Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Lily Allen...gotta love her. She's a little sassy British singer with a very unique sound. Her voice is lovely, and the melodies and beats to her songs are ultra-pop, get-stuck-in-your-head-all-day great.

A friend sent me the link to Allen's single, "Smile," and was joking that it was so appropro to my life. I don't know what she's talking about. There's very little to compare, except for all the chocolate consumption, and the pink eyeshadow, and old boy kissing his record crate. But I would never, ever put Exlax in someone's coffee. :)

It's a fun song - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_jjuCfdksQ

Seeing Lily perform on Feb. 8 at Metro.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Cafe Des Architectes

This morning when I said good bye to my old kitchen, I cried a little. Don't judge me.

Last night Brian took me to Cafe des Architectes in Sofitel and we had an amazing meal. The chefs introduced a new menu very recently, and there were a lot of very interesting options.

The space is very modern, and there are several touches that appeal to its name. The tables are drafting tables. The silverware balances precariously on its side (the knives don't lie flat on the table - they are perpendicular). It's a visually explosive place.

The chef started us out with an sampling of appetizers:
Tuna tartar with red wine and persimmon reduction and fried plantain chip - had a great sweetness
Oyster and cucumber shooter with vodka - very creamy and refreshing
Diver scallop with trio of roe and seaweed salad - very pleasant, although Brian liked the seaweed salad a lot more than I did
Venison tataki - so good, the best of the four appetizers - perfectly seared on the outside and tender on the inside

The chef sent out a salad next. Spinach with Asian pears, blue cheese, blood oranges, and candied pistachios with blood orange vineagrette. I usually hate salads and pass on them altogether, and am not a big fan of blue cheese, but this was fabulous. The flavors went together so well, and the various crisps and crunches of the fruits and nuts...I would have no problem eating salad for every meal of the day if they could all be this good.

We had a chance to settle a bit when the chef sent out a resting course. An apple flavored digestif and a gingery, slightly minty granite were both very light and did their job. We were ready to eat more.

I chose the Crispy suckling piglet for my main couse, partially because it was called "piglet" rather than pork, and partially because our server highly recommended it. The presentation was daunting. It was a very generous portion of meat. It looked like the first through ninth lumbar vertebrae of a full grown pig, rather than a piglet. The skin was crispy and sauced with a sweeter, much more sophistcated version of barbeque sauce. It was served with caramelized shallots, gnocchi, and mushrooms in the same sauce. Out of this world.

Brian had Austrailian rack of lamb, which came with Tuscan white beans and some kind of a nondescript mash. The lamb was very nice, and pared well with the beans.

We drank a bottle of Bordeaux Merlot that the chef pared with our meals. It was good. Neither of us can remember what it was.

Brian is constantly indulging my need for dessert. Even though we were both stuffed, we ordered two items. Brian had a vanilla creme with raspberry gelee and some kind of chilled tea with some other kind of cream. I don't remember a whole lot about his because I was going crazy over my pick. I ordered toasted pistachio brioche. It was topped with ruby red grapfruit and served with vanilla custard. It was so simple - just toasted bread, a little fruit, a few nuts, and a bit of custard. It knocked my socks off. I couldn't identify the garnish, and was curious, so the pastry chef came out and told us that it was just a tuile (basically a butter cookie). It was translucent, paper thin. I've never seen one any where near that thin before. It gave the dessert a gorgeous look.

I was uncomfortably full when we left, but that's my own fault. It's too bad this restaurant is in a hotel, as I am sure that it is overlooked by Chicagoans all the time.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sitting on Diana's couch...needed to get out of the mess that is my apartment. Ate Chinese from Canton Express and Gianduja chocolate from Vosges while watching Grey's Anatomy.

I'd like to give a shout out to the Chicago Reader, my former employer of five years, for generously providing innumerable copies of free newspapers. They make excellent packing material. Dang, I have a lot of stuff.

A few years ago I got hooked on a magazine called Olive. It's a magazine for home cooks and is published out of England. It is somewhat equivalent to Gourmet or Bon Appetit, only infinitely cooler. The photography is wonderful. They make food look delicious and simple, and often the recipes are too. It gives insight into foods that Americans don't usually prepare at home, like oxtail and pudding. Oh, wait...that's "dessert" to a Yank.

Anyway, I have accumulated a large stack of Olives, and I can't seem to part with them. I threw out all of my back issues of Gourmet, but Olive is going to make the transition to the new place with me. You can get it at Borders, and you really should check out the pics.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

In Support of Illegal Substances

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a fundraiser sponsored by Chicago Chefs for Choice. It was part of a series of events being held to raise funds in the fight to repeal the ban against foie gras in Chicago. The ban was put into effect last June. Chicago is the only U.S. city backing such a law at the moment, although the state of California is on a slower track. They will end the production and sale of foie gras in 2012.

With 48 votes for the ban, and only 1 against, there is speculation that this issue was hidden between other unrelated issues that aldermen were expected to pass. It is thought that many aldermen voted for the ban on accident. It's unfortunate.

Several area restaurants donated to the event. As Sara would say, it was an appetizer heaven. A sampling of the menu:
Smoked Salmon Crisps - Cafe Simone
Steak Tartare - Cyrano's Bistro
Marinated Olives, Spanish Omelet, Bacon Wrapped Dates - Emilio's Tapas
Braised Lamb with Foie Gras Butter (Sadly, that's all we saw of the rare foie last night. It was very tasty though.)- Rockit Bar and Grill
Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage Sauce - A Tavola
Crostini with Tapenade or Balsamic Bruschetta - Bella Bacino's
Assortment of Cheeses - Pastoral (love these guys)

There was plenty of wine at the event, but I think there might have been even more at our private after party. Have you ever seen a fully stocked wine fridge, the size of a regular refrigerator, in some one's home? I guess there's a first time for everything! Excellent company, good eats, and a nightcap of Lemoncello. It was a good time.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A healthier pizza?

These posters are hanging in the windows of a pizzeria that will be opening at the corner of Division and Hoyne. There's no signage yet, so I'm not sure what it will be called, but the adverts caught my eye and made me smile. It's an interesting juxtaposition. Chicagoans are avid pizza lovers, but they are not really known for being health conscious. I'm curious to see what local produce they're going to be using in the dead of winter. It could make for unique topping combinations.

(Read: When the moon hits your eye like a big certified organic locally grown wood-fired brick oven pizza pie that's amore)

(Read: Is that a locally grown certified organic sustainably grown zucchini in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?)

I bet it's not going to be deep dish.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

This gives new meaning to "wine in a box."

Megan is moving out today. The place is total chaos; a lot of boxes, and not a lot of furniture. She deserves thanks for all of the times she allowed me to clean out the fridge so I could store cakes. Not too many roommates would do that!

Today I stuck my nose into a bucket of lemon curd to make sure it wasn't past it's prime. It was so far gone I almost threw up from the stench. To compensate, I stuck a small wad of marzipan in one of my nostrils. Being a consummate professional, I of course disgarded it to the trash when I was through and immediately washed my hands. I don't think I'll be able to goof like this at my new job...

Tonight will be the second time this week that someone has cooked dinner for me. I'm lucky!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The job's mine for the taking. It was offered after I was reprimanded for being 1/4 of an ounce over the correct amount of sugar needed for a recipe. Whew - I wasn't even working on a digital scale!

Baking is chemical. Perfection is expected. The design is where the fun begins. It feels really good to be excited about work again.

Doing a couple months of training to get acquainted with product before busy season hits...staying at Tags until then. I am used to working doubles anyway.

Oh yeah! Someone rear ended me on my way there. SWEET. Another accident. I can't even count any more.

To my family - infinite gratitude, respect, and love. You are the bass line to my song. xoxo

Monday, January 15, 2007


Not a bad way to start the week. Not bad at all...

From Mary, the woman I interviewed with last week:
Hi Beth,

I was very nice meeting with you also. I was wondering if you could come in this Wednesday after work - around 4p - 7p or 8p. I would like for you to scale, bake, build a cake and decorate a few cookies.

I look forward to hearing from you.



Not a problem. I can do that.
Have a great week everyone!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

If it's chocolate he wants...

Came up with something really good while messing with the frosting for a friend's birthday cupcakes. The result was nice - like silky chocolate mousse with a bit of tanginess. Very adult. It went over well.

Chocolate Cream Cheese French Buttercream
makes enough to frost an 8" cake, or 24 cupcakes

6 oz. whole eggs at room temperature
10 oz. sugar
16 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
16 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
3 T. unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 t. vanilla

Beat eggs to a 4 second ribbon.
Cook sugar to 240 degrees.
Slowly add hot sugar into eggs while mixing on high.
Whip on high until cool. (Note: It takes forever to cool off. Walk away from the mixer. Do 6 loads of laundry. It's impossible to overwhip at this point.)
Add chunks of butter and cream cheese one at a time, waiting until each chunk is incorporated before adding the next.
Add cocoa powder and vanilla.

Frosting make look like it is breaking while you are adding the butter and cream cheese, but fear not. It comes back together if you keep mixing.

Cupcakes and beer?


Sidenote: I knew it going in, but I tried anyway. It is damn near impossible to make chocolate cigarettes from melted chocolate chips. There are way too many emulsifiers and additives in them. It was all I had on hand, so I tried to make it work (always the optimist).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Dininig with Brian

This is Brian.
Brian told me that he's not reading my blog because there are no photos. Situation resolved.
Brian's a great friend of mine. When he finds music he knows I'll like, he sends me copies. If I am down he brings me red velvet cupcakes. When I'm feeling really fine, he knows how to knock me off my high horse. Best of all, when I am being spastic, which is fairly frequently, he can look straight at me, roll his eyes, and tell me to calm down. He also has a really bitchin' sneaker collection. We dine out together often.
Last night he and I went to Hai Yen for Vietnemese food. I should preface - this was not a date.
Hai Yen just opened it's second location on Clark St, just south of Diversey. The original is near Argyle and Broadway.
We shared two appetizers. The first, Bo La Lot, was small pork and beef sausages wrapped in Hawaiian leaves. They were fantastic. The meat was sweet, and smokiness of the charred leaf played off it so well. The second, Tom Cuon Thit Nuoung, were medium sized shrimp wrapped in thinly sliced beef. They were grilled perfectly, but lacked flavor. Brian also had soup with crab meat and white asparagus that was nice and light.
Both of our entrees were great. I had chicken sauteed in a slightly spicy lemongrass sauce. The vegetables, green and red bell peppers and broccoli, were amazingly fresh. It was fantastic. Brian had chilean sea bass braised in caramelized sugar, garlic, and fish sauce. It came to the table steaming hot, and the fish filets were so tender they were falling apart. It was amazingly sweet. We consumed enough white rice to feed 10 starving children for 10 days.
Two thumbs way up for Hai Yen. Brian lives close enough for take-away...lucky guy.
In other news, Bloc Party is playing at Congress in mid-March. Think I will opt to attend the show rather than bartend so I can enjoy the show. Anyone want to come? It's free. :)
Seriously, pictures (real pictures of food) to come just as soon as I get the software for my camera sorted out. Right now I need to make Nathaniel's birthday cupcakes.
Happy weekending!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Typical Wednesday

Behold! The Sarah B Pastry. Also known as the current bain of my existence. It's a little blurry, but you get the idea.
The Sarah B was named after Sarah Bernhardt, who was one of the most famous actresses of the 19th century. My employers swear that they did not invent this pastry, but I can't find any information about it. Believe me, I've tried. I think this is a Tags exclusive.
Every Wednesday we produce these pastries, in quantities from 100-300, for our largest hotel account. I dread Wednesdays for this very reason.
The amount of work that goes into these little buggers is pretty significant. I can spend four hours of my day completing this project if the numbers are on the higher end. Four long, tedious hours.
The base of the pastry is an almond macaroon. A very thin layer of mocha french buttercream holds a yellow cake disc, slightly smaller in diameter, on top. Then, a hollow beehive of mocha french buttercream is piped on top of the cake. The beehive is filled with apricot preserves. The fruit gets topped with a button of chocolate french buttercream. The whole thing gets chilled down and completely enrobed in tempered dark chocolate. Finally, a yellow buttercream sprial thingy is piped on. The whole thing is no larger than half of your fist, and it tastes horrible. There are way too many flavors going on. Almond, coffee, chocolate, and apricot...pick any three of the four, and you might be on to something. All together though, it's a damn nightmare.
I hate them. I am hating my job today.
My yoga mat and I have a 6:00 appointment. My chi is in need of adjustment.

Monday, January 8, 2007

I had an interview this morning with a Mary Winslow, the woman who owns a business called "Take the Cake." It is truly unfortunate that her website doesn't include photos of previous projects, because her cakes are phenomenal. Impeccable, gorgeous, completely customized, very creative. She does business with several of the swank Chicago hotels (Peninsula, Sofitel, Park Hyatt, etc.) as well as with individual clients. Only wedding cakes - no birthdays, no novelties, no shapes, and a small cookie and truffle mail-order business.

Being in her space, a loft-like environment in the West Loop, got me very excited to get back to working on these kinds of things. I miss it a lot. All the creativity and attention to detail...I don't have any of that at my current job. Plus Mary seems to know what she's doing, and I would love to learn some new tricks.

It's kind of funny. I am the most un-girly girl I know when it comes to this stuff. I didn't dream about my wedding when I was a kid. I don't get gushy over love stories or babies, unless they're related to me. (God, Kristin, if you're reading this...I am going to be the worst maid-of-honor ever, but I promise to throw you a kick-ass bachelorette party!) And then I launch into this career of making wedding cakes. Ironic?

Anyway, Mary seemed to like me. Fingers crossed.

It's time to start cleaning out the fridge and pantry for the upcoming move. I can pretty much guarantee some odd meals in the next few weeks. I made soup today from leftover carrot and parsnip mash. Just added in a caramelized onion, garlic, fresh grated ginger, thyme, chicken stock and a little milk and whizzed it up. Not bad, especially since it was much colder in Chicago today than it's been in a while.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Sunday Roast

I had a lovely little jaunt about the neighborhood today. I saw an apartment that is 9 blocks straight north of my current place, and met my potential roommate. She's pretty damn cool, and has a art/design studio above our place, which I would also be free to use.

I walked to Stanley's for produce, which is never disappointing.
3 gala apples
3 bananas
1 zucchini
1 lb. string beans
1.5 lb. organic parsnips
3 poblano peppers
1 jalapeno pepper
3 organic blood oranges

$7.37. That's a lot less than I paid at Goddess and Grocer for a bottle of cabernet sauv. Picked up bread at Red Hen, too.

It's shop like a European day.

Two of my lovely lady friends are coming for dinner and drinks this evening. Time to get cracking.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Dancing as Man's First Form of Cardio

I'm just in from a night out at Smartbar to hear the great Peter Hook of New Order spin records. It's late, and I'm a sweaty mess, but it was such a great time that I need to get down some of the songs he played before I forget.

Maura and Kathleen...you would have loved this.

Under the Influence - Chemical Brothers
Blue Monday - New Order
Regret - New Order
Bizarre Love Triangle - New Order
Crystal - New Order
Temptation (some slowed down remake with a woman singing lovely drawn out vocals) - New Order
Transmission - Joy Division
Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division
Song 3 - Blur
Dare - Gorillaz
24 Hour Party People - Happy Mondays

It was everything you wished your prom would have been, only it was in a basement club in Chicago where you can purchase liquor. So glad Duke and Nate came out with me. Let me know if I forgot any tunes.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Welcome to Chicago, Callebaut

Barry Callebaut is the world's largest manufacturer of chocolate and cocoa. They are based in Zurich, Switzerland, and are highly regarded in the pastry and confectionery world. Their chocolate is of very high quality. It's really damn good. They've been in business for roughly 150 years for a reason.

Mayor Daley has lured Callebaut to Chicago with an $880,000 grant to help curb moving expenses from their corporate office in Canada. They will be taking up residence in the old Mongomery Ward building in the River North neighborhood. No manufacturing will occur at this location.

There is a very interesting article in this week's Reader about where this grant money was generated. It also poses an important question; why does the world's largest chocolate manufacturer need financial help to move, especially when it is coming from taxpayers' dollars? (On an unrelated side note, it would be awesome if someone would give me financial help to move. Just kidding.) The grant is particularly mind boggling when you consider that the owner of Callebaut is also the owner of Brach's, a once-hugely important Chicago candy company. In 2003 owner Klaus Jacobs closed Brach's final plant in Austin, TX, leaving thousands of people unemployed.

To offer such a large sum of money to a company that is so financially stable, especially after said company has brought on the final demise of one of Chicago's own...it just doesn't seem quite right.

At any rate, my professional side and my personal sweet tooth are welcoming to Callebaut. It's exciting to add them to the list of great culinary things happening in the city. The article mentioned that the Montgomery Ward location will include a Chocolate Academy. Sign me up.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Tonight's dinner

I got out of work today at 2:30. We are so unbelievably slow. It's the calm after the holiday storm. I wanted to go for a run on the treadmill, an urge that very rarely hits, and one that I had to let subside when I realized that my trainers are sitting in my locker at work.

I got the recipe for the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from Potbelly today.*** On a bad day, I would kill someone for one of those cookies. It's impossible to estimate how many lives have been saved since I can now make them on my own.

Having a bunch of time on my hands, I decided to make gumbo. It's been a very long time since I last made it; maybe three years? Turn on the stereo, have a glass of wine. I forgot how long of a process it is. Gumbo's not fast because roux is not fast. The act of rendering oil and flour into a brown, nutty, silky state takes about 30 minutes of constant stirring. You can make risotto in that amount of time. And then, after the roux is straightened out, the rest of the ingredients need to cook and meld together for a good amount of time. Long story short, it took a couple hours from start to finish, but it came out quite lovely. Not insanely spicy, but definitely hot enough, and there's a ton of it left for sharing tomorrow.

Seafood and Sausage Gumbo
1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined. Reserve shells.
3/4 quarts water
2 onions, diced
2 bay leaves
1/2 c. veg oil
1/2 c. AP flour
3 T butter
1 green pepper, seeded and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 lb. andoille sausage cut into slices (I used chicken andoille since it was on hand)
1 1/2 c. okra
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 t. fresh thyme
2 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
2/3 c. hot pepper sauce
1 c. tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 lb. fresh crabmeat

Boil shrimp shells, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 of diced onion, and water. Partially cover. Simmer 20 minutes. Strain.

Make a roux by heating the oil and gradually adding in the flour, stirring out the lumps from each addition. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until roux reaches a deep caramel color (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat and continue to stir until cool.

Melt butter in large pot. Add remaining onion, celery, and green pepper. Cook until onions are soft.

Add sausage and cook 5 minutes. Add okra and garlic, stirring until okra stops producing white threads.

Add remaining bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Stir well. Add shrimp stock and tomatoes. Bring to boil, cover partially, and simmer 20 minutes.

Whisk in roux. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occassionally.

Stir in shrimp and crabmeat, cooking just until shrimp is opaque.

Serve over white rice, if you know what's good for you.

***Thanks for all of the requests, but I'm not giving out the recipe. It's the intellectual property of Potbelly. Click the back button, and try the next Google search result.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Kicking into high gear...

After a (somewhat) chance encouter with a very nice, good looking expatriot who happens to be a young chef/proprietor, I am feeling the need to realign my career focus. It was a much-needed wake up call. Everything is stable in Evanston, but I'm not learning anything new, and I'm not comfortable being stagnant right now. There's way too much that I don't know yet to be content with just this. So, I applied for a whole bunch of jobs today. Several of them are things I am very underqualified for, but those are the ones I am most excited about. They offer a challenge, and the daunting task of starting all over again. Gasp. Now's the time.

There is an Italian beef joint opening up two blocks down the street. It's going into a space that used to be a deli, but that has been closed since before we lived here. From the looks of it, there's a lot of work left to do, but the awnings are up above the door. We've been in this space for a year-and-a-half, and will be vacating at the end of the month. So NOW there's going to be an Italian beef place. What luck!

Finally, there are rats taking up residence in the engine of my car. When I got my oil changed today the mechanic found Wendy's wrappers lodged up near the engine. Apparently the little assholes burrow up there in the winter after you park, while the parts are still warm. That just might explain some of the weird noises the car was making. Ah, city living...there's nothing quite like it.

Monday, January 1, 2007

New Year, New Blog

Happy 2007. It's going to be a fantastic year.

A good amount of this blog will probably be about food; things I'm preparing, places I've eaten, oddities found in Asian markets, and the like.

The great thing about food is that it has the ability to energize, comfort, intrigue. It's about the balance of nourishing your body with the things it needs and pampering your body with the things it craves. It's about exploration and culture, and I haven't found anything yet that I enjoy so thoroughly.

Except music. I have a feeling they'll be a lot of talk about tunes on here, too. Occassionally, I'll proabably talk about the music that I'm listening to while I'm working or cooking. They go hand in hand.

And then sometimes I'll just talk about nothing. It's been nearly two years since I wrote down thoughts on a semi-regular basis. It's time to get back into the swing of things.

I had eight guests for New Year's Day brunch this afternoon. New Year's Day is meant for recuperation, for new beginnings, and lounging. Here's what I served, along with many rounds of mimosas, bloody marys, and coffee.

Scrambled eggs with roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and basil. This was intended to be a fritatta, but I had the pan heated too high, and they set a little too fast on the bottom. All's well that ends well, right? I made it for selfish reasons anyway. I love the smell of red peppers roasting on the stove burners.

Malted Belgian Waffles with Canadian Maple Syrup

Home Fries with Caramelized Onions

Banana Macadamia Nut Muffins. I had salted mac nuts on hand, so I used them, and it gave really nice contrast to the sweet banana.

Roasted Navel Oranges with Brown Sugar and Vanilla Yogurt Sauce. A little experiment. I wanted to serve fruit, but it all looked bad in the store, except for these oranges. It seemed so greasy spoon-like to serve plain orange wedges (not that there's anything wronge with that). They ended up very juicy and sweet. The flesh fell off the rind, and it tasted like a creamsicle.

Bacon. No explanation necessary.