Friday, April 27, 2012

The Devil's Food Cake Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake Cookie Dough Cake of Heaven and Happiness

The view below 

So I’m not a cake baker. I enjoy cooking, and this is in part because I don’t have to follow rules. Baking requires you to follow lots and lots of rules to a T. Many of the things I bake, I don’t follow the recipe, but I’m also baking cookies and S’mores bars, so it’s okay to be a little more relaxed with the directions. Cakes however, have always scared me. They fall, they crack, they get super dry or don’t cook enough. However I found these (there are actually two recipes here that I combined and made into one…so I didn’t TOTALLY follow the rules) on and thought they would be pretty awesome. 

We were having a dinner party and I knew that 8 people could at least make a dent in the behemoth.  The original two recipes were actually larger (one was 10 lbs and fed 20 people). And more than anything, I’m impressed that I iced this thing, it could have turned out looking like a blob of goo.

But I did have help and I have to give credit where it is due: The Husband made the frosting and  a Good Friend sat with me through the cheesecake and walked me through direction by direction (seriously people, I hate to read them). I was actually finished the cheesecake and took it out of the pan (in the parchment) to put in the freezer. THAT was a mistake. The Good Friend was 5 feet away but preoccupied with our dinner of Indian food and didn’t notice. She was rather upset at me (and for good reason, I mean, I got through the ENTIRE cake but messed up at the last step). Good thing I was able to put it back in the pan and drop it in the freezer.

Anyway, this is not for the weak of heart, I did it over a three day period of time. Day one: Cheesecake, Day Two: Devil’s Food and Cookie Dough, Day Three: Icing and assembly. But it was worth it. Everyone really enjoyed it. And honestly, even though it has a lot of parts, each part was SUPER easy…especially if you follow the directions.

Besides, the thing looked professional. What a difference an offset spatula and a pastry bag make!

I promise, you will enjoy!

Crustless Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake:
30 mini peanut butter cups, each one quartered
1 stick of softened butter
1/2 Cup granulated sugar
2  8 oz Packages cream cheese, softened
1- 1.5 oz. package cook and serve vanilla pudding (just ½ of a box of the pudding)
2 Eggs
1 TSP baking powder
1/2 TBS lemon juice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease one 9 inch circular pan with butter and then line with parchment paper. This will be a little tricky, as you won’t be able to get the paper to be totally smooth on the sides, that’s okay. You will also grease the parchment. Trust me, it will make a huge difference.

To start, cream the butter and sugar in a mixer, use the paddle attachment.  Add cream cheese a little at a time until smooth.  Scrape bowl down and beat again on medium speed, adding eggs one at a time.  Add all of the remaining ingredients except peanut butter cups.  Mix again until smooth.

When everything is smooth, take a rubber spatula (use the same one you scrapped down the sides) and fold in quartered peanut butter cups. 

Place batter into pan and smooth the top. I gently (GENTLY!) tapped the pan on the counter to make sure the top got smooth and the sides moved into the crevices of the parchment.  Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour. Cheesecake will puff up during baking, and then deflate when taken out. It’s going to get slightly browned on the top that is okay.

When you’re finished baking, put the cheesecake directly into the freezer (keep it in the pan!). You are now finished day one J

So you’re back for more, eh?  Okay, the next two steps can be completed in short order.

Devil’s Food Cake:
1 oz. fine quality bittersweet chocolate chips, I used Ghirardelli
1/4 Cup plus 2 TBS unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1/2 Cup hot water (I boiled it in my teapot)
1 Egg
1 Egg yolk (toss the white, you won’t be using it)
2 TBS sour cream (sounds gross, trust me)
1 TSP vanilla extract
1 Cup plus 2 TBS flour (I used baking flour, you don’t have to)
3/4 Cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 TSP baking soda
1/4 TSP salt
1 Stick of unsalted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   If you’re awesome and have TWO 9 inch cake pans, then ignore what I’m about to say and just grease and flour.  If you’re like me and you don’t, then go into the freezer and remove the cheesecake from the pan. Just pull the parchment up and take the pan and grease and flour that.  

In a medium bowl, whisk the chocolate, cocoa and hot water until smooth. Set aside that aside.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks, sour cream, half the chocolate mixture and vanilla until just combined.

In the bowl of your mixer (again with the paddle attachment) mix the flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt on low for 30 seconds. Add the softened butter and the remaining chocolate mixture.  Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

With the mixer off between additions, add the egg mixture in two parts, starting on medium-low speed and gradually increasing to medium (around 7 if you have a Kitchenaid) . Beat on medium speed for 45 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. The batter will be slightly fluffy.  Make sure you keep scraping down the sides of the bowl so everything gets mixed up.

Pour the batter into the cake pan, pat it on the counter to even it out and then make for 30-40 minutes.  The cake is done with the toothpick comes out clear.  Let it cool.

While the cake is cooling, start on this

Chocolate chip cookie dough:
3 Cups flour (again I used baking flour, you don’t have to)
3/4 TSP Salt
1 ¼ Cup light brown sugar, packed
¾ Cup granulated sugar
1 Stick of unsalted butter, melted
1 ¼ TSP vanilla extract
1 Cup good milk chocolate chips (again, I used Ghirardelli)
6 TBS whole milk

I waited for an hour or so until the above cake was cooled, you can wait another day, it’s up to you. Either way, line a 9-inch pan with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (more paddle attachment!), stir together flour, salt, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Pour in butter and vanilla extract.  Mix until a dry dough forms. Add chocolate chips and mix on lowest speed (this is "Stir" on Kitchenaid machines). 

When chocolate chips are evenly dispersed, add whole milk 1 tablespoon at a time with the machine on low speed.  The dough will take a little time, but will turn into cookie dough. Remove dough from mixer bowl and press into the prepared pan. I just pressed it down on all sides until it was even.  Place in freezer until ready for cake assembly.

And day two is complete. Rest up, tomorrow is going to be more intensive (all the icing) but more delicious (all the eating!).

Okay, so this is the final hizzah. This has been exhausting, but I promise, deeelicious.

Chocolate ganache frosting:
1 2/3 Cup semisweet chocolate chips (I did a half and half mixture of milk chocolate and bittersweet)
1 1/2 Cups heavy cream
1/2 TSP. corn syrup

Remove cheesecake layers from freezer and unwrap.  You will need to level each of the cakes. I used a serrated knife and leveled the chocolate cake. The cheesecake you should only have to take off cake from the sides, again, this doesn’t have to be perfect, just so they can all fit on one another without toppling over. Finally the cookie dough, honestly I didn’t do anything to this. I just flipped it over so the flat part was on top. Choose your serving plate and line it with wax paper strips.  Place cake over strips (this will help make the cake plate not a total mess when you decorate. Trust me, you should do it. 

Heat cream in a saucepan over medium high heat until very hot but not boiling; in a medium bowl, pour hot cream over chips and stir until smooth.  Remove 2/3 cup chocolate mixture and pour into a small bowl, to this mixture, add 1/2 tbsp. corn syrup and stir. 

Take a little bit of the remaining chocolate, and pour it over the devil’s food cake; just enough to lightly cover the top of the cake. Place the cheesecake on top of that and the cookie dough on top of that.
When combined, immediately pour over top of cake. It will create a dark shiny top creating a shiny dark topping, make sure that most of it stays on top of the cake and doesn't spill down the edges Return cake, uncovered this time, to freezer.

Take the remaining ganache and place it in the mixer, this time with the whisk attachment. Beat the chocolate until it becomes fluffy and can stand up in stiff peaks. This should be about 10 minutes. It will be a lighter color than the chocolate you put on top.

Peanut Butter Frosting and Garnish:
2/3 Cup creamy peanut butter
I Stick butter, softened
1 Cup confectioners' sugar

Cream peanut butter and butter together in stand mixer with whisk attachment.  Gradually add powdered sugar.  Whip on high speed until light and fluffy.

Transfer icing to a piping bag fitted with a large french piping tip.  Pipe 8 large swirls around the top edge of cake, and pipe one swirl in the middle.  Garnish each swirl with a peanut butter cup.

Pull cake out of freezer, using an offset spatula, cover the sides of the cake with the ganache. It’s a messy process, so be prepared, but you’re going to need to get a fair amount if it on there. You will have extra, so don’t be shy.

Once you’ve smoothed out the side of the cake, in a pastry bag with the star tip, add the Peanut Butter Frosting. Pipe the frosting on the top edge of the cake, covering up the seam between the two ganaches. You can make stars on the sides, I made a few and topped them with Bittersweet chocolate chips and one large one in the center that I put a peanut butter cup in.

Remove the wax paper strips from the bottom (see, so clean!) and put in the freezer until 15 minutes before serving. This is thick, so you’ll need a heavy knife to cut. But enjoy!

Top view

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

So Much Beef

I already told you all how much I love meat. And normally I’m good, and limit our red meat quantity to at most once every other week. However this week is the Anniversary Bonanza. The Husband and I celebrate four years of marriage and nearly nine years of being together (side note: Where has all of this time gone? I know I’m 30, but I really feel like I’m just 21 with more money and better taste). 

Anyway, to continue on with The Bonanza, I thought I would defrost one of our delicious pieces of meat from Quarter Circle 7 (see previous post: I Heart Beef).  I pulled out the Chunk Roast and decided to riff off a Food & Wine recipe I received recently. Of course I changed a few things, but was really happy with the end result. Especially since The Husband took one taste, beamed and asked to take the leftover for lunch the following day.  And I can say, since I'm terrible at microwaving leftovers,  it’s delicious cold too.


One 4-pound chuck eye roast or other chuck roast, tied (many of them come tied!)
2 TBS olive oil
1 Onion chopped
3 Garlic cloves, minced
3 Cups low sodium Beef Broth
12 ounces Amber Ale
12  Thyme sprigs- 6 for the meat, 6 for the sauce (these 6 should just be leaves, not whole sprigs)
2 Bay Leaves
4 Parsnips, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 small bag of Baby Carrots
1.5 TSP Corn Starch
1 TBS Ice Water
Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder to taste
1 lb Egg Noodles

Cover the roast with salt, pepper and garlic powder. In a medium pan,  heat 2 tablespoons of the oil.  Add the roast; cook over moderate heat, turning, until browned all over.

In your slow cooker, add the stock, ale, carrots, parsnips, onions, thyme, bay leaves, garlic (basically everything but the corn starch and the egg noodles) and the browned roast.  Place on high for 6 hours and do something fun…or go to work.

About 45 minutes before you are ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to boil for the noodles. While you are waiting for the water to boil, strain (use a slotted spoon, it's much easier) the meat and vegetables from the broth and place the remaining broth into a large sauce pan. It's okay if there are a few veggies or some meat left in the broth.

With the flame on high, reduce the broth to about 3.5 cups. This should take you about 20 minutes or so.  During this time, you should gently pull apart the meat. It should be very tender and should probably just fall apart with the touch of a fork. Remove the ties and mix up the meat with the vegetables.  After you pull apart the meat,  combine the ice water and the corn starch until there are no lumps. When the broth is reduced, add the corn starch slurry, the remaining thyme along with salt and pepper to taste into the broth. Stir until it thickens, about 5 minutes.

Drain the egg noodles, at it to the meat and vegetable mixture and then cover with the sauce and serve!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Steer and Beer at Publican Quality Meats

I realized last night that I have been posting a lot about places we’ve been eating and not things I’ve been cooking. Today’s post is about the eating part, however it’s a big week cooking wise, so I plan on posting three more recipes by the end of the week.

Today however, is to share the love child of Publican Quality Meats and 3 Floyds Brewery: Ode to Steer and Beer. Publican Quality Meats, the newest member of the Paul Kahan Meat Empire (Avec, Blackbird, The Publican, Big Star) is a butcher shop/charcuterie heaven right next to The Publican. They currently make all of the charcuterie, cure all of the meats (100 day dry aged beef) for The Publican and hopefully soon, the rest of the Meat Empire.

We had heard about the dinner, but tickets were snatched up rather quickly. So it was a very exciting on Friday when The Husband send me the following gChat:

Public Quality Meats
ask for Sarah
3 Floyds Dinner
they can do Sunday or Monday night (as can we)

And so I called. It appears that some people cancelled, silly, silly people, and we got the last two seats for their Sunday night dinner. The menu wasn’t announced, we just knew it would be meat and beer. Obviously there is nothing wrong with either of those two things, so we got excited.

The dinner started at 7, we walked in and were immediately asked our choice of Jinx Proof, a Dortmunder with a little bit of citrus and a little bit of hops or Ham on Rye, a smoked beer that smells like a ham sandwich.  As I am not a ham sandwich lover, I went with the Jinx Proof as did The Husband. We sat and chatting with some people before going for round two (another Jinx Proof for me, a Ham and Rye for him) and then digging into the charcuterie platters in front of us: Corned Beef Hearts, Beef Salami and a Beef Pate. Honestly, they were all spectacular. For those who read beef hearts and got a little sad, I can assure you they were delicious. Probably the best Corned Beef I have ever had. Everyone loves good salami sprinkled with fresh goat cheese, and this was not one to let you down and the Beef Pate came out in huge half inch think half circles with homemade loose mustard. I have to say, the Ham on Rye paired REALLY well with the meats. We munched and chatted and then got invited downstairs for the tour.

We were ushered down, six at a time into the meat room, it smelled like meat heaven. About a hundred sausages they had smoked that morning hung from the ceiling, a half of a pig hung from hooks, dry aging, an eight foot high by four foot wide rack was dry aging meats (the pictures are below). They spoke to us about the different types of cows they used, either corn fed (generally from Slagel Family Farms) that they aged upwards of 100 days. We also learned that if you go to The Publican with a party of 10 people, you can walk across the street into this glorious room and select the slab that you and your friends would like to eat from. We were taught about the grass fed Belgian Blues, they were a cross breed of dairy cow and dinner cow that are able to convert the sugar of the grass into fat. Therefore they look like a corn fed cow, but taste like a grass fed one (an apparently can fool people who have grown up on farms). They showed us the magical door that leads to their charcuterie aging room and after about 20 minutes of being in the chilly and amazing meat room, we were toured around their kitchen. The bakers come in at 4am to start the bread and leave at 3am when they’re finished (they work in shifts!). The bread there is amazing and worth it.  We’ve had the ability to spend some time in various kitchens throughout Chicago and both The Husband and I thought this was the most laid back and fun group. The Husband started speaking with one of the chefs and he said that he could work in any kitchen in Chicago, but if he was going to spend 15 hours a day some place, he wanted to make sure that he was having fun doing it. And so that was why he was there, he had fun. And I can tell you (when you read on, you’ll see what I mean) that they totally have a blast down there.

So after our tour, we were escorted back upstairs, offered another round of drinks, more charcuterie and sat down at our table. They came around and began pouring the Rabid Rabbit Saison, a light French farmhouse ale. I love a good Saison, so I was a happy camper. It was a cloudy golden color, a big head and had a sweet start and turned just a little malty. It paired really well with the ginormous plate of grilled Short Ribs that were placed in front of us. All of dinner was served family style and there were roughly four tables of eight people each. So each table got two heaping places of short ribs.  I wish I could have taken a picture of the plate, it was seriously huge. The long ribbons (about a foot and a half long and maybe three inches wide) of grilled short ribs were smattered with pieced of grilled squid. The squid tasted like soft salty pieces of phenomenally cooked steak. The Short Ribs had a fair amount of fat on them (as short rubs generally do), but even the fat was amazing. It was soft (not grizzle-y) and The Husband’s response to my comment of “Oh, I have a fair amount of fat on this piece, can I get one with more meat” was “This is fat you should eat”. We were seated next to a couple who immediately responded “That will be the only time I hear a doctor say that. I will follow his advice gleefully.” And we all did. The Short Ribs were served with delicious Asparagus with Feta and Fresh English Peas. The bitter of the Asparagus cut the fat of the Ribs; a really wonderful second course.

After another round of beer (we’re up to 5 at this point…our new friends went and grabbed us another round during the Short Rib happiness) the third course and our next round of beer came.  The Hells Black Intelligencer, oatmeal stout brewed with Intelligensia coffee was delicious. It smells like coffee, it’s dark black but it wasn’t super thick (I’m not a huge fan of thick heavy stouts). This was paired with our comparison plate. Four huge plates (two of each type) of steak were brought out. Grilled to a perfect medium rare, were the Belgian Blue (grass fed) served with grilled ramps and the Slagel Farm (corn fed) served with radishes. I actually really enjoy grass fed beef, most people find it doesn’t taste like meat. But that’s because we’re so used to eating corn fed beef. Grass fed are generally leaner because the cows don’t convert the grass into fat and people really like the marbling and the fat of the corn fed. However the Blues (if you were paying attention waaay up at the top) do! While both were really amazingly delicious, I enjoyed the Slagel just a little bit more. The Husband on the other hand enjoyed the Blue. The bonus is, PQM has both, so we can wander over and get another steak of each.  This course was served with grilled spring onions in an amazing Romesco sauce (almonds, roasted garlic, red bell peppers and tomatoes pureed) .

The final round was a Pecan Short Bread over a Buttermilk Ice Cream with Carmel Sauce served with the Mushy P. English Porter. The Porter was a little heavy a bitter for me (a big espresso taste), but it paired well with the dessert. The Buttermilk Ice Cream was delicious, a little bit of that buttermilk tartness, but the sweetness of the caramel and the perfect Shortbread really balanced everything out.  It was a really delicious and light dessert.

When we had finished, we stayed and chatted with our new friends for a while and eventually after some joking with the front of house staff and the 3 Floyds rep (apparently some people got to take Whisky shots with the chefs) they brought us a bottle of Old Granddad’s Whiskey and told us to enjoy; which The Husband and our new friends did, right from the bottle. I told you earlier that the kitchen seemed to have a lot of fun and here is where I tell you about the prefect ending to the night. Before we left, I ran down to the restroom, which is near the kitchens. As I was washing my hands, Annie Lenox’s Walking on Broken Glass came on, and the one of the chefs started strutting through the kitchen. After a few beers and being in good spirits, I cheered him on and we (me, the baker, the chef and his two sous)  immediately broke out into a dance party in the kitchen.  We were boogying down for the entire song. There were shimmies, there were high fives, there was cheering. That moment alone was worth the cost of the dinner. The Husband caught the tail end of the shenanigans and we walked out laughing hysterically.

Obviously the food and beverages were delicious enough to make us go back to another beer dinner (they are working on having one a month) but the awesomesness of the staff just threw it over the edge. 

Beef Count: A whole lot...6 different types

Alcohol Count: 8-9 beers each plus the three whisky shots (I did not do, The Husband did) taken at the end of the night.

Happiness Count: SUPER HIGH

The Meat Room
Close up of the dry aged beef

Not the dinners focus, but still, yumm

What a way to start

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Mini-Apple

We spent this past weekend in The Twin Cities. Now, growing up I was always told The Twin Cities were London and Paris; sadly we did not have a weekend jaunt across the pond (that is saved for August). However we did make it over to Minneapolis/St. Paul to send my Brother-in-Law and Sister-in-Law off to the mean streets of Connecticut, in style. The first (and only other time) The Husband and I were in The Twin Cities was December of 2010, to see the Bills play the Vikings and to cross country ski in about 18 inches of freshly fallen snow. It was beautiful and so peaceful, but we didn't really get to enjoy the cities, as they were drowned in snow.

So this trip we made sure that we hit all of the highlights, since we probably won’t be back. We got in late Friday and drove directly to The Nook for an infamous Juicy Lucy. Now, I had never heard of this burger before I watched Man vs. Food, but the idea of a burger stuffed with melted cheese sounded fantastic. So of course, I had to have one. There is a debate in The Twin Cities as to who has the best Juicy Lucy, from what I’ve gathered the battle rages on between The 5-8 Club, Matt’s Bar and The Nook. As The Brother-in-Law and The Sister-in-Law had tried several times to go to The Nook but failed due to insanely long lines, we decided to try (that and I read that Matt’s smells like a frat house). We walked in at 10:30 (the place closes at 11) and were told we had a 15 minute wait, which was more like 5 minutes. During that time The Husband and Brother-in-Law had enough time to poke their heads downstairs and find the old 1950s bowling alley with extra seating. We sat down and The Sister-in-Law ordered a Chocolate Malt, I ordered a beer and a Chocolate Malt as well. I mean, you can’t have a burger without a beer and when you’re offered a Chocolate Malt, you can’t say no to that either. The Malt was delicious. I’m not a fan of overly malty Malty….you know, the one’s that taste like someone crushed up Whoppers into vanilla ice cream? This had just enough Malt to make the chocolate pop. And it was thick, but not impossible to drink with a straw. To me, it was perfect. However I can see how people who enjoy real Malts or super thick shakes wouldn't be pleased.

We ordered our burgers and learned there were many types of Juicy Lucy’s all of which must be ordered medium. Normally in life I prefer all my meat, ground or not, medium-rare. I have found otherwise you lose the taste of the meat, which is why you’re eating the thing anyway. I have to say though; these burgers were still good medium (I’m sure having a block of cheese in the center helped keep the meat moist). The Brother-in-Law ordered The Original, which is stuffed with a brick of regular American Cheese (the only way American cheese can be made to taste good). The Husband ordered the Spanish Fly, a burger made with 50% ground beef and 50% Chorizo, filled with queso, wow, WOW! It was amazing. You could taste the chorizo in each bite, but it was mitigated by the ground beef (so it wasn’t like munching on a sausage in patty form). We were really impressed. I got the Paul Molitor, a burger stuffed with spicy pepper jack and covered in fried onion. I’m surprised that the Juicy Lucy phenomenon of Minneapolis hasn’t spread, they’re pretty fantastic.
The following morning we woke up and headed out on a tour of the area and found ourselves wandering through the Franconia Sculpture Park in Saint Croix. The place is filled with super cool large scale interactive sculptures, I posted one below. We walked around for a while, jumping on and playing around inside the art. From there we drove to a Park and did other out doorsy stuff, but let’s be honest, that isn’t why you’re here. So on our way back to the house, we stopped at The St. Croix Chocolate Shop. As we were walking in, The Brother-in-Law turned to me and said “Now, don’t lose your mind in here”. I scoffed at him and opened the door to the teeniest little chocolate shop. Yeah, I lost my mind. We ended up ordering two of everything they had. The picture below is of the plate of chocolates we devoured over two days. The combinations were delicious and interesting, like Lemon-Mint, Honey-Bourbon and Pear-Caramel and the good old standbys of Chocolate Salted Caramel and Raspberry Truffle. I would highly recommend a stop if you’re driving around the St. Croix area.

For dinner that night we had a 9:30 reservation at 112 eatery. The chef, Isaac Becker, won the James Beard for Best Chef in the Midwest and was nominated for four consecutive years. We walked into the long, narrow , dimly lit restaurant and were seated at a booth way in the back. We initially ordered a bottle of Cava, but sadly they were out, so instead ordered a bottle of Malbec. After everyone reading the menu and The Husband making slight moaning sounds after he read out loud nearly half of the menu, we decided to just start ordering. Our waitress was wonderful, we told her that we were just going to order a whole bunch of stuff, and then order a whole bunch more after that, and maybe more after that. Most of these were smallish plates, so it worked out really well.

Round one consisted of:
112 Steak Tartare :The Brother-in-Law loved it so much he declared it his favorite dish
Blue Praws with Rooster Sauce : Deep fried jumbo prawns, delicate and sweet with a mayo mixed with siracha…heaven)

Cauliflower Fritters : I think the quote was “If Caulifower was made like this, everyone would eat it”

Frog Legs with Wakame and Mustard Sauce: The Wakame (or seaweed salad) was the stand out on this plate. The frog legs were good, if you haven’t ever had them, they taste like..well…chicken.

Razor Clam and Marinated Hearts of Palm Salad: The saltiness of the clams balanced well with the light citrus dressing that was drizzled over. It was a perfect dish to break up the fattiness of the Banh Mi below.

Duck Pate Banh Mi: Basically a THICK hunk of pate, on a roll of crusty French bread with house made pickles. The Husband was drooling. If you are not a huge pate fan, this is not for you. It was very rich, but really delicious and small enough that you didn’t think you were going to explode... no foie pun intended

Veal Tongue with Cold Soba Noodles: The tongue came out looking like a huge hunk of fried tongue on the side of the plate. Initially, not super appetizing to look at, but what it lacked in look it make up for in taste. The tongue was cooked to perfection and the deep fried outside made it crispy and delicious. The soba noodles had an amazing peanut sauce on them that worked so well with the tongue. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

After finishing off round one, we moved onto round two and another bottle of red.

Duck and Radicchio Salad: When duck is prepared well, it is phenomenal and makes it look like it must be so easy to cook. It’s not, cooking duck well is rather difficult actually. This salad was a perfect example of how something done well, seems so simple. Cold duck breasts over Radicchio with a light citrus dressing that cut the fattiness of the duck and brought out the perfect about out bitter from the radicchio

Mussels in Guajillo Broth: The Brother-in-Law and The Sister-in-Law essentially sat back and let The Husband and I ordered and The Husband isn't always a huge fan of mussels “They taste the same everywhere”. I, on the other hand and good thing I did. These were amazing. The guajillo broth was a little spicy, a little sweet and very reminiscent of something you’d get at a Rick Bayless restaurant. They were totally different from everything else we had, but really perfect, to the point where even after we finished everything, we kept dunking bread into the broth to soak up its goodness.

Roasted Carrots with Honey and Pecorino: This was a request from The Sister-in-Law, and let me tell you, she rocked it out on this one. The carrots were tender and sweet and just salty enough. Again, if all carrots tasted like this, parents wouldn’t have problems getting their kids to eat them.

Stringozzi with Lamb Sugo: Oooh this was amazing. Thick hand-made pasta, covered in a slightly sweet, delectable tomato sauce that just so happened to be saturated with lamb. Basically it was like a Spaghetti Bolognese, but with shredded lamb instead of ground beef. I could have eaten bowl after bowl of this for the rest of my life and been a happy woman.

Tagliatelle with Foie Gras Meatballs: Any time you see Foie Gras and Meatball together on a menu, you have to order….okay, anytime you see Foie Gras on the menu, you have to order. And this wasn’t an exception to the rule. Thick home-made tagiatelle covered in a light cream sauce with quarter sized Foie meatballs in it. The meatballs were amazing, rich but still light. A really spectacular dish.

Chinese Fried Egg: This was a final add on, just as the waitress was walking away after our second round of ordering. The Husband can’t say no to fried eggs, so we did it. If you’re not a spice lover (like The Brother-in-Law), you can eat this, but watch out; his first bite involved a lot of jalapeno…he was not pleased. I love me some spice, so this was perfect. Spicy, sweet, a little salty with an egg cooked to perfection. A really awesome final bite.

Rather than finish the night with a dessert (we did have all of that chocolate still at home), we had a night cap of Vin Santo (for those of you who have no idea what that is, read my most: From the Saints Indeed).

The waitress informed us that we were her second table that night who had ordered most of the menu. I’m surprised more people don’t, there are a lot of really amazing looking dishes on the menu, why not try as many as you can? Of course, this also leads back to the title of my blog… J
Our chocolate feast from the St. Croix Chocolate Company

Break-Dancing Bones at the Franconia

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Pesto from Another Mother

Something about the summer months makes me want to eat basil every night. The smell, the taste, it screams summer. The Husband can attest to my love of basil, I can taste it in anything and can smell it a mile a way. Last year I made a basil ice cream with a strawberry compote and a balsamic reduction. He doesn't love basil as much as I do (few people do), and so the ice cream wasn't nearly as much of a hit as I would have liked. Oh well, we learn.

So to me, pesto is a basil dish. Filled with delicious (and very good) olive oil and cheese and garlic, you can't forget the garlic and is drenched over pasta to the point if being able to throw another bunch of pasta in the empty serving bowl and be able to cover that again. I know, it's crazy.

With all of this basil love in mind, I recently found a recipe for a spicy sausage and scallion pesto that peaked my interest. I love spice, I love sausage (yes, that is what she said) and I love pesto. So I figured, it was worth a shot. And it was!

As I was cooking last night, The Husband made note to say it smelled delicious and when the dish was finished, I was really pleased. The scallions bring out a really awesome flavor in the sausage and the parsley balances it out, so that you don't feel like you're eating pureed scallion. The use of the pasta water really helps the dish. Unlike regular pesto, where the olive oil not only helps the binding, but also adds to the taste, olive oil in this dish would drown out the delicate flavors of the scallion and the parsley. And to boot, this is super quick. I think from start to finish this dish was 30 minutes. It took longer to boil the water than anything else.

1LB Linguine
4 Scallions cut into 1/2-inch lengths
1/2 cup Flat-Leaf Parsley
2 TBS Pine Nuts
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1LB hot Italian Turkey sausage, casings removed
1 TSP Crushed Red Pepper

In a large pot of generously salted boiling water, cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain the pasta, and reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

While this is cooking, in a mini food processor, combine the scallions, parsley, pine nuts and 1/4 cup of the olive oil and process until pureed. Add the 1/2 cup of the cheese, season with salt and pepper and process the pesto just until blended. It’s going to be a bright green and will taste like salty scallions.

In a large skillet, add the sausage and cook over high heat, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon and add the crushed red pepper (If you don’t like spice, don’t add it!), until it is lightly browned and no trace of pink remains, about 5 minutes.

In a bowl, combine the pesto, the pasta, the sausage and start with a ½ cup of the pasta water (you don’t want it to be runny) combine so that the pesto just covers the pasta; salt and pepper to taste. When serving, add some cheese and enjoy

Friday, April 6, 2012

Watershed's Founder's Beer Dinner

With the hubbub of going to New Orleans and a second trip to the Next elBulli menu (yes, I went twice…it was just as fabulous the second time as it was the first). I wasn’t able to post about our delicious Founder’s Beer dinner at our favorite watering hole, Watershed.

When I speak about Watershed, very few people have ever heard of it. It’s not labeled; there are no signs outside the door. It’s a parlor inside Pop’s for Champagne. You walk into the glass and metal room at Pops and off to the side there is a sign above the door that says “W”. Some people would mistake that as a door to the washrooms, it isn’t. It’s a stairway leading to Watershed.

When you walk inside, you immediately notice the difference in color and feel from Pops. Pops is surrounded by floor to ceiling windows, the tables are high and made of fogged glass while Watershed looks more like a really awesome den. Leather chairs, dark lighting, and a low wooden bar running across the side.

Watershed is a celebration of the Great Lakes Watershed region. The beer/wine/spirits list is dedicated to the many many craft beer, artisanal spirits and even wines that are made in the area. If you are a beer drinker, this is the place for you. Every night they have two hard to come by kegs on tap, followed by and extensive and rotating list of bottled beers.

So three weeks ago they decided it was time to do a beer dinner and paired with the delicious brewery, Founders. The food was spectacular and the beers were amazing.

We started the night with the All Day IPA, a beer specifically designed so you can drink it all day and not totally blow your palate. I’ve grown into IPA’s as I’ve gotten older, in the past I found them too hoppy (and let’s be honest, sometimes they really are), but this was light and crisp and extremely refreshing; a perfect way to whet your palate.

The first course was a Foie-Gras crepe, citrus duck sausage with a pan fried quail egg. That is pretty much everything that is good and right with the world on one plate. It was paired with the Double Trouble Imperial IPA, a beautiful amber color that was initially very hoppy when it hit your tongue, but by the time you swallowed it had calmed down and was rather mild. The bitter of the beer did a wonderful job of cutting the richness of the Foie/Duck/Quail heaven.

This was followed by one of the most delicious soups I’ve had to date, a Beer-Cheddar and Roasted Parsnip Soup topped with a Crab Croquette. It was amazing, something that we would order every.single.time we went to Watershed (and let me tell you, much like voting in Chicago, we go early and often). They paired this amazing dish with the Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale. The Bastard is a stronger beer, 8.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), and I’m going to be honest, at this point I was feeling a little tipsy. Especially since I hadn’t eaten since noon, at it was approaching 9pm.

What I can tell you, is that the next course BLEW, I mean BLEW our minds. The Husband and I have eaten at some pretty fantastic places this past year and this dish was in the top 5. A Coffee-Hazelnut Crusted Lamb Loin, Bourbon -Vanilla Lamb Bacon(yes, bacon) with English Peat and Boursin Gratin topped with Black Truffle and Sweet Potato Ravioli. And we thought the Foie/Duck/Quail or the Beer-Cheddar soup was divine, but this, this was perfection. The flavors balanced one another perfectly, the sweet of the peas, mixing with the salty sweetnesss of the bourbon-vanilla bacon all over the lamb that was cooked to perfection. This was paired with a Barrel-Aged Sumatra Brown Ale that they put in Growlers and drove up from the brewery. I was a little worried because I am not the hugest deep dark beer fan, but this was like dessert in a cup. It has a delicious coffee smell, but tastes like vanilla and caramel (from the bourbon casks it was aged it). We had said that this would be prefect to go over an scoop of vanilla ice cream, and were told that a table next to us was on their way across the street to do that same thing. So after I savored the amazing lamb (and we made sure to tell the amazing staff at Watershed how spectacular this dish was), I ran across the street and purchased 2 pints of Haagen Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream. I figured The Husband, our Friend and I could all have a scoop covered in the beer and so could the Watershed Team (I mean, you’ve got to share the love!).

So back with the ice cream in hand, we moved onto our final (well, the official final) course, Grilled Pretzel Ice Cream, Beer Cocoa Sponge, Salted Toffee, and Strawberry-Babana Sabayon all paired with the KING of all Founder’s Beers, a limited release of the Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS). The 2012 batch was getting released the following morning (which by the way, the City of Chicago sold out of in record time), however we were able to get a pre-release taste. KBS is a big beer, 11.2% ABV, it’s brewed with coffee and vanilla and then sits in oak bourbon barrels for over a year before it is barreled. Again, I was worried that I wouldn’t be the biggest fan, as I am not a stout drinker. But I have learned that when done right, Stouts are pretty damn amazing. There was a ton of hype around this beer and it lived up to it. It smelled strong and tasted very sweet, lots of chocolate and coffee, absolutely something that I will go out of my way to hunt down next March.

Of course this was followed by our Sumatra Ale Ice Cream Float. Forget Coffee and Ice Cream, Beer and Ice Cream is the new dessert (since let’s be honest, I don’t think I have the time to make the above Pretzel with Beer Cocoa and Salted Toffee).

After paying the insanely reasonable bill (for those of you in Chicago, Watershed's beer dinners are usually in the $40-$50 range), we all stumbled out into the unusually warm mid-March night in Chicago, happy and full and a little fuzzy.