Monday, February 20, 2012

Slow to the Slow Cooker

I received a slow-cooker from my mother-in-law when my husband and I first moved to Chicago back in 2004, I had actually never even seen one before that moment. I used my slow cooker for soups all of the time. I thought it was amazing; prep the night before, dump everything into it in the morning and go to work. I could put a full nine or ten hour day in at work, go to the gym and then come home and still have dinner before 8pm. Amazing.

A few years later, my brother and sister-in-law gave me an even fancier slow cooker. This one had gadgets and beeped and you could set times on it (whhhaatt?!) I loved it. Again, I kept using it to make soups. I guess for some reason the idea of cooking meat inside it just didn’t sit well. Even when I made my Italian Wedding soup, I’d cook the meatballs in the oven (mind you, these aren’t tiny balls, people) before putting everything in the slow cooker.

It wasn’t until my father, King of the Fear of Food Born Parasites (you’ve ready my post on his aversion to chicken that doesn't look and feel like rubber), started cooking meat in his slow cooker, that I broke down. And of course I learned, yet again, that the only thing to fear is fear itself. I mean, if I’ll eat calf brain, there really shouldn’t be a problem with me slow cooking my own pork.

The following recipe combines many of the things I love in this world, spices, pork, corn tortillas, a reason to make guacamole. And it’s insanely easy. I am a little sad that I’ve spent the last eight years fearing my slow cooker and let’s be honest, sometimes I’m just really lazy (I can’t always think ahead about dinner…which the slow cooker makes you do). So learn from my mistakes and enjoy!


3 whole ancho chiles (these are dried Poblanos, you can get them at most grocery stores)

4 cloves garlic, peeled

2 to 3 chipotles in adobo sauce

1/2 medium white onion, roughly chopped

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Kosher salt

2 teaspoons dried oregano

3 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

4 pounds boneless pork shoulder (untrimmed), cut into chunks (I’ve found this in the store labeled “Country Ribs”)

Freshly ground pepper

2 bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick

For Garnish:

Corn Tortillas

Chopped Red Onion




Put the ancho bowl with water and microwave on high until soft and pliable, 2 to 3 minutes. Stem and seed the chiles. Transfer the chiles to a blender, add the chipotles, onion, garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, honey, vinegar, 1 tablespoon salt and the oregano to the blender; puree until smooth.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high heat; add the chile sauce and cook (keep stirring it) until thick, this should take about 8 minutes. The smell should become strong. Pour in the broth and reduce until slightly thickened.

Season the pork all over with salt and pepper and transfer to a large slow cooker. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon stick and pour the sauce over it. Cover and cook on high until the meat is tender, about 5 hours or so.

Before servicing, while still in the slow cooker, take two forks and shred the pork.

Warm the tortillas in the microwave (place paper towels on either side of them) and cook for one minute.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I Heart Beef

Back in the fall I had a burning desire to go apple picking. I think I briefly spoke about this when I wrote about my pork lard pie crust (seriously, you should make it. I’m not kidding). Since we were driving out to the middle of no-where Illinois, we decided to make a day of it. A few weeks before, I had received an email about Quarter Circle 7, a farm about two hours from Chicago that raised Organic Grass-fed beef. They actually sell to several well-known restaurants in the city such as Sable, Girl and the Goat, The Atwood Café, Lula Café, and The Bristol; even the Butcher and Larder (a high end butcher shop in the city) carries their beef.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, I love me some beef. It's a trait I got from my dad, the man can cook a steak like nobody’s business. When my husband and I first moved to Chicago and I was making dinner, we were eating red meat probably three times a week. He finally informed me after eating this way for about a month that in order to finish medical school, he needed to actually be alive and our diet of red meat was putting a cholesterol hamper on that. So I reduced me red meat usage to at most, once a month. This being said, for birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, I make sure to go to Whole Foods (it’s expensive, but it’s so good) and get a strip steak or buffalo strip steak and throw it on the grill.

Anyway, back to the story at hand. So we’re out in the middle of apple orchards and decided we would drive another 20 minutes south to go to this farm. We got there and a western style horse show was going on. They did this race where someone yelled out a page number in a telephone book, each rider had to race down to the other side of the ring, flip through the phone book to the page, rip it out and ride back. The person with the fastest time wins. Already I knew, this place was AWESOME!

After watching various races, we eventually made our way into the store. The shop is small, a kitchen, a table, an office and several large coolers. We sat down with the owner and she told us the story of the ranch, showed us the fields where the cows grazed; told about the butchering and packing process. It was a really wonderful learning experience. Then we got down to the nitty gritty of meat buying. Now, as I’ve said, I love beef and I really love grass-fed beef. I think it has a much richer taste to it. I have learned that not everyone agrees with me. People are used to their corn fed cows and just don’t like that a grass-fed cow tastes different. So before you go and do what we did, make sure to go to a butcher or Whole Foods or some place and buy a cut of grass-fed beef.

You have the choice at Q7 to buy a whole cow, a half cow, a quarter cow, and eighth of a cow or whatever cuts you want. We initially came in with the idea to just try a few things, but soon realized that everything looked really good AND there was a deal to be had. Obviously, the more you bought, the cheaper things were. And (at least at the time) we save another 10-15% by picking up from the store. The fear of course, was space. We don’t have an external freezer and I have packed our freezer pretty tight with random things like a box of 100 Icee Pops (the long thin ones you ate when you were a kid) and homemade ice cream. With that being said, we quickly learned that we could pick what pieces of meat we wanted to take home with us now and either come back for more at a later time, or pay to have it shipped into the city. So we ended up taking with us 5 one pound rolls of fresh chuck ground beef, two strip steaks, a beef round, a beef liver, three hamburgers, three brat burgers, a blade steak and a few other smaller cuts.

I have to tell you, everything we’ve had has been absolutely delicious. Price-wise, it’s on par with what you would buy if you went to whole foods, but I think the beef tastes noticeably better and here you are actually putting a face to the process.

You can go online and order their meats; or you can do what we did (and will keep doing), and make a day of it. Take a 20 minute drive over to Woodstock and visit the town square where the movie Groundhog Day was filmed (super truthy) and come back to the city with your eighth of a cow.

And if you do go, let me know what you think! And for tonight's Valentine's dinner, New York Strip Steak (from Q7) with a morel mushroom Cabernet sauce.

Friday, February 10, 2012

elBulli at Next

It’s rare that we are able to enjoy something that no longer exists. As a matter of fact, it’s damn near impossible. However Grant Achatz and Dave Beran at Next have managed to bring the world famous elBulli (closed this past July) to Chicago. Next, a revolutionary restaurant that explores world cuisine opened its doors for its fourth menu. We have had the immense pleasure of having dinner at two of the three previous menus (Paris 1906 and Thailand. Sadly we weren’t able to get a seating at Childhood), and the elBulli menu has been the talk of the culinary world since they announced in the fall that they would take on the monumental task of doing a retrospective of Ferran Adria’s 25 years at elBulli.

Scoring tickets to this was tantamount to winning the lottery. Before doing a mass release of tables, they had a lottery for this week only. Twelve seating’s a night, for five nights; over 5,000 people sent emails in requesting one of these coveted tables. For those of us who aren’t math buffs, that’s 5,000 people vying for 60 seats, you have about a 1.2% chance of getting tickets. I would have a better chance running a horse and winning the Triple Crown (8% of horses who’ve run, have won and there hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since 1978) While I didn’t get picked, friends of ours did and were kind enough to offer us two of their seats.

We sat for over six hours, dining on 29 magical courses and 12 beverage pairings. The dishes were whimsical, thoughtful and obviously delicious. What Achatz and Beran did was not simply copy the menus from elBulli, they put their spin on Adria’s pivotal dishes.

We had a caipirinha that was hit with nitro and placed inside a frozen lime with a dash of tarragon. It looked like margarita slush, but tasted refreshing and divine. Dishes like smoked foam (water was cold smoked, frozen and then the created a foam from ICE, whaaaat?), Cuttlefish Ravioli (thinly cut cuttlefish wrapped around coconut water (seriously, fish around water?), liquefied chicken croquette (sounds strange, tastes delicious) and simple Jambon Iberco were only a few of the wonderful and delightful dishes.

I could talk about our meal for hours, instead I have pictures. Each has a caption below, explaining what it is.

elBulli was in a town called Roses, every day each table setting had a beautiful red rose in a vase. Next was worried about the amount of space they would need on the table for each of the plates, and so one of the servers suggested hanging the rose from the ceiling. Each table has one red rose hanging down from midair above their heads.
Nitro frozen caipirinha with taragon concentrate

Hot/cold trout roe tempura

Coca of avocado, pear, anchovy and onion

Iberico sandwich

Spherical olives (They taste like olives, but they aren't olives and they explode in your mouth!)

One of these viles changes the taste of your Cava, in order to prepare your drink for the following course

Golden Egg, quail egg, covered in caramel and gold

Chicken liquid croquettes. They look like mini mozzarella sticks, but explode with a smooth water like liquid that tastes like chicken. It's crazy.

One of my favorites! Black Sesame Sponge cake with miso. They cook the cakes in the microwave. This was so delicious, I wish I knew how to make it.

Another delicious drink changer. Added to the Cava that we already placed the previous vile, add 4-8 eye drops and BOOM! Different drink

Smoked Foam with Olive Oil Brioche. As I said before, this foam is just water. It looked like egg whites, it had a buttery consistency from the Olive Oil. Super smokey, super cool

Carrot air with coconut milk and madras curry. The carrot air alone was amazing, tasting sweet like a baby carrot, but when you got down to the bottom, a delicious curry was below.

The Cuttlefish Ravioli. So simple, so amazing.

Savory tomato ice with oregano and almond milk pudding. It tasted like the best gazpacho you have ever had in your life.

Hot crab aspic with mini corn couscous

Cauliflower cous-cous with solid aromatic herb sauce. Delicious mixture of herbs. Each bite with a different herb changed the favor of the dish.

Suquet of prawns

Potato tortilla from makr singla. There are onions at the bottom, the perfect bite had all three laywers of warm and cool. It was heaven
Trumpet mushroom carpaccio with rabbit kidney. You'd think the large thing in the center that looks like a kidney was the kidney. It was not, it's mushroom! The kidneys are small and mixed in with the carpaccio below

This is a steaming bag filled with conch. It smelled like seawater
Mullet 'gaudi'

Bone marrow on eel with nasturtium and sweet cucumber. The flower was so deliciously spicy! They made this dish for the first time two days before we got there

Teaming up with Half Acre to create a beet juice and orange infused beer

Civet of rabbit with hot apple jelly and foie

Gorgonzola globe

Tap, tap, tap with a bit of nutmeg
Foie gras carmel custard. Talk about decadence
Our test for the evening, a spice plate to test your palate
Yeah, I got a 100%
Matty came SO close!

Mind Pond with with mint, turbado sugar, and matcha powder. You crack the center and eat the mint ice. Very delicious palate cleanser

Chocolate in textures

Chocolate donuts, puff pastry web, creme flut. The donuts were liquid in the center. Amazing
Goodbye Hands! You had to figure out which one had the delicious passion fruit marshmallows

Friday, February 3, 2012


Recently The Eater posted a list of the 11 Toughest Reservations in the World Click to Read . I am a girl who enjoys a good challenge; and seeing this list was like waving a red flag in front of a bull, I couldn’t help but charge. I’ve been extremely fortunate and have already eaten at two of these restaurants twice (Next and Schwa) and have also gotten a reservation (sadly, couldn’t GO) at The French Laundry. I plan on substituting that meal with a meal at his east coast counterpart, Per Se some point soon.

However that still means I have 8 places to go. We’re currently planning another European vacation less Griswold and more… I have no idea what more, but let’s just hope for less Griswold. Anyway, I’ve decided (Sorry Husband) that depending on where we go, either Noma or The Fat Duck will be taken off the list. Some people challenge themselves with marathons, other people with chugging contests, I prefer this route.

So yeah, I have a thing for getting into the really difficult places. There’s something incredibly satisfying about that moment when you get through. A lot of it is luck (Schwa’s system is literally a phone number. They answer it sometimes, sometimes you leave a message, most of the time the answering machine is full. They call back people totally randomly. Once I was told I got reservation because he called me and my outgoing voicemail message had me laughing a little and he thought I sounded really happy. Normally if you miss their call, you’ve missed your ability to get a reservation).

Next’s ticketing system is ingenious but maddening. You wait months and months for them to release tickets, you don’t know what day, you don’t know what time, you just have a website and an obsessive need to click “refresh” on Facebook (where they essentially say “RELEASE THE KRACKEN!”). Then you and a million other people literally fight tooth and nail to get access onto their website to you can “book” a dinner ticket. They currently have probably hundreds of thousands of people on the hook waiting for them to release their 25 course (small courses people) El Bulli retrospective menu. I’m one of those poor saps. I’ll let you know how that goes J

If you don’t care to open the article and read the list as well as the “How to Make a Reservation” here’s the quick rundown.

1) Noma, Copenhagen

2) Sukiyabashi Jiro, Tokoyo

3) Next, Chicago

4) Tickets, Barcelona

4) Quintessence, Tokoyo

6) The Fat Duck, Bray Berkshire

7) Chef’s Table at Brooklyn, Brooklyn

8) minibar by josé andres , D.C

9) Schwa, Chicago

10) The French Laundry, Yountville

11)Yam’Tcha, Paris

Maybe you live near one of this place. If you have a burning desire to dine there, let me know and I’ll get you a reservation ;-)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Demi-Glazed and Confused...

So I decided to make this recipe that I found in the Williams-Sonoma magazine. I always love their recipes, but never ever want to buy their cooking sauces (damn you David Chang, your Claypot Chicken looks delicious) because I feel like it’s cheating. So I decided, since I had my broth chilled, that I’d make a kind of demi glaze.

Basically, I took the jello like stock, about 1/3 cup and threw it in a tiny pan. I put it on low heat and just cooked it and cooked it and cooked it until it was thick and a little sticky and about 1 TBS worth of stuff.

The recipe was for Root Vegetables and Chicken and of course I tweaked it to make it my own. But it was super quick

4 Chicken Breasts, boneless

3 Turnips, finely diced

1 Parsnip, finely diced

2 Carrots, finely diced

2 cloves of Garlic, finely diced

¼ cup chicken stock

2 sprigs of Thyme, leaves removed from stems

Salt and pepper

Good Fresh Parmesan cheese

Season Chicken liberally with salt and pepper, in a skillet, heat olive oil and place the chicken. When bottoms are browned, flip and cook the other side; Cook chicken for roughly 10 minutes (or until insides are no longer pink, but still tender). Remove from heat and tent with tin foil.

Immediately place the turnips, parsnip and carrots into the skillet and being cooking. If the bottom of the skillet becomes dry, add a splash of chicken broth to it. Cover and cook the vegetables for about 8 minutes, until tender. Add garlic, renegade demi-glaze, broth and thyme. Cook an addition 2-3 minutes.

To serve, place the chicken breast over a bed of the root vegetables. Quickly grate a dusting of cheese over the chicken.

Chicken Once! Chicken Twice! Chicken, Chicken Soup with…

So while I enjoy making soups, I’ve never tackled a broth before. Something about soaking bones just makes me feel…uncomfortable. But we had a roasted chicken recently and I had to do something with the leftovers, so I figured why not try it now.

It was actually insanely simple. Other than having to be IN the house when it’s boiling, there really isn’t much else you have to do during the making process.

And after, you have this awesome broth. Recipe of what I did with it to follow!

Left over roasted chicken, pick off all of the good meat and save

2 large Carrots, chopped

½ Onion, chopped

2 Celery stalks, chopped

1 Parsnip, Chopped

2 stalks of Parsley

Some Thyme

8 cups of water

Salt and pepper to taste

In a smaller pot (you want this to be snug inside) add all ingredients. Cook on low heat for 5 hours. I took my mesh collider and strained everything out, tossed all the veggies and chicken bones, added salt and pepper to the broth and put it in a sealed bowl in the fridge.

Let it cool in refrigerator. There will be a layer of fat on top, skim it off. The chilled broth will have an almost jello like feel to it. It’s kind of gross, I know. The key is to add 1 cup of water to it right before you put it on the stove. Let it heat up and I promise you, whatever you add to it will be delicious!

I ended making Roman Egg Drop soup. It didn’t look pretty, but it tasted REALLY delicious and is an excellent side for the recipe that follows. See, it all ties together.

Broth from above recipe

3 Eggs

3 TBS of Semolina Flour

3 TBS Parmesan Cheese

1 cup of Cold Chicken Broth (from above recipe)

1 TBS Parsley, Minced

In a pot add all broth, save the one cup reserved and bring to a rolling boil.

In a separate bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and whisk.

When the broth is boiling, slowly add the egg and flour mixture, whisking the entire time. Once the mixture is all in the pot, whisk for another 3-4 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste and serve warm