Monday, December 31, 2007

Books from 2007

I read a lot of books in 2007. Riding public transportation to and from work for 6 months had its perks, including 40 minutes of built in, semi-undisturbed quiet time each day. Now that I drive, I actually miss that bit of peace.

Several of the books I finished were related to food in some way or another. Here's a few of my favorites.

Consider the Oyster, MFK Fisher
Fisher has long be heralded as the forerunner of modern food writing. She was the first to successfully weave history, folklore, personal anecdotes, and recipes into cohesive, interesting essays that all are familiar with but few ponder. The title, but today's standards, seems boring to the point that readers might search for a hidden joke, a double entendre, something a little deeper under the surface. It is, however, exactly what it says. Fisher presents the biology of an oyster, reflects back on the comfort and simplicity of hearty oyster stew, and even speaks a word about the formation of pearls.

Her writing is relaxed, and I found it to be very indicative of the time period when it was published. The language used in Consider the Oyster seems old fashioned in the best possible way. Reading it, if you didn't live through the period of the early 1940s, you would think it was a simple and splendid time, when only good things happened and strangers smiled at each other in the streets.

A passage:
"Oysters are healthful and nourishing, full of all the chemical elements such as oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and on and on, which occur regularly in your own body are are necessary to it. They keep you fit, do oysters, with vitamins and such, for energy and what is lightly called 'fuel value.' They prevent goiter. They build up your teeth. The keep your children's legs straight, and when Junior reaches puberty they make his skin clear and beautiful as a soap-opera announcer's dream. They add years to your life..."

It's a beautiful thing, when a writer can make it seem like all of the world's problems can be solved by eating bivalves.

Consider the Oyster was my first foray into Fisher's catalog. It is one of five books that are grouped together in her compilation, The Art of Eating. I look forward to the remaining four books.

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
I was enthralled with Hemingway's semi autobiographical account of a writer's life in 1920s Paris. He and his wife lived on about $5 per day, eating and drinking eagerly and satisfyingly with the likes of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. My favorite parts of the book involved F. Scott Fitzgerald and his intense drinking habits.

Hemingway's account of lavish living during a different time period was truely interesting. I read it just prior to my trip to Paris. And then, while I was there...

The Sex Life of Food: When Body and Soul Meet to Eat, Bunny Crumpacker
Something light and fluffy for vacation, easy reading for a long flight. This book was as hilarious and entertaining as the author's name, which I truly hope is a pseudonym.

Crumpacker assigns foods a gender based on their appearance, taste, and a variety of other factors. Asparagus and zucchini are obviously male, whereas eggs and sugar are female. Red meat must be masculine since it comes from steer, but cheese and milk are feminine in nature. She goes on to examine how infancy and childhood predetermine our future likes and dislikes, how things come to be regarded as comfort foods, and how eating in a restaurant is a metaphor for making love.

Each chapter begins with a quote. One of my favorites:
"People predestined to gourmandism...have...bright eyes, small foreheads, short noeses, full lips and rounded chins...The ones who are most fond of tidbits and delicacies are finer featured, with a daintier air; they are more attractive...People to whom Nature has denied the capacity for such enjoyment, on the other hand, have long faces, noses, and eyes...They have flat dark hair, and above all lack healthy weight; it is undoubtedly they who invented trousers, to hide their thin shanks." The Physiology of Taste, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

My Life in France,Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme
What an interesting woman! Julia Child co wrote this book with her grandson, and beautifully recounts how living in France shaped her career and life. I knew very little about Child prior to reading this book. I have seen a few reruns of her show and peeked through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Reading her memoirs about beginning cooking school at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, with only a decent understanding of the language, was inspiring, funny, and entertaining. This woman made things happen. She worked hard, and was rewarded. It was great fun to read about her travels and experiences. She would have been a fantastic person to have dinner with.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Who Even Knows?

I've lost count. I am robotic for the next four days, except that robots don't ever get tired.

When I woke up yesterday the first song I heard on the radio was the Devo version of "Working in a Coal Mine." It made me chuckle.

On a more serious note, one of my coworkers found a blade similar to a razor in a 50-lb. bag of sugar yesterday. Here's to hoping we changed purveyors on the spot.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mas

Added to the tally:

350 dozen mini pastries
40 large yule logs
250 dreidel cookies
250 gingerbread boys
10 gingergread houses

And it's one day closer to being the best day of the work year, December 26!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Week-End Tally

'Tis the season that lasts forever...

Retail people, back me up on this! I know you're in the same boat.

We have been prepping and calculating since mid-October for business that will take place between December 5 and 24. Production on all of these plans kicked in a couple of weeks prior to Thanksgiving, leaving just a bit of breathing room after Halloween. Candied fruit was soaked in brandy long before you cooked your turkey last month, and the fruitcakes they inhabit were baked back then, too. Perhaps that gives a bit of insight into why no one actually likes them?

Holiday work is repetitive and boring. Items are made weeks in advance and held until they are needed. The assembly line chugs along all through December, anxiously awaiting "the most wonderful time of the year," which in my eyes is December 26 through mid-January. Business stops on a dime and we can resume comfortable 8-hour work days until the next seasonal upswing. Valentine's Day, Passover, Easter, Mother's Day, Graduation Season, Father's Day, Independence Day, fucking SWEETEST DAY. Did I miss anything?

Here's a tally of projects I did this past week. I don't even want to think about the hundreds of pounds of butter cookies, the numerous loaves of Stollen, and all of the holiday products my employer produces that I am not involved with. Enough is enough.

Yule Logs, Full Size: 40
Yule Logs, Mini: 320
Gingerbread Houses, Assembled: 18
Gingerbread Houses, Decorated: 12
Gingerbread Boys: 250
Snowman Cookies: 650
Christmas Tree Cakes, Assembled: 12
Petit Four Setups: 20 Full Sheets, Cut
Other Mini Pastries: 10 Full Sheets, Cut

There's been a constant stream of Christmas carols all day, every day, since the Friday after Thanksgiving. The same song sung by different artists is still the same song in my eyes. By this rational, I have heard about 6 songs on repeat for the past eight working days, and I'm about to lose my mind. I don't care whether Celine Dion or Mariah Carey is singing Oh Holy Night. They're both ruining my favorite Christmas song with their theatrics and insane vocal ranges.

The same songs, the same projects, the same people, the same four walls. It's enough to make you go sugar-free.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving

It's my favorite day of the year! Step into those elasticized pants, count your blessings, and eat more than is actually humanly possible. In other words, act typcially more American than on regular days.

Plug this into your browser
http://www.thesalmons.org/lynn/turducken.mp3

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Salpicon!

David took me to Salpicon on Thursday to celebrate my birthday. We had the seven-course tasting menu with wine pairings. Some of the dishes were not worthy of mention, but there were a few things that we both really enjoyed, and almost all of the wines were spectacular. Our waiter was lovey - he eagerly agreed to provide me with written account of our dinner, was very well-versed about the menu, and cracked a couple of hilarious jokes.

Course 1
Tostaditas de Seviche y Tinga
Blue marlin seviche with lime, cilantro, serrano chile, onion, and tomato. Fantastic. It was perfectly tangy and spicy. I wished they had doubled up on the seviche and forgone the shredded pork and chorizo, which was good, but just not as good as the marlin.
Accompanied by 2000 Blanc de Blancs Champagne, Henri Mandois (it's not a birthday without a bit of champagne), which was drier than the desert. I liked it.

Course 3
Barbacoa de Pato
Shredded duck leg, confit with four-chile reduction, orange segments, and pomegranate seeds.
I could eat well-prepared duck six days a week. The sauce tested the limits of my spice-tolerance, which is at a moderate level. The sweetness of the meat and fruits toned it down quite nicely. All wrapped up in a flour tortilla, it was the best taco I've had in a long time.
Accompanied by 2006 Gewurztraminer, Firelands Winery. As he presented the bottle, the waiter joked, "We are now leaving boring France to travel to beautiful Sandusky, Ohio." We both laughed and noted that Sandusky was also the backdrop for Tommy Boy. You wouldn't guess it, but quiet Ohio is producing some interesting wines. Go Midwest, go!

Course 4
Ensalada de Espinaca
Baby spinach with goat cheese, caramelized onions, sesame seeds, and chipotle-honey dressing.
If you know me at all, you know I'm not a salad eater. I'll pass on salad any day for soup, or pretty much any other option out there. Once in a while though, I'm pleasantly surprised by leafy greens, and this was one of them. Thinking back on it makes me want to try to recreate the dressing.
Accompanied by 2006 Dubaril Gamay Romand Rosé, Cave de La Côte-Uvavins, Morges, Switzerland. Honestly, I don't remember anything about it, so what does that tell you?


Course 6
Tequila Lime Sorbet
Serrano chile, lime, tequila. It was very refreshing, and the play between the heat of the chile and the cold temperature was fun.
Accompanied by 2004 Saracco Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy. The pairing couldn't have been any better. Alone, this was a nice, sweet end to a meal. With the sorbet, it was ethereal. I thought Dave was going to pass out from happiness. He's already gone to a shop to buy it.

Course 7
Torta de Pera y Mango
Pear and mango cobbler with goat's milk caramel ice cream. This was pretty fantastic, although calling it a cobbler might be a stretch. It was more of a tartlet, with and almond flour crust. The ice cream, with the slight bite of goat's milk, was a perfect balance to the burned sugar flavor.
Accompanied by 2002 Pinot Grigio Ice Wine, Bel Lago, Cedar, Michigan. Another delicious local wine. Leaving the grapes on the vine until they are frozen adds layers to the fruity notes and makes it intensely sweet.

Salpicon
1252 N. Wells
Chicaog 60610
312.988.7811

Thursday, November 15, 2007

28

It's going to be a good year

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Pardon me, but do you have any...

Malcolm Gladwell became one of my favorite writers when I was assigned to read The Tipping Point for a communications class at Marquette. His way with language transforms insufferable topics into something interesting. A lot of his work involves products, brands, and ideas that are familiar to the general public, but he presents them in a way that most of us haven't thought of before.

Gladwell is a regular columnist for The New Yorker. Read his thoughts about ketchup, and how there may be no such thing as the perfect marinara sauce, here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Goats!

Efrain, who I've posted about a couple of times, has graciously invited me to work with him on his Cook the Goat! party. The dinner will be modeled after a traditional Mexican wedding celebration.

It promises to be very interesting and lots of fun, and is very near my birthday, so get a ticket!

Saturday and Sunday, November 10th and 11th, Cook the Goat!
Slaughter on Saturday
Stewing on Sunday

First , Fresh Veggie Ceviche Bar with Plantain and Tostada Chips

Goat will be prepared 2 different ways:

* Stewed and Spiced in a Black Cherry and Roasted Pasilla rub with Potatoes
* Pit Roasted, Applewood smoked with Raw Sugar and Chile Rub.

All the traditional and some not-so-traditional sides will accompany the meat.

"Senor Goat" Smoked Pineapple Tres Leches Wedding Cake by Chef Beth Somers
BYOB or BYO-tequila.
performance by local chicago honky tonkers.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THE SLAUGHTER ON SATURDAY, PLEASE SEND YOUR CONTACT INFO (EMAIL AND PHONE NUMBER) TO efrain@chefrain.com AND HE WILL CONTACT YOU.

To go ahead and make a reservation, go here

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

One-Woman Frustration Station

America's only certified organic bakery (it shall remain nameless, but is easy to find if you dig a little) offered me a job as a pastry chef today. The compensation: $9.00 per hour, no benefits.

Seriously, what is wrong with this industry?

I wanted the job, too. I wanted it very badly. The owner is insanely creative, and I wanted to feed off of her energy like a leech sucks blood. It would have been a wonderful learning experience.

The bottom line is that each month I put a small dent into the never ending debt hole that is my student loan; this loan is something of a conundrum. It allowed me to get a job in this underpaying field. If I continue to work in it, it will take the rest of my natural life to repay it. If I hadn't borrowed, I could never have afforded school, and probably would never have gotten a job in the first place. It's the circle of life. There are other bills to pay, too. $9.00 doesn't cut it, even if I never leave the house except to go to work. But that's no way to live.

I am going to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and listen to the new Radiohead album. Get it here, it's gorgeous.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Pies for miles. Or at least a few city blocks.






Yesterday was the First Annual Bucktown Apple Pie Contest. I was too late to register, but happily attended with a few friends. I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than sampling entries for an pie contest in what felt like a grade school gymnasium.

There were all kinds of pies, including one that included bacon and pork, and another with black pepper and cheddar cheese. Of course there were tons of traditional pies, but we were all surprised by the shortage of streusel-topped desserts.

Bobtail Soda Fountain was serving up ice cream. Their organic vanilla is insanely good.

In total, there were 79 different entries. I bet the judges had a severe stomach ache after trying all of them, but it's a small price to pay to serve your community. Little Miss Avery had her first taste of apple pie, and I think she liked it.

I am on the email list for early registration next year, and apparently my apple pie needs quite a bit of work, so I'll be practicing for the next several months. Let me know if you'd like to be a guinea pig. The only thing that's concrete for next year's entry is the name, coined by Jody. My pie will be "The Dominator."













Friday, October 12, 2007

Kang Nam

Two white folks walk into a Korean barbeque...or so the joke goes.

A few nights ago Dave and I visited Kang Nam, touted as one of Chicago's best spots for authentic Korean eats. Both he and I are novices at the Korean BBQ game, and were a bit intimidated when we were handed menus by the native Korean staff. Luckily English translations accompanied the original descriptions for everything. We were put at ease when our drinks arrived at the table. I ordered Seokryuju, a pomegranate wine. Expecting a glass of it, I was surprised when the waitress arrived with a fairly large bottle with a label warning that it was 16% alcohol by volume, more than 5 times the amount of a normal American beer. Needless to say, I was sauced by the end of the meal. Dave ordered OB, short for Oriental Brewery. His beer was huge. Koreans obviously enjoy alcoholic beverages.

We ordered beef short ribs and squid. Moments later our waitress delicately placed a fiery hot bucket of burning coals and wood chips into the pit in the center of our table. Immediately we felt heat radiating from underneath the table. She positioned two grates on top of each other and brought out a heaping platter of thinly sliced, marinated beef and dumped it on top. Then she abandoned us without a word. Dave got to grilling. As the beef quickly cooked, several plates of panchan, small Korean salads, arrived. Tiny bowls of tangy pickled cabbage and zucchini, spicy kimchi, sesame seaweed salad, creamy potatoes, crunchy bean sprouts, an indecipherable egg concoction, and other things we couldn't pinpoint crowded the table. There was barely room to fit the platter of squid that still awaited us.

We grabbed lettuce leaves and pretended to know what we were doing. We layered them with bean paste, soy sauce, and beef. Rolling them up taco style, we devoured, and it was good. Every bowl of panchan was like a little adventure, not knowing if it was going to be sweet or sour, crispy or soft. I am not sure if I have ever consumed so much vinegar.

Squid probably wasn't the best option, considering our newcomer status. Seafood like that cooks extremely fast, and when it's overdone, it becomes rubbery. Chew all you want, those tentacles aren't breaking down. We chewed a lot, and I was secretly happy for all of those short ribs.

Some time later the server arrived with bowls of rice and a spicy soup that was heavy with zucchini. I thought we might have to start balancing plates on our laps, but somehow she squeezed it all onto the table. In addition to plentiful alcohol, Koreans must like an abundance of grub. I can dig it. I can also dig the small complimentary bottle of Seokryuju our server sent home with me.

Next time, no seafood. Maybe we'll give one of the pork cuts a shot.




Friday, October 5, 2007

The Dill Pickle Food Co-op

The Dill Pickle

Look, look, at what my neighborhood is doing! There's a new member-driven grocery in town, and it seems they've already scouted a location for a market. It will be located at Fullerton and Sacramento.

Cool!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Paris, Je T'Aime

A week in Paris is not nearly long enough, but it's far better than no time at all.

The French can make anything seem fabulous. Even franks and beans.















It rained often during our time there, but no matter. Whenever a drizzle started, we headed for the nearest cafe to drink, snack, and smoke until it cleared. Paris is a fantastic city for lounging.

On one of these stops we came upon a place that we won't soon forget, O'Vinea. It looked like any other from the outside, but inside we were treated to an audible feast that included Pink Floyd, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Eurythmics, Nirvana, Metallica, Elvis Costello, Snoop and Dr. Dre, The Police, Black Sabbath, Velvet Underground, and James Brown. The good tunes were selected by our friendly server, who didn't speak a word of English, but knew all of the lyrics to the songs he was playing. It was a lovely juxtaposition. He was also selling original chalkboard graffiti. The charcuterie plate we had with our wine was also really nice.












We made a few new friends, ate great things, drank a lot, walked for miles, and even danced on a table or two, but only after the locals got up and did it first. It was a splendid week, and proof why travel during vacation should be mandatory.

More pictures here, but be warned that they are mostly of food, art, and foliage.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Recent Projects

The past few weeks have been busy and full of interesting projects. Although I knew that September would bring a slew of challenging projects, I was somewhat unprepared for the physical amount of hours it would take to complete them. It's been fun nonetheless, and I'm happy with all of the outcomes. It's very enjoyable to work on things that present a challenge, things that require you to think outside the box and make you do things differently than how you've done them before. It's true that you don't get better at anything unless you're constantly working to improve your skills.



































I made this cake for a surprise 30th birthday party. I was told beforehand that the birthday boy's hobbies included coffee and climbing. I wasn't told that he was once the barista champion of the world and employed by Intelligentsia Coffee. His fiance and I came up with the idea to have a little man scaling the side of a huge coffee cup. The latte art on top is a representation of Matt Riddle's award-winning creations. The handle is made of chocolate modeling clay and the little climber is made of gum paste, which is completely edible, although you'd never want to eat it.




















This one was for a one-year-old birthday party. The baby's mother requested a lavender hippopotamus wearing a pink tutu as a homage to a cartoon she used to watch when she was young. Carving cake is one of my favorite things to do, as it's a different experience every time. Before it was iced, it looked just like a teddy bear. The bow is made of gum paste again.






















My best friend Kristin is getting married this weekend. She asked me a long time ago to make her cake for her, which was a great honor. Since I'm standing up in the wedding, and time is of the essence, we opted to do a "fake cake." It's polyfoam underneath instead of cake. It's for display only. Sheet cakes will be cut and served at the reception so that freshness isn't an issue.

Kristin sent me a few pictures of cakes that she liked, but gave me free reign to design one for her. From the photos I gathered that she preferred squares over rounds and that the cake should be fairly simple.

I thought about how to design it for a long time before I came across a swatch of Japanese paper. The pattern on the paper was called "Rolling Gold Waves," and it reminded me of a vacation that she and I took a few years ago. I thought it would translate well onto a cake, and decided to use it as my main focus. To keep the look simple and clean, I chose to keep the background and pattern white. Six hours of piping later, I am so happy with the result. It's elegant and delicate. All it needs is a few flowers on top at the reception, and it's good to go.

I think it's perfect for my friend. I hope she thinks so too.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Summer Eats

It nearly reached 100 degrees in Chicago today, so although Labor Day marked the unofficial end of summer, the heat wave rolls on. I love it, as long as there is an escape route that involves central air conditioning.

Yesterday's holiday got me thinking about all of the great things I have eaten this summer. There have been some fantastic meals, a few lovely picnics, and many good times.

Notable fare, Summer 2007:

Stone Fruits. Apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines.















Watermelon Muddle Cocktail at De La Costa. Cool refreshment in a 16 ounce tumbler.

Countless Wrigley Field hot dogs, fresh blueberries, and more gelato than one person should ever eat with Dave.

Strawberries. I already miss them.



















Locally roasted Intelligensia coffee from Linz and Vail, the espresso bar that opened next door to Tags. It kept me alert on countless days.

Figs. I made some nice little cakes with fresh figs at the base and a rosemary infused caramel sauce.















Anything I could think to make with all of the amazing herbs that Sara and Rob planted and gave me. See above for one example. There's also been a lot of sweet corn with chive butter, and tomato and basil bruschetta.

Kebabathon. Nate brought an entire leg of lamb to the park, cubed it, and seasoned with curry and cinnamon. It was fantastic. We drank High Life and played frisbee all day.

















Seu Jorge at Ravinia, amidst the cicadas. They're wonderful dining companions.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Don't Forget Your Helmet

Thanks to Estee Lauder's newest perfume advertisement, I have a new method for cake delivery. Just gingerly perch it atop your bike rack, and ride. You don't even need to put it in a box! Amazing! (Disclaimer: Cake is only guaranteed to arrive safely if the bike messenger wears all pink.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Efrain and 24 Below

I met my friend Efrain Cuevas while he was chefing for Ghetto Gourmet. He's left them to start his own venture, 24 Below. He's a very cool, creative fellow, and it's nice to see that his efforts to expand the Chicago culinary scene are getting noticed. The Tribune ran a great article about him and some of his upcoming events yesterday.

One of his future events will feature a goat soup, with the goat actually being slaughtered and butchered onsite. If you think it seems grotesque, take a pause to think about where the meat you eat comes from. A dinner like this could be highly educational. I think it's a fantastic idea.

Great things are going to come from this guy. Keep an eye out for him.

Monday, August 13, 2007

There's more bacon crashing into desserts!

Vosges Haut Chocolate combines applewood smoked bacon with smoked salt and milk chocolate. Someone try it and let me know how it is?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Blackbird

It's very fun to have dinner with people who love to eat, and last night was no exception. My friend Daniel is in town from Paris. Last night we shared a meal at Blackbird, one of Chicago's high-end restaurant staples.

A couple of months ago Mike Sheerin was hired as the Chef de Cuisine at Blackbird. The appointment has garnered a lot of attention for Blackbird, a somewhat difficult feat for a restaurant of it's age, even if the food is consistently outstanding. Judging from what we ate last night, Sheerin will do a fine job.

Starters
seared maine diver scallops with local sweet corn, eggplant puree, early tart apples and lovage
*Wonder what lovage is? It's a green that tastes similar to cilantro. The only discernible difference is that the word "lovage" is far sexier than "cilantro."

crispy confit of swan creek farm suckling pig with sour cherries, roasted chiogga beets, housemade prosciutto and local cress

confit of squid with fresh shell beans, smoked paprika, zucchini bread and pluots

Entrees
seared walleyed pike with local soybeans, heirloom tomatoes, peaches, pine and crispy chocolate*
*Cool...how'd they do that??? I have no idea, but I want to learn!

seared loin of venison with black mission figs, sugar snaps, bacon panisse and lime salt

Cheese
colorouge- cow's milk, fort collins, colorado- with plum mostarda

Dessert
mission fig beignet with black raspberries, butterscotch and bacon ice cream*
*Didn't like it. Not one bit. I love bacon. I love ice cream. But some things shouldn't coexist.

bittersweet chocolate polenta with sweet corn ice cream, blackberries and basil

The food was very good, but the service was exceptional. On the 5-foot shuffle from the bar to our table, the hostess pretty much demanded that we leave our wine glasses at the bar so she could carry them over to the table for us. Seriously, 5 feet.

Our table was slightly wobbly, and the staff took extra measures to make it more stable. In retrospect, there were several open tables around us, and it would have made sense to have shifted us over one rather than fussing around.

It was raining when we were leaving. After he declined a cab, the hostess gave Daniel an umbrella, which was much nicer than the umbrella I was carrying. Not a bad parting gift. I should have traded him, but he paid for dinner.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sunday Breakfast

Nectarines macerated in vanilla sugar, cardamom, and a droplet of almond extract is a damn fine way to top a waffle.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Notes about Red Velvet Cake


I spent the past few hours making trial-run red velvet cupcakes. I met a lovely couple at the Guerrilla Truck Art show several weeks back, and they've hired me to do cupcakes for their wedding on September 1. Half of them are lemon with vanilla french buttercream, which is what the bride had the night I met her. The other half are to be red velvet cake, which I personally dislike and have never made successfully. I'm taking it as a challenge.

So I set out to find a couple of recipes to use as models. If you've never had it, red velvet cake is a southern tradition, made with a scant amount of cocoa powder, but hardly considered chocolate cake. It commonly includes a small amount of distilled white vinegar. It's best topped with cream cheese icing, which is the only thing that makes it salvageable. I believe that it's not the flavor of red velvet, but it's shocking appearance that has caused it's resurgence in recent years. It is so unnatural, so kitschy. People who order red velvet are somewhat equivalent to label whores. It's all about the look.

Just before I started on recipe #1, I realized that I had failed to restock my pantry with cocoa powder and that it called for buttermilk, and realized shortly thereafter that I was too lazy to go to the grocery. Substitute a few tablespoons of melted chocolate for cocoa, and decrease the amount of sugar by a few tablespoons. Substitute whole milk for buttermilk. Leave out the vinegar, as the only kind I had are balsamic, apple cider, and tarragon. I used a gel-based red food color. Jeez, they're not good at all. Drier than the desert. Definitely closer to brown suede than red velvet.

After an inevitable trip to the grocery store, I felt better equipped to try again. I followed the second recipe to the letter, except that I halved the amount of red food dye. A full ounce seemed ridiculous. The results of the second batch, although better, are still far from satisfying. They're moist and have the correct color, but the cake tastes floury.

The cream cheese frosting is good, but that's because it's always good. It's not okay to mask the incredibly dull flavor of the cakes with tasty frosting. Both have to stand up alone before they get paired together. The search begins for a suitable recipe. If you have one, please share it with me. (Kristal?)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Juicy

I am hosting Kristin's bachelorette party on Saturday. We're starting the night at Juicy Wine Company where a sommelier has picked out three reds, three whites, and a sparkling wine for us to try. She emailed me the list today. I'm sure it will be lots of fun, if "fun" is what you call 14 bottles of wine, split amongst 13 girls in a two-hour time frame. I can't even imagine the state we'll be in by the time we reach the second spot. Yikes!

Marques de Gelida 2 bottles
J pinot gris 2 bottles
Franz Kunstler riesling 2 bottles
Placet 2 bottles
Hitching Post 2 bottles
Clayhouse 2 bottles
Chateau Labat 2 bottles.
One large plate of meat and cheese.

Monday, July 23, 2007

More coffee


Since I broke the carafe to my Mr. Coffee a couple of weeks ago, I have taken to brewing coffee in Amelia's French press. At first it was a big hassle, boiling the water and letting it steep before pushing the plunger down, ever so gently so as not to disrupt the coarse grounds. I admit it, the first couple of times I did it there was a mess of grinds floating around in my cup. I am not agile, or patient, in the mornings. I was missing the delay function on my automatic coffee maker. Filling the canteen with water, loading the filter with grinds, and pushing a button at night enabled me to stumble out of bed to what I thought was a "fresh cup" every morning.

The French Press may be a bit more labor-intensive, or at least it seems that way when your eyes are still heavy with sleep, but it makes an amazing cup of coffee. It tastes better than the stuff that was coming out of the automatic. It's much less bitter. In turn, I'm much less bitter about having to get up at the crack of dawn. Quite nice, really.

My big thought of the day: although technology is a beautiful thing (Why write in a journal when you can type so much faster in a blog?), sometimes you can't beat the old-fashioned way of doing things.

This is the one I've been using. It's a Bodum 32 oz. Chef. You should get one.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

La Dolce Vita

Question for the lot of you:

I am thinking about naming the shop La Dolce Vita, which is The Sweet Life in Italian. If you were unfamiliar with the shop, would you automatically assume we made Italian pastries only? That's not the goal, but I do like the way the words sound.

How about just Dolce? Does it make you think of haute couture fashion designers?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Cooling Off

Summer nights are meant for Margie's.



Their ice cream is just okay, but when it is smothered in their homemade hot fudge, it becomes ethereal. Seriously, it's heaven, located right around the corner from my place. Bring on the hot weather!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Meritage Again

I've had the pleasure of dining at Meritage Cafe and Wine Bar five times. It has blown me away five times. Last night, dinner with Sara and Rob was no exception. They came over with a great surprise - two large pots of fresh herbs from their own garden that they replanted for me. Amazing! Lou the basil plant now has friends: chives, thyme, oregano, flat leaf parsley, dill, rosemary, and sage. I'm a happy girl. Photos to follow soon!

Six-course chef's tasting menu, $45 every Tuesday night at Meritage

From July 10, 2007

First: Seared Diver Scallop in Melon Cucumber Soup with Speck
If there was ever a time that I wished I had my camera, this was it. What a beautiful presentation. A circle frothy, light green cucumber soup enveloped an inner circle of gorgeous melon soup. The diver scallop was placed in the center, with a bit of speck on top. The colors were absolutely gorgeous, and it tasted so refreshing. Our waiter described speck as a smoked Italian prosciutto, but we were wondering if it wasn't actually German.

Second: Pan-Roasted Alaskan Halibut with Escargot Black Truffle Ravioli in Parsnip Bisque
All through this course we talked about cooking seafood at home, and how it's near impossible to get a really great crispness without the proper heat, pan, and a few spoons of clarified butter. The halibut was nicely crisped on one side, flaky and tender inside. The real show stopper was, of course, the single escargot black truffle ravioli. It was divinity on a plate, and although it was pretty much mind blowing, one was perfect. If there had been two I might have just died on the spot. We were using the table bread to sop up the bisque at the bottom of the bowl.

Third: Heirloom Tomato Salad with Green Curry Poached Lobster and Thai Basil
Huge slices of red and yellow tomatoes that were marinated in olive oil. I like my tomatoes a little firmer, but these were falling apart. It was the only dish that was too large to finish. The chunk of lobster had nice flavor but was a little bit tough. The Thai basil was harvested from their backyard. (Sidenote: Meritage is right down the street from my place. Now I know where I can harvest some Thai basil. Kickin!)

Fourth: Ginger-Peach Sorbet
Very gingery but not at all astringent, very refreshing, and so tasty that I didn't mind at all when it appeared again in the dessert course. It was that good.

Rob picked a bottle of Foxen Chenin Blanc, which we greatly enjoyed through the first four courses. It was very crisp, and just what we were looking for to break summer's heat.

Fifth: Grilled Ostrich with Organic Baby Beets, Balsamic Grilled Escarole, and Black Raspberry Reduction
My first time eating ostrich, but hopefully not my last. I have had game meats at Meritage a few times and always enjoyed them. These guys know how to cook meat. Slices of meat, slightly crisp outside and pink inside, were plated over the veg. I have never had a fresher, crunchier beet, and we discovered that its fronds were also quite tasty. The balsamic glaze and black raspberry redux came together to make a succulent sweet sauce. Amazing.

Sixth: A trio of desserts that we shared. This is how the kitchen gets ride of things left over from the weekend, but as long as it still tastes fresh, who cares?
Mango Meyer Lemon Creme Brulee
I'm not a creme brulee eater. I never choose to order it, since it's always on the menu. This one was good though, perfectly cooked to golden brown perfection on top while the custard underneath remained silken. The mango-lemon combo was subtle.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Terrine
I shared this dessert on a different trip to Meritage with Brian. If you want to know the mouth feel of velvet, eat this. Nothing's smoother. Served with malted chocolate ice cream, crushed peanuts, and chocolate ganache sauce. Man, I feel bad for all these kids growing up with peanut allergies. They don't even know what they're missing!

Sorbets
Cognac Pear - Very clean, light flavor. My favorite of the sorbets.
Cranberry Basil - Sara said it tasted like pizza, and it kinda did, but in a good way.
Ginger Peach - Making it's triumphant return.

Sara ordered a 2004 Ponzo Zinfandel by Ridge that came with the Ostrich course. It was fruity and delicious. Our server commented that she couldn't have paired a better wine with the ostrich, even though we had no idea what dish was coming out next.

Great food, great wine, great company. Nice Tuesday night!

Monday, July 9, 2007

And if you don't know...now you know.

I am opening up a pastry shop in Wilmette. Give yourself a moment to freak out. I needed one when I realized the amazing opportunity I was given.

A few months ago an old coworker put me in touch with her friend who is a restaurateur. He owns a great sushi place and is interested in expanding his business portfolio into the pastry world. His sushi spot is quite successful, with a second location on the way. He's got fantastic credentials and preapproved financing but wants someone to run the pastry place for him. After all, sushi is sushi, and baked goods are a whole other story.

After several meetings, the planning is finally underway. I've been struggling through a lot of research, and hoping that this is the boring part. Sourcing vendors - who's going to deliver cake flour at the most reasonable price? Where can I find raspberries that aren't frozen? How much will we pay per year for pest control? I've been doing a bit of menu planning also, but it's still in the infancy stage, so all I'll say is we're going for the highest of high end. Everything will be eaten first with the eyes, then with the mouth. Pretty, pretty, pretty.

I feel like I've brainstormed for hours with numerous people about naming the place, but still I've got nothing. Feel free to throw things out. I'm all ears.

We are hoping to open in February or March, which is not the busiest time of year for a pastry shop to cut it's teeth, but perhaps it will be good to ease into things.

Most days, I am pretty sure I can pull this off.

Monday, July 2, 2007


A few weeks ago, the power went out as I was midway through cooking dinner. I just think that the picture is really nice.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Lou


I finally got around to planting basil. A month ago I had grand ideas of planting several kinds of herbs; parsley, thyme, mint, maybe dill. Time got away from me and it never happened, but I couldn't resist a basil plant for $1.39 at the produce market. Basil is supposedly foolproof. My coworkers tell me they stuck theirs in the dirt and minutes later the things had grown six inches. Perhaps that's a little dramatic, but it is supposed to grow quite easily with very little care. Somehow on my last go-around I managed to kill my plant within days. This time will be better.

So, here's my new pet, Lou. Hope he does okay in that coffee can. This is urban gardening at it's worst.

Eat lots of pork, live a long life...

Johnsonville Sausage founder, who popularized brats, dies at 92

By DINESH RAMDE
Associated Press Writer

June 25, 2007, 4:57 PM CDT

MILWAUKEE -- Ralph F. Stayer, the founder of a Wisconsin sausage company that helped popularize bratwurst in the U.S., died Sunday in his sleep at a Florida nursing home, his family said Monday. He was 92.

Stayer lived the American dream, buying a butcher shop in 1945 and turning it into the million-dollar Johnsonville Sausage Co., said his son, Ralph C. Stayer.

"He started with nothing, and he had the joy of seeing his business blossom, of doing business in 40 countries," said Stayer, the company's current chief executive officer.

The elder Stayer was born in Ely, Minn., in 1915 and moved to Milwaukee as a teen. He dropped out of high school a month before graduation to support his parents and five younger siblings during the Depression.

"He always had a great sense of responsibility," his son said. "He just did what he had to do."

Stayer's butcher shop was struggling in 1945, when he went to a picnic and saw garbage cans filled with partially eaten brats. He and his wife drew upon their Austrian and Slovenian heritage to make better-tasting bratwurst based on an old family recipe, his son said.

Stayer once said he knew the company was doing something right when a customer who had previously ordered 5 pounds of bratwurst and 30 pounds of hamburger returned six months later and ordered 30 pounds of bratwurst and 5 pounds of hamburger.

Johnsonville Sausage became a multimillion dollar business under Stayer's son's leadership. Its brats are sold seasonally at some 4,000 McDonald's nationwide and in 16 NFL stadiums.

The sausage company is the main sponsor of Brat Fest, an annual Madison event in which participants eat nearly 190,000 of the spiced pork sausages in four days over the Memorial Day weekend.

Despite his success, Stayer never forgot his humble roots, his son said. He gave generously to causes supporting underprivileged kids, including a Boys & Girls Clubs chapter in Sheboygan County that bears his and his wife's names.

Stayer's son described his father's death as bittersweet.

"In one sense, there's a great sense of loss," the younger Stayer said. "In another, there's a great sense of joy, that my father was such a wonderful person, that he had an opportunity to enjoy life. That's what makes it bearable."

In addition to his son, Stayer is survived by his wife, Alice; a daughter, 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Something I missed at the NRA Show:



I have to try Wilson Creek's Almond Champagne ASAP. Sparkling wine that supposedly smells like marzipan? You know how much I love marzipan!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Does Not Compute

Yesterday I was working on a wedding cake when I realized that I needed help fast. I needed to know how much ribbon was necessary to border each of the tiers, and in order to equate that, I needed to know the formula for circumference.

Math's never been my strong suit. Left brain, right brain, whatever. I have always loathed math.

Flash back to sixth grade: numerous nights spent sitting at the table in the basement, poured over an algebra book with Dad, who majored in mathematics as an undergraduate. I remember moments of tension and irritation, nearing tears, as he tried to explain over and over what I just couldn't grasp. He never gave me the answers. Dad always pushed me to figure out the problems on my own. A little bit quiet, yet fully supportive. I'm sure he was just as frustrated as me.

I called Dad yesterday and laughed a little when I asked him for the formula, which of course he spewed out without hesitation. C = 2Pie*(r). Lifesaver, and not for the first time. Probably not the last time, either. He was happy to help, wanted to know what I was using the equation for. I joked that I never expected all of those teachers to be right, that all of those dreadful math lessons would be applicable in daily life. I am forced into a lot of numbers at work, and most of the time it makes my head hurt. Dad gravely responded, "It's a mathematical world."

It's a really precious gift to have parents like mine. Happy Father's Day a couple days early. Thanks for all of the help along the way.

*Cut me a little slack. I don't know how to type the symbol for Pi, and after all, this is a blog mostly about baking.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Have I undergone a labotomy?

I spent 13 hours at work today, doing nothing but mini pastries. Over and over, making and decorating tiny little desserts no larger than 2 bites. The final count for the day was over 300 dozen pieces. My brain feels like soup. It's not exactly stimulating work.

Tag's Mini Pastry List (more for my future reference, but read through if you're so inclined):
Strawberry Petit Fours
Raspberry Petit Fours
Lemon Petit Fours
Sacher Petit Fours (chocolate and apricot)
Mocha Petit Fours
Chocolate Petit Fours
Truffle Brownie Petit Fours
Chocolate Orange Truffles
Mini Fruit Tarts
Eclairs
Cream Puffs
Mini Canollis
Mini Cheesecakes

Good news waited at home. There are photos from our truck, and more specifically of my cupcakes, from the Guerrilla Truck Show last night. (Photos 14 and 15, if you're impatient.) The show went off splendidly. Three cheers for people like Amelia who make you think outside the box, who draw you into worlds you might never have known existed.

Take advice from some intelligent dwarfs. Whistle while you work. Especially if you're working as much as I am these days.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Guerrilla Truck Art, Cupcakes, and Coloring

I have gotten involved with a very cool project with my roommate, Amelia. Guerilla Truck Art Show, a part of NeoCon, is on Tuesday night. Artists, designers, and other fun visionaries make posh spaces out of rented trucks. Our truck is in support of SAS, Spectacle of Art and Society, which is an idea that encourages creativity and community in a variety of ways. I'm making a scuplted birdcage cake and a slew of cupcakes that SAS is decorating together.

It's art for art's sake, and cake for cake's sake. If that's not enough, you can also color. When was the last time you colored?

Amelia referred to me as an artist, which made me very happy.

Tuesday from 6:00-9:00 at MORLEN SINOWAY ATELIER, 1052 West Fulton Market. More info here

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dirty Laundry

I am sitting in the laundromat, yet again, lamenting the fact that I go through clean clothes at the speed of sound.

It really is quite nice to wear yoga pants and hoodies to work, to not care at all how you look, just as long as you're clean when you walk in the door. It's comparable to waking up in the morning and switching out sleeping pajamas for work pajamas. I'm not complaining. It's wonderful, except when laundry day rolls around, Since I get so darn dirty at work, laundry day rolls around way too often. Laundry day is also very expensive because generally I don't want to wash my regular clothes with my chocolate-raw egg-shortening covered workwear.

It would be great if the bakery would institute a uniform, preferably a nice white chef's coat, and would launder them for us at daily intervals. That would make me so happy. I haven't worn a chef's coat regularly since culinary school. Occassionally I wore one at Alliance when I was giving a wedding cake tasting. It would be cool to wear one. As dorky as it is, I feel proud in one.

I wear Dansko clogs. They are, by far, the most comfortable shoes to stand in all day. They last forever. I've had my current pair for three years and they still feel great. I kind of wish they'd wear out so I could justify these.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Getting Loopy with Yeasted Doughs

Odds are, if you're reading this, you're not a baker. My friend and ex-coworker Kristal is probably the only exception. Odds are even slimmer, since you are not bakers, that you have heard of "dough hits." Believe me, dough hits are something that you need to know about, even if it's just good party conversation.

There are 12 steps to baking bread. These steps are fairly consistent for any dough that includes yeast as a leavener.

1. Mise en place: The fancy French words for getting all your shit together before you start. Scaling out your ingredients so you don't realize midway through step 2 that you don't have any flour in the house.

2. Mixing: Kneading. Break a sweat and do it by hand or throw it in the mixer with a dough hook. This builds the gluten strands that are soooo important to bread.

3. Primary Fermentation: The first big chunk of waiting time. The yeast does it's thing, making little yeast gasses and releasing alcohol. The gluten strands developed in step 2 trap the gas, making it rise.

4. Punching Down: A good chance to release the day's agressions by beating the crap out of your beautifully risen dough (if it's done correctly it should have doubled in size). The dough is punched (usually just one time, so really give it a good whallop) to release the trapped gasses, which deflates the dough. REMEMBER THIS STEP. It's where the dough hitting fun begins.

5. Dividing: Scaling the dough by weight according to how you want to bake it.

6. Rounding: Yes. You round the dough, that is now portioned by weight.

7. Benching: Resting the dough. Give yourself and the gluten a chance to relax. This takes some time, so maybe have a beer.

8. Shaping: Shaping the dough, which is now perfectly weighed, into whatever you want (baguettes, boules, dinner rolls, aligators, whatever).

9. Proofing (Secondary Fermentation): A second opportunity to let the yeast do it's thing. The dough is going to double again, only this time it's shaped into aligators. Those gators are going to get huge.

10. Baking.

11. Cooling: If you eat bread right out of the oven you will get a stomach ache like none other. Don't be stupid.

12. Storing and Eating: Pretty much the best step, except for step 4, because step 4 leads to "dough hits."

In step 4, you punch the dough down, and in doing so release a whole lot of trapped gas and alcohol. Here's how to do a dough hit:
* Inhale and exhale deeply
* Punch the dough down
* Get your head into the bucket/mixing bowl/whatever recepticle is holding your dough as fast as you can and inhale all of the gas and alcohol that is released. Work quickly - you only get one shot at this before all of the yeast byproduct is dispersed into the air. It sort of smells like a brewery. Hold the breath in your lungs for several seconds before exhaling.
* Enjoy the tingly feeling you get all over your body, along with a serious burn in your nasal cavity. It lasts about 10 seconds, and is seriously one of the funkiest feelings I've ever had.

I googled dough hits looking for more detailed scientific information about what happens to the body during a dough hit. I was surprised that it came back with no relevant information. I guess I won't be waxing "Alton Brown" today.

Surely this sounds ridiculous. Maybe you don't even believe me. Just remember step 4 the next time you're pulling out your bread machine and give it a shot. Inhale, hold, exhale.

Happy Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tuesday's Dinner

Tuesday night with the Ghetto Gourmet was another smash. It's very fun to cook this way, and I especially enjoy plating. Chef Efrain Cuevas is one talented guy, and very generous to share his personal supply of beer. I am really looking forward to getting more involved with this kick ass group of people. But apparently, many of you guys already know that, as Maura has become a one-woman promotions machine for my involvement with The Ghet. Can someone please forward me the email she's got circulating??? Some how I didn't make it onto the email list. Ha!

Check out the menu:

2 Tamales, wrapped in Banana Leaf
Corn Masa w/ Duck Confit, Filled w/ Smoked Duck w/ Black Cherry Mole. Accomp By Pickled Yellow Carrot and Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa

Black Bean Soup w/ Epazote and Roasted Peppers, Topped w/ Duck Cracklins

Paella Risotto w/ Smoked Chicken, Spanish Chorizo, Jumbo Shrimp, and Asparagus w/ Spicy Cilantro Peanut Pesto

Chocolate Sponge Cake Roulade, Spiced w/ Pasilla Chile, Cardamom, and Ginger, Chocolate Cinnamon Whipped Cream w/ Orange Zest and Spicy Candied Pecans

(Doesn't it just make you want breakfast?)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Charlton Heston Wasn't There

Extremely short notice, but I'll be cooking with The Ghetto Gourmet again tomorrow night. There's still tickets available if you're interested in checking it out. It would be great to see some of your faces.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

I spent the day fumbling through the NRA Show at McCormick Place. That's "National Restaurant Association" to your non-food service industry folks, so disregard those thoughts of AK47s and holsters.

The NRA Show is one of the largest trade shows held in America. It encompasses anything and everything you might need to run a food service business, and many things that you would never ever need. From stemware to industrial fryers, chef's coats to soda fountains, the NRA show allows exhibitors to display their wares, cuisines, and products. There are lectures and demonstrations, cookbook signings, and a whole lot of food and beverage samples.

I was advised to go on an empty stomach. Within a couple of hours I was stuffed. I remember eating Greek yogurt with honey, a huge meatball, a couple different kinds of cheesecake, some kind of panini, some other kind of wrap, a chocolate chip cookie, Cavendish french fries, green and yellow wax beans, popcorn with some weird mesquite barbecue flavor that came out of a hairspray bottle, hickory-smoked bacon, and a whole lot of other junk. If I had had a bit more time, I probably could have tracked down an entire Thanksgiving dinner.

Coca Cola's booth was swarming with people. They had a robot as part of their display. I forget it's name, but it was actually pretty amazing. You could ask the robot anything and it had an intelligent answer. I overheard someone ask it who would win the 2008 Presidential election, and it replied with "The candidate with the most money. Ha ha ha. No, the candidate with the most electoral votes will win." I sampled the new Diet Coke Plus, which is fortified with vitamins and minerals. It tastes a bit like licking a rock. I don't recommend it.

I saw a chef doing a very intricate sugar showpiece, which always amazes me. I also saw a blender so powerful that it was making powder out of golf balls. Several culinary teams from different nations presented their gorgeous competition plates. There was also a couple of bowling lanes set up, although I'm not sure how that fits into the mix. A woman was walking around in a dress made up of plastic swipe cards held together with chain mail (she was nearly naked).

I've just realized that this entry is all over the place. In actuality, it mirrors the NRA show. Organization is minimal, McCormick Place staff is clueless, and forget about even trying to map out a plan of attack. It's better to wander aimlessly and enjoy what you happen to come across. There is so much to consume, with the eyes, ears, and mouth. The vastness of it all is pure entertainment, and really, isn't that what the restaurant business is all about?

Thanks Miss Diana for the opportunity to go to the show!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bad for Business

Epicurious.com is the online home of Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines, and one of my go-to sites for recipes of all kinds. They have millions of visitors, and I've often found the user reviews that accompany recipes to be quite helpful.

Right now they're featuring an online demonstration on how to bake, build, and decorate this wedding cake.


The feature includes recipes and step-by-step videos. If I had had this tool three years ago, I could have forgone a year of pastry school and thousands of dollars in student loans! Well, maybe that's a bit extreme.

Posting at my own risk, hoping that business doesn't plummet when everyone in America starts making their own wedding cakes, I give you Layers of Love.

Sidenote: "Layers of Love" is what Epicurious is calling it. I could never seriously say that!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Monday Lunch

Hot Doug's. What an experience.

If you arrive early or late enough to avoid the long line at lunchtime, you're greeted first by Doug himself, sporting black horn rims. He takes the orders himself. One wall shouts, "There are no two finer words in the English language than "encased meats." Have truer words ever been uttered?

This place offers much more than the standard hot dog/Polish sausage fare typical of Chicago joints. Each menu item is cheekily named after a celebrity, and several items have been renamed when their original namesake falls out of favor. "The Jennifer Garner," for example, is formerly "The Britney Spears," and is a mighty hot fire dog. (Ouch Britney! Perhaps you should considered concealing your nether-regions in public? Just a thought...)

On Fridays and Saturdays Doug cooks his french fries in duck fat, which is possibly the most delicious idea ever, but Monday through Thursday, the fresh cut potatoes are fantastic and extra crispy. To quote my brother-in-law, Matt, "they're the fries you break your diet for."

Matt and I had an early lunch at Hot Doug's yesterday. He's partial to "The Don Rickles",

a Thuringer sausage made from ground beef, pork, and garlic and smothered with Gouda cheese and french fried onions. I took a gamble with the weekly-changing game sausage. It was rabbit topped with pomegranate creme fraiche goat cheese and vodka-soaked dried blueberries, and it was amazing. The goat cheese and vodka imparted a pleasant tang that was offset by the sweetness of the fruits.

With a combination like that, it's clear that Doug has some major culinary prowess, and that his hot dog stand is a cut above the rest. If you need more proof, consider that two customers at a table near ours were drinking wine with their meals. That's high-class. It was 11:15 a.m. That's not for me to judge.

Check out the full menu avoid the noon hour like the plague, and remember that they close at 4:00 in the afternoon.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Our Favorite Font

Check out this link that celebrates the birthday of Helvetica. As in the font. The video is really cute, and you'll love the song.

http://www.notcot.com/archives/2007/03/helvetica_cake.php

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Fresh Strawberries


It's still a bit early in the season, but right now I am eating strawberries for the first time since last season. Strawberries are something that I avoid buying out of season for several reasons.

1. Although they can be deceptively lovely, they taste like 100% water in the winter months.
2. They can also be as hard as an apple.
3. Customers pay a pretty penny (maybe even $4.00 per pound) to eat gorgeous strawberries that taste like water and crunch like apples.

Need I say more? Seasonal food movements have made a lot of progress in recent years. There is another reason to support seasonal food theories, other than the obvious health benefits that come along with eating fresh produce. After months of foregoing underwhelming fruit or veg, there is the anticipation of eating something truly delicious.

Strawberries are a prime example. In the off season, which is about nine months out of the year, they taste like nothing. But come June/July (admittedly, I have jumped the gun a bit this year), they are one of my favorite fruits. These are good. They're sweet and fragrant. They don't need anything added to enhance their flavor, as they're very nice on their own. In the next few months I will buy strawberries like crazy and eat them with reckless abandon, because come late summer, my personal embargo is back on.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Photos from The Ghetto Gourmet

These pictures are from last week's Ghetto Gourmet event. Efrain was teaching me how to make empanadas. I look really stone faced, but was actually having a lot of fun. Thanks to Ellie from The Orphanage for the awesome pictures.






Monday, April 30, 2007

Cooking with The Ghet

Saturday night was my initiation with The Ghetto Gourmet. You may have heard of these renegade foodies. In the past few months they've been featured everywhere from Bon Appetit to Gaper's Block. The folks at The Ghet host underground dinner parties, complete with local musicians. Guests purchase tickets in advance for a preset menu at a secret location that is disclosed just prior to the event. It's a food rave, if you will.

The space for Saturday night's event was a community center on the south side. The walls were covered in original paintings and artwork, and the ceiling was draped in organza of various colors. Members of the center pitched in to serve the guests, bus tables, do dishes, and hula hoop. No joke.

Cooking with Chef Efrain was a blast, and much more laid back than I expected. We hosted somewhere between 30 and 40 guests. It was great to do things that I don't get to do at my job - savory items, plating, etc. And when it came time to make the rosemary caramel sauce for dessert, you know I was all over it. This was the menu:

Forbidden Empanadas
Ground Pork, Granny Smith Apples and Dried Cherries.
W/ Truffled Onion Jelly

312 Beer Cheese Soup w/ Brie, Soyrizo, and Manchego

Marinated Flank Steak w/ 2 Sauces
Fresh Tomato w/ Hawaiian Black Sea Salt
Roasted Yellow Bell Pepper and Sweet Onion
Crispy Lentil Cakes w/ Parsley
Avocado Macadamia Muffins w/ Herbed butter

Almond and Hazelnut Tart w/ Poached Apples and Rosemary Carame

Everything was fantastic, but the soup really stood out. It was chock full of cheese and veg, such a nice, hearty option. Efrain's a talented guy.

If you're in the Chicago area and are interested in coming to dinner, The Ghet is hosting two more dinners this weekend. I'll be cooking with them again on Saturday night. They also host events in San Fran, LA, and New York City. Get more info at www.theghet.com

(food)Rave On!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

There was an incident.

Yesterday began with me dropping an entire tray of 3" continental fruit tarts on the floor as soon as I had finished them. I'm chalking it up to being awake at 2:00 a.m. that morning. In total, 35 went down with a sploosh. Time consuming little things...3" pie shell gets reinforced inside with white chocolate, then filled with custard, then covered with a halved strawberry, kiwi slices, and mandarin orange segments, then glazed with apricot to hold it all together. Somehow I got lucky and it all landed on a rubber slipmat, which made clean up a breeze.

It took right around an hour to repair the damages with a new tray.

Today, I think, will be better.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Fortunate

It occurs to me, on a regular basis, that I am very lucky to have a job in a field that I love. It's not that I love my actual job, but I like it more than enough to say that it's never boring, tedious, or dreaded. Every time I talk to someone who hates their job, who loathes the coming of Monday morning and a new week, I feel very fortunate to have found work that brings me great pleasure. Of course, I made great changes in my life to go down this path, but there's nothing I regret. Even when the hours are long and the product is less than exciting, I am so very happy with my career, and it's all on the up and up.

Tomorrow is a new week.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Warm Weather Drinking

Oh my, drink this outside.

Prom Dress
3/4 to 1 teaspoon Angosture bitters
1 cube sugar
5 ounces chilled sparkling wine
Twist of lemon peel

Happy weekending!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Nightmares Realized

I was ripped back into reality yesterday after returning to work from a lovely weekend.

First on the list was a wedding cake order where I have to create something like this.



Shoot me in the head. So you get the full effect, this thing has two staircases complete with figurines to represent the wedding party, and a working fountain. In the case of this particular photo, the fountain just happens to look like it's regurgitating blood. Doesn't bode well for the upcoming marital years. There's no place for a cake this gaudy in my repertoire.

Then, around 10:00, a perky senior from New Trier High School came bouncing into the kitchen and announced that she'd be shadowing me for the NEXT FOUR WEEKS. For the record, I have no problem having observers, passing on my (very limited) knowledge base, etc. I'm more than happy to do it. However, I had no idea this girl was showing up. I was completely unprepared. Apparently the owners forgot to tell me that they had spoken to her several weeks before and arranged this with her school. Now I need to "entertain" nearly every day for the next month, which includes curbing my foul mouth and trying extremely hard to follow sanitation laws to the letter. It's a bit unnerving to have to put that much effort into work, when most of the work I do is so repetitive that it's brainless.

Fucking blood fountains...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Plan B

This could possibly be the worst name for a restaurant, ever.



Plan B. As if to insinuate, from the very beginning, that your establishment is the second choice. In my head, it goes something like this:

Scene: Any decent restaurant other than Plan B in the Wicker Park neighborhood at 8:00 on a Saturday night.

Diner 1: This decent restaurant is crowded tonight! Imagine that...a restaurant that is full during prime dinner hours on a Saturday! The hostess says that it will be a 2-hour wait. Do you want to ride it out? We can enjoy libations from the bar area and be completely wasted by the time we are actually seated. What do you think?

Diner 2: Let's go to Plan B.

End Scene. Ugh.

It's opening in the old Kudos space at 1635 N. Milwaukee some time later this month.