Sunday, November 27, 2011

2 Sparrows

At 553 W. Diversey, this intimate, 60–seat space was created by two friends who came out of a crop of great chefs at Charlie Trotters that included Matthias Merges, Giuseppe Tentori, and one of my Chicago favorites Bill Kim.

I did the Benedict that was prepared with Tasso ham – made in house – and 2 hollandaise sauces. It took me forever to eat breakfast because I savored every bite it was so delicious.
Have to admit that this breakfast was unquestionably approaching perfect. Would I change anything? No, not even the English muffins which were super thin and the same identical size as the poached egg and I’m sure made in house.
In my desire to reconstruct the Benedict in my own kitchen, I searched the Chicago area for Tasso ham but ran into one dead end after another. When I asked my butcher about it, he said he would make some after the holidays.
After the holiday? Patience is not my virtue at all so I looked for a recipe and had a Boston Butt brining in my refrigerator all week which I am patiently smoking now.

The overkill of the brunch was a maple and bacon doughnut that I recreated in my kitchen the next morning. It was pretty close but need to make the glaze a bit thicker the next time.
Like I said, patience is not one of my virtues.
Glaze for Doughnuts
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 cups confectioners' sugar
Combine milk and vanilla in a medium saucepan and heat over low heat until warm. Sift confectioners' sugar into milk mixture. Whisk slowly, until well combined. Remove the glaze from the heat and set over a bowl of warm water. Pour over doughnuts , 1 at a time, and set on a draining rack placed in a half  sheet pan for 5 minutes before serving.

The waiter also brought me some fantastic pate that the chef had just made in the kitchen which was equally as gratifying.
Additionly, I had to try the chocolate bread pudding.
The outstanding food, great service, perfect location (Red Hen Bakery was down the block) and simple feel of both the restaurant and the neighborhood will bring me back again. Make sure you get there at 8 AM. Not long after, the line was half way around the block.
So if the menu is small, the decision should be easy- right?
Watch the parade of delicious food coming out of the kitchen and tell me that you don’t want to try everything on the menu.

Bon Appetit!

Baked Pumpkin Pecan French Toast

I made this French Toast for Thanksgiving breakfast. What was so unusual about it was the bread. 
Red Hen Bakery makes the best Pumpkin Pecan bread and I topped it with syrup that had a dash of caramel in it. Was a perfect cure for my AM sugar craving.

I’ve tried a lot of different breads for French Toast and always find something unique to pair with the recipe. This recipe was topped with sugared pecans and of course, the great taste of the caramel maple syrup.
Baked Pumpkin Pecan French Toast
4 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 (1 pound) loaf Red Hen Pumpkin Pecan Bread
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup chopped, sugared pecans
Mixture of 2/3 maple syrup and large Tablespoon caramel

In a large bowl, beat together eggs, milk, brown sugar, nutmeg and vanilla extract. Place bread slices in a tightly spaced single layer in the bottom of a flat dish or baking pan. Pour milk mixture over bread, cover and refrigerate overnight, turning once.
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Coat a rimmed baking sheet, evenly with the melted butter. Arrange soaked bread slices in a single layer on pan.
Bake in preheated oven until golden, 15- 20 minutes. Flip and cook another 5-7 minutes. Top with syrup and sugared pecans.

Holiday Gifts For Foodies

Oh I get it. When it comes to kitchen stuff, you just can’t resist.Well, I’ve definitely got the same problem so here are some things that I'll put on our long and growing Christmas list.

Photos Courtesy the source.

Tilt your iPhone or iPad so you can read the next step while you cook. iStand in Orange, $5;

Oven-to-table stoneware in four festive colors: Caribbean (shown), cherry, kiwi, cobalt. Microwave and dishwasher safe, 8 inches, $30.

These ceramic spoons make eating wonton soup seem like a grand event. At 65 cents each, you can invite the entire office over for Chinese takeout.
Chair Wreaths
Simple and elegant, these naturally preserved boxwood wreaths make perfect decorations for hanging on chair backs and throughout the house including your bed. They come in a set of two.
I bought them and wanted at least 20 more. The perfect size in 7” diameter. $39.95
Turkey Wishbone
This ornament is a good luck keepsake for every chef out there that twinkles with the holiday spirit and cooks up a storm during the season. $15.00
Imperia Pasta Machine
Homemade pasta is easy to prepare with this old-fashioned Italian pasta machine, which is the same kind used in kitchens throughout Italy. $50.00

The Food Pod

This funny looking silicone cup is remarkably useful.

I listed the food pod last year as a must buy gift for your favorite foodie for Christmas. This entire line is amazing and offers such fun products as the CrackPot and the PoachPod above. Why didn’t I think of these?

Definitely on my short list of things to buy this year and the price point is right. Most under $12.00 at 

Super Bowls

This cleverly designed stack serves olives, pistachios, cherries and other tricky bites without the pitfalls of clutter. An ingenious solution devised by twin brothers Richard and Antony Joseph, its design offers a serving bowl inside a larger bowl with open chutes for ditching seeds, pits and shells. $18.00

Water Jug

An elegant glass and stainless steel water jug from Blomus holds a liter and will work for cocktails as well as water. $49.95 at Lekker Home


I cook way too much Mexican to not own a Comal. In Mexican kitchens a Comal is an essential for baking tortillas or reheating commercial ones. But it's also a must for blistering chilies, toasting tomatillos and cooking tomatoes for salsa. $6.95 at

Tortilla Press

This traditional tool makes it easy and presses a ball of dough into a tortilla. When you see how perfect they are you’ll wonder why you did it by hand all those years. Cast Iron Tortilla Press, $20;



Cooking terms defined—a captivating gift for the absentminded foodie. Chef's pencil set, $11;

Kitchen Scale

Kitchen scales are not just for professional chefs. With user friendly touch sensitive controls, this line of kitchen scales ensures recipes are consistent time and time again. Comes in a lot of fun colors. $50.00

Urban Shopper

I saw a ton of these at the Farmers Market in San Francisco. The "Hook and Go" Urban Shopper unfolds 8 hooks that are like a coat rack to carry bags that weigh up to 70 pounds, helped along with rubber wheels and a rubber front foot to keep it upright. It folds up for easier carrying to the store. $59.95.


The low end: A Crosley Radio

Music coming from this – not just any radio- will bring on random conversation and a few spontaneous dances with or without Ellen on TV. It’s a real keeper at Crosley. CR3005 Duet Radio, $150;

The high end: Pastry Classes – The French Pastry School Chicago

With continuing education classes, you can learn anything from the Fundamentals of Artisan French Breads and Savory Treats to the Basics of the French Classics.

Definitely a splurge experience but you’ll learn from the Masters starting at $595.00

North Broadway: 2800 - 3800

If you find yourself in need of a shopping fix in some place other than your neighborhood megamall, just take a walk from the 2800 block of North Broadway all the way up to 3800.

It’s filled with one interesting little shop and restaurant after another.

I found lunch at Crisp (2940 N Broadway) which happened to be a sensational Korean BBQ Chicken place that boasts the Best Chicken in America. You be the judge.
From Bobtails – known for their homemade Ice Cream- to Johnny Sprockets (Best Bike Shop In Chicago) to Windy City Sweets (S’more Sandwich with peanut butter) I was amazed by the not so ordinary selection of shops that I found.

I also found a chicken hut.
S’more Sandwich
Graham Crackers
Yields about 25 (depending on the size)


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey

Sift together both flours, the salt, and cinnamon into a bowl. Set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the butter, brown sugar, and honey. Beat until fluffy. About 4 minutes

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in three additions, beating until just combined after each addition. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling, or for up to 2 days. (At this point you could also freeze for up to 2 months, and defrost before rolling and continuing onto the next step)

Preheat oven to 350ยบ F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Unwrap the dough and place between two sheets of parchment paper. On a clean work surface, roll out to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Use any cookie cutter you please and cut out the graham crackers. Place on cookie sheet about 1/2 inch apart. Poke with a fork to give it the appearance of a graham cracker. Bake until golden brown. About 10-14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

You can store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Marshmallow Fluff

3 egg whites, at room temperature
2 cups light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In the bowl of a stand mixture, fitted with the whisk attachment, add egg whites, corn syrup, and salt.

With your mixer on high speed, whisk for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and the volume has almost doubled.

On low speed, add powdered sugar and mix until well blended. Add vanilla extract just until well blended.

Use immediately or refrigerate in a covered container for up to two weeks.

To Put It Together:

3 cups semi sweet chocolate chips, for dipping
Peanut Butter

On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, place half of the graham crackers bottom side up. Cover with peanut butter. Pipe marshmallow fluff on the graham cracker fluff and top with the remaining graham cracker. Place in freezer for about 30 minutes to harden.

Using a double broiler, or microwave, melt the chocolate chips until just melted. Let cool a little bit.

With the cookies still in the freezer, take two or three out at a time and dip in chocolate. Immediately place back in freezer. Continue until all bars are dipped. Freeze until chocolate is hard.

Keep in airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

My favorite store was The Equinox – at 3401 N Broadway – where I wasted no time pondering over the wide assortment of Christmas ornaments and wondered why I have never found this shop before today. Talk about fantasyland. Everywhere you look, there were beautiful ornaments.

I guarantee that you’ll walk out of the Equinox with more than you planned on buying.  It’s not cheap but you’ll find things here that you will not find anyplace else.

Bon Appetit!

Surviving Christmas

Would you ever survive the holidays if it weren’t for your grandmother?
Like my Scandinavian grandmother and grandmothers like her, she puts Christmas in perspective because according to her it’s all about the food.
Forget counting calories, everything has a stick or two of butter in it and if it doesn’t now, wait until she modifies the recipe. She's always good about doing that.
Here are a few of my childhood can’t –do- withouts that take ordinary cookies to a whole new level.

1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup half and half
1 cup all purpose flour
Deep frying: vegetable oil
Garnish: sugar

Combine all ingredients and beat until smooth. Pour into a bowl that is wider than the rosette iron. Heat the oil to 360 degrees. Use a thermometer or do the "bread test"*.
Heat the rosette iron in the oil at the same time. Remove the iron and let excess oil drip off. Dip in the batter. Hold over the deep fryer to set the batter a little. Deep-fry until golden, around 1 minute.

Loosen from the iron with a fork. Drain on paper towels. Reheat the iron before frying the next rosette. Dip the rosettes in sugar.

* Place a cube of white bread in the hot oil. If it turns golden brown after around one minute, the temperature is correct. I relied on the bread test for years until I finally broke down and bought a thermometer this year.
These are one of my favorite Christmas cookies and you can use them to serve homemade ice cream in. Double Delicious!

½ c sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
½ c lard
½ c butter
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp salt
2 cups plus flour

Mix together sugars, lard and butter. Add egg, vanilla, salt and stir. Add flour and stir. Bake at 375 for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.
In the years I have tried to create my grandmother’s memorable butter cookies, I have found a few recipes that are pretty good.
I continue this next weekend with Butter cookie recipe #51. All of the close but not quite grandma’s.
Glazed Butter Cookies

Butter Cookie Dough

2 ½ cups (12.5 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour
¾ cup (5.5 ounces) of superfine sugar (process regular sugar for 20 seconds in Cuisinart)
¼ tsp table salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, cool room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbs cream cheese

1 Tbs cream cheese room temperature
3 Tbs milk
1 ½ cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

In bowl of standing mixer fitted with flat beater, mix flour, sugar and salt on low speed until combined. With mixer running on low, add butter 1 piece at a time; continue to mix until mixture looks crumbly and slightly wet, about 1 minute longer. Add vanilla and cream cheese and mix on low until dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds.

Remove bowl from mixer and knead dough by hand in bowl for 2 to 3 turns to form large cohesive mass. Divide dough in half, pat into two disks, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate until they begin to firm up, 20-30 minutes. Dough can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 weeks).

Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 F. Roll out 1 dough disk to even 1/8 inch thickness between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Slide rolled dough onto baking sheet and freeze for 10 minutes. Work on second dough disk.

Working with first dough portion. Cut into desired shapes on the parchment. {I find that it is easier to very lightly flour the dough then flip over and cut on the other side. It makes the dough between the cookies come out easier without drying out the cookies by adding too much flour}. Cut into desired shapes. Space 1 ½ inches apart. Bake until light golden brown {I wait until the edges brown slightly}. Bake about 10 minutes. Dough scraps can be re-rolled once {I push for 2}. Cool on wire racks.

Glaze- Whisk cream cheese and 3 Tbs milk in medium bowl until combined and no lumps remain. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar until smooth, adding milk until glaze is thin enough to spread easily. {I add almond extract} Spread glaze by scant teaspoon or drizzle over cookie as desired.
Rolled Sugar Cookies
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
Cut into shapes with favorite cookie cutter.
Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
Optional: Sprinkle with colored sugar.
Bake 6 to 8 minutes. Cool completely before storing.
An afterthought:
Now, if I didn’t have to suffer through Lutefisk as the main course and just skipped to the dessert I would have been the perfect Scandinavian grandchild… swear to God and hope to die with sugar on it…or something like that.

This Weeks Obsession: Tasso Ham

Tasso ham is made from a pork shoulder cut, which is why it is not in principle a ham. Ham is made from the hind leg of a pig.

I can’t say how much this recipe tastes like the Tasso I had at 2 Sparrows this past week and once you have Tasso you’ll have a hard time going back to ordinary ham.
This “ham” has so much flavor and the longer that you smoke it, the better it is.
I used very slow, low heat and smoked it for 12 hours.
The second time I made this Tasso however, I cheated and used William Sonoma’s citrus brine and stuck it in the refrigerator for 5 days then used this rub to smoke it for 3 hours and finished it off in the slow cooker.
So delicious I’m addicted and have gone to hog heaven…that is until something else takes its place next week.
Bon Appetit!
1 3/4 cups sugar-based curing mixture (such as Morton® Tender Quick®)
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 gallon water
10 pounds pork butt roast
2 tablespoons ground mace
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons honey

To Make the Brine: In a medium bowl, combine curing mixture, sugar, pepper, 2 tablespoons onion powder, 2 tablespoons garlic powder and water. Mix until the salt and sugar are dissolved in the water.
Pour brine over pork. Allow pork to soak in brine for one week in the refrigerator.

Remove pork from brine, then discard brine. Rinse and pat dry the pork.
Preheat an outdoor smoker for 200 to 225 degrees F (95 to 110 degrees C).

To Make the Rub: In a medium bowl, mix together the mace, 1/4 cup garlic powder, 1/4 cup onion powder, paprika, sage, thyme and honey.
Evenly coat the pork with the rub and work it in with your fingers. Place a roasting rack in a drip pan and lay the meat on the rack.

Smoke at 200 to 225 degrees F (95 to 110 degrees C) for12 hours, or until internal pork temperature reaches 160 degrees F (70 degrees C).