Thursday, December 20, 2012

Chicken Tomatillo Taco Party



As it is the season for roasting and making chicken, I decided to change it up a little. Roasted Chicken with Root Vegetables is delicious, but I wanted to add some flair to our chicken. I found this recipe on  Tasting Table and modified it a little. I changed the salsa slightly and increased the amount I made (so I could make another dish) and changed how it was served. I thought this would be an awesome taco dish. And it was kind of perfect. I added some guacamole and we had a chicken taco making party.

It's a party on your plate

This is a dish you need to start prepping the night before; the chicken needs to sit and soak up all the spices. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Four Seasons Plus a Few More


The Husband and I decided to spend a lovely evening at Aviary. We wanted to get in before the Kyoto menu changed over so we could taste the Kyoto flight and slurp on some delicious ramen. A friend and Aviary regular, The M2, ended up meeting us there as well, (he needed a break from studying for his Medical School exams) so the three of us had a lovely evening drinking and eating.

The last few times we had been to The Aviary, we skipped drinks upstairs and went downstairs to The Office. Because of this, there were several new drinks on the menu that we wanted to try. I went with the Kyoto Flight, a four course flight of drinks based off of the Kyoto Kaiseki menu at Next.  When I finally write up our Kyoto dinner, I will go into detail about what a Kaiseki menu is. But for the sake of today, kaiseki is a type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food. In traditional kaiseki menus, only fresh seasonal ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavor. Finished dishes are carefully presented on plates that are chosen to enhance both the appearance and the seasonal theme of the meal. At Aviary the each of the four courses represented a season.

Spring was a Cherry Blossom. It was beautiful. The flue came with a cube of sugar and small dried ball at the bottom along with a single sprig of leaf on the side. Our server informed us that the sugar has been soaked in cherry, persimmon and various other deliciousness before being formed into the cube. She then slowly poured the spirit into the glass and as if by magic, the dried ball at the bottom began to open up and became a beautiful cherry blossom. They then took a small spray bottle and sprayed some essence of cherry onto the glass. The drink was light, refreshing and all around perfect. Once I finished my drink, I was trying to get to the sugar that was at the base of the flute (without sticking my finger inside).  When I got my next course, I ended up using the straw to grab at some. Seriously, best sugar ever.

Spring

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chestnuts and Apples Roasting in my Kitchen Fire


It’s been a rather busy month since I last wrote. Rather than dive into two rather long posts, I’ll start off small.  This Thanksgiving The Husband and I stayed in Chicago and were so kindly invited to join in with friends of ours Thanksgiving Festivities. As a couple who loves food as much as The Husband and I do, they had an amazing Thanksgiving Feast prepared.  Everyone brought various different dishes and it was one of the most delicious Thanksgivings we’ve had to date.  The Husband and I were in charge of a dessert.  As we spent Thanksgiving with them last year, I decided against the Cinnamon Ice Cream and Pork Lard Crust Apple Pie, and went for something a little different.

I did a play on Alice Water’s Apple Tart that I found on Smitten Kitchen and Chestnut Ice Cream.  I thought Chestnut Ice Cream sounded really interesting and rather unique, and I’m really happy that we ended up making it.  I should give The Husband a HUGE thanks for running around the city trying to find me whole Chestnuts to roast.  The recipe called for canned, pureed unsweetened Chestnuts, but I couldn't find them, so I decided to make my own Chestnut puree.   Both recipes were rather simple (even though this is long, they really were easy),  light (you don’t want a crazy heavy dessert after Thanksgiving dinner) and a perfect end to a deliciously and meticulously prepared dinner.  Well, the 60 Oysters we ate AFTER dessert was really the perfect end….

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mac Attack!



As I've said before, The Husband has a thing for Mac & Cheese.  So when a friend, The Ex-Pat (as she’s currently residing in Scotland, drawing pictures of cowboys and walking past breathtaking castles while also being a good wife and making delicious food) posted not one but TWO separate Mac & Cheese recipes (along with mouthwatering pictures), I had to test them.

The first, an ode to Avocado was an awesome one pot (one Cuisinart) dish. The combination of Avocado and Cheese made it really creamy and the pepper jack was a really great addition. As I like my food on the spicy side, this was kind of perfect. For once in my life, I did follow that recipe as it was written which is why I just posted the link to it above. If you don’t want something on the spicy side, you can just go with Monterey Jack some something a little milder.

The second recipe The Ex-Pat came up with herself. She winged it (which I totally love) but since I knew how delicious this was going to be, and figured that something this fantastic should have a recipe, I followed her directions and came up with something a little more concrete. Both The Husband and I totally loved this, we had loads of leftovers and he took it with him to work for a few nights. The amazing thing about this dish is that it’s just as fantastic cold as it is hot. And it can be used as either a side or a dinner (we had it for a dinner)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What an AMAZING El Idea


The Awesome Dining Room Art-Aqua Teen Hunger Force!

I should start, that while there was not an Annie Lennox dance party in the kitchen, nor were we given a bottle of Old Granddad and asked to do shots with the staff, our dinner at El Ideas was probably the most fun we've had in a dining experience to date. Not to mention, our favorite meal this year.

Back in mid-August The Husband realized that my birthday was approaching. After thinking about various places to try, he decided to make a reservation at El Ideas, the brain child of Phillip Foss. We had been tracking Foss, the chef/owner for some time. After leaving Lockwood, he became a pioneer in the now overwrought food truck scene in Chicago. His Meatyballs truck was a hit, the sandwiches were delicious and after doing that for some time, he decided to open up a brick and mortar place, El Ideas.

Friday, October 12, 2012

SHE CAN BE TAUGHT!


I think I’m a fairly decent baker. I don’t think I’m amazing, but I do think that I can find my way around a pie tin and pipette bags. There is one thing that I have been trying to bake for over five years now, and I still haven’t found the right way to do it: Banana Bread.  Part of my problem is this: 1) I get bothered by the recipes that call for sticks of butter, or lard or large amount of any fat, 2) Because of this, I mix and match low-fat recipes.  And while I know it’s verboten in the world of baking, I rarely follow any recipe I read to a T.  Ninety percent of the time, it works out in my favor; the remaining ten perfect is my Waterloo.

My low-fat Banana Breads never work out as I hope. They generally brown very quickly, get a little burned on the outside and under-cooked on the inside and don’t taste as delicious as one would hope (given the large amount of brown sugar, vanilla and banana that are in them). However the whole “oh Apple Sauce is a great substitute for butter” thing, is a lie. It really isn't-  At least not in breads.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fast Break!



The Husband is a breakfast person-He loves pancakes, he loves Eggs Benedict, he loves waffles and bacon. I, on the other hand, am not.  Growing up The Mother would treat us every once and a while we would have Breakfast for Dinner. The Siblings would be so excited. The Mother would make pancakes, and scrambled eggs and bacon and breakfast sausage (okay, the ONLY breakfast things I really enjoy are sausage and hash browns).  Growing up I hated eggs, refused to eat them. And pouring maple syrup onto pancakes made them so mushy. While The Siblings were going crazy over Breakfast for Dinner, I’d silently sulk. And when I got older, I’d go out  to the Wawa and grab a sandwich.

As I've gotten older, I've changed my mind on the eggs (although I'm not the hugest fan of soft boiled eggs..the texture creeps me out), and I'm much less against breakfast. We're not brunch people (because I sleep too late to make it in time) but when we do, I err towards the side of savory and much more on the lunch side of the brunch menu. I  should add, I do enjoy a good Southwestern Omelet every once and a while. 

So back to The Husband- He’s been traveling a lot this past month (he’s currently in Denver for a conference) and on one of his rare mornings home, I decided to make him something that he loves (and something I’ve never made) French Toast.  I got the idea the evening before, while making a Roasted Tomato Soup and Veggie Sandwich. I had ¾ of a loaf of Italian bread left and thought, rather than making ribollita, I’d try something I haven’t done before. Besides, I was picking The Husband up from the airport at 8am, so I thought I could make up for his 4:30am wake-up with breakfast.

French toast is best when the bread used is slightly stale. And since the bread I had was fresh, I thought I would speed up the process. I cut the bread into 1.5 in slices the evening before and let it sit out on the counter until I made it, 16 hours later. Making the French toast was super quick. I think the whole thing took maybe 20 minutes and I have to say, I think I did a pretty good job for a first time.

French Toast:

4 Eggs
¾ cup of Milk
2 TBS Sugar
1 TSP Vanilla
Pinch of salt
10 slices of Italian Bread (firm to the touch, but not totally stale)
1 TBS Butter
Maple Syrup (the real stuff)
Confectioners’ Sugar

In a bowl, mix Eggs, Milk, Sugar, Vanilla and Salt. Wisk until liquids are totally mixed. Soak the bread, making sure to cover both sides. You want to let the mixture soak into the bread as much as possible, without letting the bread soak up all of your mixture too soon. I recommend about 90 seconds on each side. Heat a large skillet, add ½ TBS Butter to the skillet.  When the butter had melted, add bread.  Cook each slice until it’s golden brown and slightly crispy on each side. This should be about 4 minutes or so total.

Repeat the process until all of your slices have been cooked.  I the meantime, put your Maple Syrup into a microwaveable container and heat for roughly one minute. Trust me, you’ll want to do this, warm syrup is so much better than cold syrup.

When you’re about to serve, sprinkle Confectioners’ Sugar onto the toast and serve with your warm syrup. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Coastal Living


The Husband and I took a trip back east this weekend for a family wedding. We spent three beautiful days on the Connecticut coastline.  We were able to visit with friends and family who lived in the area, a double bonus.

We arrived a little after midnight on Thursday and rented a car to make the hour and change drive to Groton, where The Brother-in-law (who will now be known as The Subdriver, as there are too many Brother-in-Laws) and The Sister-in-law (who will now be known as The Subdrivers Wife as there are too many Sister-in-Laws) currently reside (these are the same wonderful host and hostess from our trip to  Minneapolis ). After driving through what The Husband and I deemed “The middle of no-where” we arrived at their home and tucked ourselves into bed close to 3am, Friday was going to be a big day.

After an early morning hanging with a college friend I drove into New Haven for lunch to meet another college friend, who we shall name The Lady Doctor (as she is a lady who is also an OB/GYN). She suggested we meet up at Bru Room at Bar, a really fantastic brewery and pizza place. The Lady Doctor works at Yale and said that she comes here fairly often, as it’s only a few blocks away. When I asked what she suggested we eat, she said that the Mashed Potato, Garlic and Bacon pizza is amazing. I’m not a huge lover of bacon, but as she described it the bacon is necessary because it adds some saltiness and really elevates the pizza. So, because I trust The Lady Doctor, I went with it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Look into the Hearts and Homes of Sicily


Last night we were whisked away to Sicily. After getting into el Bulli within the first two days of the menu opening, we had to wait for what felt like a lifetime, to go to Next’s current menu, Sicily. As of tonight there are only 10 services left.

We decided to start the evening Italian style, with some Apparativos at The Office.  We walked to the front of Aviary and normally when you’re whole party isn’t there, they have you wait, however I guess with The Office this isn’t the case. So we were ushered down into the dimly lit, super comfy Office and were shown the drink menu. Micah, the second in command (who had taken over during the break between when Craig Schloettler left in early June and when Charles Joly started in early August, was manning the bar downstairs.

Our wonderfully warm waitress asked what I wanted to drink, and then suggested that I let them make me something. Ummm, how the heck could I say no to that?! So she asked how I felt about champagne, obviously I said I was all for it. So as The Husband mulled over the menu, she came back with a delicious champagne cocktail. I honestly wish I could remember what was in it, I just remember it was wonderful and I was super grateful for the “Let us make your choice” option.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Revolution and a Black Dog


After picking up two suits for The Husband last night, we decided to grab a bite to eat at Revolution Brewery. Revolution is literally a block from our home, and for some reason we go only a few times a year. Typically if The Husband and I are dining out, we generally have various friends with us and Revolutions is either jammed, or not on our list of places to go. When we go out on date nights, we typically don’t stay close to home, so we rarely make it over there. We were reminded last night that we make stupid choices some times.

While Revolution is a brewery, I honestly think it’s their food that sets them apart. We started the night with an order of Wild Boar Meatballs.  After spending two weeks in Italy and really learning how amazing Wild Boar is, The Husband and I will typically gravitate towards it; we were not wrong. Four small delicate juicy meatballs with a little spice surrounded by a light pesto and some fried polenta triangles.  Really spot on and it paired well with The Husband’s Riot Pilsner, a super clean Czech style Pils. I ordered the Rosa, a hibiscus ale that was super clean, smelled delicious and had an ever so slight sweet finish. Sometimes fruit beers can be too much fruit, this was perfect.

The Husband and I went back and forth for our entrée. They had a Chicken and Waffle dish that The Husband wanted to try, after spending some time in Austin, he’s a little obsessed.  However, his fall back at Revolution is their Fish and Chips; perfectly battered, light and crispy fish with a malt vinegar side and crispy, salty French fries.  I was deciding between my fall back, the Hombre Burger, a spicy burger (I love a good spicy burger) covered with smoked poblano pepper, avocado, Chihuahua cheese, red pepper crema & tortilla strips.  Or their Beer Mussels, PEI Mussels in a beer broth infused with Tthyme, shallots, potatoes, house cured bacon, garlic and bay leaf. Both The Husband and I decided to break the mold and go with the Chicken and Waffles and the Mussels. Our waitress informed us we made an excellent decision.

The Husbands Chicken and Waffles came, a HUGE piece of buttermilk fried chicken, surrounded by roasted corn off the cob, tomatillo salsa, stewed tomatoes, okra and two smaller split pea and brown-butter waffle halves. The Husband has his trepidations regarding the southwestern style of the dish, but he was thrilled. His only comment was that he wished there were more waffles. He spent time cutting up the chicken, marrying the okra, corn, tomatoes and salsa along with the crispy chicken. I practically had to beg him for a bite. When I got one, I could tell why he was bogarting the dish. It was delicious.

I was thrilled with my mussels as well, so it wasn’t like I was willing to share either. A huge bowl of mussels came, along with four thin, crispy slices of a baguette. The mussels were delicious and the broth was spectacular. I spent my dinner alternating between soaking bread in the broth and trying to get the perfect bite of mussel, shallot, potato and broth. The bottom of the broth has a fair amount of black pepper in it, so there was a tiny kick. It was so good, that after I finished the mussels, then the bread , I just began eating the broth with a spoon like soup. The Husband joined in.

After dinner, The Husband decided that he wanted to make a trip to Black Dog Gelato. We decided to hit up the one on Belmont, where the Old Bleeding Heart Bakery used to be. The shop was brightly lite, the flavors were posted on what was made to look like a clothes line. Two strings held up colored clothes pins that had each of the flavors written on brightly colored paper.  We walked in as the Goat Cheese Cashew Carmel (sounds odd, but everyone raved about it) was getting moved to the “Sorry we’re out tonight” clothes line. I made an off-hand comment to The Husband akin to “Oh maaaaaaaan!” and the wonderful man behind the counter proceeded to scrape out the tiny bit of the remaining gelato (enough for a few good spoonful’s) and gave it to me. I was ecstatic. And It.Was.Fantastic! Seriously. The carmel was wonderful and I worried that the goat cheese would be too rich, it paired so well. I’m drooling as I write.

I decided to go with the Oreo Mint and asked the lovely man behind the counter what he thought paired well. He gave me a list and then said “Or…you could let me pair for you” SOLD! He gave me the Baked Apple. HOLY COW PEOPLE! It was like a perfectly baked Apple Pie in gelato form.  It was superb. I felt like Thanksgiving in the middle of summer.  The Oreo Mint was delicious, but if you’re not a super mint fan, I would avoid. I love mint, The Husband does not. He said it reminded him of toothpaste. I wildly disagreed.

Since I was given the Baked Apple, The Husband’s idea (that he didn’t share with me until AFTER I received the Baked Apple) of Banana Bread and Baked Apple was no good. According to The Husband and His Family, no two people can ever have the same dish when eating out. Everyone MUST have something new, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been to the restaurant. I’ve tried a few times to trick him, and I’ve failed every time. We’ll be out to dinner and want the same thing, being a good man; he’ll always let me get it. And I always feel bad, I mean, why can’t we both enjoy a dish that we both want? So more than a few times I’ve told him I won’t be getting that dish, that I want something else and he should have it, he’ll order it, then I’ll order it, then he’ll change his order. He’s grown accustomed to my game and always makes me order first now.

So, this evening he decided to go with the Malted Vanilla and the Allspice. Again, another winning combination!  Seriously, I’m not a huge Vanilla fan, but WOW. We sat on the car, eating our gelato, swapping tastes and were totally, blissfully happy. Thank goodness this place isn’t in walking distance, or I’d have some serious gelato addiction issues.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Portal to Another World

Last weekend Martin Kastner, the genius designer behind Crucial Detail (the service wear that graces the tables at Alinea, Next and The Aviary) released a Kickstarter Campaign for The Portal.

The Chai Tea Portal
For those of you who have not been to The Aviary, The Portal is one of their signature drinks. Part of what makes it so amazing (other than the simple beauty of showcasing the ingredients of the drink) is that The Portal is The Aviary in a single drink. It is a drink that is designed to change into something else over time. You pour a little into a small cup, have a conversation with your friends, then go back five to ten minutes later and pour some more, and voila! The drink has transformed. It gets darker, the alcohol is able to steep in the teas and fruits and herbs that are around it, so your first drink is totally different from your second, and your third and your fourth.  By the time you've finished The Portal drink, you've had the ability to both see and taste the changes that have occurred in front of you.

People spent a lot of time trying to steal Portal's from The Aviary. It's incredibly unique (Kasnter made them JUST for The Aviary) and one of those things that everyone wants to have at a party.

So finally Kasnter, Achatz and Kokonas decided it was time to try and "mass" produce these beautiful vessels. They decided to do this via a Kickstar Campaign .  Within the first 10 days of the 30 day campaign, Kastner has received over $186,000 from over 1,000 contributors.

They had initially only requested $28,000 in start up capital, however that goal was blown within hours.  To thank the people who have made this project explode, Kastner set a few goals. At $175,00 everyone would get a Rare Tea sample that The Aviary uses in their Portal drinks, and at $300,000 everyone received a pair of specially designed cups for their Portal.

The Husband and I purchased our Portal within a few days of it going live. At $95 a Portal, it's worth it. I am also crossing my fingers, as I want to get some custom cups!

And of course, after watching the video, I also want to be BFF's with Nick Kokonas. I mean, who wouldn't want to have dinner at his house and see a Portal as their centerpiece?

Since it's obvious that no matter how much money we spend at their restaurants, we're not going to be BFF's with Grant and Nick, I can use their ideas to make my tablescapes more unique. I love the idea of having The Portal sitting over dinner and then pouring it at the end as a digestif.

And I can tell all of my friends I learned it from Grant and Nick as I serve it in my custom cups.


If you missed the link embedded earlier in my post, make sure you watch the Kickstarter video for The Portal Here!

Update: As of August 20th, the $300,00 goal was hit. Mama gets some Custom Cups!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Morels and Scruples



Last weekend I ran into the Whole Foods to pick up some lunch stuff and came across mushroom gold: Fresh Morels.  I didn’t think, I just grabbed a package and walked directly over to the butcher counter to pick up some Strip Steak.

From my previous posting on Hen of the Woods mushrooms, you learned that I’m not a lover of the cheap and ubiquitous Button Mushroom.  Rather (unfortunately for the pocket, fortunately for the taste buds) I’ve developed a love of more expensive, harder to come by fungi. Did you enjoy that rhyme right there?

A little over four years ago I can across the Morel (pronounced more-ELLE, not like the thing people without scruples lack, which is pronounced MORE-el ) mushroom and was intrigued by it’s odd  spaceship like shape and the fact that The Husband was raving about them.  As The Husband and I had similar views on the Button and Portobello mushroom, and it was his birthday, I thought I would indulge him.

So I went searching The Net to find recipes that involved Morel Mushrooms. There are tons of fried Morel Mushroom recipes out there and while I have learned to appreciate fried food, I am not the type of person to make it in my house. Also, I’m a mess-maker and large quantities of boiling hot oil would not only end up all over my walls and stove, but would invariably make it to my arms and legs.

I came across a few  recipes for a Morel Mushroom and Cabernet Sauce, and thought that it would be perfect to put on top of a perfectly grilled New York Strip. So I decided to try it and it was perfection.  The earthiness of the mushrooms, paired really well with the cabernet sauce and the thyme added the perfect pick me up flavor. And of course, when it was poured over a medium rare Strip, BOOM! Heaven.

There have been very few times that I’ve found Morels fresh, I generally find them dried and even then, not that often; they are typically a late spring mushroom.  You should be aware, the fresh Morels I picked up, about 6 oz., were roughly $20. I also have 6 oz. of dried Morels sitting in my apartment, those were $15. The fresh really really REALLY do taste that much better though.

The other key to this, make sure the wine you’re using is good wine. People always go cheap on cooking wines, and I can tell you from experience, don't. The quality of your ingredients ALWAYS makes a difference. Open a bottle of wine that you wouldn’t mind drinking alongside the mushrooms.  If you don’t want to go crazy expensive, Beringer makes a Founders Estate Cabernet that I’ve found for between $6-$10 a bottle.  It’s a solid drinking wine and works well in this sauce.  We went a little more upscale for this batch and changed the varietal up, we had a Londer Pinot Noir. But for the sake of this recipe and integrity, I'm giving you the Cab recipe. When you've done it a few times and have the hang of the flavor profiles, I invite you to change up the wines you use. It really does change the flavors. 

I generally make my Morel Cabernet sauce and pair it with either a Beef Strip or a Buffalo Stip, both have great flavor and honestly it just depends on what I'm feeling like at the time. Last weekend, it was dry aged Strip, next time it could be grass fed Buffalo.  And I generally make it with Roasted Asparagus and a Purple Potato Smash, I mean, if I’m making a steak dinner, I’m not half-assing it.

Honestly though, you could throw this sauce over some regular old mashed potatoes and just eat it that way. The Morels are meaty enough. Do not prepare this sauce a head of time!

Ingredients:
1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 package of Morel Mushrooms (generally come in 4 or 6 oz.), washed.
3 cloves of garlic, minced
½  cup of GOOD (you want to drink this stuff) Cabernet Sauvignon
½ cup of Beef Broth
2 TBS Butter
2 TSP fresh Thyme, washed and leaves removed from the stalks
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the mushrooms in the olive oil over high heat until they are tender, this should be about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and brown lightly. Toss in the Cabernet and deglaze the pan (this means get all of the little pieces of garlic and mushroom up off the bottom and stir it in with the wine). Add the beef stock and reduce the heat the medium.  Let the sauce cook for about 5 minutes, this should reduce the amount of liquid you have in the pan, that is what we’re looking for. Add the butter and thyme and stir until the butter is melted. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. If you think it needs salt and pepper, add it now.  If I do add it (which isn’t always) I’ll generally add a tiny punch of salt (because the broth makes it salty enough), but I always do add a bit of fresh ground black pepper.

Take the sauce and pour it directly over whatever you are serving it on. Don’t put this one in a gravy boat, just toss it on top and go to town!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Stocking the Bar


As you’ve all gathered from my musings, The Husband and I enjoy eating and drinking well. We’ve been extremely fortunate in our short lives to have found things that we are passionate about, that don’t necessarily have to be bank breaking (although if you ask The Husband, he’ll tell you that I enjoy breaking the bank more than I should….he wouldn’t be incorrect about that).

Anyway, when you go to great places to eat, you generally learn about great beverages.  We’ve been exposed do so many different types of wine, beer and spirits simply because we dined somewhere. However, the problem comes when trying to find those wine, beer and spirits outside of the realm of the restaurant.

For many years The Husband and I were customers at Drinks Over Dearborn. A wonderful boutique wine and spirits shop on Dearborn and LaSalle that was owned by a friend and former colleague of mine. We would wander in and he would give us tastes of deliciously hard to find gems.  At DoD we had our first taste of Dark Lord, our first taste of Chartreuse (both yellow AND green). We would wander in and 90 minutes later walk out with two boxes of beverages that we had never had before but were positive they were going to be amazing.  When Drinks Over Dearborn closed two years ago due to the economy, The Husband and I didn’t really fill the void. 

Rather than go to a Big Box store in search of exotic beverages, we spent much more time dining and drinking out and didn’t really pay attention to stocking our own bar.  Now mind you, we weren’t totally failing on that, we’re members of wine clubs and begged family members going on trips to bring us back certain bottles (I will always be thankful to The Sister who wandered through all of the shops in Edinburgh trying to find me a limited edition bottle of Ardbeg Corryvreckan to give to The Husband for a belated birthday present a few years ago).

So you can imagine my delight when a few months ago I called Perman Wine in order to secure the last bottle of Bisson Abissi and was informed they would hold it for me.  We have heard of Perman and have a very good friend who raves about it; but we just never made it over. So few weeks later The Husband and I wandered into his little store front in the West Loop.  Perman is a smaller shop, with a great tasting room and bottle upon bottles of wine, beer and spirits filling tall wooden shelves.  

We looked around and eyed several bottles of hard to find Mikkeller beers, various interesting spirits and a large wall covered in blackboard paint that had “Six for Sixty-something” written on it.  Craig Perman, the owner of the shop, does a lot of really wonderful things with wines.  One of which is making them more accessible to everyone.  Every month he puts together a list of six wines for roughly sixty dollars and gives beautiful explanations of them  as well as their per bottle cost. He sends them out in an email and patrons can just respond back “Hold one for me” and then come in, whenever and pay.  The Husband and I walked in to get a bottle of sparkling wine and walked out with the Six for Sixty, two additional bottles of wine and 12 bottles of beer that we hadn’t ever tried before.

Every single bottle that we picked up from Perman’s was spot on; really delicious, really interesting.  We joined his email list and  the following month when he sent out his six for sixty something, he mentioned that he was going to Italy for a few weeks. We shot back a reply that we would love the bottles and if he could, go to Avignonese if he had a chance and have a Vin Santo and we half joked he could bring a bottle back for us. He replied back that he could get us any bottles of Avignonese that we wanted, just let him know. So of course The Husband and I listed off some bottles of Red and one of the Vin Santos.

Three weeks later, The Husband walked in and there were the bottles as promised. Of course, he is just as bad as I am, and walked out with the Six for Sixty, the four additional bottles from Avignonese and another 10 beers (4 of which were bombers…750mL for your drinking novices).

Perman also does tastings with various wine and spirit companies. He recently has St. George come do a tasting, and always has access to bottles that wouldn’t normally come to Chicago.

For the last four months we’ve been getting his Six for Sixty and have been thrilled at the diversity of flavor profiles as well as his wonderful customer service. Craig has amazing connections with vineyards and buyers all over the world, if you are a lover of any form of alcohol, I would highly recommend going to Perman’s Wine Selection. The Husband and I are thrilled that we’ve found such a wonderful gem.

You can join his mailing list Here, go to his website at http://www.permanwine.com/ or pop into his store at 802 W Washington Blvd (Washington and Halsted).  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

So, So Bad, So, So Happy


One of The Sister-in-Law’s was in town this weekend and The Husband and I decided to show her what Chicago is really like. We spent five days eating, drinking and site seeing all over  and showing the many amazing faces of our fair city.

Since it opened last year, The Husband has wanted to make a trip up to Bad, Happy Poutine. And as we were trying to show The Sister-in-Law some of Chicago’s finest, we thought a late lunch/early dinner of Poutine would do the trick.

So after wandering around Millennium Park and hiding out at The Art Institute to avoid a downpour, we hailed a cab and got dropped off in front of a tiny store front in the middle of an empty block on Orleans.

We walked into Bad, Happy a tiny shop that was half kitchen, half tall tables and one other couple was finishing up their food.  We sat down at the tables and looked at the laminated menu that was clearly marked “One menu per table” and grabbed the wax pencil to start checking off our orders.

For those are you who are unaware, Poutine is a French Canadian dish made with French Fries, topped with gravy and cheese curds. You may think to yourself, eeww, but you would think incorrectly.  I grew up with a family that was deeply rooted in Brooklyn, so going to Jewish deli’s was nothing new to me.  The Mother would often order French Fries covered in brown gravy, so the idea of Poutine dove tailed on that.

The owner and chef, Tom Kern, a burly man with a huge beard, walked over and shared the specials for the day: The Red Neck: Fried Mac and Cheese, Red Cabbage, Fried Okra Gravy and Pulled Pork and The Bastille (it was July 14th, of course) Escargot, Gravy and many other delicious French things. As escargot freaks The Sister-in-Law out a bit, we went with the Red Neck and The Good, The Bad, and The Happy (Pork Belly, Beef Cheek, Truffle Mayo, Foie Gras Mousse, Gravy, Fries, Curd and a Sunny-side up Egg). We also decided to wash them down with the Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake and  at the last minute I added BadHappy Birthday Cake Shake (to which The Sister-in-Law gave a sigh of relief and thanked me because she had wanted that one but didn’t want to seem gluttonous…obviously she hadn’t spent enough time with The Husband and me).

For whatever reason, we figured that two orders of Poutine and two shakes wouldn’t be too much for three people. We were so, so wrong.  From our table (or any table in the restaurant for that matter) we were able to watch the chef work his magic. Within fifteen minutes, our food was on the table, piping hot and ready to be dove into.  He informed us the shakes would come out shortly.  As he was back in the kitchen, whipping up something sweet to go along with our something salty, we dove in.

The Red Neck won Bad Happy an Eater award when it had initially opened, but was no longer a staple on the menu.  We understood why as soon as we took a bite.  The pulled pork was delicious, tender and juicy, and the red cabbage added a really lovely crisp bite to the rest of the plate that was doused in gravy and fries. The mac and cheese ball on the top was spot on, crispy fried on the outside and ooey gooey on the inside. The Sister-in-Law, a Mac and Cheese lover and a connoisseur of the fried variety, said that this was how all fried mac and cheese should taste.
The Red Neck

After a few bites of The Red Neck, we set our sights on The Good, OH.WOW. The saltiness of the gravy, mixed with the earthiness of the truffle mayo and the richness of the foie was spectacular. I’m not an Egg on my Food type of gal, but even I had to admit, it was a perfect addition to the dish.

The Good, The Bad, and The Happy
As we were moaning with delight, our first shake came out.  The Birthday Cake looked like a cake in a cup. Our eyes became saucers and I took the first sip from what I had initially thought to myself was a huge straw. Upon my first taste, I understood why he used bubble tea straws. The shake had huge delicious chucks of cake batter inside the cake batter ice-cream and covered in whip cream and rainbow sprinkles was so damn happy to look at.  It was sweet, but not teeth hurting sweet and it was a meal on its own.

The BadHappy Birthday Cake, note the large straw

Just as we thought it couldn’t get any better, our final item came out; a tall shake, toppling over with flaming marshmallows.  The Chef placed the shake at our table and we all just stared at it for a few moments, watching the flames flicked off the charred Marshmallows. We looked at him with our eyes in awe and he nonchalantly said “It’s the best way to get a good char on the marshmallows” and walked away. WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!
Awe.

The Husband, a Peanut butter lover, took the first sip and promptly told us that we would hate it and that we really shouldn’t even try it. For as much chocolate and peanut butter that was in the shake, it was perfect. Neither of the ingredients was overpowering and the added bonus of the tower of charred marshmallows on top was fabulous.  Covering the marshmallows with the shake and then popping them into your mouth was a perfect bite.


We sat in silence as we ate and drank, reveling in the delicious feast before us. We were all thankful that we hadn’t had breakfast or lunch before coming, and planned on not even attempting dinner. This was more than enough food for three meals.  When we finally were able to lick the last of the plates clean (there was no way we were leaving Truffle Mayo or Foie Moussee behind), we profusely thanked the Chef and wandered outside, thinking to ourselves “That was so many levels of bad for us, but we are just too damn happy right now to care.”  Obviously the chef thought of a perfect name. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Dinner with Charlie


From the Master

When we first moved to Chicago and asked about great places to eat, one place continued to be extolled: Charlie Trotters. Of course at the time The Husband and I were fresh out of college and couldn’t imagine spending more than $200 for dinner. Even that was breathtakingly expensive (we went to the now closed Opera for our first anniversary and purchased a bottle of wine. Our dinner was $250 and that was the most either of us had EVER spent on food and it was so delicious).

As we started getting more and more interested in dining in Chicago, our gazes moved towards the rising stars, Graham Elliot, Paul Kahn, Michael Carlson and the powerhouse Grant Achetz and away from the old school Trotter. When we would speak with people about the restaurants we’ve been to and someone would say “Oh, I haven’t heard of that place…but I’ve been to Charlie Trotters and it was really great!” I would internally roll my eyes and think “Neophite!” Yes, I judged you.  

In my mind Trotters was of the Old Guard. It was a restaurant of white table cloths, waiters in tuxedos, lacquered chairs and silk wall paper. If I was going out to eat an expensive dinner, I wanted to not only have amazing food, but I also wanted it to be an experience. One that I didn’t feel as though I had to speak with hushed tones and sit with my legs crossed and a rigid back while I dine, else I be judged by the wait-staff for being gouache.

However, when Charlie Trotter announced on New Years Eve that he was going to be shutting his restaurant after 25 years in August, The Husband and I had to second guess our choice to avoid. How could we say we’re in touch with the Chicago Food Scene if we had never been to the Grandfather of Chicago Haute Cuisine?

I realize I just spent the last three paragraphs bagging on the man. And it isn’t fair. Charlie Trotter did some amazing things for fine dining.  To start, he and a few other chefs in the country started a Degustation Menu, otherwise known as a Tasting Menu or a Pre-Fix menu.  While other restaurants were offering a la carte menus, where dinners could pick and choose what they wanted from a larger menu, Trotter decided to focus his menu on a few dishes. This way he could perfect them all. It was brilliant and became his signature. Currently Trotter’s only has two menus: The Grand Cru and the Vegetable menu.

Which brings his next big thing for dinning: The Vegetable! Trotter wasn’t the first to cook them, obviously, but he was one of the first to make them the center piece for a meal. Alan Richman, the food critic from the New York Times said, “A plate arrives bearing what looks like a cross section of slab bacon, but it’s really a terrine of three separate beet purées — red, golden and chioggia — that have been set in a mold and then sauced with another purée, of horseradish and roasted parsnips: a root-crop tour of the five taste sensations…. Charlie Trotter’s offers a more traditional grand menu, but it’s the vegetable menu — an ever-changing, never-boring meatless dégustation — that is his crowning culinary achievement.”

Finally, he also was a huge proponent of Seasonal Dinning.  Trotter’s never has a set menu, their menu changes every day based upon what the seasonal vegetables they receive that day. For the most part the concept of the menu remains similar during seasons, parts of each dish changes, but even still, that is impressive. If one component changes in a dish, the flavor profile changes and the sommelier has to change the wine pairings as well.  White asparagus tastes different than green, which tastes different from baby asparagus, ect… The trickle-down effect of ONE ingredient in ONE dish is challenging, let alone doing this every single day for nine or ten courses.

Many big name chefs in Chicago have, at one point or another, worked with Trotter. Grant Achatz (of Alinea),  Homaro Cantu (of Moto), Giuseppe Tentori (of Boka), Graham Elliot (of Graham Elliot), and Bill Kim (of Urban Belly) and many other chefs and sous chefs throughout Chicago and the United States have worked under Trotter. 

Okay, so now I’ve spent four paragraphs making up for my first three. So when Trotter announced that during the final nine months of his restaurant, he was bringing the old band back together (award winning sommelier Larry Stone returned!), we couldn’t resist.

Our dinner reservation was made eight weeks in advance (we were seating five people on a Friday night) however if you are interested in going there are still tables left and they can be found on Open Table.  If you’re interesting in learning more about Mr. Stone, Eater had a great interview with him.

When making the reservation, we were informed that men were required to wear jackets, ties were optional. I groaned. Again, I prefer an environment where eating is an experience and I’m not required to look a certain way (although it irks me to NO end that people walk into nice restaurants in something I wouldn’t  dream of running to the grocery store in).

As the dinner approached, I was walking in with some apprehension. I was prepared to spend the money, but I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. I thought of it like something I had to do.

Before the dinner, the group decided that rather than do the normal wine pairing, we were going to work with the Somm and find some interesting bottles to go with our dinner(we learned later that at that point, they had over 4,000 bottles of wine in the cellar). The goal was to keep the wine at the same per person price point as the wine pairing.

We spent some time trying to decide what bottle to start with and who was going to do the Vegetable Tasting verses the Grand Tasting.  The Husband and I knew walking in we were planning on the Vegetable, since we had heard amazing things about it. The Vegetable Tasting is NOT vegetarian, but can be made to be so. I think that is important to note. The idea is to highlight the vegetable and there can be components of meat (we had a vegetarian with us, so the melon sorbet with iberco consume was changed to a melon sorbet with eucalyptus consume).  

We were seated on the second floor in front of a wine cooler that spanned the entire wall of the room.  It was my view during our three and a half hour dinner. The other thing we noted was how relaxed we all were. For a restaurant that demanded its male dinners to wear jackets, we didn’t feel that we were in a stuffy environment at all. Neither did the table of eight that was seated in our same room. They were at the end of their dinner and were rather boisterous (we were grateful when they had finished dinner and left). We all spoke in normal tone, felt comfortable to take pictures and made sure to seat ourselves in a comfortable manner.

Sadly Trotters didn’t allow us to take our menu’s home, which stinks because I didn't get a picture of one. Luckily someone from our table did. 
The Vegetable Menu

Each of the menus built upon flavor profiles. The first four dishes were savory and the level of saltiness, the three dessert dishes built up richness levels, starting with a light melon course that cleansed the palate and finishing with a rich chocolate dish.

The savory courses on the Vegetable menu were fantastic. We had toyed with getting the Grand menu simply for the lamb saddle and the venison, but were grateful that we made the choice to go with the Vegetable.  What I can say though, was that a PERFECT menu would have been the savory from the Vegetable and the sweet from the Grand. The three desserts on the Grand menu were spot on (although I did love the second dessert).

Our dinner started with a terrine of roasted heirloom beets with wild celery and petite fennel.  It’s impressive if you look closely at the picture, because he presses the beets into distinct layers to make the terrine.  The dish consisted of yellow beet, red beets, crushed pistachios and goat cheese.  We found out later that this dish was considered the amuse bouche. We found it interesting, as typically amuses are single bites. And this was a multi-bite dish. Delicious, really wonderful, but technically not an amuse.
I'm sorry it's sideways! 

During our dinner, we had three separate breads to nosh on as we waited for the next course to come out. Our first bread was a delicious home-made pretzel roll with fresh made butter that was sprinkled with smoked salt. I love pretzel rolls, so it’s hard for me to find any fault in the bread and the butter was simply delicious. And you must remember, this is coming from someone who avoids eating butter 99% of the time. But I have learned, if it’s fresh, you can’t go wrong.


Our second course was a perfectly prepared poached white asparagus over a puree of broccolini, piquillo peppers and Manchego Cheese. The asparagus, while poached, wasn’t soggy and paired extremely well with the pureed broccolini.

Our third dish of the evening was a homemade tofu dish. Normally I shy away from tofu; I’m not a fan of the spongy like texture (unless it’s in my hot and sour soup). It was served alongside grilled peaches in a red curry. The curry flavors played perfectly with the peaches and the house-made tofu was really wonderful. The texture wasn’t spongy, rather it reminded me a little of the texture of a scrambled egg. Light, fluffy, but obviously with some substance.

Silky Tofu
The next two courses have popped into my dreams since our dinner last month. To start, course four was a one-hour poached Hen egg, over a bed or morel mushrooms and Swiss chard.  From my previous posts, you know how much I enjoy morel mushrooms. This one was no exception.  The combination of the salty sautéed chard, the earthy mushroom and the creamy egg was divine.

Hen Egg and Morel Mushroom

As I said previously, each of the savory courses increased in their level of salty. The final savory course, Miso tortellini with Red Cabbage was mind-blowing. The tortellini was cooked to perfection and filled with the salty deliciousness of miso and was placed over a bed of red cabbage.  If it wasn’t wildly improper, I would have licked this plate clean and asked for another round.  A week later The Husband and I were at a gathering and were on opposite sides of the room, and I vaguely heard him speaking about what we had been up to since we had last seen him a few weeks ago.  The Husband called my name and I immediately replied “Miso Tortellini”. The person The Husband was speaking with looked at the both of us with shock and said “How did you know that we were speaking about your dinner and moreover, how did you know that he had just spent five minutes speaking just about that dish?” My response (pointing to The Husband) “He would only call me over if I was in the middle of a conversation to emphasis a point. And it was just.that.good.”

Miso Tortellini
From here we moved onto the first of three desserts; cantaloupe sorbet with Anise shortbread in a eucalyptus consume.  We had a vegetarian in the group and so instead of the iberco ham consume, we got the eucalyptus. This was our palate cleanser before moving onto the richer desserts and it did do its job well. Unfortunately I’m not a huge melon fan and on top of that, I found the dish to be a little sweet due, in part, to the eucalyptus. I would have been interested to try it with the ham consume, but I wouldn’t jump to it.
Melon

The second dessert was my favorite by far.  This is interesting because it was not the chocolate dessert. This course was a zucchini cake with basil and saffron reduction. Honestly, they had me at the basil reduction.  The cake was well prepared; the icing was perfect, not overly rich and complemented the light cake really well.
Zucchini Cake 

The final dish was a mocha ice cream with hazelnut dacquoise and steamed coffee cake. It was a solid dessert, but nothing I would write home about. The Grand Menu’s final dessert however, was spectacular- a molten chocolate cake with chocolate sauce poured over it.

Other than our savory dishes, the one thing I must say that blew me away was our Somm. He did a spectacular job of pairing various bottles of wine with two totally different menus.  We started with champagne, moved onto two very lovely and very different whites, from there had two reds and finished the evening with a dessert wine.  Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of the bottles, so I can’t tell you what we had. You'll have to trust me though, it was good.
I did, however get a picture of my favorite decanter, the Reidel Mambo. 
Note the wine glass fort I surrounded myself with

After our dinner we were invited down to the kitchen for a tour. As many top restaurants do, they literally take apart the entire kitchen every single night and wash it- ceiling to floor- to ensure the utmost cleanliness.  Since our reservation was at 9:30pm, we were able to see the kitchen finishing up the breakdown when we went in.  We were also able to see the sheer volume of bottles of wine drank that evening. A counter, two feet deep and four feet wide, was full of empty wine bottles.  If I was smart, I would have taken a picture, alas, I was not.  From the kitchen we then proceeded in the studio area where Trotter used to film his cooking show and then back out to the front, where we chatted with our Somm as well as the Master Somm  and thanked them for the perfect pairings and for the lovely evening. Before we walked out of the door, we asked where they were headed once the doors were closed in August (less of a “hey, what are you up to next” and more of a “You’re so good, I will go wherever you’re working” type thing). Both plan on heading to Napa and aren’t sure what their next steps will be.  But I imagine if you’re coming from a place like Charlie Trotters, you really don’t have to worry much.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What a Day!

It’s been a busy few weeks at work and at home, so I haven’t had much time to post.  But I was having a not so hot start to my day today and decided,  I was going to update you all on some of the things we’ve been doing as of late.

The Husband’s Extravaganza week went off without a hitch. We had tons and tons of fun with so many wonderful friends. I’d like to thank them all for coming out in the hot hot heat and spending about 13 hours celebrating all over Chicago.

The Husband and I have had a tradition for a few years. In honor if his birthday, once a year we go to Hoosier Mama Pie Company on Ashland and Chicago for some pie before spending five or six hours wandering around The Brookfield Zoo and then heading out to dinner and drinks at varying locations.  Each year we’ve added more and more people to the mix. This year was our biggest year yet.
   
The morning started a little rough, the night before we spent over six hours at The Kitchen Table at Aviary (that post is to follow) and The Husband had a little too much fun with some super rare beers. So we got a later start than he had initially wanted, 10:15am. For those people who know me, after being out until 1am any place, the idea of waking up and being dressed and ready to go someplace by 10:15 the following morning, is tantamount to torture. The Husband’s Partner in Residency Crime can tell you many a mornings he’s watched The Husband literally drag me out of bed so we can go someplace. However, because I am madly in love with this man, I dragged myself out of bed much earlier than normal on a weekend (recently I’ve been averaging an 11:30am wake up…pretty fantastic if you ask me).

So, six of us walked into Hoosier Mama on a Saturday morning at 10:30am, and ordered a mass amount of pie, that sounds like the start of a joke. It isn’t.  If you’ve never been Hoosier Mama is this deliciously wonderful little, and I do mean little, shop.  Inside there’s probably about space to seat 10 people, in this teeny tiny shop and six of those seats are in a recessed bay window and when the line forms, the place feels like the El at 8am on a Monday morning.   The Husband loves their Apple Rhubarb Pie; he’s a huge fan of Rhubarb pies and hasn’t ever seen another with that combination. It is fantastic, a little sweet, a little tart, with a delicious crumble on the top.  What makes her pie so amazing is not only the ingredients inside, but also her crusts. People forget the importance of a deliciously flaky crust, especially in open pies. I ordered her Chocolate Chess pie, it’s my favorite and reminds me of a slightly undercooked light brownie. One friend ordered the Hoosier Mama Sugar Pie, HOLY COW! Fantastic. It tasted like a light whipped caramel pie. As I just said, I’m normally a chocolate lover, but her Sugar Pie gave the Chess Pie a run for its money. We also had the Boston Crème Pie, amazing chocolate pudding with fresh and perfectly whipped whip cream and another slice of the Apple Rhubarb, because it was that good.  Hoosier Mama also has savory pies that we dug into (because you’ve got to mix the sweet with something) so we had the BBQ Pork Pie which was a huge heaping of perfectly pulled pork with a flaky crust that I could not figure out what was in it, but I think cheese and a side of pickled ramps. Oh wow.  And we finished the pie bonanza off with a Chicken Tomatillo Pie.  Perfectly cooked chicken with a delicious Salsa Verde. It was an awesome way to start the day.

A view from the bay window booth at Hoosier Mama

After stuffing ourselves with Pie, we headed to the Zoo. Because obviously that is what you do after you eat mass amounts of sugar. Many hours of sun and fun, we all went our separate ways to shower off the sweat from the day and meet up in Andersonville at Big Jones, a restaurant that focuses on “Southern Heirloom Cooking from New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and the Carolina’s Low Country”. The space is warm and inviting and while our waitress was a little….odd….she had spot on service and didn’t miss a thing. 

There were seven of us at dinner, and between us we ordered most of the menu.  We started with the Hot and Spicy Boiled Peanuts which were just perfect. I had never had boiled green peanuts before and there were perfect. Soft, salty a bit of a kick, we spent a good portion of the night munching on these.

Sorry, these are all dark. But you can see the messy deliciousness
From there we ordered the Acadian Andouille. The sausage was soft and wonderful. We added to that Potato & Goat Cheese Croquettes, huge fried balls filled with creamy goat cheese and potato. Honestly, they were good, but compared to everything else we had, my least favorite.  We followed that with a large bowl of Gumbo Ya-Ya. Their gumbo is a deep dark coffee colored brown, which I’ve learned isn’t my favorite gumbo, I like it a little lighter, but even still this was delicious. The chicken and pork were so tender. We finished off the Appetizers with the Crawfish Boudin Balls, rice, sausage, crawfish rolled together, breaded and fried with a side of a spicy mayo. Boudin Balls are one of my favorite New Orleanais delicacies. The juxtaposition of the crispy warm fried outside and the soft rice and meat inside is always a winning combination. These were darn near close to flawless. The crawfish were sweet and not overpowering or fishy, the sausage rice was salty and perfect.


The Gumbo Ya-Ya, see how dark it is?!

The inside of the Boudin Ball
We followed out bang up appetizers with some Main Courses. Three of the seven people got the  Farmhouse Chicken and Dumpling, two of us got the Crawfish Etouffee, one got the Shrimp and Grits and another got the Chicken Fried Mushroom.

I had initially looked at the Chicken and Dumplings, but because I’m not a huge cream-based fan, I decided against it. I was pleasantly surprised when it came out that the dumplings were surrounded by perfectly cooked juicy chunks of chicken in a light chicken broth.  All three of the people who ordered this dish were southern, and were a little surprised, because they all expected a thicker soup. However, even though it wasn’t what they expected, everyone was happy and I had a moment of second guessing my order. Normally I’m a fan of pork, but this time I decided to step out of my box and get the crawfish. Fish is generally hit or miss with me, I really don’t like super fishy fish. I normally go more towards mahi-mahi or swordfish over salmon, but when in Rome.
The surprising Chicken and Dumplings

 The Husband’s Partner in Residency Crime also ordered the Crawfish, and our dinners came out late, like, everyone else had finished their food late. However we didn’t really notice because we were all having a great time chatting and tasting everyone else’s food.  Our waitress apologized and informed us that they had just brought on a new sauciere and thought that starting him that night would be good, because it was going to be slow due to the street festival. As he was making our dinner, the sauce broke two different times. So in our case, third time was a charm and what a win it was. It was totally worth the wait. The Etouffee came out and the smell alone was amazing. The white wine and butter sauce was delicate and complemented the sweetness of the crawfish well. The Cajun spices were wonderful and super aromatic. Whatever second guesses I had initially had about not getting the Chicken and Dumplings were totally washed away after the first bite. And because of how late it was, the restaurant gave us both our dinners on the house; which was very nice of them (because I would have paid for this without even questioning). 

The Etouffee

The Husband ordered the Shrimp and Grits (as it is one of his favorite southern dinners) and was happy as a clam. He kindly shared bites of his dinner with everyone, but I knew that secretly he was thinking “I’m coming back and getting this again and not sharing with anyone else.” He also had the look of "Yeah, this is pretty fantastic and the rest of you decided to order things NOT this? Silly fools." Obviously this dish was a hit.

And finally the Chicken Fried Mushroom.  So if you are not from the south, the idea of Chicken Frying anything is confusing. We’ve had friends come down and visit us while in college and see “Chicken Fried Steak” on the menu and ask if it was chicken AND steak? How did it work?  It’s  a little confusing, but you can pretty much Chicken Fry anything.  It’s similar to Wiener Schnitzel, in that it’s a piece of meat or in this case Hen of the Woods mushroom (Big Jones currently has Chicken Fried Morel Mushrooms on the menu…may have to go back sooner rather than later) that is immersed in egg wash and/or dredged in seasoned flower and then fried in a skillet. Country frying something is the same idea, but without the egg wash. So the Chicken Fried Mushroom comes out and ooooh man, it’s wonderful. As noted from my previous post, I do love me some Hen of the Woods mushrooms, so this was pretty much amazing. Salty, earthy, crispy, crunchy and warm; bliss.
Chicken Fried Mushroom

We thought we were over for the night, but one of our friends saw the dessert list and decided we needed some. So instead of ordering one, we ordered three.  The Peanut Gooey Butter Cake, The Chocolate and Black Walnut Tart and the Strawberry Shortcake. I mean, why not bookend your day with sweets for breakfast and dessert.

Everything was delicious. The Peanut Butter Cake was described as a slice of childhood, and it was. It came with a grape sorbet that complemented the gooeyness of the cake wonderfully. The Chocolate tart was warm and rich and the buttermilk ice cream was smoked and tasted a bit like bacon. However my favorite was the Strawberry Shortcake. After all of the sweets we had all day, THIS was my favorite. The strawberries were so fresh, the Shortcake so flaky. Heaven.

I should also add, that the beverage service at Big Jones is really excellent. If you’re looking for a good southern drink, this is the place to go. The Gin Julep, the Sazerac, The Moscow Mule and their punches were all spot on.

After finishing our dinner, which for seven people cost next to nothing we strolled down the block to Hop Leaf for a night cap. Exhausted and satiated, we each had a Belgium beer before calling it a night. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Not Your Blue Box Mac & Cheese

The Husband had a birthday last week, which meant that we Extravaganza-ed all week.  I promise I will post of our various outings, but this post is dedicated to the ooey gooey deliciousness that is Mac and Cheese.

The Father-in-Law has a dream of someday opening up his own Mac and Cheese restaurant. The menu would be filled with every kind of combination of Cheese and Pasta, and the people will sigh with delight and make little happy dances as they eat bites.  So The Husband loves the cheesy, gooey, pasta.

 I, on the other hand, came from a family that despised it. When I was growing up, all my parents could afford while The Dad was in residency was the Blue Box, and so we ate a lot of it.  The Mom can’t stand the stuff because of that, so while the fancy gourmet home-made stuff is TOTALLY different, it shared a common name of Mac & Cheese, and so we never really ate it (unless one of my siblings begged for a Blue Box and The Mom would look at them with derision and throw up a little in her mouth as she placed the box in the shopping cart).

Also, I came from a family that didn’t really eat anything cream or dairy based, so that didn’t really help.  And I’m sure you’re wondering, NOTHING dairy-based? And I say again, nothing. Pretty much everyone in my family is lactose intolerant.  We put salt and pepper on corn and baked potatoes instead of butter; we didn’t really drink milk (I call it eating milk, because it’s a damn meal),  we all really dislike yogurt and The Mom loves salty stuff, so we rarely had ice cream in the house.  So if we weren’t drinking milk, I can assure you we weren’t eating Alfredo Sauces. 

We also didn’t have anything but oil and vinegar on our salads, and it was always dressed when it came to the table. The Youngest Sister went to a friend’s house for dinner when she was in elementary school. There was a bottle of Ranch dressing on the table, she pointed to it and asked what it was.  The family she was eating with stopped what they were doing and looked at her like she had just said an alien had abducted her the evening before. They then proceeded to explain to her it was salad dressing and had her try some.  I realize it isn’t normal to not know what ranch dressing is (since it’s a staple in most American homes) or to never have had butter on your corn or potatoes, but that’s how we grew up.  I should add here, that I am not lactose intolerant. I’m actually lactose SUPER tolerant, I love me some cheese. But because I never really ate any of that stuff, I just don’t really like it.

And because of this, and because I do the cooking in our home, The Husband, who came from a family of butter on your potatoes and ranch dressing on your pizza (still grosses me the heck out!), never gets to eat creamy foods.  So once or twice year, on his birthday and maybe some time in the winter, I make a dish that I don’t eat a whole lot of, but makes him super happy and then he has leftovers for a few days and can nosh.

So this year I used a recipe that The Husband had found, a Goat Cheese and Pesto Mac and Cheese.  And again, because it’s me, I added more pesto and crunchy top and threw in a few other things (like I used the crunchy top to break chicken and baked it and served in on the side). And I have to say, this was my favorite creamy pasta recipe I’ve made yet. Also, I love goat cheese and pesto, so that helped.  This is not for someone looking to be healthy; it is total artery clogging happiness.  The above recipe says this is a side, we had it for dinner. Obviously. I mean, I Didn’t Get Fat Accidently.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for baking dish
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup finely chopped basil leaves
1 ½  cup panko bread crumbs
1 ¾  cups Parmesan
1 pound good Orecchiette
2 cups heavy cream
16 ounces good soft goat cheese (don’t get the hard stuff people)
¾   cup pesto sauce  (recipe below)
kosher salt, add to taste
1 TSP freshly ground black pepper

Pesto:
2 cloves garlic
2 cups of basil
½ cup of parmesan
1/3 to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor, process garlic until finely minced, add basil until finely minced, add parmesan and blend until a lighter green color. Add oil and blend until mixed, you should be able to pour it, but it shouldn’t be overly olive oily. This doesn’t have to be amazing, so just make sure you can taste basil, and garlic and you should be okay. The Pesto Advanced Class will come later. Salt and pepper to taste and if you would like to add more cheese, feel free.  Put to the side and wait

To make the Mac & Cheese:

Butter a baking dish, I used a 9 X 13. Heat oven to Broil

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in medium bowl in the microwave. Add the garlic, basil, panko, and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan to the melted butter. Mix well and reserve.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta as a just in case (but honestly, I didn’t need it)

As the pasta is cooking, put the cream in a medium pot and bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer until reduced and slightly thickened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Once the cream is simmering, add the goat cheese and whisk until smooth. Add in the remaining Parmesan and whisk until melted. This should take about 3 minutes or so.

In your baking dish, combine the pasta , cheesy cream sauce and your fresh pesto. If you feel as though the sauce is really thick and you can’t seem to stir it, add some reserved pasta water. But honestly, it should be really creamy and seem like there may be a little too much sauce. If that is the case, then you’re solid!  Add  salt, and pepper to taste. The salt is key here, it will really help make the pasta brighter.  Once you’re done, cover with the panko mixture.

Put under the broiler until the mixture bubbles and the top is browned. Our oven doesn’t have a broiler on top, weird right? Anyway, this means that it takes longer for it to brown, so I out mine in for 10 minutes and check at the five minute mark, and again at the seven minute.

 Remove from the broiler and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.



Ooey Gooey Cheesy Happiness