Friday, January 30, 2009
I thought I didn't care about this. But now that a Chicagoan is in the First Kitchen, I'm plenty happy to root for the hometeam one more time. Between the Cubs and Blago, we need to bask in all the sunshine we can get.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Just for a few months of one’s life, is it so awful to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal? Or to learn how to speak a language for no higher purpose than it pleases your ear to hear it? Or to nap in a garden, in a patch of sunlight, in the middle of the day, right next to your favorite fountain? And then to do it again the next
I'm pretty sure you know where I stand on that.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The recipe I'm lusting to try as soon as my sinuses give me back my tastebuds: Caramel Croissant Pudding. As in a croissant bread pudding. With caramel. All warm, and gloppy, and sweetly delicious.
Did I mention I adore her?
That was my first encounter with chai tea, which I loved immediately and have been happy to see eventually fill the menus of every barista joint in the nation, even if the mix they use isn't quite the same. The ashram's recipe is from India, and it's far superior. The warming qualities of the ginger, cardamon, and cinnamon are perfect for the middle of winter. It makes three quarts to serve a crowd, or just to last a little while in the fridge:
Maharaji's Taos Ashram Chai
2 quarts water
3 oz fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp cardamon, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 black peppercorns
1/4-1/3 cup loose black tea (depending on strength, Assam is ideal)
1/4-1/2 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
1 quart milk or soy milk
Boil the water with the ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, and peppercorns for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the loose tea leaves. Let steep for five to seven minutes. Add the sugar and milk. Bring to just barely to a boil, and then strain out the spices before enjoying.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
To which I replied: ugh. Discount department stores are so much bloody work. Urban life is stressful enough. I need to conserve my shopping resources for things like shoes. And handbags.
Saturday, though, I popped up to their store on Belmont after woefully striking out downstairs in the DSW (no riding boots for me). It was in true form: squeeky escalator, screaming kids, shelves crammed with crap. But then there it was, next to a collection of Le Creuset, a $16 Wolfgang Puck Bistro Elite 2-quart saucepan. Score. I've used it twice and ran it through the dishwasher. So far, it's a thing of bargain beauty.
Funny thing. When I thought about my ultimate mid-thirties birthday cake fantasy, just one word kept calling: TIRAMISU. Trifle style. Flavored with orange. Ok, that's seven words, and it isn't even a cake. But inspiration takes artistic license sometimes. You don't argue with the food gods.
So here it is. My multi-layered birthday opus that requires no actual baking, and you make it a day ahead. It drew a few gasps on the first bite. And not all of them were even from me.
Tiramisu Trifle with Orange
1 1/2 cups coffee - divided
6 egg yolks at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Cointreau (you can use brandy or another liqueur) - divided
17 oz. mascarpone cheese
semisweet chocolate square or chocolate leaves
Whisk the yolks and sugar with an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, on high for five minutes until they get thick and yellow. Lower to medium speed, and add a 1/4 cup of the Cointreau, 1/4 cup of coffee, and all the mascarpone. Mix until the texture is smooth and heavenly.
Combine the rest of the Cointreau and the 1 1/4 cup coffee in a shallow bowl. Dip 1 side of each ladyfinger in the liquid and line the bottom of a tall glass bowl with them. Pour a layer of the cream mix on top and spread evenly. Repeat, alternating cookies with the cream mixture until you have 4-6 layers, depending on the diameter of your bowl.
Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 8 hours. Before serving, decorate with chocolate leaves or sprinkle with shaved chocolate (heavily) and confectioner's sugar (lightly) on top.
Birthday candles optional. Champagne or sparkling Moscato is pretty much mandatory though.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Their vegan Everything but Meat pizza is so fantastic, my husband brought home two of them yesterday and I spent time trying to figure out its magic. Here's what I think is on it:
- Caramelized onion - this makes up the richness of the flavor base, since there's no pasta sauce, cheese or meat on it. The onions are thick and gooey, smeared on the light crust.
- Roasted garlic - mixed into the onion base.
- Olive tapenade with basil - this is the most mysterious mix. It's heavy on the basil and light on the olives, and it's finely chopped and dotted all around the pizza.
- Cremini mushrooms - these are sliced really thin so that the edges get a little crispy under the heat of the oven.
- Roasted plum tomatoes - not sure where they're getting these, or if they make them ahead, but WOW are they packed with flavor and delicious.
- Basil leaves
So now I can start experimenting in the kitchen.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
"One of the best bars in the world"
"Chicago's cocktail mecca"
This is the crazy press that the Violet Hour in my neighborhood has been getting for well over a year. Toby Maloney is the mastermind behind this swank little speakeasy-inspired lounge that took over the space left behind by my beloved Del Toro tapas restaurant. With French Directory style interiors and a literary name, how could I not love it? Clearly, c'est pour moi.
Problem is, even after all this time, there was still a line when we tried to get in last Saturday. At 9:30 p.m. (practically noon in bar-time). In the 10 degree cold. Sigh.
The next best thing is watching Tobes (I'm sure he'll let me call him this one day) on YouTube. He's done a series of how-to videos that are so homespun it's cute.
I'm grateful for all of my mammalian food-sharing activity, but where can it be more sorely needed than at work? We spend the most central 40+ hours of our week there, many of them stressful and annoying. Being able to relax long enough to eat a sandwich with a friend is one of life's great joys, but the true lunch buddy can be a tough find when most people just snarf something at their desk while emailing or, um, blogging. (Crunch. Crunch.)
Some people have a romantic soul mate, I have a lunch soul mate named Jill. We worked on the same team at my museum for three years. I'd go to her (much bigger) office, and she'd pull out of her mini-fridge whatever her delightful husband Henry had made for us that morning. Pizza with caramelized onions and goat cheese? Yes please. Salmon chowder? Yum. Sauteed garlic shrimp pasta? Ooooo. Neither of us eat red meat or poultry, so it was a perfect match, and the conversation was equally as excellent.
Sadly, Jill left the museum two years ago. I moved into her old office, and we still email each other about food, books, and Fonzie jokes. Usually at lunchtime. Below is a recipe that Henry would have made for us:
Coconut Shrimp with a Tamarind Ginger Sauce
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate*
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons mild honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups sweetened flaked coconut (10 oz)
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup beer (not dark)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 large egg
6 cups vegetable oil
48 medium shrimp (1 1/2 lb), peeled, leaving tail and first segment of shell intact, and, if desired, deveined
Special equipment: a deep-fat thermometer
Make sauce: Whisk tamarind concentrate into lime juice in a small bowl until dissolved. Stir in remaining sauce ingredients and chill, covered.
Prepare shrimp: Coarsely chop coconut and transfer half to a shallow soup bowl or pie plate. Whisk together flour, beer, baking soda, salt, cayenne, and egg in a small bowl until smooth. Heat oil in a 4- to 6-quart deep heavy pot over moderately high heat until it registers 350°F on thermometer.
While oil is heating, coat shrimp: Hold 1 shrimp by tail and dip into batter, letting excess drip off, then dredge in coconut, coating completely and pressing gently to help adhere. Transfer to a plate and coat remaining shrimp in same manner, adding remaining coconut to bowl as needed.
Fry shrimp in oil in batches of 8, turning once, until golden, about 1 minute. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain and season lightly with salt. Skim any coconut from oil and return oil to 350°F between batches.
Serve shrimp with sauce.
Note: Tamarind ginger sauce can be made 6 hours ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Most seem pretty predictible. Elvis ate grits with Natalie Wood. Grace Kelly just had a salad when she told her b.f.f. that she was going to be a Princess. My favorite so far is this one:
Barbra Streisand...with Omar Sharif: During the filming of the movie Funny Girl, Streisand and Sharif held many "script conferences" in Shariff's hotel suite.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Tom Colicchio - of head-shaving, swagger-walking, steak-searing Top Chef fame - used his formidable forearms to Heimlich a savory morsel from Joan Nathan's trachea last night, thus saving her James-Beard-award-winning life. The dramatic deed went down in DC at the Art.Food.Hope event, where foodie VIPs cavorted with government VIPs "for the children" under the graces of aspiring White House chef, Alice Waters.
That Colicchio. He gets it done.
I myself am a survivor of a prime rib incident that nearly 86'd me at 13. While my parents freaked, our dinner guest calmly got up and did the dislodging. Everyone should know how to perform it on adults and children, just in case you need to be a hero like Mr. Craft Steak.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Their Pasta with Garden Vegetable Sauce was too boring to catch my eye for a while. But I had a bunch of veggies that were on the verge last month, and it was a way to use them up without resorting to Veggie Chili and three days of heartburn. The insight for the recipe surprised me because it's so useful and so simple: you can make a really flavorful, light sauce with browned tomato paste and broth. The jazz version goes something like....
1. Get your water going for 1/2 lbs. of pasta.
2. Gather olive oil, tomato paste, onions/garlic/shallots, broth, some "hard" veggies like carrots/red bells, some soft veggies like halved cherry tomatoes/zucchini/shrooms, and some green stuff like basil/parsley/arugula. Whatever's at hand usually works just fine.
3. Saute the soft veggies for about 2 minutes. You want the tomatoes just wilt. Set aside.
4. Saute the hard veggies with the onions for 5+ minutes. Stir in 3 tbsp of tomato paste well and let it brown a few minutes. Add a cup of broth and stir it again, scraping the bottom of the pan until it makes a sauce. Let it thicken a little and season it.
5. Cook and drain the pasta. Add to it the soft veggies and the saucy mix, then add in the chopped greens. Blend it all well and serve topped with a shredded hard cheese or goat cheese.
The sauce coats the pasta with a nice rich flavor that still lets all those lovely veggies shine. Since you're relying on browning to give you the flavor here, a stainless surface gives you the best fond. But I've used my trusty All-Clad non-stick twice and have been really happy with the results.
It's nice versatile dish that'll help make up for the some of the sins of the holidays.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
The Chicago Originals restaurant group steps up first with their 2nd Annual Originals Restaurant Week during January 25 - February 6. Each place will offer a special 3-course menu priced at $24.09 for lunch and $29.09 for dinner. Guests will have choices for each course.
There are a lot of Frenchies on the list. I've put (*) by the places that I think are definitely worth a visit:
Cyrano's Bistrot & Wine Bar
El Nuevo Mexicano
Mundial Cocina Mestiza
Sweets & Savories
Next will be the city's offical Restaurant Week coming up February 20-27, which will include more than 130 restaurants offering $22 prix-fixe lunches and $32 prix-fixe dinners.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Half the reason I started this blog is to hold myself to my goal of passing the Society of Wine Educator's first level wine certification exam. I started studying for it in September. (Austrialia is so my bitch right now.)
I tend to get excited about all kinds of things, but have trouble following through with big ideas about them when I realize it's still going to require showing up to work every day and clubbing dust bunnies at home on the usual schedule. I think braniac diva Susan Sontag called the tendency "sipping from a thousand straws." But then, she was "an author, filmmaker, philosopher, literary theorist, and political activist," so she kind of made the multiplicity work for her.
The other half of the reason for the blog is that my husband told me no, I really should start a one that features dirty wine reviews.
2006 Marraso El Caballo Antiguo Malbec, Argentina, $9: Deep, ripe fruit with cherry, cocoa, and vanilla. This is a solid weeknight wine that I've paired with pizzas and pastas.
2006 Susana Balbo, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, $26: I haven't instantly loved a wine this much in a while. It's the full package, with tons of black and blue fruit, violets, chocolate, toasted vanilla and a little twinge of mint. Meeeow. A Cab this good would be nearly double the cash.
Swing by Just Grapes for them.
You also don't want to be the schmo taking pictures of your entire 24-course meal at Alinea for your food blog. (And I mean EVER.) After trolling through three sites today that did just that, it's clear this happens often enough in America's temple of molecular gastronomy that a discreet pat-down of guests before seating might be nice. What can I say to these dorks except that they're not only entirely missing the point of the experience, they're totally annoying the crap out of the other lovely people in the room who get it.
So now it makes perfect sense why Greg Achatz published a cookbook that's impossible to use. To get a few losers to put their iPhones away.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Alas, no more. Apparently chef Bernard Runo decided to focus on making money with his wedding cake business. And some shady guy bought the name and opened a faux thang in Roscoe Village with shoddy pastery. Ptoo, I say. Ptoo!
This is only topped by the quick and cruel demise of Del Toro around the corner - unquestionably The One That Got Away.
My inner geek especially marvels at all stats that the Spoon's computer brain is capable of giving us:
- The most popular Chicago restaurant is itty bitty, crazy noisy Avec.
- The Brazilian steakhouse concept (and the cardiology business) is safe in Chicago, with two spots on the top ten.
- Plenty of folks are hanging on to their jobs and mortgages long enough to put Alinea at #5
You can find me there as DirtyDish.
And it worked! Well...mostly. My dad's family is a cinch. They're from Abruzzo, the poor, still relativley undiscovered region west of Rome that's churning out some stellar Montepulciano d'Abruzzo lately - it's recession gold. On mom's side, it turns out the wines from around Lucca in Tuscany are, well, a fave of the Vatican's for centuries. Just try to get your paws on a bottle of that stuff (picturing the pope's wine cellar....mamma mia). So I improvised with a Tuscan red blend from a winemaker that owns several vineyards in the region.
I even gave everyone maps and the village's history of wine making along with the bottles. A hit indeed. If you're ever up for a little help with a similar project, ring me up. I'll research and source the wines for you.
Clearly we suffer from a dearth of ways to get our daily chocolate. As such, our friends the French have figured out how to infuse it with some bodacious black tea, and then spiced things up a bit for that little extra exotic kick. All of Kusmi's teas are pretty gorgeous inside and out, but this Spicy Chocolate one is something special among them.
My friend Dar is a legit Francophile, meaning she can actually speak some of language. Me, I'm more of a poser (poseur?) because I'm just too lazy. Nonetheless, when she sent me a tin of this after her trip to Paris, I nearly wept tears of joie de vivre. I keep it at work to cheer up bleh winter afternoons.
Unsure about dessert wine, and definitely put off by the scary dark stuff in the Port aisle? Rosenblum's Desiree is to Port what oral sex is to an affectionate gesture. (If you flunked analogies on the SAT, just suffice it to say you want some. Real. Bad.) This decadent little bombshell isn't for shy types. It's pretty much dessert unto itself, with a heady zinfandel that's been blended with two Portuguese varietals and then, um, infused with chocolate essence. That's right Virginia, actual chocolate. In the bottle. With the wine. And don't worry. What sounds like a potentially tacky idea is executed to elegant, lovely, gorgeously balanced perfection. I don't know who's idea this was, but I kind of want to make out with them every time I have it.
You can find it at Just Grapes on Washington St.