Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chicago Gourmet 2012

Where else can you get the magic of 161 celebrated chefs in just one seating?

The full reveal next week.

Bon Appetit!

Best Chocolate Cake

Wisma in Lake Bluff makes the best chocolate cake and I’ve been trying to copy cat for over a year.

When my October issue of Saveur came I saw a photo (the visuals always do it for me) that looked almost like Wisma’s cake except that it was three layer instead of one.

Be careful not to overcook this. Mine did in a little less than 25 minutes.

Best chocolate cake ever?
Round 2 was really good but still not quite Wisma's.

Bon Appetit!

Chocolate Cake

For the cake:
1 cup milk
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
2 cups flour
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable shortening
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the icing:
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
2 cups sugar
½ cup milk
¼ cup light corn syrup
8 tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the cake: Bring milk to a boil in a 1-qt. saucepan. Remove from heat, add chocolate, and cover; set aside for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour three 9″ cake pans; set aside. Whisk together flour and salt in large bowl; set aside. Dissolve baking soda in ⅓ cup hot water; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat both sugars and shortening until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each, until smooth. Add flour and chocolate mixtures alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture, and beat until smooth. Beat in soda water and vanilla. Divide batter evenly among pans, and smooth tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the icing: Heat chocolate, sugar, milk, corn syrup, butter, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat; attach a candy thermometer to side of pan, and cook until mixture thickens and reaches 220° on thermometer.

Pour icing into a mixing bowl; beat on medium speed of a hand mixer until slightly cooled. Add vanilla, increase speed to high, and beat until consistency of frosting. Working quickly, place 1 cake on a cake stand; spread about ½ cup icing on top. Cover with second cake; spread with ½ cup icing. Cover with last cake, and spread icing over top and sides of cakes. Let cool to set icing before cutting and serving.

Atwood Cafe

At 1 West Washington, the Atwood is part of the Hotel Burnham and is a lovely restaurant if you are looking for light. So many large windows on all sides of the room made this location a photographer’s dream.

I was there at 8 AM when they opened. One observation: Showing up when a restaurant opens works for me. Not only do you get great service but the staff has time to chat and you often get some of their will kept secrets.

This dish, a Southerner’s delight, came with a double dose of BBQ pork on a base of cornbread.

I actually made something very similar last year from leftover ribs.

I liked my recipe because the ribs were not as saturated in BBQ sauce but Atwood’s version was really delightful because the cornbread was so sweet.

Tells me I need to work on my corn bread recipe.

Bon Appetit!

BBQ Ribs Benedict

1/2 rack ribs
Hickory-hoisin sauce
Corn bread
2 eggs
2 teaspoons white vinegar
Sliced scallions

Take a half rack of ribs (enough for two) and heat it in a 350-degree oven for ten minutes, and then shred the meat off the bone.

Meanwhile, make hickory-hoisin sauce: Bull's-Eye hickory smoke sauce and Lee Kum Kee's hoisin sauce, mixed in a two-to-one ratio.

Toss the meat in the sauce — not a lot, since the corn bread is sweet — and set it on top of a couple slices of corn bread.

Poach a couple of eggs by gently cracking them into a pot of aggressively simmering water with a couple teaspoons of white vinegar. After about two minutes, remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and place on top of the pork.

Finish with some sliced scallions.


At 65 E Adams, Chef Andrew Deuel creates a little Alchemy by making the most astonishing seasonal dishes ever. Just take one bite of the braised veal cheeks, anson mills organic polenta, with fall mire poix and you’ll be convinced.

I was on a mission to make veal cheeks today and this Emeril recipe was the picture of my lunch although I must admit that Chef Deuel had his own spin on the flavors.
Bon Appetit!
4 ounces raw bacon, chopped
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup small diced carrots
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 pounds assorted exotic mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 cup Madeira wine
4 cups veal stock
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
8 veal cheeks, trimmed
3 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

In a heavy bottom pan or dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Add the onions and carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until soft, about 4 minutes.

Add the garlic and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 2 minutes.

Deglaze with the Madeira and cook for 1 minute. Add the veal stock, bay leaf, and thyme, and bring to a simmer.  

Season the veal with salt and pepper and add the simmering liquid. Cook, uncovered until the cheeks are tender, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from sticking.

In a medium-size saucepan, over medium heat, combine the milk and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Stir in the cornmeal and cook until creamy and thick, about 4 minutes. Stir in the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs from the veal mixture.

Spoon the polenta in the center of each serving plate. Lay a veal cheek over the polenta. Spoon the sauce over the cheeks.

Garnish with the reserved crispy bacon and parsley.

The sweet spot?

A Divino with Vodka instead of Gin, june, dimmi and lemon. Oh and a few grapes floating around for focus. Without a doubt, this was an outstanding mix of flavors.
A tip from the friendly staff at Tesori?

Few Spirits in Evanston, IL brews some of the best small batches anywhere.
I have a brewery tour booked October 6 so look for a follow-up.

Bon Appetit!

Life 101: Do what Makes You Happy...

The kitchen always does that for me.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday Breakfast - Szechuan Style

I am huge fan of green beans fresh from Green City Market and the addition of Sichuan mustard greens makes this dish splendid.

I shallow fry the green beans, a method that blisters them on the outside and leaves them tender on the inside but still have a crunch.

This dish is a great extra to any meal especially breakfast. I serve it hot with a side of eggs.

Bon Appetit!

Gan Bian Si Ji

10 oz. fresh green beans ends trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
¼ cup canola oil
2 ounces ground pork
3 tablespoons chopped pickled mustard greens
1 tablespoon Chinese Cooking Wine
1 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok over medium-high heat.

Add the green beans and fry for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Using a perforated strainer, transfer the beans to paper towels to drain.

Add remaining oil , then add pork and stir until brown, about 2 minutes.
Toss in the green beans, mustard greens, soy sauce and cooking wine and stir for 3 minutes.
Stir in sesame oil.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. Serves 2-4.

Caesar Salad

One of the first cookbooks I owned was Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home written by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. It was given to me as a gift and for the first few years I had it, I barley looked at it.

I have come to love this cookbook because it is a basic of great French cooking… one of those cookbook classics. In fact, everything I have ever cooked from it has been superb.

Although Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who operated restaurants in Mexico, invented Caesar salad, it was Julia Child who brought it front and center to the culinary scene.

Here is a recipe that was modified from Julia’s recipe and is in the current issue of Saveur Magazine. The original recipe did not include anchovy filets; the slight anchovy flavor comes from the Worcestershire sauce.

It was grilling weather this past weekend and this fresh salad was a wonderful addition to a grilled steak, fresh tomatoes and another round of haricot verts.

Bon Appetit!

1 ½ cups olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
8 oz. stale crusty Italian or French white bread, cut into 1” cubes
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. hot sauce, such as Tabasco
4 oil-packed anchovy filets, drained and chopped
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
12 oz. whole romaine lettuce, inner leaves only
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup finely grated Parmesan

Heat 1 cup oil and 1 clove of garlic in a 12” skillet over medium heat. Add bread and toss often until golden brown and crisp – about 5 minutes.

Transfer to a paper towel to drain.

Rub remaining garlic over inside of a large salad bowl.

Add lemon juice, Worcestershire, hot sauce, anchovies, and salt and pepper, and whisk until anchovies are broken down.

Add remaining oil and whisk until blended.

Add lettuce leaves and toss to coat in dressing; drizzle eggs over leaves, and toss again until evenly coated.

Add reserved croutons, Parmesan and salt and pepper, and toss until evenly combined. Serves 2.

Your Signature Recipe

Cook the same thing over and over until you are known for it.

Bon Appetit!

Bobtail Ice Cream

At 2951 N Broadway, I have reports that the S’More Sensation made with Chocolate Ice Cream, Hot Fudge, Marshmallow and a Crushed Graham Cracker is sensational.

Maybe I’m not one to ask since I made the best ice cream ever last weekend.

Bi-Rite’s recipe for Vanilla Ice Cream will make every future ice cream indulgence an AT HOME experience.

Bon Appetit!

Frog N Snail

The dishes at Frog N Snail, 3124 N Broadway, are first and foremost visual. I know. It looks like a mess but it was a pure work of genius.

The chef who succeeded Grant Achatz at Trio , Dale Levitski, had his eye on the fall and took total advantage of what was available – in fact he was still changing the menu when I arrived at 10 AM. That’s a sign of a seasonal chef at his best.

Lucky for me the Curried Lamb Benedict (zucchini bread, spring vegetable salad, poached egg, and foie gras hollandaise) was still on the menu. This was not only a brilliant combination of flavors but was the best Benedict I’ve had in Chicago….and I’ve had a lot of great Benedict.

The petite side salad was also an impressive preparation of beets, cauliflower and white raisins.

I’m not a big fan of zucchini bread but this base layer won me over. The lamb was incredibly rich and tender and the undersized amount of hollandaise (yes, I wondered where the hollandaise was) was the perfect top off.

The foodies around me – and they were all talking food - got interesting dishes as well so my goal is to take the entire neighborhood back and share.

That’s one quick way to knock off the entire menu in just one seating.

Bon Appetit!

Foie Gras Hollandaise

2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons raw foie gras
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon white truffle oil
Salt and pepper

Puree the foie gras and butter in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Wisk the eggs yolks and rice vinegar in a double boiler or a bowl placed over boiling water until aerated. Quickly begin mixing in the foie gras and butter mixture bit by bit, whisking constantly.

When all the “foie gras butter” has been incorporated, whisk in the white truffle oil.

Season the foie gras hollandaise with salt and pepper to taste.

Molly's Cupcakes

Small batch cupcakes with out-of-the-ordinary center fillings topped and the best buttercream frosting ever.

This one was christened pancakes and bacon.

The hint of infused maple syrup took this cupcake over the top.

For once, it’s not all about the frosting.

2536 N Clark Street

Bon Appetit!

Caesar's - Home of the Killer Margarita

I love the branding at this place. Kind of catchy isn’t it?

But with a totally mixed bag of reviews what do I know except that if you have a few killer Margaritas you wouldn’t care about anything else.

3166 N Clark St
Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Minnesota State Fair – PLAN B

I took a detour from my original list of what to eat at the fair. With the exception of Pork shank, every new item on my Must-Eat List was chosen strictly by the visual.

Visuals always get me in trouble, especially when it comes to food.
I could not give up the conventional fair-feasts of funnel cake and cheese curds nor could I resist anything that looked or smelled even half way amazing. Unfortunately that was just about everything.
I was at the mercy of every aroma and in the case of the pork chop- on -a -stick, I gave into the temptation even though I swore I would not eat anything on a stick. At this point, I had already thrown my healthy eating plan out the window and there was no turning back.
Have you ever had a day of sheer indulgence? This was my day.
Did I feel guilty? Never. You see, I haven’t done this since I was 16 years old. I was making up for lost time.
The mere mention of Bridgeman’s Ice Cream – Minnesota’s best that I grew up on - and I was off to a good start.
I had to fight the crowds and the lines got so long but like everyone else I waited. Everything I tried was worth waiting for.
In no particular order of preference, I had a bite (or two) of:
Cheese Cruds

Deep Fried Pickles

Carmelicious Ice Cream

Chocolate Covered Bacon

Funnel Cake

Sweet Martha’s Cookies

Cream Puffs 

Pork Chop On A Stick

Chicken Wings

Ragin' Ankles
I told my sister before the fair that my goal was to photograph more than I ate.
Food promises are meant to be broken.
Bon Appetit!

Hanging On To Summer

Just ask me what I want for dessert and my number one answer will always be ice cream…good ice cream!

I’ve already admitted to being an ice cream snob. I grew up on great ice cream and can’t eat anything that isn’t made using top quality, farm-fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

I’ve been researching ice cream recipes since my recent trip to San Francisco. Both Humphry Slocombe and Bi Rite have inspired me to cook ice cream rather than take the easy way out and always use cold ingredients.

Nancy Silver of Snookelfritz Ice Cream told me the same thing on Saturday when I tried some of her flavors at Green City Market. She cooks her ice cream and said they are all custard based. Just look at her Peach and Brown Sugar and Blackberry. Both were both delicious. In fact, I haven’t had an ice cream I didn’t love at Snookelfritz.

I treated the ladies at Flamin’ Fury Peaches to Nancy’ ice cream. They let me use their delicious fruit to showcase Nancy’s scoops.

The recipe below is for Bi-Rite’s vanilla and was in the August issue of Better Homes and Gardens.  Honestly, I haven’t looked at the magazine for years but was really impressed with the recipes in the August issue.

It’s my first time cooking ice cream and I was not sure how long to leave it on the stove but like everything else, I took a leap of faith to bring it to the next level.  

In fact, I just had a bite (straight out of my ice cream freezer) and it was so delicious that I broke down and bought a copy of Bi-Rite Creamery’s Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones. In fact, I’m studying the all-famous recipe for Salted Caramel, the ice cream that started it all in San Francisco at the Street Food Fest.

Stay tuned and Bon Appetit!

1 whole vanilla bean
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

In heavy saucepan stir together cream, milk, half the sugar, and the salt. With a small knife split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape seeds from bean. Add seeds and split bean to pan. Heat over medium-high heat. When mixture just begins to bubble around edges, remove from heat; cover. Let seeds and split bean soak for 30 minutes to infuse the liquid. Remove and discard vanilla bean.
Place egg yolks in a medium heatproof bowl and whisk just enough to break up yolks. Whisk in remaining sugar until smooth. (The sugar dilutes the eggs a bit and prevents them from scrambling when the hot cream is added.) Set aside. Uncover cream mixture and heat over medium-high heat until almost simmering. Reduce heat to medium.
Using a ladle, carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream; whisking constantly, pour into yolks. Repeat. (This step, known as tempering, gradually heats the yolks to reduce the risk of overcooking.) Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, slowly pour yolk mixture into hot cream in saucepan. Continue to cook on medium, stirring constantly in a figure eight to cover entire bottom of pan. Pay close attention as the consistency can change quickly. Cook until mixture goes from the consistency of heavy cream to that of a thin puree, but no thicker. You'll notice the mixture thickening slightly and feel a little more resistance as you stir.
(NOTE: See, it doesn’t exactly tell you how long to cook it. I read in a Humphry Slocombe recipe that it should be 2-3 minutes so that’s what I did. The path on the spoon did hold but I also read a recipe that said it should be cooked to a certain temperature. More later)
To test the readiness of the custard, remove the spoon from the saucepan and drag your finger across it. If the base coats the back of the spoon and the path made by your finger holds for a second or two, it's ready. Remove the pan from heat and immediately pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a measuring cup or small bowl.
Set the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water and stir frequently with a clean spatula until cool. Remove and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least two hours until completely cold. Stir in vanilla extract just before churning and freezing the ice cream.
Variation Cinnamon and Snickerdoodles:Stir in crumbled cinnamon-sugar cookies and a hefty sprinkle of cinnamon. If you like, top with sauteed apples or a drizzle of caramel sauce.
Variation Lavender and Honey:Stir snipped fresh or dried lavender and honey into the finished ice cream. For a more intense flavor-before making the ice cream base, add 1/4 cup honey and 2 tablespoons dried lavender with the vanilla bean.
Variation Strawberry and Balsamic Vinegar:Before stirring strawberries into the ice cream, chop and cook the berries with a little sugar to remove excess water. Cool, puree, then stir into ice cream with a few dashes of balsamic vinegar.
Variation Double Chocolate:Before heating the cream, stir together 1/4 cup of Dutch process cocoa powder with half the sugar. Whisk in a little of the cream to make a paste. Then whisk in the remaining cream, the milk, and salt.
Variation Blueberry-Lemon Ice Cream PieTo create an ice cream pie in sundae form, start with a sweet blueberry sauce made by cooking the berries with sugar and a squeeze of lemon until thickened. Pour over the ice cream and finish with crumbled gingersnaps or graham crackers.
Variation Citrus Olive Oil and Sea SaltDrizzle ice cream with bergamot olive oil (a citrus fruit that gives Earl Grey tea its hint of orange flavor), Meyer lemon, or orange-flavored olive oil will add the same citrusy brightness. Top it all off with a dollop of whipped cream and crunchy coarse sea salt flakes.
Variation Caramelized Banana Sundae. Create a sundae with warm cooked bananas. Start by melting butter and brown sugar in a skillet. Add a couple of split bananas; cook until caramelized. If desired, add a little rum and cook and stir a few minutes. Spoon over ice cream. Top with whipped cream and toasted chopped pecans.

A Degree of Separation

The degree of separation between trouble and double trouble is exactly one block.

In my estimation, Big N Little (860 N Orleans) and Bad Happy Poutine (939 N Orleans) are too close for comfort.

Big N Little’s Soft Shell Poorboy sandwich is extravagance to the limit. Even a muzzled dog was sniffing for my leftovers. Totally logical that the line was out the door and Guy Fieri featured this place on Diner’s, Drive In’s and Dives.

I then wandered down the street to Bad Happy Poutine. An authentic Canadian from Hamilton calls it her own and puts out some of the best Poutine ever for the price. So glad I don’t have to travel to Canada to get good Poutine anymore. She’s threatening to do it with duck gravy soon so be sure to check back.
The surprise of the day – the shakes. I love shakes and these two were ridiculous.

The Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake: peanut butter rubbed on the inside of the glass and chocolate, vanilla bean ice cream and milk perfectly blended and then to topped off with flaming marshmallows.
The Bad Happy Birthday Cake Shake had bits of yellow layer cake and was topped off with sprinkles.
A great recipe cookbook for these amazing shakes is Milkshake Bar by Hannah Miles. 10+ recipes to try so get ready for an overload next week.
Bon Appetit!

Woodland Hill Winery

This winery, located in Delano, MN., bottles 50,000+ a year, and is an award winner – winning eight medals at the 2010 International Cold Climate Wine Competition and the title of Minnesota’s best winery.

We fell in love with the location and thought that it would be the ideal location for a wedding. Mine maybe? Now all I have to do is find a groom.

We were there for the Friday night happy hour. For $20 we got a tasting of 6 of their best wines and all you can eat hors d'oeuvres.  The hors d’oeuvres were wonderful, especially the cookies that were coated with some of the best chocolate. I wouldn’t tell you exactly how many I ate.

Salud to the owners who have taken this winery and made it a magical place to relax on a Friday night.
We enjoyed them as much as we did the wine.
Next Event: Annual Grape Crush: 9/15/2012.
Bon Appetit!