Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We in the Nola, Baby!

Our friends building

I just came back from a long weekend eating bonanza trip to New Orleans with a group of friends. When I planned the trip, I knew I wanted to cram a whole lot of stuff into not a whole lot of time, we had food to eat, music to listen to and houses to gawk at. And while there was so much more I wanted to eat do, I think we hit some pretty awesome highlights. I also think that I’ve found our new home. Now I just have to convince the Husband that New Orleans in August really isn’t that terrible

Anyway, back to the weekend, I should warn you, this is a long one people, so be prepared to read a lot and get hungry in the process. We got in late Thursday night and ended up picking a friend up from the Quarter which had no power due to a nasty thunderstorm and was totally lit by gas lights… seriously beautiful. So we left the quarter, because no bars were open and headed over to Frenchman Street. Frenchman is this fabulous block filled with bars that each has various musicians playing. If you get tired of one, you stumble on over to the next. And since there are no open container laws in the great state of Louisiana, you can stumble with your drink. As I’m getting over a nasty nasty cold, I was drinkless for a goodly portion of the weekend, so there was no stumbling, but you can still get the point. So we wandered through Frenchman, and ended up in this teeny tiny little bar called the Apple Barrel, where we listened to this rather large man with a grill of gold teeth (who I am SURE had at least two stints in prison) play a MEAN harmonica with a blue grass band.

The next morning we woke up and headed over to the Uptown area of the city for an amazing lunch at Clancy's, a New Orleans establishment. You know you’ve come into an old place when you are the youngest dinners by about 30 years. We overheard our waitress say to the elderly woman in a wheelchair “I’ve been waiting on you for what, eighteen? Nineteen years?” HOLY MOLY! Nineteen years?!? Clancy’s is a white table cloth, get yourself dressed in your finest, wait staff in tuxedo’s type of place. But for all of the appearances of stuffiness, it was warm and welcoming and amazingly delicious. The menu is handwritten and changes daily; there wasn’t a single thing on there that wasn’t cooked to perfection. The highlights: Crawfish Pie, Gumbo, Grilled Sweetbreads, Grilled Veal, Baby Drum (it’s a fish!), Lemon Icebox Pie and the Butterscotch, Salted Carmel dessert. So as you can see, pretty much everything we ate was amazing.

We wandered through the quarter for a while that afternoon and our friend took us to Bourbon House for their Bourbon Milk Punch. I’m not a fan of Milk or Bourbon, but this was like a Vanilla milkshake with juuuust a hint of carmelly bourbon. I had a sip and fell in love. It was delicious and trouble. When you head down, grab one. Trust me.

Dinner that night was at one of my favorites in the city another delicious Uptown find, Boucherie. Every time I’m in New Orleans, I head back for their Crispy Duck Confit and their Krispy Kreme Breadpudding (oh yes, that is correct…and it is even more amazing than it sounds). Boucherie is a modern take on creole cuisine. They take staples like brisket and pulled pork and elevate them with a simple upgrade of ingredients. We started with the Collard Greens and the Boudin Balls (rice and sausage, rolled and fried…a New Orleans Classic). For the people who had not been, which was 95% of our group, this was a prefect teaser for what was to come. I had the Wagyu Brisket, tender and cooked to perfection. My friend has their Peppercorn Smoked Scallops with Grits, five days later and she’s still speaking about them. Husband had the Bulgogi marinated Duck Breast, wow. WOW. And the best part of all of this, the food and beverages are SO reasonably priced. Coming from Chicago, this food would be close to twice the price. Wagyu for $16? UNHEARD OF!

That night we wandered through the quarter and ended up in Lafittes Blacksmith Shop, built in the early 1700’s, it’s the oldest bar in New Orleans and is lit only by candles. The mixed drinks are rotgut, but grab a Bud and sit for a while. It’s kind of insane.

The next morning we woke up and wandered down to the Warehouse District to Cochon, Donald Link’s homage to the Pig. We started with an order of the Woodfire Oysters; I would hurt someone to get at those again. Hot off the grill, salty and spicy, this dish was pretty much made for me. I’ve been here before and this is another place I will continue to come back to. Some meal highlights: Shrimp Etouffee, fried Alligator with Chili Aioli (buffalo style Alligator), Braised Pork Cheek, Rabbit and Dumplings, Macaroni and Cheese Casserole and the Pineapple Upside-down Cake (cornmeal cake is delicious).

That afternoon we walked around the warehouse district for a bit and then headed to our friends place in the Bywater neighborhood. His building is right on the river and has breathtaking views and not to mention a pretty phenomenal roof top deck.

Dinner that night was at the newest member of John Besh’s restaurant empire, Borgne (pronounced Born). The focus is Louisiana coastal cuisine, and they have such delicious dishes as Marinated Crab Fingers (they tiny legs of the crab marinated in an amazing vinaigrette), Fish in a Bag (sweet onions and crab fat), a gigantic Seafood Stuffed Artichoke (seriously, it was the size of two soft balls) and my delicious dinner, Deviled Crab (the top shell of the crab filled with lump crabmeat and seasonings with an awesome kick). Everything was really delicious and they were able to serve a group of twenty people without it looking like a total train wreck.

That night we went to the Midtown Rock and Bowl to see Kermit Ruffins, an amazing trumpet player and singer play with his band for an hour and a half. You know you’ve found an awesome musician when you’ve got 80 year old grandpa’s dancing alongside a bunch of 20 somethings The Kermit concert was followed by a trip back to Frenchman Street where we went into d.b.a and saw the second act of Rebirth Brass Band. It’s like a marching band meets hip hop, amazing. If you’re down in New Orleans, both of these guys play regularly and are worth the $10 for tickets, seriously. This was all followed by a 3am trip to Café du Monde for some beignets. For those of you who don’t know, a beignet is essentially a fried dough pillow covered in a mound of confectioners’ sugar. Obviously a perfect 3am treat.

Sunday was brunch at Sylvain. Their Sazerac was fantastic as was their pull pork shoulder with grits. The space was beautiful as well. A large back patio area surrounded by high walls and overhanging trees with an inside that was dark and cool. It felt like a place I wanted to sit and drink and read a book all day.

That afternoon we drove all around the city. Down to the Lower Ninth, up through the Garden District to look at the mansions, got to stop into a Cemetery and check out some crypts before dropping Husband off at the airport.

Dinner was at Bacchanal, a wine shop with a huge backyard filled with patio chairs lit by tiki torches and twinkle lights. We ordered a malbec and grabbed some tacos and other Latin America inspired cuisine from La Cocinita, the little red food truck gracing Bacchanal with its food presence that evening. I sat under the light of a tiki torch, munching on carne asada, drinking a malbec, laughing with my friends and dreaming of the day when I can move down here and call this my new home….I’ve made crazier things happen….

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Snozberries Taste Like Snozberries!

As I have said previously, we have had the extreme fortune to dine at all of Chef Achatz (pronounced like racket, without the R) restaurants. I will post more about my experience at Alinea at a later time, but I think this video as well as one point about our experience there is worth adding today.

Our dinner at Alinea was one of the most playful and fun dining experiences I have had to date. I can't tell you how many times my husband and I were in amazement or laughing at the sheer ludicrousness of what was plated. A perfect example, our fish course. Delicious razor clams and an oyster leaf covered in a mignonette. I opened my mouth and just burst into laughter. The tiny little rolled leaf tasted EXACTLY like an oyster. It was explained to us that the chef was in Scotland, and tried one of these Oyster Leaves and was shocked that it actually did taste like an oyster. And so he now has a farm in Ohio that grows them for him. This is just one of the 20 courses that we had at Alinea.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Deadly Nightshade

I recently learned that eggplants were part of the nightshade family. And of course I think of Harry Potter and the Deadly Nightshade plants and decided to do a little more digging on these delicious purple blubs. Apparently eggplants are closely related to tomatoes and potatoes and are native to India. And come in many other colors than the shades of purple we’re used to. There are orange eggplants out in the world people. Who’d have thunk it?! And why can’t I find an orange one?

Here's a yellow one though!

So here is this crazy fruit, because I learned in my research that it is in fact a fruit, that comes in all of these insanely different shapes, sizes and colors (I’ve eaten white eggplant…much milder than it’s purple brother) and when it’s raw, it tastes HORRIBLE. It’s bitter, it’s kind of mealy. It makes you wonder who decided that it would be a good idea to cook it, because honestly after eating a piece raw no one would ever want to touch it again. But some genius or fool (they’re really so close) decided to cook it. And that’s when the magic happened. This nasty raw blob turns into a deliciously rich cooked food.

So, why all of the eggplant background? Honestly, I just thought it was really interesting. Besides, DEADLY NIGHTSHADE is a really awesome name for a post about food. But you’re not here for a lesson, you’re here to eat. So let me share with you what I like to do with eggplant during the summer months….a double decker quesadilla!

A few years ago I stumbled across a Bobbly Flay recipe for Southwestern Quesadillas that had eggplant, red onions and chicken. The recipe as it was looked delicious, but of course, since I can’t just follow anything word for word, I decided to take his Quesadillas and make them my own. We had them for dinner last night and when my husband walked into the kitchen, he nearly fell over with excitement. They take a bit of time, but you have more than enough left -overs for two lunches and you get your daily serving of vegetables and deadly nightshade for the day.


1 Eggplant, quartered and cut into ½ inch pieces

1 Red Onion, Diced

2TBS Chopped Cilantro

1 Jalapeno, Diced

2 Chicken Breasts Cut into 1 inch cubes

2 TBS Lime Juice

1 TSP Balsamic Vinegar

2+ cups of Shredded Cheese (whatever you like to put on your tacos…Colby Jack, a blend)

6-8 Large Flour Tortilla

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive Oil to coat the pan

Place the cut eggplant in a colander and add salt, let it weep for an hour. There should be a small amount of a brown liquid at the base of the colander. Once the eggplant has wept, warm olive oil in a skillet and add the eggplant. Cook until the eggplant has softened and become a dark golden color. Make sure to stir often, as the eggplant can easily stick to the pan.

When you are finished, remove the eggplant and place in a large bowl. Return the pan to the stove, add more olive oil as well as the red onions and chopped cilantro. Cook until Onions are soft, around 5 minutes. Add salt and balsamic vinegar. Cook another 3 minutes and add onion mixture to the eggplant.

Finally, add olive oil, lime and jalapeno. Cook together while cleaning the bottom of the pot for about 1 minute. Add the chicken and cook until chicken is finished. Add the chicken into the red onion and eggplant and mix.

Turn the oven onto 450 or turn your grill onto high. Place down one tortilla, cover with cheese and chicken mixture, put another tortilla on top of that, cover will cheese and chicken mixture and top with a final tortilla. Press down, so that the top won’t fall off. Continue to do this until you have finished the chicken mixture. Depending on the size of the tortillas and how full I make them, I can generally get two double decker’s and one regular one. Place in the oven or grill (preferably on a cookie sheet) and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the tops are getting hard and a little golden.

Take out of the oven, cut each into 4 pieces and serve alongside guacamole and sour cream.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


My family can tell you that I hate mushrooms. I do. No matter how many different ways I’ve tried them, the texture gets me every time. It reminds me of biting my own tongue. Everyone loves a good Portobello, and my dad makes them like mini pizzas. I mean, who doesn’t love a grilled Portobello pizza? Me, of course.

Anyway, for years I would avoid mushrooms. And one day I was out with The Husband and we came across morel mushrooms. He could not say enough about how delicious they were and how he used to eat them all of the time when he lived in California. So for his birthday I decided to make him a strip steak with a morel mushroom cabernet sauce. I figured if I was going to eat the mushrooms, they should be doused with wine and over amazing meat. And sitting at dinner, eating the sauce, the light bulb went off. I love wild mushrooms (ie the really expensive kind). For those who know me, you will laugh because you know it’s true. For those who don’t, well, it’s true, I have a tendency to unknowingly gravitate towards expensive things, much to my husbands chagrin.

Since my morel mushroom light bulb, I have taken a head first dive into the world of non-button/Portobello mushrooms; Chanterelles, Hen of the Woods, the illustrious Truffle, if it has a non-button shape and some how manages to cost more than $5 for one, I’m all over it.

With the approach of spring, comes the dawn of wild mushroom season. Someday I would love to drive down to Missouri and go pick morel mushrooms for super cheap, instead of paying $20 for a handful of them. But since I can’t do that, I wander the produce section of Whole Foods and our local co-op to see what delicious shroomy treats are popping up.

Along with my bison and sausage find at Whole Foods this weekend, I came across some fresh Hen of the Woods mushrooms, and decided to sauté them up with the burgers and some Italian potato salad last night. These leaf like mushrooms are so earthy and so delicious you really don’t need to add much to them. And honestly, it’s a super simple recipe.

Ingredients (1-2 people)

1 Hen of the Woods mushroom (if this is your only side, 1 per person, if it’s a second, then you can split one per two people)

2 Sprigs Thyme

1 Spring of Rosemary

1 Clove Garlic, crushed

1TBS Olive Oil

Clean the mushroom, cut into quarters and let dry. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil, garlic, rosemary and thyme for about a minute. Add the mushrooms and turn the heat to medium low. Cook the mushrooms on all sides until they are golden brown, this should take about 5 minutes total. About one minute before they are done, add salt to taste.

Remove from heat and serve immediately.

It looks like a weird acorn!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Comfort Food Crunch Time

Spring has sprung early in Chicago. Now I’ve said it and of course we’ll get 18 inches of snow next week. But in the wake of winters trail, I decided to make one of my childhood favorites last night, Sausage and Peppers. Growing up my dad would make this on a Sunday night in winter, we'd all sit around the table eating it (except my younger sisters, who decided they hated it and were stuck with cereal).

I love sausage. I feel like everyone reading this is saying to themselves, “That’s what she said!!” As I was writing it, I said it to myself. Anyway, I do. I love them. There is something delicious about encased meats and when I go to Whole Foods and see them on sale, I can’t say no. Of course, when I go to Whole Foods and see any meat I love on sale, I can’t say no. Tonight, we’re having bison burgers because I couldn’t say no.

Anyway, I walked into Whole Foods to kill some time and ended up walking out with two pounds of delicious fresh made sausage (and that bison). I could have just grilled a few and been on my merry way, but as winter is coming to a close, I’m trying to get all my cold weather comfort foods in while I can. My dad’s gravy is coming soon. For those of you who aren’t an Italian from New York, Gravy is what most people call pasta sauce with meatballs in it. However my dad’s has sausage, meatballs and occasionally spare ribs and a braciole (pronounced BRA-joel) and is spooned on top of ravioli imported from Brooklyn.

So back to the sausage and peppers, this recipe is actually rather easy. More than anything, it just requires the time to let it simmer. My dad now uses his slow cooker, since I was home, I used my stove; same delicious results.


1lb Sweet Italian Sausage

1lb Hot Italian Sausage

2 of each color Pepper: Red, Orange and Yellow. I pick these because they are sweeter than the green peppers, cut into thick strips and then cut in half

3 Cloves of Garlic, minced

1 Yellow Onion, chopped

3 Cans of good Crushed Tomato’s

2 TSP Sugar

2TBS Basil, Chopped

1 TBS Italian Seasoning

1TBS Olive Oil

Parmesan Cheese to Taste

In a fry pan, cook the sausages until golden brown on the outside.

While the sausages are browning, in a large pot on medium heat, add olive oil, garlic, peppers and onions. Cook until onions and peppers are soft, about 5-8 minutes. Add salt to taste. When onions are soft, add 3 cans of crushed tomatoes, sugar, basil and Italian seasoning. Stir ingredients together.

When the sausages are browned, you can either cut them up into smaller pieces about 1.5 inches think, or place the whole links into the tomato sauce. Honestly, depending on how I feel that day will depend on if I cut them or now.

Turn the heat down to low and let the sauce simmer for 3 hours; stir occasionally. During this time the sauce will become darker and thinner. It will also taste much bolder.

You can serve this on a hoagie roll, on top of a bed of rice like my dad does, or on pasta add some of your cheese and enjoy!