Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October: A Fireplace, A Glass of Wine and Bring On The Comfort Food

When the weather turns cold, I start thinking about cooking comfort food or sitting inside a dark bar sipping Merlot and passing the afternoon away with friends.

Here are the recipes that will warm you up when you partake in some of those winter indulgences.

Just don’t forget to light the fireplace before you settle in.

Bon Appetit!


 Slow cook a pork roast all day and top with fresh ingredients. How easy is that?

Pair with a fresh margarita, homemade flour tortillas and salsa verde...and don’t forget your salt shaker and a side of Cotija, a few onions and a little avocado.


I’m very picky when it comes to eating mushrooms. I don’t like mushrooms in most dishes but I love eating them all on their own.

Gourmet created this dish that I devour it with a large, crusty loaf of bread and an oversized glass of red wine…a lot like polishing off Escargot.

Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms

1 pound mushrooms such as cremini or white, halved lengthwise if large
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle. Toss mushrooms with capers, garlic, oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper in a 1 1/2- to 2-qt shallow baking dish. Top with butter and roast, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are tender and golden and bubbly garlic sauce forms below, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and parsley. Serve immediately, with crusty bread on the side for swiping up the juices.


This easy brown butter sauce the French call "beurre noisette"is simple and fast to put together. It’ also great served over chicken or grilled veggies.

Serves 4.

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
2 tbsps chopped nuts
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Put the butter in a small saucepan and melt over medium heat. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the butter begins to take on a light-brown color and gets a nutty aroma. Add nuts and cook for one minute. Pour in the lemon juice, turn up to high heat, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, and add the tarragon, salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Pour over tilapia.
Vietnamese Eggrolls

Ask me what my favorite eggroll is and I’ll tell you without any thought at all that it comes out of a Vietnamese kitchen.

Two tips: Make sure you use peanut oil and it is really hot when you fry them.

The best part? Nuoc Mam. I often drown my rolls in this tasty sauce whose base is fermented fish sauce. I always used Squid based fish sauce which you can find at any Asian market or online.

1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fermented fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon minced jalapeño chili with seeds

Whisk all ingredients in medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Let stand at least 30 minutes.


Two of my favorite, easy recipes that never fail to impress. Pair with a vegetable laden Bloody Mary, your favorite breakfast potatoes and fruit and you snag the perfect winter brunch.

Bacon and Egg Savory Cupcakes

16 slices bacon
1 can (16.3 oz) Pillsbury GrandsHomestyle refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
8 eggs
Salt and pepper, if desired

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In 10-inch skillet, cook bacon over medium heat about 4 minutes or until cooked but not crisp, turning once. (It will continue to cook in the oven.) Set aside.

Spray 8 jumbo muffin cups or 8 (6-oz) glass custard cups with cooking spray. Separate dough into 8 biscuits. Place 1 biscuit in each muffin cup, pressing dough three-fourths of the way up sides of cups. Place 2 bacon slices in each biscuit cup, and crack an egg over each. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until egg whites are set. Run a small knife around cups to loosen. Serve immediately.

Baked Egg With Prosciutto, Asparagus and Tomato

Cooking spray
1 slice tomato
1 generous slice prosciutto
1 small stalk asparagus, cooked
1 egg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat the ramekin with cooking spray; line with asparagus stalk, tomato and prosciutto. Break egg into ramekin, then put on a baking sheet.

Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until egg is set and white has solidified. Because the cup retains heat, egg will continue to cook after you remove it from the oven, so it is best to undercook it slightly. Precise time, in a good oven on a middle rack, is 12 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, Parmesan and serve. Yield: 1 serving

Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins

Wild Flour Bakery out of Milwaukee gets the seasonality nod for their delightful Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins.

I like that there is just a bit of cream cheese which makes it the perfect taste of sweet.

Wedge Salad

My new favorite wedge salad is dressed with a Merlot Vinaigrette and sprinkled with pancetta and sugared almonds.

You can pair it with a steak or a chop but I like to eat mine as a main dish.

It’s truly magnificent with a cold glass of my favorite buttery Chardonnay – Franciscan.

1/4 head iceberg lettuce
Crumbled blue cheese
Crispy pancetta
Chopped Roma tomatoes
Fresh basil
Salt & Vinegar

Sugared almonds

Top With Merlot Vinaigrette:

Merlot Vinaigrette
1/4 cup Merlot vinegar
1/2 tsp honey
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
Ground black pepper
Sea salt
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk all ingredients together and stream in the olive oil.

Green Beans with Potatoes and Ham
This recipe, from Martha Stewart, is a cold weather treat for sure.

I use really meaty hocks because I like more ham than veggies in my meal.

I would also cook hocks overnight in a slow cooker to intensify the flavor of the broth and then put the soup together that next day.

Chopsticks you ask?

This soup has large chuncks of goodies so practice makes perfect for anyone who is still trying to master them…like me.

2 meaty ham hocks
1 onion, peeled and quartered through root
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 celery stalk, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 jalapeno or serrano chile, intact with a split down 1 side
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
3 1/2 quarts water
1 pound small red potatoes, halved
2 pounds green beans, stem ends trimmed, halved crosswise

Combine ham hocks, onion, garlic, celery, thyme, bay leaf, chile, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and the water in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 1 hour 30 minutes.

Transfer ham hocks to a plate. Discard chile, and add potatoes to pot; simmer until just tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
When ham hocks are cool enough to handle, pull meat off bones (discard bones), shred into bite-size pieces, and return to pot. Add green beans, and return to a simmer. Cover, and cook until beans are just tender, about 8 minutes. Season with pepper. Serve vegetables and meat with a slotted spoon; reserve broth for another use. If storing leftovers, store in broth.

At 130 East Randolph, I always go for the signature dish which in this case was the WB Signature "Berry Bliss" Pancakes: AKA - Buttery Pancakes Stuffed with Fresh Maine Blueberries & Layered with Wildberry Mascarpone. Topped with Fresh Blackberries, Strawberries, Vanilla Cream Anglaise and a Fresh Blackberry Coulis.

Way too sweet for my taste – I only took 3 bites – but the 7 year old at the table next door ate through this stack in a matter of minutes.

Never been a fan and doesn’t it look a little bit like this artificial surface that it was exhibited on?
I try and sometimes I eat it anyway because I know it’s good for me but if I ever learn to love brocolli I have to find a recipe that makes it taste just like bacon!
A Teeny Tiny Bar

Like Slims Elbow Room in Cabo, the world’s smallest bar with 4 seats and standing room on the sidewalk , I found the smallest bar in Chicago – The Alcove at 512 Main Street which measures just 420 Square Feet.

With just 13 seats, the bartender mixes the Martinis with Few Spirits gin which is distilled down the street. I love it when they make it all in the neighborhood.

This place reminded me of the little bar we fell in love with in Paris and is the most intimate spot to grab a glass of wine and a one-on-one conversation.

Asparagus Ravioli
This recipe is so easy because you use thin won ton wrappers to make the ravioli.

You can change up the ingredients all the time depending on seasonality. I love these with both chicken or seafood.

Sea salt
1 lb. thick asparagus, trimmed, spears cut into 1-inch pieces, tips reserved
6 Tbs. mascarpone
1/3 cup whole milk ricotta
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano; more for serving
1 tsp. anchovy paste
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
Pinch cayenne
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
36 wonton wrappers
4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped
Finely grated lemon zest to taste

Bring a medium pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Have ready a medium bowl of ice water. Boil the asparagus tips until tender but still bright green, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to the ice water. When cool, transfer with the slotted spoon to a small bowl and set aside. Cook and cool the asparagus spears in the same manner; dry them on paper towels. In a food processor (or by hand), chop 1-1/2 cups of the spears very finely and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remaining spears to the tips.

Add the mascarpone, ricotta, Parmigiano, anchovy paste, garlic, and cayenne to the chopped asparagus; mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Arrange 18 wonton wrappers on a work surface. Put 1 level Tbs. of the asparagus filling in the center of each wrapper. Using a pastry brush, moisten the edges of each with water. Top each with another wrapper and press the edges firmly to seal, expelling any air bubbles as you seal. If you don’t plan to cook the ravioli immediately, cover them with a damp cloth.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add the almonds, shaking the pan. Cook until the butter turns light brown, about 6 minutes, and then immediately transfer to a small bowl.

Add the ravioli to the boiling water. When they rise to the surface, after about 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to warm plates or pasta bowls. Spoon the brown butter mixture over the ravioli. Top with the reserved asparagus pieces, a grinding of pepper, a sprinkle of Parmigiano, and a little lemon zest, and serve.

Cheese Fondue
When I was in my twenties, I use to make cheese fondue for a lot of dinner parties. Making it again today reminded me of all the magnificent times with old friends.
This variation will make 10 mini-servings so you can double the recipe and invite a huge crowd.
This is why fondue is always the perfect dish to share stories over.
1 garlic clove, halved
1 cup white wine, dry
3/4 pound grated Gruyère cheese
3/4 pound grated Emmenthaler or Appenzeller cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 to 2 tablespoons kirsch
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
Crusty bread cubes

Rub garlic on the entire inside of a cast iron Dutch oven.

Add wine and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss the cheeses with cornstarch. Add a little at a time to the wine, stirring until first bit melts before adding next.
Reduce heat to medium and stir until cheese is completely melted.
Add kirsch and heat until bubbling, about 1 or 2 minutes.
Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Serve with crusty bread.
Bop N Grill
At 1903 Church Street in Evanston and 6604 North Sheridan in Roger Park, this mile high burger is the ultimate stick-to-your-ribs cold weather feast and if you finish this, you’ve earned that long winter’s nap.

Bon Appetit!