Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chinese New Year's: Before The Parade

Sourcing Global Ingredients: McCormick’s 2012 Flavor Pairings

When the 2012 McCormick’s Flavor Pairings came out, I knew that I was going to be on the hunt for ingredients (one of my favorite things to do) because McCormick created it’s very first global forecast. 
Get your passport out and pack your bags because this forecast will take you on a genuine flavor journey.

A worldwide group of food professionals, including McCormick For Chef’s Executive Chef Kevan Vetter, joined forces to predict what global food trends will influence your food choices for years to come.

We’ll have to track these back but so far Kevan’s crystal ball has been ever so accurate, especially on things like Chipotle and Cocktail-Inspired Meals.

I must admit that some of the ingredients were not easy to find – even in Chicago- but there are numerous internet markets now where you can purchase just about anything. You will however not have half the fun that I did looking for some of the items like Korean Pepper Paste and Red Tea.

It was an outing in the snow and cold to find Korean Pepper Paste only to find it later that same day in my own back yard (Fresh Market – Lake Forest). But the trip to Argyle renewed some of my old connections with the best Asian markets in the city so the trek was well worth fighting the elements to find it.

I love sourcing ingredients because it’s always an adventure. More often than not, I finish the day with a mixed bag of new and interesting friends and an education that I could not have possibly learned in a book or the classroom.

When I looked at the list this year, the combinations are surprising. Who would ever pair red pepper and grapefruit but when I tried it, I loved the exciting turn of flavor.

These pairings were well worth the wait and here are the groupings for 2012.

Cumin with Sofrito
Authentic Hispanic Foundational Flavors
Did you know that Cumin is the second most popular spice in the world after black pepper? Even that surprised me.

Sofrito? Sofrito is a combination of ingredients which have been cut in very small pieces and slowly sauteed in cooking oil or bacon grease for 30 minutes.
People enjoy green sofrito but I prefer mine tomato based. What I really love about Sofrito is that it is made with only the freshest ingredients. Mainly onions, garlic, and green bell peppers… similar combinations of vegetables are known as the holy trinity in Creole cooking, refogado in Portuguese, soffritto in Italian, suppengrün (soup greens) in Germany and włoszczyzna in Poland.

No matter what you call it, it is the source of all flavor for many dishes and cumin adds an interesting mix to the pot.
Korean Pepper Paste with Sesame, Asian Pear and Garlic
BBQ With A Global Twist

Korean Pepper Paste?
Gochujang : a flavorful and pungent fermented Korean flavoring made from red chili, rice, fermented soybeans and salt.

Exploring this flavor combination is going to be fascinating particularly when it comes to firing up the BBQ.

Stay tuned for a lot of wonderful recipes from this match. One of my favorites.

Dill with Mint, Melon and Cucumber
The Ultimate Refresher

I’ve never been a huge fan of dill but balancing it with mint, melon and cucumber, well… this combination becomes the ultimate refresher for sure.

Even a small pile of melon and cucumber topped with these two spices was a clean approach to the start of any meal.

The possibilities are endless and don’t think this is just a summer union. A lot more markets are bringing in these celebrated ingredients… even in the middle of winter.

Meyers Lemon with Lemon Thyme, Limoncello and Lemon Peel
The Ultimate Lemon

Pucker up because all of you who love lemon well… this is your pairing.

I never thought about bringing in so many lemon flavors at once but I am now an aficionado of all things lemon.
ING’s restaurant inspired me to try the honey nut cheerios infused rum with these ingredients so look for the result on my blog in the next few weeks.

Eggplant With Honey and Harissa
Worldly Veggie With Sweet Heat

I didn’t have a clue what Harissa was before these pairings were published.

Since Mourad Lahlou is one of my favorite Moroccan chefs it is fascinating to see what he does with Harissa. Beef cheeks with Carrot Jam and a Harissa emulsion. Dungeness crab roasted in Meyer Lemon Harissa Butter. Harissa is now ever-present on Moroccan tables, almost like ketchup.

Stay tuned because I really loved the well-balanced pairing of Harissa and Honey.
Squash With Red Curry and Pancetta
Versatile Veggie With A Touch Of Thai

Mention Pancetta and I get excited. I use to think that bacon made everything taste better until I tried Pancetta.
This combination of squash (which I have never particularly loved) and Red Curry (which has also not been one of my favorites) has made me a believer in the power of Pancetta.

Ginger and Coconut
Warm Spice Joins Tropical Favorite

No surprise that the flavors I loved when I lived in Hawaii made the list.

I am such a fan of ginger in fact, consumed as a delicacy, medicine and spice that I grate it on just about everything…including sorbet.

Vanilla With Butter
Pure Essentials For Real Goodness

OK – so now we get down to the basics. Butter and Vanilla.

Butter is the source of everything delicious. Sorry, I believe that Julia was right… you just can’t find a substitute for butter no matter how hard you try.

Vanilla: One of Mc’Cormick’s core ingredients from day one. Who sells more vanilla than McCormick?

Together these two classics are the foundation of a lot of memorable recipes.

Doesn’t it always go back to the basics?

Red Tea With Cinnamon and Plum
Better-for-You Beverage Meets Fruit And Spice

It took me forever to find red tea. Only logical that instead of looking at the grocery, I would find it at Argo Tea, who sold it to me by the ounce.

Did you know that red tea is really black tea, made from the completely oxidized bud leaves of Camellia sinensis?

Better ask the tea specialist at Argo because there are so many varieties out there now you need an expert to keep up with an ever changing marketplace.

Have to admit that the combination of the red tea with the Cinnamon (Saigon of course) and Plum had me dreaming up what I could do next with one of the most interesting groupings on the list.

I also love the winter plums I found in the market…beautiful, deep, dark red and so delicious.
Grapefruit With Red Pepper
A New Take On Lemon Pepper

Ok – so this was easy but Red Pepper and Grapefruit?

I didn’t think I would like the idea but once I took a bite, it was so easy to jump into these flavors.

This pairing will produce a lot of inspiring combinations including a non-stop assortment of salads.
Sweet Soy With Tamarind and Black Pepper
Steak Sauce With An Asian Flavor
These are my ingredients. From steak sauce to marinates and used in a variety of cuisines, Tamarind is also great for medicinal purposes and I would be one to favor a little black pepper to do the trick.

Like celery, onion and green pepper is to New Orleans cooking, these three are the holy trinity of BBQ.

Blueberry With Cardamom and Corn Masa
From Everyday to Extraordinary

OK – so I existed on Corn Masa for years when I lived in Mexico.

Corn Masa, which is a staple ingredient in Latin American foods such as corn tortillas and tamales, is also a essential ingredient in the new American kitchen.

Tell me that Corn Masa Pancakes with Blueberries and Cardamom isn’t a breakfast that gets you thinking about what else to do with these ingredients?
Bon Appetit and look for recipes with these great pairings in the months ahead.

ING: The Culinary Physics of Honey Nut Cheerios

ING (imagining new gastronomy), the brainchild of Chef Homaro Cantu, unites Asian comfort with the genius of a “to the right” molecular gastronomy. No matter what you call it, the focus is presentation. The results: Alchemy… pure and simple. 
The 2006 Iron Chef winner, Cantu makes use of both liquid nitrogen and lasers to construct his dishes. What amazed me the most was that his printed food strip -edible paper- helps chemotherapy patients taste again.
My father was an inventor so it was no revelation that Cantu holds six patents with 16 or more pending.
What do I love about inventors? They are the ultimate risk takers.
On a quick tour of the kitchen, I was amazed at how small it was. One of the chefs joked that he had to document -on his resume- that he was skinny enough to cook there. That surprised me too. Not an “over fed” chef in the bunch. It was either the recently placed pool table to the south of the kitchen for exercise or a recurrent dose  of liquid nitrogen. 

The 6 course menu was launched on an oragami cube. My first clue that something unusual was about to happen. Separating the cube was almost as complex as the dinner. You had to do both slowly and methodically in order for the magic to break free.

So, let’s get back to the Culinary Physics of Honey Nut Cheerios?

Yes, this General Mills cereal is not just for breakfast anymore. The combination of the rum, honey, lemon and frangelico was stunning. In fact, every wine, beer and drink selection was so skillfully paired it was an essential part of the entire food experience.

So what is the secret of the rum? Mix a cup of Honey Nut Cheerios with 12 ounces of rum. Infuse overnight. Strain. Simple as that.

My favorite food? A cheese ball with triple cream, fruit cake cracker (a fruit cake with Gran Marnier and dehydrated) in a mulled wine reduction.

Salud to the chef who made a mind-boggling chain of sweet potatoes and then smothered it in vanilla parsnip, balsamic, truffle and hazelnut.

My least favorite dish: The Turducken was like a slice of deli meat but the crispy fried brussel sprouts…they were amazing.

The wines – the German Rebenhof, Urziger Wurzgarten, Riesling Kabinett Mosel 2009, the Picket Fence Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2009 and the Italian Colterenzio Gewurtztraminer, alto-Adige 2010 were magnificent as was a surprising Anderson Valley Brewing Company Winter Solstice ale that was paired with a Baozi venison, caramelized onions, carrot and cherry.

We also experienced several rounds of Cantu’s famous miracle berries -- a West African fruit that trips up your taste buds by blocking bitter and sour tastes. When you eat one, it makes everything sour taste sweet and for me, who loves sweet, this was the ultimate encounter.

I don’t often describe service as flawless but ING’s was. All of the waiters were well-informed and no matter how many questions I threw out at them, there wasn’t one who could not deliver an immediate answer. Impressive! The service component is as essential to the complete experience as the food and drink so how lucky we were to be having the best of all three. And the price point? $75 a head was a bargain for the unbelievable quality and quantity of food.

If I had my choice of Chicago restaurants for the overall experience, ING’s would be it.

Bon Appetit and check out the Valentine’s Day special.

Now, if only I could find a valentine.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Prairie Joe's

At 1921 Central Street in Evanston, this unassuming café, which has been around for years (and renamed) is not about the food (fairly average – not a great breakfast but not a bad one either) and all about the embellishments.

From the funky art, the thrift store finds, and a real mixed bag of attic treasures—this place grew to be a 50’s diner with the skill of owner, artist and former antique camera collector Prairie Joe.

Go for a look and a cup of coffee. It’s indisputably a joint that’s always full of locals trying to catch up on the politics of the neighborhood.

Bon Appetit!

A Passion for Puffy Tacos

Puffy Tacos are a specialty on San Antonio’s menus.

Another San Antonio invention, like the breakfast taco, they are a permanent part of timeless Tex-Mex cuisine.
Owner of San Antonio restaurant’s La Hacienda and Los Barrios, Diana Barrios Trevino cooked them at the White House back in 2010. Here is Diana’s original recipe for the puffy shells:

Puffy Taco Shell Recipe
Makes 12-15 tacos
3 cups corn masa mix
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 ¼ cups warm water
Vegetable oil for frying

Combine the masa mix, salt and warm water in a large bowl and mix until a smooth dough forms. Pull off pieces of dough and roll them into balls about the size of Ping-Pong ball.

Cut a quart-size re-sealable plastic bag open down both sides, to form a rectangle.

Use the bag to line a tortilla press as you shape the tortillas, so they do not stick: Lay one side of the plastic over the bottom of the press, place a ball of dough in the center, and fold the other side of the plastic over the dough. Shut the top of the tortilla press firmly down on the dough to shape the tortilla.

Meanwhile, pour 2 inches of vegetable oil into large deep pot and heat to 250 degrees.

Drop a tortilla into the hot oil and, using a metal spatula; repeatedly douse the tortilla with the hot oil until it begins to puff up.

Flip it over and, using the spatula, make an indentation in the center of the tortilla to form a taco shape. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Fill each taco with your favorite fillings.

This recipe is Saveur’s take on the puffy tacos that are served at Rolando’s Super Tacos in San Antonio. For over 24 years, this tiny place has cranked out some of the biggest and best Mexican bites. I ate there 16 years ago and the food continues to have a very enthusiastic following.

Changes: I didn’t mash the avocado but diced it instead. I also made a miniature version to serve as an appetizer rather than an entrée.

Bon Appetit!

¼ cup olive oil
2½ lb. bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 cups chicken stock
1 14-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand
2 avocados, pitted, peeled, and mashed
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lime
Canola oil, for frying
3 cups masa harina
1½ tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
Shredded iceberg lettuce, diced tomato, and shredded cheddar cheese, to garnish
Heat oil in an 8-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and add to pan, skin side down; cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate; set aside. Add garlic, onion, celery, carrot, and bell pepper; cook, stirring, until soft, about 20 minutes. Add stock and tomatoes, and return chicken to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until chicken is very tender, about 1½ hours. Remove chicken from sauce, and let cool; reserve sauce for another use. Discard skin and bones, and shred chicken; set aside. Meanwhile, combine avocados, garlic, lime juice, and salt and pepper in a bowl; chill guacamole until ready to use, covering to avoid browning.

Pour oil to a depth of 2″ in a 6-qt. Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 375°. Stir together masa, butter, and 214 cups warm water in a bowl until dough forms; divide dough into 12 pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Using a tortilla press or rolling pin, flatten each ball into a 6½″ disk. Place 1 disk in oil. When it begins to puff, press the end of a metal spatula into the middle of the tortilla so that tortilla bends into a taco shape; hold spatula within tortilla until taco is golden brown and crisp, about 1½ minutes. Transfer taco to paper towels to drain; repeat with remaining tortillas. Divide chicken and guacamole among tacos; top with lettuce, tomato, and cheese.

Afterthought: With the leftover chicken, I made Eggs Benedict for breakfast the next morning. So good with the biscuits and a beautiful green heirloom tomato I was surprised to find at the Fresh market yesterday.

Pork Belly

Mention Pork Belly and my taste buds stand at attention.

Know the flavor of this marinate is what made all of the recipes I used it in worth mentioning.

This marinate can be changed up. I’ve also used juices in this mix to add a fruity flavor.

Bon Appetit!

1lb pork belly chunk
soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup sake
1 clove garlic

In a heavy pot or dutch oven, sear the pork belly on all sides

Add the sake, mirin, 1 clove of garlic and enough water to barely submerge the pork belly.

Add Soy sauce to taste, remember as the braising liquid reduces, it becomes saltier.

Braise the pork belly for 2 hours or until tender.

Remove the pork belly and let it cool.

Remove the pork belly and slice it while it is still cold.

Place the sliced pork belly back in a pan and fry on very low heat until ready to serve.

Season with a little fresh pepper.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Happy Chinese New Years

Year of the Dragon...

We'll be hanging out curbside on Wentworth Sunday. Cook up a Chinese New Year's feast and let's compare recipes next week.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sweet and Sour Pork

Not a real fan of sweet and sour pork but this version takes slices of pork and pineapple and lightly breads them in a combination of sparkling mineral water and rice flour. The results: Remarkable. 
I love the addition of the fresh tomatoes and mint that really compliment the flavor of the Fried pork and pineapple. What was key is that both the pork and the pineapple were sliced paper thin.

I would not as a rule plan this dish for an early AM breakfast but could not stop eating once I took a bite.

If you like sweet and sour you’ll love this. If you don't, you'll probably change your mind with the first bite.

Bon Appetit!


1 ½ Cups Rice Wine Vinegar
2/3 Cup Chinese Cooking Wine (Shaoxing)
1 cut Caster Sugar
Sea salt flakes
Ginger to taste, peeled and thinly sliced

Mix in a saucepan over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook 20 minutes or until thickened.

Vegetable Oil
1 cup rice flour
1 ¼ cups sparkling mineral water
¾ pound thinly sliced pork
Thinly sliced fresh pineapple

Heat vegetable oil to 375 degrees. Place the rice flour and mineral water in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Dust the pork and pineapple with a little extra flour. Shake to remove excess. Dip into batter and lightly coat. Deep fry for 2 minutes or until lightly golden. Drain on a paper towel.

2 long red chilies, sliced
2 green onions, cut into pieces
¼ pound cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 cup mint leaves

Mix with a combination of chili, green onion, tomato and mint. Arrange on plates with the pork, pineapple and drizzle with the sauce.

Bo Ssam

Bo Ssam is almost the same as the Puerco Asada I made a few weeks ago without the latin accents. It’s cooked low and slow in the oven instead of at a high heat. The last  15 minutes, you turn the temperature up to 500 degrees and blast the fat to build up an outer crust. 
Tackle Bo Ssam, a Korean dish, with a pair of chop sticks and serve lettuce, rice and a variety of sauces on the side.
I like the way this was cooked and think that you can use any number of side dishes to change up the ethnicity of the dish.
I found the recipe in the New York Times which is one of my favorite sources for ideas. Makes sense since New York has some of the best restaurants in the world.
David Chang, the chef who owns a rather sizeable restaurant empire in New York and abroad, offers this dish at Momofuku Ssam Bar in New York for $200, where it serves 6 - 10 people and frequently bowls people over with the flavor.
They are not alone as I would put this dish in the top twenty of my all time favorites. Any would be chef with a good butcher and a lot of patience (you have to baste the roast every hour) can create magic with this recipe. There was not a single person at the table Sunday night that didn’t love it. When was the last time you got consensus out of a large group?

Creating the crust at the end is the key. It’s not so much about the color as it is about when the fat starts to bubble. You’ve got to watch it carefully. I poured some of the grease out of the pan before I put it back in the oven to create the crust.
I would definitely make this again for a crowd. It’s so easy, inexpensive and the taste is simply astonishing (credit the dry rub).
It was so good in fact that I ate away at a little corner even before I pulled it out of the oven for good. I was full by the time I put it on the table so maybe that little corner wasn’t so little.
Bon Appetit!
Bo Ssam
Pork Butt:

1 (8- to 10-pound) bone-in pork shoulder or pork butt
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon coarse salt
7 tablespoons light-brown sugar

Ginger—Scallion Sauce


2 ½ Cups thinly sliced scallions, both green and white part
½ cup peeled, minced fresh ginger
¼ C Grapeseed Oil
1 ½ Tsp. light soy sauce
1 small tsp. sherry vinegar
½ tsp. kosher salt

Ssam Sauce


2 Tablespoon fermented bean and chili paste (ssamjang)
1 Tablespoon chili paste (kochujang)
½ Cup sherry vinegar
½ Cup Grapeseed Oil


3 cups white rice
3 heads bibb lettuce, separated, washed and dried
Place pork in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, mix together granulated sugar and 1 cup coarse salt. Rub sugar mixture all over pork and cover bowl with plastic wrap; transfer to refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Transfer pork to a large roasting pan, discarding any accumulated juices (or drain accumulated juices from roasting pan that pork is in). Transfer roasting pan to oven and cook, basting every hour with rendered fat in roasting pan, until meat is tender and easily shredded with a fork, about 6 hours.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together remaining tablespoon coarse salt and brown sugar; rub mixture all over pork.
Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. Return pork to oven until sugar has melted into a crisp crust, 10 to 15 minutes.
Serve hot with kimchi, ginger-scallion sauce, ssam sauce, rice, lettuce, and sea salt.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat

I discovered Vosges Haut-Chocolat creations a few weeks back when I was on Armitage (951 W Armitage) and could not resist buying a few pieces to bring home.

Like all high-quality chocolates, these were meant to be slowly savored to the last experience of incredible flavor.

Owner Katrina Markoff was trained in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu and improved her art through extensive travel. Beginning in Spain at the famed El Bulli restaurant, she traveled and studied the local cuisines of just about every place in the world.

Wouldn’t that be the dream job - traveling around the world to discover the pleasures of chocolate? I want that job!

I believe that travel can put you on the fast track to learning just about anything. In fact, almost everything I’ve learned in my life that has really stuck has been when I was traveling.

Bon Appetit!


Stashing treats for my sweets.

Never to early to start stock piling for your Valentines.

Bon Appetit!

Bacon Long Johns

If I’m going to cheat, you might as well put the bacon on it!

Bon Appetit!

And The Winner Is...

Liberte…for both flavor and unfortunately fat. 
Solution? Eat half a serving instead of a whole one and pile on the fruit.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pink Margaritas

My recipe for Margaritas was perfected long ago and I usually don’t mess with the ingredients but when my friend Jeff, a master mixologist, suggested that I try using pink grapefruit instead of lime juice, the results were magical.

The addition of the orange flavored liqueur (I used Patron Citronge) was the key to balancing the sour taste of the grapefruit juice. I’m not one to favor brands and often purchase the best buy on the shelf but this Paton liqueur was really smooth.

This would also be the perfect drink to serve for a brunch. It’s a beautiful drink with all of the grapefruit and lime slices. I also liked the combination of the lime and the salt and serving it on top of the drink instead of on the rim.

Use a bigger glass than I did (I try bites and sips) to fit in all the fruit.

Bon Appetit!

Pink Grapefruit Margarita

1 tablespoon finely grated lime rind
1 tablespoon sea salt flakes
2 Cups pink grapefruit juice
½ Cup orange-flavored liqueur
2/3 Cup tequila
¾ Cup caster sugar
Thin slices of grapefruit and lime for granish
Crushed ice
Put lime rind and salt in a mortar and pestle and grind to combine.

Place grapefruit juice, orange flavored liqueur, tequila and sugar in a bowl and mix in sugar until dissolved.

Layer in the grapefruit slices, ornage slices and ice into a 6 cup jug.

Serve with lime salt.

Makes 3 ½ Cups.

Fresh Nutmeg

Expensive but such a remarkable difference in taste between the fresh and what you buy in the jar.

Inspires me to grate nutmeg on nearly everything!

Bon Appetit!

A Perfect Green Tomato

How great is it to be in Chicago and score a perfect green, heirloom tomato in the middle of winter?

I happen to love green tomatoes with eggs so this prize was savored – every last bite- for breakfast last weekend.

Bon Appetit!

Charlie Trotters: 1987- 2012

Charlie Trotters, one of Chicago's most celebrated restaurants is closing.

Trotter plans to travel the world and return to college to study philosophy and political theory.
I say good for him. I am all about learning new things having gone back to school myself recently.
With the closing, 60 full-time employees will lose their jobs. One of them is Joe.
I met Joe on the train a few weeks ago. The young CIA trained chef had just moved here from New York and was so excited about his first day on the job at Charlie Trotters. It was New Year’s Eve day.

Trotter made an announcement that night that would change the course of Joe’s career forever.

I thought about Joe a lot on New Year’s day. Talking with him for that brief, fleeting moment, I am convinced that he will get everything out of his 8 months at Trotter’s, move on to his next job and never look back.

Passion is a difficult quality to conquer.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

New Years Eve Day

On New Years Eve day, we biked Milwaukee Avenue. How often can you say that on December 31st in Chicago?

We pedaled block after block by occult bookstores, tiny restaurants and bakeries, furniture stores and a mix of ordinary and upscale shops. Trouble was we were early.

This neighborhood was still asleep and many of the shops didn’t open until noon. In fact, just as we were leaving a cheery little bake shop called Lovely’s (1130 N Milwaukee Avenue), the customers started to arrive.

It was 10:00 AM and Milwaukee Avenue was finally awake. Makes me think that I should check out the nightlife in this neighborhood.

Lovely’s poured the perfect cup of coffee (Intelligentsia ), had a vintage pressed tin ceiling (just like the old Chicago bar in Omaha) and some beautiful antiques.

The indulgence of the day: Lunch at Lilly Q’s ( 1856 W. North Avenue) for ribs.

I am happy to report that they are every bit as good as all of the reviews with just a hint of sweetness to the sauce. It may take me awhile before I find another BBQ as good as this one so stay tuned.

The fries were so amazing and were smothered in a rub called Carolina Dirt which is a blend of paprika, sugar, salt, onion powder, chili powder, mustard, garlic powder, oregano, jalapenos and again…a few secret spices.

OK, like Eischens in Oklahoma City, here goes that secret spice thing again.

One resolution for New Years: to educate myself on spices and even try to make some personal blends.

Lilly Q’s chef Charlie McKenna has won a lot of awards on the competition barbeque circuit including the top prize at Memphis this past May -- which is commonly considered as the world championship of barbeque.

I bought a bag of his Carolina Dirt rub (buy it online) and immediately went home and re-made the French fries they were that good.

So, here I was eating this magnificent meal today while I was planning my next one. Truth be told, I am usually two or three meals ahead of myself so this was a kick-back day … except for the biking home. After all the food, I would have been really happy to find a designated driver.

Bon Appetit!

Ice Cream: Pass The Häagen-Dazs

I love good ice cream and Häagen-Dazs  is so hard to beat…that is with the exception of homemade.
Here is their new Caramel Cone ice cream with butterscotch and honey roasted pecans.

This sundae was a great treat…even for breakfast!

And for anyone who made that run of the mill New Year’s resolution- like I did- I took out all of the calories.

Bon Appetit!

Vietnamese Salad

Hand down, this is my all time favorite Vietnamese recipe. It is so easy and you can interchange the pork with chicken or shrimp.

In fact, this was one of the best cooking instructionals ever from Fine Cooking magazine.

Here is the link to making impressive Vietnamese salads:

For the noodles:
8 oz. dried rice vermicelli

For the pork or beef:
1/4 cup sugar
2 large shallots, sliced, or 5 scallions (white parts only), chopped
2 tsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. soy sauce
Pinch salt
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1-1/2 lb. pork loin or sirloin, sliced into large pieces about 1/4-inch thick

For the garnishes:
2 cups washed and shredded romaine, red, or green leaf lettuce
2 cups fresh, crisp bean sprouts
1-1/2 cups peeled, seeded, and julienned cucumber
1/3 to 1/2 cup roughly chopped or small whole mint leaves
1/3 to 1/2 cup roughly chopped or small basil or Thai basil leaves
2 Tbs. chopped roasted peanuts
12 sprigs fresh cilantro
1 recipe Nuoc Cham
(Vietnamese Dipping Sauce)

Cook the noodles:

Bring a medium potful of water to a rolling boil. Add the rice vermicelli and, stirring often, cook them until the strands are soft and white, but still resilient, 3 to 5 minutes. Don't be tempted to undercook them, as they must be fully cooked to absorb the flavors of the dish. Rinse them in a colander under cold water just until they're cool and the water runs clear. Let the noodles drain in the colander for 30 minutes, and then set them aside for up to 2 hours, unrefrigerated.

Marinate and cook the pork or beef:

Combine the sugar with 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir a few times and allow to simmer until the sauce turns deep brown, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, have some extra hot water ready on a back burner. Once the sauce reaches the desired color, carefully add 4 to 5 Tbs. hot water to slow the cooking and thin the sauce. (Be sure to hold the pan away from you so that none of the hot caramel splatters on you when you add the water.) If necessary, add more hot water. The sauce should only be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool.

Pound the shallots in a mortar and pestle or mince by hand. Transfer the shallots to a mixing bowl and combine with the fish sauce, soy sauce, salt, vegetable oil, and cooled caramel marinade. Stir well to blend. Add the pork or beef slices and let marinate for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a broiler or light a charcoal or gas grill. When the broiler or fire is very hot, cook the pork or beef until just done, about 2 minutes on each side. Let the pork or beef rest for 10 to 15 minutes, and cut into thin strips.

Assemble the salads:

Divide the lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber, mint, and basil among four large soup or pasta bowls. Fluff the noodles with your fingers and divide them among the prepared salad bowls. Put the grilled pork on the noodles and garnish each bowl with the peanuts and cilantro. Pass the nuoc cham at the table; each diner should drizzle about 3 Tbs. over the salad and then toss the salad in the bowl a few times with two forks or chopsticks before eating.
Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lincoln Park: Breakfast, Lunch and Home By Dinner

Breakfast: Toast
With just 12 tables, this tiny spot at 746 West Webster is cozy, has great service and cooks up the best Steak Eggs Benedict ever.

The steak was so perfectly cooked and tender I almost forgot that I was having breakfast.

Lunch: Simply It

At 2269 North Lincoln Avenue, I knew I was in the right place – even thought the name is misleading- because most of the customers were Asian.

The chicken soup: Full of flavor…unusual flavor that would be impossible to recreate without a recipe. Although it’s tempting, I’m not even going to punish myself and try.

Egg Rolls: I love Vietnamese egg rolls and use to travel to Minneapolis often just to eat them at Que Viet Vietnamese Restaurant.

Well travel no more because these were just as good and the perfect little mini size.
The wrappers are superbly crunchy and the dipping sauce is classic and light. Yes, we’re all talking light for the new years.

Let’s see if I learn any kitchen confidentials on making Nuoc Cham when I am in Vietnam this year.

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (preferably nuoc mam)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 garlic clove, forced through a garlic press
2 small thin fresh red or green Asian chilies (1 to 2 inches long) or serrano chilies, seeded and chopped fine (wear rubber gloves)

Mix in a small bowl.

Main Dish: Vietnamese Pork Chops

This recipe tastes just like the pork chops I ate at the restaurant. It is also from the January/February edition of Saveur which I think is one of their best issues ever. Every recipe I have cooked so far has been textbook.

The restaurant used honey in theit marinate. This one calls for caramelizing the sugar which is the way I have always done Vietnamese recipes.

½ cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
cup thinly sliced shallots
¼ cup thinly sliced lemongrass
2 tbsp. peanut oil
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1½ tbsp. fish sauce
1 tbsp. ground black pepper
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lb. ¼″-thick pork blade chops, pounded thin
Cooked white rice and nuoc cham (Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce), for serving
Heat ½ cup of sugar in a 1-qt. heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, swirling pan often, until sugar dissolves and turns to liquid caramel. Remove from heat; add ¼ cup boiling water. Return pan to heat; cook, swirling pan gently, until caramel dissolves in water. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer to a food processor along with remaining sugar, shallots, lemongrass, oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, pepper, and garlic; purée until smooth. Place pork chops in a 9″ × 13″ baking dish and pour over purée; cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour or overnight.

Heat a 12″ cast-iron grill pan over high heat. Working in batches, add chops; cook, turning once, until charred in spots and cooked through, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately with rice and chili-garlic sauce.