Saturday, January 4, 2014

Best Food Moments of 2013

Here are the Cupcakes and Crablegs highlights from 2013.

If you want to learn more about food this next year, pack your bags. Traveling will teach you more about cooking than any class or cookbook out there.

I got such an education, I've decided to do it all again in 2014.

Bon Appetit!

Peter Lugers Steakhouse - Brooklyn, New York

For 28 years in a row, this place has been voted the best Steakhouse in New York...and it is!

The most amazing thing to me was that they cooked our steaks rare and then proceeded to cook them on the rim of the plate to order.

This was something I had never seen before.


Coming off an Italian Christmas and my visit to Eataly in New York City, I decided to test my Italian cooking skills with a ragù recipe adapted from famous Italian chef Antonio Carluccio.

It was so delicious for a minute there I wondered if I didn't have some Italian blood in me.

2 Tbsp. Olive Oil 
Butter – I used 3 Tbsp.
1 very large onion, chopped finely
1.3 pounds of meat with a bone – I used stewing steak and beef ribs
Half a bottle of red wine…or more
2 pound of ripe, fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped
Tomato paste to thicken
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Put a drizzle of olive oil in a pan with a generous amount of butter, heat gently and sauté the chopped onion until soft and slightly golden.

Raise to a high heat, put the pieces of meat into the pan and fry for a few minutes until brown on all sides.

Add the wine and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and leave to simmer, with the lid on, very gently for 1 1/2 hours.
Test the meat, if it is tender add the basil, if not simmer for a little longer and add a little tomato paste.

After adding the basil cook gently without the lid for a further 1/2 hour and check for seasoning.

Serve with your favorite pasta. Mine happens to be Penne.

Chelsea Market- New York City

From casual restaurants, delis and little markets with ingredients from around the world, everything here is reliably fresh and fantastically high quality.

My favorite place: The Lobster Place where you can get a delicious, fresh cooked lobster to order.

Martini Monday

Shaking off a case of the Mondays one small sip at a time…

Ice - lots of it
Vodka – Tito’s
Shake, Shake, Shake
Pour into a chilled, stemmed martini glasses
Skip the Vermouth
Onions…too many never enough.

Now, didn’t your Monday just get a lot better?

Eataly -New York City

With over 50,000 square feet, Batali has described the place as a grocery store with tasting rooms…and I sampled just about all of them.

While my favorite Eataly dish was made in Chef Pilas’s kitchen with lamb shank, you can swap this beef for lamb or pork. The recipe is featured in the January, 2013 issue of Food and Wine.

5 pounds trimmed beef shanks, cut 2 inches thick
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 cups dry red wine
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water
Cooked polenta or pasta, for serving

Preheat the oven to 325. Season the shanks with salt and pepper. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add half of the shanks to the casserole and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until browned, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining shanks.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the casserole. Add the onions, celery, carrots and a generous pinch of salt and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the vegetables are very soft and golden, 15 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and broth and bring to a boil. Return the shanks and any accumulated juices to the casserole. Cover and braise in the oven for 3 hours, until the meat is very tender.

Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the shanks to a plate and let cool slightly. Using 2 forks, shred the meat and scrape out marrow from the bones. Add the meat and marrow to the sauce and rewarm over moderately low heat. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and serve with polenta or pasta.

Maxwell Street Market...Cold Weather Style

Plenty of reasons why Maxwell Street Market delivers cold weather comfort food no matter how chilly it is.

Lemon Ice Cream

Three ingredients and like magic, I had a bowl of the creamiest, lemon ice cream.

Was this one of the best ice creams ever? You have a YES from the self-anointed ice cream expert. In fact, you know this ice cream is good when you eat it right out of the container and can’t even get it into the bowl.

Best thing yet – you don’t need an ice cream maker to create it.

Ice Cream with Lemon Curd

2/3 cup whipping cream
1/3 can (4 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup lemon curd

Whip the cream.

Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and lemon curd.

Pour the mixture into the container, cover and freeze.

Parma8200 - Minneapolis

The most delicious dessert I've ever had...and I've had a lot of them

Parma 8200: Butterscotch Panna Cotta

8 ounces Brach's butterscotch candies, unwrapped, plus extra for garnish if desired
1 quart heavy cream, divided
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For garnish: almond brittle, butterscotch sauce and/or mascarpone

In the bowl of a food processor, pulverize the candies until they break down into dust.
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 2 cups of the cream over medium low-to-medium heat until small bubbles form around the edge of the pot. Add the candy and cook until it melts, 7 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, bring the remaining 2 cups heavy cream to a simmer.

When the candy has completely melted, reduce the heat to low and sprinkle the gelatin over the flavored cream. Stir until the gelatin dissolves.

Slowly add the simmering cream to the candy mixture, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat. Let cool slightly.

Pour the mixture into individual serving dishes, cool, cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours.


French Fries

Use the best Idaho russet potatoes, french sea salt, and fresh cooking oil and the result is the perfect French fry.

The cut potatoes need to be soaked for two hours or more before cooking which pulls out excess starch and ensures the crispiest product.

Recipe serves 4 to 6.

6 Idaho russet potatoes
Peanut oil
Sea salt (Sel Gris, a fine light grey French salt)

Peel and square off potato ends. Cut into 3/8" batons.

Soak for two hours changing water after an hour. Dry thoroughly with paper towels.

Heat about an inch of oil (or enough to cover potatoes) in a large, heavy bottomed pot to 290 degrees.

Blanch potatoes gently for about two minutes until cooked through but still completely pale.

Place on a paper-towel lined sheet pan and cool in the refrigerator to stop cooking process.

Re-heat oil to 370 degrees. Cook fries until golden and crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes.
If necessary, agitate gently with a spatula to prevent sticking.

Remove from pan and toss with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Birthday Cake Shake - Bad Happy Poutine - Chicago

It wasn't my birthday but who cares about that detail. This shake will give you something to celebrate.

2 -3 large scoop vanilla ice cream
1 Cup milk
1 Tsp. Maple Syrup
½ yellow cupcake



Whipped Cream
Yellow Cake
Big Pink Straw

Celebrity Chefs - International Home and Housewares Show – Chicago

In the Cooking Theater at the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago, celebrity chefs including Devin Alexander, Rick Bayless and Cat Cora were cooking up inspirational dishes while Guy Fieri and Emeril entertained standing -room -only crowds in their booths.

I met a lot of chefs this past year but none as exciting as my favorite chef, Jose Andres, who was trained in Michelin-starred restaurants including elBulli with world-renowned Master Chef Ferran Adrià.

Pot Roast Nachos - Mike Ditkas Restaurant, Chicago

One of the dishes we all loved at Mike Ditkas Restaurant was the Pot Roast Nachos.

Using leftover pot roast is a great method when it comes to winning over a whole new league of nacho fans. I know because I just became one.

8 -10 oz leftover Italian Pot Roast (recipe follows)
1/2 cup KC Masterpiece Southern Style BBQ sauce 
2 tsp pureed chipotle peppers in adobo
4 oz tortilla chips
2 cups shredded cheddar jack cheese
2 oz. sour cream
2 1/2 oz sliced pickled jalapenos
2 oz tomatoes, diced small (no seeds)
1 oz scallions

In a medium saucepan, reheat the pot roast with the BBQ sauce and chipotle peppers.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place tortilla chips in a single layer around a large, round oven-proof dinner plate.

Using tongs, spread the saucy meat around the tortilla chips. Squeeze out sour cream in a crisscross pattern over chips and meat(I used a sandwich bag and cut the tip off the edge of the bag). Then spread the cheese over the chips evenly to the rim.

Top with jalapeno slices and diced tomatoes.

Toast in 500-degree oven until cheese is melted completely (should toast quickly). Garnish with scallions. 

Italian Pot Roast

1 (3 lb) beef roast
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic (or to taste)
1 (1 1/4 ounce) package au jus mix
1 (1 ounce) package dried Italian salad dressing mix
2 teaspoons black pepper (or to taste)
1 pinch cayenne (optional)
1 (12 ounce) can tomato juice

Place onion and garlic in the bottom of the crock pot, then place the roast on top of them. In a bowl whisk together the tomato juice with both packages of seasonings, black pepper and cayenne (don't worry if there is lumps, they will work out during the cooking). Pour the mixture over the roast. Cook on LOW for 8-12 hours or on HIGH for about 4-1/2 hours.

Chef Michael Coon - San Miguel de Allende,Mexico

Casa de Cocinas is part of my culinary routine every month. In November, Michael Coon did an Aha! tasting - one of his best - honoring Italian chef Marcella Hazan.

Simply the best food experience in San Miguel.

Fricasseed Chicken Abruzzi-style with Rosemary, White Wine, Cherry Tomatoes, and Olives.

Michael Coon added another ingredient that is not listed below. It's his secret even I can't tell. 

This was the first meal I cooked today in San Miguel. It was even better than I remembered.

3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 or 5 whole peeled garlic cloves
2 teaspoons rosemary leaves, chopped very fine
Chopped hot chili pepper, 1/4 teaspoon or to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
Two dozen cherry tomatoes if no larger than 1 inch or proportionately fewer if larger
A dozen small black olives in brine such as Italian Riviera or French nicoise olives.
Wash all the chicken pieces in cold water and pat dry with kitchen towels.
Choose a skillet or sauté pan that can contain all the chicken pieces in one layer without crowding. 
Put in the oil, garlic, and rosemary and turn on the heat to high. 
Add the chicken, the skin side facing down. When that side has been well browned, turn the pieces and do the other side. Sprinkle with salt, add the chili pepper, and with a wooden spoon turn over the contents of the pan three or four times.
Add the wine and as it bubbles, scrape loose with the wooden spoon any browning residues sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Put a lid on the pan and turn the heat down to low. Cook for about 35 minutes, turning the chicken over from time to time. If you should find that the-juices in the pan have become insufficient to keep the meat from sticking to the bottom, replenish them when necessary with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water.
When the chicken is very tender--the meat should come easily off-the bone--add the tomatoes and the olive mixture. Continue cooking just until the tomatoes' skin begins to crack. Transfer all the contents of the pan to a warm platter and serve at once.

Del Friscos VIP Martini - Chicago

I don’t know one person who doesn’t love Del Frisco’s VIP Martini - Svedka Clementine Vodka infused with fresh Hawaiian Pineapple - so celebrating special occasion’s for us just got a lot easier.

This is one of the smoothest cocktails I’ve ever had. Warning: sip slowly. Knowing your limit is sometime a bit of a challenge and switching to something else such as wine can be extremely hazardous to your health.

My PX after one or two: Order a bottle of Smartwater and call it a night.

1 ripe golden pineapple, sliced into 3-inch-pieces
1 liter Svedka Clementine Vodka
1 orange, scored for twists for garnishes

Stack the pineapple in a glass jar. Pour the vodka over the pineapple.

Soak the pineapple in the vodka in an airtight container for 14 days.

Carefully strain off the vodka and squeeze the remaining juice from the pineapple through cheesecloth. 

Pour five to six ounces of the pineapple-vodka infusion into a shaker half filled with ice.

Tangelwood Garden Farm - Plato, Minnesota

Like they say on their website, it’s the shortest distance between the earth, the hand and the mouth. And it is.

Imagine the chef who gets to cook with meat and produce this fresh? This is one reason why the food at Wise Acre Eatery is so good.

Sabores San Miguel - San Miguel de Allende,Mexico

Sabores San Miguel, a “Taste of Chicago” style food show featured a wide variety of restaurants, hotels and both wine and spirit vendors.

This show was the surprise of the year because it was so well done.

Chef Paco Cardenas Carnitas - San Miguel de Allende,Mexico

Chef Paco Cardenas was my first cooking instructor in San Miguel and is the standard by which I measure all the other classes I take.

For years, I’ve been trying to recreate the carnitas I use to eat at the little outdoor restaurant in Toluca where I also went back to this year. All of the recipes I tried were good but I never had it nailed until I took his cooking class.

Now, all I have to do is figure out how to grow oranges in my back yard in Chicago.

3 lb'pork ribs cut into chunks (the butcher cut mine into bite size pieces)
1 white onion, quartered
1 bulb'garlic, separated and skins removed (use Paco’s method for skinning multiple blubs using 2 steel bowls)
1bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
Sea salt (heavy dose)

Put all of the above into a cazuela and cover with water.

Allow to simmer for approximately 3 hours, or until water is evaporated. Watch towards the end so pork does not burn.

Add 1/3 c. pork fat.

Add the juice of one orange.

Continue to simmer and allow pork to brown. Turn frequently.

Remove to platter and discard the grease from your cazuela.

Add salsa verde (approximately 2 cups) to brownings, using a wooden utensil to pry up crust from the bottom of the pan.

Serve with fresh, warm tortillas.

Mexican Markets

There are so many great markets here in San Miguel. One thing I noticed was how fresh the Squash Blossoms were at the Farmer's Market here.

Isn't it great to be close to the source of your food?

Jicima Tacos - La Azotea - San Miguel de Allende,Mexico

La Azotea has one secret weapon that keeps customers coming back time and time again – the Jicima taco. Will I get sick of them? Highly doubtful since I was seriously addicted after just one bite.

Chef Enrique Olivera - Mexico City, Mexico

Birthdays are a good reason to go to Moxi at the Matilda Hotel in San Miguel but you really don't need an excuse to celebrate the standout cuisine of Mexico City chef and international culinary star Enrique Olivera.

Rooftops - San Miguel de Allende,Mexico

With such clement weather here in San Miguel, many of the restaurants are rooftops offering stunning views of the city.

Most people want to see the lights but I think the daytime vistas are breathtaking as is much of the food.

Chef Cynthia Martinez - Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico

Chef Martinez believes that great traditional Mexican cooking needs to be preserved so it is a rescue at her school in Morelia to teach the techniques and recipes that have been the foundation of Michoacan cooking for years.

I hope to visit her school in Morelia, Zirita, now that I am back.

Bakeries - San Miguel de Allende,Mexico

If I haven’t found all of the great restaurants here in San Miguel yet, I’ve certainly found the bakeries.

It’s not that I like one or two of them. I like them all…each for a different obsession.

Street Food for Breakfast - San Miguel de Allende,Mexico

Food is the staying power of Mexican culture and the focal point of every fiesta. So what type of food do you typically find at one of these celebrations? Mole, Barbacoa, Carnitas and Mixiotes …all of which I discovered are great breakfast foods.

Mole - San Miguel de Allende,Mexico

Beautifully complex with top notes of smoke and undertones of chiles, the depth of flavor in the mole I made had such an authenticity that even I was amazed at how few ingredients could go into it and still deliver that wonderful, rich taste.

Marinia's Mole

Boil a whole chicken without the skin and with an onion until tender.

Remove stems and seeds from chiles and rinse well four times in a colander.
Chile Ancho, about 6 or 7, stemmed and seeded
Chile Pisilla, about 12 or 13, stemmed and seeded
Chile Mulato, about 6, stemmed and seeded

Wash hands thoroughly and rinse with fresh lime juice to neutralize the chile heat.

Place chiles in a saucepan with 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, sprinkle with coarse salt, cover with warm water, put on low heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Toast ½ Cup sesame seeds.

Sauté ½ cup unskinned almonds in oil.

Sauté ½ Cup raisins in the oiled pan.

To the chiles add 1 large cinnamon stick, 3 ounces chocolate, one big sprig each of marjoram and thyme. Simmer 20-25 minutes until chiles are very soft.

Remove cinnamon and herbs and then add the raisins and almonds.

Put chile mixture into blender, add sesame seeds and some of the broth from the chicken to reach desired consistency.

Sauté 2 tablespoons white onion and 3 cloves garlic in sauce pan. Add blended chile mixture, simmer 10-15 minutes. Remove onion and garlic.

Allow to set 12 - 24 hours for flavors to meld. 

Salt to taste and serve with yellow or white rice, raw onion rings and a sprinkle of sesame seeds over the chicken pieces.

Puebla, Mexico

The reason most people come to Puebla is to eat. With its unique combination of Indigenous, Spanish and Arab influences, Puebla has created one of Mexico's most dynamic cuisines. In fact, many gourmets and food writers consider the renowned turkey in mole poblano, which contains chocolate, to symbolize the culmination of Mexican cooking tradition.

I will not argue but my favorite Puebla dish is the Cemita.

Puebla-Style Cemitas

4 chicken breasts (skinned, deboned and butterflied) or pork or beef - Milanese style
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 whole eggs, beaten
1 cup dried bread crumbs
½ cup canola oil for frying
4 egg-rich sesame seed buns
4 avocados, sliced
Pickled jalapenos and cauliflower
Shredded lettuce
Sliced tomato
½ lb Oaxaca-style cheese, shredded (or substitute shredded mozzarella)
4 chipotles in adobo sauce, thinly sliced
1 medium-sized white onion, sliced into ½-inch-thick rings
8 slices Black Forest ham
4 tbsp good-quality olive oil

Season the meat with salt and black pepper.

To make the cutlets, place the flour, egg and bread crumbs on separate plates.

Dredge the meat in the flour and shake off the excess. Then dip the breast in the egg and coat well with bread crumbs.

Place on a plate and repeat with the remaining breasts. Transfer the breaded meat to the fridge for 20 minutes.

Heat frying pan over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot, heat the oil and fry the cutlets.

When the bread crumbs on the bottom of the cutlet turn golden-brown, flip the breast using a fork or tongs and fry for 5 more minutes or until golden.

Set aside on paper towels to drain and keep warm.

To assemble the cemita, slice the buns in half. Distribute half of the avocado slices among the 4 bottom halves of the buns. Place a cutlet over the avocado. Top with the other ingredients and finish with a slice of ham and the rest of the avocado.

Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over each cemita and cover with the top of the bun.

La Posidita - San Miguel de Allende,Mexico

Tell them Rick Bayless sent you. This was one of the few places he did recommend for great Mexican food in San Miguel. It's also known for its great rooftop views.

Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico

The food scene in Guadalajara is pretty significant and I will admit it’s the first time I’ve paid attention. From restaurants like La Tequila and Cocina 88, Guadalajara is known for its culinary specialties. Just head to any of the fondas in the Mercado San Juan de Dios for authentic Comida Jalisciense.

Mescal Moments

The more I drink Mezcal, the more I like it…perhaps even more than tequila.

And the Tequila Queen that possible?

Mexico City, Mexico

The highlight of my trip to D.F. was a lunch at legendary Azul Condessa with renowned Mexico City food writer Cristina Potters. I’ve followed Cristina's work for years and her blog Mexico Cooks was voted the number one food blog in the world.

Eataly Chicago

This is one of those places you can go into a million times and come out with a different vision of Italy each time. Such an eye-opener, especially when you wander in for breakfast when they first open at 9 AM. 

One thing for sure - you’ll immediately want to book a one way ticket to Italy, grab your passport and never look back. I’ve thought about it each and every time I go inside.

Eischens Bar - Okarche, Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s oldest bar in Okarche, OK serves up over 24,000 pieces of chicken each week. I find this statistic astonishing.

The part of the recipe I’m sure of? The chicken is cooked at 330 degrees for 15 minutes and is made by applying a coating mixture of wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, cornmeal, salt, and paprika.

The piece of the recipe I don’t know? The “other” spices that are added to the mix. No measurements were given to uphold its classified status.

Thanksgiving Turkey - Mound, Minnesota

Parchment is a fundamental tool when using the classic French technique of “en papillote.” This simple but elegant culinary tradition creates one of the most beautiful birds I’ve ever seen.

Steamed to perfection, “en papillote” would embody fresh, healthy cooking if it were not for the stick of butter we used in the process. That’s what made it so good and quite frankly, I never count calories on a holiday...ever.

1-14 pound turkey
10 cups favorite stuffing
1 stick butter, softened
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Let turkey stand at room temperature 1 hour. Preheat oven to 325 degrees with rack in lower third. Pat turkey with paper towels. Fill body cavity with 6 cups stuffing. Fill neck cavity with 4 cups stuffing. Secure skin flaps with toothpicks or skewers. Spread 6 tablespoons butter over top of turkey, then season with salt and pepper. Tie drumsticks together with kitchen twine. Tuck wings under turkey.

Place a 40’ sheet of parchment on a work surface and spread with remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Place turkey on top with a short side of bird facing you. Gather ends wrapping turkey. Fold overlapping ends of parchment over turkey and secure with staples. Place a 48” sheet of parchment on work surface, place turkey on top and rotate 90 degrees. Fold short parchment sides over turkey and secure with staples. Rotate bird another 90 degrees and repeat process with another 40” sheet of parchment. Secure all paper flaps with staples.

Place turkey in parchment on a flat not V shaped rack inside roasting pan. Roast turkey 2 hours, 45 minutes. Remove from oven; cut open parchment with scissors.

Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees. While holding drumsticks, slide parchment out from under turkey and discard. Return turkey to oven. Continue to roast until golden brown and thermometer inserted in breast reads 165 degrees, about 45 minutes more. Transfer to a carving board and let rest at least 45 minutes or one hour before carving.

Meanwhile, remove stuffing from both cavities; transfer to an 8” square baking dish and bake until thermometer inserted in center of stuffing reads at least 165 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes.

Use drippings in pan to make gravy.

Loa Szechaun - Chicago

Enter Chef Tony Hu who introduced great Sichuan cooking to Chicago. Not only has his restaurant Lao Sze Chuan been named the Best Chinese Restaurant in Chicago (one of the 10 best in the country) by main stream media it has also won the Bib Gourmand award from the Michelin Guide for both 2012 and 2013.

At the depth of Sichuan cooking are two key ingredients: fiery chili peppers and the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. I love them both.

Dried Chili Chicken can cure anything – I woke up feeling good for the first time in weeks and swear it was the red chili peppers.

If you’ve ever heard the old saying that oil and water don’t mix, try drinking a gallon of water after eating Sichuan food. Experts suggest eating sticky white rice or drinking good Chinese beer which is exactly what we did.

Szechuan Wok-Fried Chicken
1 boneless and skinless chicken breast
12 dried red chilies
1 tablespoon of Szechuan peppercorn
5 slices of peeled ginger
5 slices of garlic
1 stalk of scallion (julienned for garnishing)
1 sprig of coriander (for garnishing)
1 fresh red chili (julienned for garnishing)
3 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of Chinese cooking wine
Salt to taste

Cut the chicken breast into cubes and dip them into batter and deep fry to golden brown. Set aside.
In a wok, heat up some oil until smoke comes out.
Add in the sliced ginger, garlic, and stir fry until they turn light brown.
Add in the dried chilies, Szechuan pepper and quick stir them until you smell the spicy and fragrant aroma.
Add in the chicken cubes and seasoning and do a final quick stir.

Serve hot and garnish with scallion, coriander, and red chili.