar has mostly evaporated.

3.  Put in the eggs and the water (for each egg you use, you should take half of the egg shell, fill it with water, and pour it in).  Whisk constantly until it thickens up to the consistency of mayonnaise about 4-5 minutes)

4.  Remove from heat and whisk in the butter.  Season to taste with lemon juice and kosher salt.  You should serve this sauce relatively quickly so that it does not "break." 

5.  Cook the steak however you prefer and spoon some of the sauce on top.  I'm a pretty big fan of bernaise sauce, so I heap it on heavily, but you can do whatever you want.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Day Three

On the final day of my self-proclaimed Dining Out Week, we visited Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel.  Avenues is located at 108 East Superior and its website is http://www.peninsula.com/Chicago/en/Dining/default.aspx#/Chicago/en/Dining/Avenues/

I always suspected something was wrong with Avenues, even though I had no real basis for that suspicion.  Maybe it was because Graham Elliot Bowles was the chef there (and I do have a problem with that) or maybe its because it was in a hotel.  Whatever the reason, whenever we were deciding what restaurants we want to eat at, Avenues very seldom makes an appearance in that conversation.  I even had a vision of getting in an argument with the head waiter tonight about how bad everything was.  However, it was Dining Out Week, and I have eaten at every other multi-course style restaurant in Chicago, so this was the final frontier and I had to go.

We walked in and got semi-lost walking around the Peninsula (so if you are keeping track, that's 3 for 3 on getting lost during Dining Out Week).  Eventually one of the hotel people pointed us in the right direction and we arrived a few minutes before our reservation.

From the outside of the restaurant, Avenues looked kind of interesting.  There was a long granite bar on the left that overlooked the kitchen, so you could watch the chefs in action if you had one of those seats.  Along the far wall directly in front of us was a windowed wall facing out at the Water Tower.  The room probably had about 18 tables total, so it was relatively small.

We sat down and were nearly instantly ambushed by our waitress Amy (who was very good) with the champagne cart.  She explained the three choices of champagne, and we ended up picking a Schramsburg Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine (which I've always wanted to try).  I was not particularly a fan of the champagne cart coming at me as I did feel like they were pressuring us into buying it.  I would have gotten champagne either way, but I wasn't a fan of having it forced on me (sort of like health insu...ok again, I'll just stop there).  The champagne was very good and had a strong taste of green apples.  It went very nicely with our first three courses.  Next, the sommelier, Aaron, came over and discussed the wine list with us.  I was kind of disappointed that they did not have a wine pairing to go with the meal, but he recommended a Gaja Chardonnay and a Chateau Beaucastel Chateaunauf-du-Pape in half bottle format.  This actually ended up being less than I expected to spend on wine, which is always a nice surprise.

So after getting all the wine choices settled, our first course came out.  It was, as is common in many of these restaurants, a caviar course.  This one; however, was a bit deconstructed and had all of the traditional elements, but in a one bite format served on a spoon.  It had caviar, lemon, oyster, and crumbled brioche to mimic the usual toast points.  This was one of the better caviar courses I have ever had, perhaps just behind the French Laundry's Oysters and Pearls.  The caviar was nice and salty, and the toast and oyster was just a bit sweet.  The Schramsburg wine was a nice complement with its sweet green apple taste.  A very auspicious start that almost immediately broke down my skepticism of Avenues.
After the caviar course, we moved on to the real start of the dinner - what the menu described as King Crag, cucumber, golden wild char roe, and something called kalamansi.  This was interesting because it a two-level course.  It was served in a cup.  On the bottom was a cold cucumber juice with some chilled king crab.  On the rim was a sugar tuile (like a piece of glass made from sugar) that had some piles of roe, orange, and some sort of white sauce (maybe that was the kalamansi).  The waiter, Colin, who looked like he purchased my friend Mike Warren's body on Ebay then jumped in a time machine and went forward ten years, explained that we should break the tuile with the spoon, let the sugar and flavors mix with the cucumber, and then eat it all with the spoon.  All I could think about was how much like Spring this dish tasted since it was so light and colorful.  It was like eating a salad only if salad was good.  The cucumber absolutely popped with vibrance and flavor, and the sugar enhanced the sweetness of the crab.  Finally, the roe added a bit of saltiness to the mix and the few mint leaves added an interesting element of complexity.  As much as I liked the caviar course, this was even better.  Here is a picture from the top and from the side of the cup, so you can see how it was arranged. 
The next course was the Faroe Island Salmon Belly with apple milk that Colin poured over it (they really like pouring stuff onto plates) and whipped chloropyll.  It also had what I think was snail roe on it.  When I asked about that element, they described it as earthy almost "like playing in a playground."  I guess that makes sense, so I let it go.   This course was positively delicious.  The fish was so delightfully fatty and just a touch chilled (after being lightly poached).  The apple milk was very interesting if for nothing else than it was apple milk.  The champagne with its apple-y goodness was nearly perfect for this dish.  The whipped chlorophyll had a strong fennel taste, so I wasn't a huge fan of that, but if you like fennel, then you will probably like it a bit better.
After having three solid courses, I was waiting for the meal to take a turn for the worse (otherwise I would have eaten here already, right?).  I was positive I was not going to like something soon.  The next course was described as Japanese Pumpkin, duck confit, finger limes, and miner's lettuce.  I'm pretty sure they changed this course after they printed the menu because it ended up being some sort of squash soup that they poured over the duck confit with a strip of dark chocolate.  Every single element on its own was absolutely ambrosial (word of the day!), but together they were; somehow, even better.  The duck was incredibly flavorful and the soup must have been made with some sort of meat stock that accentuated the duck perfectly.  The chocolate added a nice hint of bitter and sweetness to the mix.  This was the best course thus far, and I figured that if they hadn't let me down by now, they probably were not going to at all.  This was also where they broke out the Gaja Chardonnay.  It was big and oaky, and as the sommelier described, "a white wine that wishes it was a red."  He was right.  It amply stood up to all of the strong flavors contained in this duck dish.  I think we could have probably gotten away with a nice pinot noir here too, but I'm glad that we went the white wine route since this was such a Spring-y menu.
The next course can only be described as Alice in Wonderland on a plate.  It was beets with strawberries, black garlic, and red sorrel.  On this plate, there were 4 different types of beets: red, golden, candy stripe, and one other that I don't remember.  There were random smudges of fermented black garlic puree all over the plate and different preparations of beets strewn throughout.  On the front right, there was a golden beet ice cream atop the candy stripe beets.  There was a roasted golden beet and a roasted red beet on the plate along with some fresh strawberries, dried strawberries, some fruit jellies, and some extruded beets.  There was an unbelievable amount going on with this course.  I don't often eat beets, but I greatly enjoyed this course and all of its craziness.  I feel like if I liked beets more, this would have been even more tremendous.
The next course on the menu was the one I was most worried about since I've never had a gnocchi that I have enjoyed.  Every version I have had has been a soggy mess that felt like eating a sponge, so I have given up totally on the whole idea of gnocchi.  There were 5 seared gnocchi in a bowl with some herbs that they poured proscuitto broth over.  While the gnocchi was seared and had a decent crust on it, I thought it still tasted a bit spongy even though the proscuitto broth was excellent tasting.  This is also where we switched to red wine.

Following the first course that I really didn't care for came in unquestionably the best course of the night, the Ohmi Gyu (a waygu beef from Japan) with black truffles, pistachios, roasted potatoes, and white truffle.  The meat was cooked sous vide to a perfect medium-rare and then seared to give it a crunchy crust.  The white truffle was cooked into a creme caramel and the black truffle was shaved and placed around the plate.  The combination of the meat and the white truffle creme caramel was one of the best things that I have ever eaten (and I've eaten many many great things).  The red wine was not overly assertive, so this dish could have probably used something a bit stronger like a cabernet, but it was smooth and juicy and played nicely off of the extremely savory elements on the plate.  I could have eaten just this and gone home, and I would have been happy.  I would go back to Avenues just to eat this.  They also served us a waffle instead of bread, which was interesting.


They brought us out a palate cleanser to transition to dessert, and it was gross.  It was like eating carrot baby food (even served in a jar).  I'm just going to move on from here since it was pretty bad and everything else was so good.
With that excellent course behind us, we moved into the two dessert courses.  The first was Rasberry, thai black pepper, marscarpone, and African blue basil.  The raspberry was a puree that was frozen into a log with some frozen framboise.  Again, this dish exploded with Spring flavor, and I always like the idea of basil with berries.  I probably should have ordered a dessert wine for dessert, but at this point I had already formulated a wild plan about drinking wine at Charlie Trotter's after Avenues (luckily that didn't come about).

Finally, we ended with a dark chocolate mousse with saffron, honey, and bergamot tea.  The chocolate was extremely dense and rich.  I love chocolate and it was too rich for me to eat.  The saffron and honey added some interesting floral notes to it, and the tea seemed to be imperceptible.  Overall, I think I liked the raspberry dessert better, but this was excellent too.  We finished off, as usual with some chocolate truffles of different varieties.

Overall, Avenues was amazing.  I'm kind of disappointed with myself that I didn't go as soon as Chef Bowles went to his new and not good restaurant.  The chef even came over to talk to us at the end of the meal, and he couldn't have been nicer.  The service was awesome and we even ended up talking to Time Machine Mike Warren and Amy about Das Boot.  I'd highly recommend it to anyone who wants a great meal.