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.


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

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