Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wine…What Is Your Gold Standard?

Sometimes you just can’t replace an old friend… like Kendall-Jackson. It was the first white wine I tasted and over the years it’s been at nearly every major celebration in my life. I love the buttery taste and always compare it to every other Chardonnay. It’s my gold standard.

Soon I will be tasting the wines from the Valle de Guadalupe. Since routine for me is toxic, trying new things will be good. In fact, I have vowed to try 50 new things before my next birthday and all of them may be wine.

That’s OK though. I’ll be more than educated on the wines of the region before I go there.

Valle de Guadalupe is Mexico’s wine region just north of Ensenada. Friends that have been there tell me that it is a lot like Napa was years ago.

If you watched One Plate at a Time last season you would have fallen in love with Valle de Guadalupe as it was featured in several Season 8 episodes. 

It’s high on my list of places to go in 2014 and when I go I will stay at Adobe Guadalupe, a Bed and Breakfast/Winery. The hacienda was built and influenced by the architecture of the desert in Iran. It is beautiful. 

The video on their website will have you booked and traveling there within the month…I guarantee it.

I am also anxious to check out Laja, recognized as the pioneer of the farm-to-table movement in the valley and is often referred to as Baja’s French Laundry. Remember I said anyone that comes out of The French Laundry in my book is golden so Laja is at the top of my list for restaurants in the area.

It is said that over 50 wineries – artisan, boutique and commercial, both large and small - are located in the 23-kilometer-long valley where a Mediterranean climate sets the perfect combination of elevation soil, season and temperature for growing grapes.

I was surprised to find out that 90 percent of all the wines in Mexico come from Valle de Guadalupe. 

When I first lived there, most of the wines in Mexico were imports from South America. Of course, I didn’t know that back then. I didn’t drink wine. 

I was in my twenties and the only beverages I touched were Tecate and Tequila. 20 year old tastes were not quite as sophisticated back then as they are now. It was a world without the internet.

In a country that is already famous for its tequila, Valle de Guadalupe winemakers have collected so many awards they have gained a huge following among wine lovers.

I’ll be eager to try all the wines from the valley but just as enthusiastic when I can have a glass of Kendall-Jackson again.

Afterall, old standards are hard to come by.

Bon Appetit!

A Batch of Fresh Tortillas…

After experimenting in my kitchen for weeks, I feel fairly comfortable with the process of making homemade flour tortillas. In fact, I think that I have mastered them.

It wasn’t hard. You need a good recipe (I looked at a lot of them) and a bit of patience while rolling them out paper-thin. It’s an exacting process but well worth it when you taste one that comes hot off the comal.

Getting them round is not so tricky once you figure out that the dough should be rolled from the center to the edges and rotated slightly after each roll. Once you get the process down and the dough has rested, you can make them fairly quickly.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have to use lard when making tortillas. It’s the difference between a good tortilla and a great one. The lard was the most important ingredient and for anyone who tells you that vegetable shortening or oil will yield the same results hasn’t actually tasted one made with lard. There is a world of difference.

Weighing in on the good fats, lard contains more monounsaturated fats than sunflower oil and corn oil and more polyunsaturated fats than olive oil. It also has thirty percent less saturated fat than butter and no trans fats at all.

I used a tortilla with a little leftover chicken for lunch today. Again, the secret is to use a little bit of meat and a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit. It’s a pretty healthy lunch.

The Green Tomatillo sauce below is an amazing addition. I thought that it had a little too much cilantro when I first made it but the taste was fabulous on a quesadilla.

My favorite restaurant near the University of Guadalajara use to spread Chihuahua cheese on a pizza pan, popped it under the broiler until bubbly and brown and served it as a make-your-own with a basket of hot flour tortillas, a bowl of green tomatillo sauce and a shaker of salt.

Simple but the most delicious Quesadilla ever and I simply can’t eat them any other way.

Safe to say that I will never buy flour tortillas again.

Next round: Mole, a sauce that is so difficult it will take months if not years to master.

I have so many friends who learned the art of mole from their mother and grandmothers. Recipes and techniques passed down for generations and once again, I suspect that it’s going to take a brilliant recipe to master this.

Rick Bayless once said that it took him over 20 years to get his black mole sauce right. Bayless' version is made up of 26 ingredients while many others have more than 30 of very complex flavors.
Shopping to cook a mole will be an adventure all its own.
Stay tuned for the fun and Bon Appetit!

Flour Tortillas

2 ½ cups All-purpose Flour
2 ½ teaspoons Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
½ cup Lard
1 cup Hot Water

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Stir together until mixed.

Add spoonfuls of lard. Use a pastry cutter to cut mixture until it resembles crumbs. If you don’t have a pastry cutter, use a fork.

Pour in the hot water very slowly, stirring to bring together.

Knead dough approximately 40 times until it becomes a solid ball of dough and is not so sticky.

Cover with a towel and rest for at least an hour.

Roll into the size of golf balls. Place on a tray and cover with a towel. Let sit 30 minutes.

Heat a dark or cast iron grill to medium-high heat.

One by one, roll balls out until paper- thin.  The trick is to roll out the dough from the center to the edges, rotating the dough slightly after each roll. It takes a little practice but you will quickly get the technique down.

Cook on each side for 30 seconds and remove while the tortillas are still soft but have slightly brown spots. You can tell when to flip them as you can see the air bubbles forming.

Remove and stack tortillas. Cover with a towel to keep warm.

To warm, wrap in foil and warm in the oven. Do not use a microwave as it changes the consistency of the tortilla.

Green Tomatillo Sauce

8 Oz. Tomatillos
2 Jalapeños
2 Cups Cilantro, chopped
1 tsp. sugar
2 whole garlic, chopped
Place 8 oz. tomatillos and 2 jalapeños in a 4-qt. saucepan, and cover with water by 1".
Bring to a boil over high heat; cook until slightly soft, about 5 minutes.
Drain vegetables, and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Place in a food processor along with 2 cups cilantro, 1 tsp. sugar, and 2 whole garlic, and pulse until finely chopped but not puréed.

I also made traditional Mexican corn. Since it was raining today, I used my microwave to cook the corn (easy) and finished them off on my indoor grill.

Although the first recipe is a little healthier, I liked the more authentic recipe with the cotija  cheese.

Mexican Corn

4 ears corn
4 Tbsp. Mayo
4 Tbsp. Salted Butter
Zest 1 Lime
Sea Salt
Smoked Paprika
Black Pepper
16 slices jalapeno

Combine mayo, butter, lime, sea salt and paprika in a small bowl. Set aside.

Precook in microwave 6 minutes in a plastic bag with a little water.

Turn grill on medium. I use my electric indoor grill. Grill corn and jalapenos until charred.

Cover with the butter mixture.

Sprinkle with pepper and paprika.

Serve with slices of jalapeno on top.

Mexican Corn with Cotija

4 ears corn, shucked
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated cotija cheese
4 wedges lime (optional)

Preheat an outdoor grill for medium-high heat. 
Grill corn until hot and lightly charred all over, 7 to 10 minutes, depending on the temperature of the grill.
Roll the ears in melted butter, then spread evenly with mayonnaise.

Sprinkle with cotija cheese and serve with a lime wedge.

Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab

With all the recent press on Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab's fried chicken I had to go see for myself. 

One publication named it the best fried chicken in Chicago. I was just coming off the trip to Big Jone's and refused to believe there was any fried chicken that was better.

Both were the same price- $16 – but Joe's chicken was served solo and Big Jones - well you saw all the sides that came with our meal.

I was right about Big Jone's. Nothing was superior to a recipe that included leaf lard and ham hocks. It's still the best chicken recipe ever.

What Joe’s did have that I valued was terrific service, great atmosphere and a huge plate of Crab at the next table that I would have killed for.

Which just goes to show that I should not listen to the critics next time and go with my gut.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ultra Thin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Who doesn’t love Chocolate Chip cookies and this is my new, favorite recipe. Crispy and thin.

The amount of butter and brown sugar in this recipe makes you want to close your eyes to the calories and fat but the taste? Well, once you’ve tried one you’ll likely not go back to the old Toll House recipe.

·         The added element for tasting? What else but a large glass of cold milk.

Bon Appetit!

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees 

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth.

Add the sugars, and beat until combined and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until well blended.

Add flour mixture, and beat on low speed until combined. Add the chocolate chips, and beat until combined.
Drop 1 rounded  teaspoon of batter at a time onto baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

Bake until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.

Remove the cookies and the parchment paper from the baking sheets, and let cool on a rack.

Yield: 50 4-inch cookies

Pepper Vodka

The essential for a good Bloody Mary – Pepper Vodka.

Buy a bag of multi-colored peppers and stuff a Mason jar full. Pour vodka on top of the peppers to fill the jar. Refrigerate for a week or more. Sometime I cheat and open it early.

Wasn’t that simple?

Now, grab your Sunday paper and settle in. The vodka tonic season is still a few long weeks away.

Bon Appetit!

Spicy Korean Beef and Onion Soup

This delicious Korean Beef soup was a welcomed lunch this week when the weather was still hovering around 30 degrees and I just wanted a warm-me-up. You can also add additional vegetables if you want.

The hot pepper oil sauce with soy sauce really makes the flavor of the soup.

Spicy Korean Beef and Onion Soup

1 lb Beef brisket
1-2 tomatoes
½ onion
10 Cups water
6 green onions
5-7 cloves garlic
3 tbs hot pepper flakes
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce
black pepper to taste
salt to taste

In a big pot, add 1lb beef brisket, 10 cups of water, and half an onion. Boil it for 45 minutes - 1 hour over high heat. Remove and cool.

Cut 6 green onions into pieces. Mince 5-7 cloves of garlic. Mince tomato. Put them all into a big bowl. Optional that you can also use 5 cups of bean sprouts.

Put 3 tbs hot pepper flakes, 1 tbsp of sesame oil, 1 tbsp of vegetable oil, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 5 tsp of salt, and some ground black pepper into a small bowl and mix it. This is your hot pepper oil sauce.

Put the hot pepper oil sauce on top of the vegetables and mix them all up.

When the beef is well cooked, take it out and set it aside to cool down.

Add the mixture of vegetables and hot pepper oil sauce into the boiling beef stock. Boil it for 20 minutes.

Slice the beef thinly and add it into the boiling soup. Cook it about 5 minutes more. Add pinch of sugar if wanted.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Big Jones Southern Fried Chicken

If you’re craving your grandmother’s fried chicken like I was this week, Big Jones, a magnificent Southern restaurant in Andersonville is the place to head.

Big Jones serves what they call A SOULFUL FRIED CHICKEN DINNER and soulful it is because it changed how I think about cooking chicken. I will never fry it again without using leaf lard and ham.

So here were the rounds and all for $16 at lunch:

Biscuits and Cornbread… Of course the essentials for any Southern meal.

Fried Chicken... Cooked according to Edna Lewis's recipe in fresh leaf lard with butter and a ham hock, in a cast iron kettle. Leaf fat, the football-size cape of dry, crumbly fat that surrounds the pig's kidney, contains the fewest impurities and thus makes the best lard for baking and frying.

Mashed Potatoes and Gumbo Gravy – The pork gravy on the mashed potatoes was simply the best gravy I’ve ever had. This is going to take me awhile to figure it out and it may require several return trips to Big Jones to do that.

Voodoo Greens
10 servings
Recipe by Chef John Folse

1 lb. mustard greens
1 lb. turnip greens
1 lb. collard greens
1 lb. Swiss chard
1 lb. spinach
1/2 lb. bacon, chopped
2 cups diced onions
2 cups diced celery
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1/4 cup minced garlic
2 Tbsp sliced cayenne peppers
1 lb. tasso, coarsely diced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 cups chicken stock
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Thoroughly rinse all the greens, since they are grown in sandy soil and tend to be gritty. Separate the leaves, remove the large center stem, and discard the bottom portion that is lighter in color. Cut the upper part of the greens into large pieces.
In a 10-quart saucepot, sauté bacon over medium heat until brown. Into bacon drippings, add onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, cayenne peppers and tasso. Sauté approximately 5 minutes or until vegetables are wilted. Add greens and blend well into mixture. Continue to sauté until the greens are wilted. Add cider vinegar and chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, to maintain moisture.
Reduce heat to simmer; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 45 minutes. Season to taste using salt and pepper and continue cooking until the greens are well-smothered.

This dish will seem over-cooked by most standards; however, this is the method preferred by both Cajuns and Creoles. The green jus is called "pot liquor" and should be eaten with corn bread. Serve as a vegetable or side.

Red Beans & favorite recipe is still from the Delta Café in Tulsa:

½ pound red beans, soaked overnight
8 cups water
3 tsp garlic
3 lbs meaty ham hock
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 Bay Leaves
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp cracked red peppers
½ tbsp oregano
½ tsp pepper
1 – 14 oz can peeled plum tomatoes, diced
Cider vinegar
Olive oil

Cover the soaked beans with water. Add vegetables and spices. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Turn the stove down to simmer, cover the pan and cook 2 ½ hours. 

Take the meat out. Discard rind and bones. Shred and put back in the pan.

Serve with rice. Season with salt and pepper, a little splash of cider vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil.

Banana Pudding...I LOVE banana pudding. I love it however without the coconut but I did love the bottom crust.

Here is the chicken recipe adapted from Edna Lewis. It may taste good at home but I can’t imagine that it will taste any better than it did at Big Jones today. They definitely have the process down to a science.

Bon Appetit!

Southern Fried Chicken 
2 ½ pound chicken cut into pieces and brined for 12 hours
1 quart buttermilk
1 pound leaf lard
One stick butter, unsalted
1/2 cup country-ham with hock
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. cornstarch
Salt and Fresh ground pepper to taste

Drain the brined chicken. Rinse the bowl and return the chicken to bowl.

Pour the buttermilk over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate 12 hours.

Drain chicken and toss out the buttermilk. Place on a rack.

Put lard, butter, and ham with hock into a cast iron frying pan. Cook over low heat for 30 - 40 minutes until the butter does not give off any foam and the ham is browned.

Remove the ham from the fat and heat the fat to 335°F. I use an electric frypan for this so my fat temperature is perfect.

Blend together flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper in a bowl.

Dredge chicken in the flour mixture and then shake to remove the excess flour.

Put chicken skin side down in the heated fat. Fry in batches.

Cook 10 minutes on each side until the chicken is beautifully browned and cooked through.

Drain again on a wire rack and serve.

Note on Brining: To make a brine, mix 1 cup kosher salt into 4 quart cold water until dissolved. Make enough brine to cover the chicken and refrigerate for 12 hours.

Antique Taco

With its beautiful antiques, this teeny-tiny spot on Milwaukee Avenue turned out to be my kind of place for a great meal under $10. I actually can’t wait to go back.

How could I go wrong with part of Chef Rick Ortiz’s inspiration coming from San Miguel? I’ll be there in a matter of weeks.

I ordered the customer favorite – the Crispy Fish Tempura with Sriracha Tartar Sauce, Smoked Cabbage, Chives and Sesame.

When it came I wasn’t so sure. Fried fish with large piles of red cabbage and a diluted sauce. Hardly visually stunning but when I took a bite, my uncertainties disappeared because the sauce had amazing flavor, the fish a North Atlantic Pollock and the cabbage smoked to perfection. It had a remarkable, well-defined flavor.

Antique Taco came up in the Michelin Bib Gourmand roster last November and also lays claim to habanero popcorn, duck enchiladas and horchata milkshakes.

At 1360 North Milwaukee Avenue, this restaurant is in the heart of one of Chicago’s most interesting and unique neighborhoods: Wicker Park.

Bon Appetit!