Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Another Alt-Sport

Perhaps I am late to the game, but check out The Pillow Flight League. It seems like the Canadian version of Rollerderby. I wonder if down or synthetic materials pack more of a wallop...

Looks kind of fun!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Leaning Tower

I will never understand why anyone would want to attempt to pick up their own wedding cake. Same goes for sending a family member or friend to do it for you. It doesn't matter how small the cake is, how much cargo space your SUV has, or how cheap you really are. (Delivery is $10-15, except under extreme circumstances.)

In just over one week, two different customers picked up their own wedding cakes, ruined them, and brought them back to be redone. How frustrating!

On Friday afternoon, it looked like this when the bride's sister came to get it:


On Saturday morning, after she had bit it on some ice while walking with it, she returned it like this:


Thankfully it's a really simple cake. Filling the layers, frosting it, stacking, and decoration only take about an hour. After major reconstructive surgery, it was returned to the family in it's rightful state.

The moral of the story is leave the delivery to the pros! If something goes wrong in transit, we are liable. We'll fix it. We'll be a whole lot more careful than you are to make sure nothing goes wrong.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Going Without

If I seem a bit edgy in the upcoming weeks, it's because I am desperately missing my sugar fix. I've decided to give up sweets for Lent.

Technically, it's got nothing to do with God, but it is fasting which is a Lenten ritual, and 40 days seems to be a good amount of time to try this experiment. Except probably 39 days, 10 hours, and 15 minutes too long.

I'm doing it because I've been eating a bunch of mediocre stuff lately. Dried out cakes, frosting made solely with shortening, milk chocolate, etc. I'm a little concerned that access to all of these sub par "treats" is ruining the really good stuff for me. Perhaps I don't appreciate something really divine because I'm inundated with the earthly? (There's the God talk again.) So, I'm forcing my taste buds into a vacation. Hopefully, all of the craving for sugar in any refined form will be inspiring in some way.

People that work in kitchens are supposed to taste everything, but I'm not worried about it. Where do you think I've been getting all of the run-of-the mill stuff from, anyway? The folks at Tags are not big on change. They've been making the same products since their ovens were first fired up in 1937. Besides that, there are many other people who are more than willing to try the goods. I'll leave it to them.

At the very least, I bet I lose at least five pounds.

Don't even worry about my wicked coffee addiction. I take it black. There's no need for sweetener.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Results Are In...

So it wasn’t really about who made a better meatloaf, but more of an opportunity to get a great group of people together for a fun evening. I know that mission was accomplished. When the actual voting comes down to an absent ballot, my very loyal little sister, and ½ of a point, it’s hard to accept victory without feeling like George W. One must remember that blood is thicker than water, but ketchup, which is an integral ingredient in meatloaf, is more viscous than both.

Nathaniel’s loaf was outstanding. Very traditional, very classic American, very tasty. Unfortunately, he won’t divulge the recipe. Secrets, secrets are no fun…

My meatloaf is a bit different. Made with ground turkey, cremini mushrooms, and a whole bunch of veg, it’s much healthier than your standard loaf. Although it doesn’t taste like beef, it’s darn good. My recipe, which is never the same twice, follows. I’ve substituted dry white wine for the milk, added in celery or whatever else is kicking around in the fridge, never measure anything and it always comes out well.

Turkey Meatloaf
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium carrot, cut into 1/8-inch dice
3/4 lb cremini mushrooms, trimmed and very finely chopped in a food processor
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon ketchup
1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs (from 2 slices firm white sandwich bread)
1/3 cup 1% milk
1 whole large egg, lightly beaten
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1 1/4 lb ground turkey (mix of dark and light meat)

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Cook onion and garlic in oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until onion is softened, about 2 minutes. Add carrot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated and they are very tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, parsley, and 3 tablespoons ketchup, then transfer vegetables to a large bowl and cool.
Stir together bread crumbs and milk in a small bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in egg and egg white, then add to vegetables. Add turkey and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to vegetable mixture and mix well with your hands. (Mixture will be very moist.)
Form into a 9- by 5-inch oval loaf in a lightly oiled 13- by 9- by 2-inch metal baking pan and brush meatloaf evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons ketchup. Bake in middle of oven until thermometer inserted into meatloaf registers 170°F, 50 to 55 minutes.
Let meatloaf stand 5 minutes before serving.


Along with the meat, I served standard American fare: mashed potatoes, green beans with roasted red and orange peppers, and carrots with orange, bay, and parsley. Cinnamon raisin bread pudding with whiskey cream sauce for dessert.

Thanks to everyone in attendance for bringing wine, flowers, great music, and your lovely selves. Special thanks to Nate for the awesome French onion soup. (I just ate a big bowl while standing over the stove, but this time I broiled it properly.) I’m glad you all left full.

See you all soon for the next challenge: Pork Loin – The Meeting of the Loins!

The competitors!

Heaping plates of food

Battle wounds. Only I could burn my stomach when draining boiled potatoes. Looks much worse today. Ouch.

Four meatloaves, a bunch of pots, and Nathaniel.

Me and a big old pot of green beans.

Nathaniel's masterpiece.

Nate and his kick ass French onion soup.

Judges.

My Kitchenaid mixer - the best gift I've ever received. Thanks Mom!

Eating meatloaf gives people super strength.

Nathaniel and Mark.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Nerves and Ground Meat

Oh man, sometimes I get so nervous to cook for people for the first time. Usually it only happens if I really like a guy and he's coming for dinner. Tomorrow night though, a small gathering of friends might just turn my stomach inside out. And it's not just because it is MEATLOAF SHOWDOWN TUESDAY. Haha!

Nathaniel and I came up with the idea to have a meatloaf showdown after several rounds of drinks. He thinks his is the best. He's probably wrong. We invited a bunch of people over to be impartial judges. Contest commences tomorrow night. Details of the outcome to follow.

I am super nerdy.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Mmmm...donuts

I just stopped into Alliance Bakery to say hello to my old coworkers. They are in the midst of preparations for Paczki Day, which is one of their busiest days of the year. Paczki (pronounced Poonch-key) are fried Polish donuts that are filled with a number of things. Prunes are traditional, but other fruit and Bavarian cream are very common in America. They are sprinkles with powdered sugar or dipped in chocolate glaze. In Poland they are made on Fat Thursday, the Thursday just prior to Lent, to use up lard, sugar, and fruit which are forbidden during the 40 days of fasting. In America, paczki are eaten on Fat Tuesday and are associated with Mardi Gras.

Chicago has an enormous Polish population. Alliance is located in old-world Polandia cum yuppie paradise, which yields them a great amount of business on Paczki Day. Last year they sold 10,000 on Fat Tuesday, and are projected to do the same in 2007. For any of you that visited me while I worked there, you know it isn't a big place. The idea that 10,000 anything could come out of there on one day is mind-boggling.

I wish I had my camera with me so I could have taken a picture of the walk-in freezer, jammed full with racks of retarded paczki dough, already rolled and just waiting for the fryer. Kristal dropped one in for me. While it was still hot she filled it with vanilla custard and dusted the top with powdered sugar. So amazingly good, and not just for breakfast, either.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

p.s.

In reference to the previous post: I changed my mind. There is no reason that food can't be considered a medium.

Multimedia Frenzy

Download Sleeveheart/Heartsleeve: A Valentine's Mix, a very fun mix from my friend Duke, who also happens to be the Clubs Editor at New City. As he describes it, the first half is for the hearts who have been jilted, and the second half is for the hearts who have been recently melted. On the whole, it's just good fun. I listened to it yesterday morning while I dug my car out of the snow, and again today while I made meatballs. Any mix that includes a remix of New Order's "Blue Monday" with samples from Depeche Mode's "Strange Love" is something you should hear.

Read about the sassy conversation hearts that Alliance Bakery made again this year. Nice press for my old friends. I miss coming up with those sayings!

Rent The Green Butchers. It's hilariously disgusting.

And not that it's a form of media, but eat at Andalous, a Morrocan BYOB in Lakeview. Beware of the waitstaff trying to upsell you, but definitely order the combination appetizer.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

For the Love of Chocolate

Saturday night Mary asked me to accompany her to For the Love of Chocolate, a benefit held in support of Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). She had a booth to promote her line of "Ugly Truffles." Genius marketing and very tasty product.

Left to right: Messed Up Mocha, Hairy Coconut, Oozy Boozy Caramel, Hot Mexican, Homely Hazelnut,Put Your Clothes On Chocolate, Morning After Merlot


We also offered mini Red Velvet cupcakes filled with cream cheese icing and topped with chocolate ganache. Their vibrant color elicited many questions.

There was a chocolate wedding cake competition. If I had known, I would have competed. Here's a couple of cakes I liked, but neither of them placed. Some of the others were...less than stellar...


There was also a fashion show, where pastry chefs were paired with local fashion designers to create clothing from chocolate. There were some very avant-guarde looks. It all seemed uncomfortable.




Then, midway through the night, the discomfort started to show.


I got a good deal on an 11 lb. block of Callebaut, 70% cocoa, so I decided to do a little chocolate production of my own. My kitchen table on Sunday afternoon:

Left to right: Rum + Walnut, Balsamic Vinegar + Pistachio, Caramel + Salt, Orange, Green Tea + Sesame

The Balsamic is definitely my favorite of the four, although the caramel is quite nice too. The sesame definitely needs work, or rather, it needs a whole lot less sesame. It overpowered the green tea completely, and the orange doesn't come through until you've nearly swallowed the thing. Ah well, you all can decide. If you see me any time in the next week, prepare to be gifted. I've got boxes and boxes for all of my lovelies. Happy Valentine's Day, and thanks for making my days so bright.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sarah's Birthday last weekend

Diana, Beth, and Shelly
It matched the birthday girl's party dress. Champagne, anyone?
Cake, deconstructed:
Almond butter cake
Cherry and candied almond filling
Chocolate French buttercream
Chocolate band


Full of artsy types. Complete with black and white video projections and dancing.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Bakery versus Bentley

My big sister came across this classified ad in the local newspaper:


Looking to Buy or Sell a Business - Business for Sale - Business Broker
Bakery/Sweet Shop - $89,000



Thriving bakery/pasty shop located in SW suburbs. Prepares custom wedding cakes, plus mouth-watering variety of breads, cookies, French pastries and more. Shop has excellent reputation in the community. Friendly, cheerful, charming!

Seems cheap, despite the location. You can't even buy a Bentley for $89K.

I bet it's very old, and that none of the equipment has been updated. I'm talking rotating ovens circa 1945, with chains that break in mid cycle, forcing you to turn the damn thing off, let it cool, and crawl inside to get the now-burnt product out. (Viva Alliance!)

In 3 years perhaps I'll open a shop of my own. Maybe.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Staying Warm



It's freezing and nasty out in Chicago. I spent 2 hours weather-proofing my windows with plastic, which was shockingly remniscent to Shrinky Dinks. Remember those? I made this soup for dinner. Getting the windows covered was frustrating. The soup was easy, and full of flavor.

Asian Beef Noodle Soup

1/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 c. boiling water
6 green onions
2 large carrots
5 large button mushrooms
1 lb. sirloin steak
2 T. peanut oil (or vegetable, if you have that on hand)
1 garlic clove, crushed
1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
1 1/2 quarts organic beef stock
4 T. red wine vinegar
4 oz. thin egg noodles
1 c. spinach, torn
soy sauce and black pepper to taste

Reconstitute the porcinis by pouring 1 c. boiling water over, and letting sit for 15 minutes.

In a large pot, brown meat in oil in batches. Remove from pan. Saute scallions, carrots, garlic, and ginger about 3 minutes. Add the stock, beef, porcinis and their liquid, button mushrooms, and red wine vinegar. Add soy and pepper to taste. Simmer 10 minutes.

Add noodles and torn spinach leaves to the pot. Simmer 4-5 minutes, or until beef is very tender.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Know your rights...

Legislation passed at the beginning of the year that may be of interest to you...not that any of you would actually leave an unfinished bottle of wine on the table. Lushes.

Developments that might affect your drinkin' in Land of Lincoln* Video: Illinois wine to go

Bill Daley

January 3, 2007

With everyone back home after the holidays, what better time to focus on wine developments in our own state of Illinois? Here is what's going on in the Land of Lincoln:

You CAN take it with you

No longer do Illinois diners have to drink up or leave a half-full bottle of vino sitting on the restaurant table.

A new state law went into effect on Jan. 1 allowing you to bring that baby home, as long as the bottle is recorked and placed in a transparent, tamper-proof bag. You have to have eaten a meal at the restaurant, according to the law, and the staff must provide you with a dated receipt for the wine (just in case you get stopped by the cops on the way home).

Illinois is not alone in passing so-called "cork-and-carry" laws. About 40 other states have similar legislation, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri.

Carryout laws like this have sparked a new business in tamper-proof bags designed for one-time use. There are several vendors restaurants can turn to.

The Illinois Restaurant Association is trying to spread the word.

"If you serve wine, be sure to educate your managers and staff on the new law," the association Web site declares. "It will be your responsibility to let your customer know that they can now take a bottle home if they choose."

But what happens if the restaurant is ignorant of the law and/or doesn't have any carryout bags? Apparently, the customer is stuck having to drink up or leave the bottle behind, said Andrew Ariens, the association's communications director.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Longer Days

Several factors have contributed to making the days longer again at T-Bakery. It's feeling like the holidays all over again.

An unscheduled change of menu cycle for a wholesale account has yielded hours upon hours of R&D sessions, new recipe developments, and revamping of designs. I'm determined to make a good, permanent mark on this place before I leave. That joint needs a bit of class, a makeover if you will.

Having a hometown team in the Superbowl has created an unexpected revenue stream. My nail beds are stained blue and orange. Next week, with Valentine's Day, they will be shades of pink.

Lots and lots of work to do...

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Coloring Book

All situated in the new space, and liking it quite a bit. I stopped at a Hispanic grocery on the way home and picked up supplies for my first dinner here. Made beef tacos and guacamole. Nothing exciting or fancy, but it felt good to have some fresh produce to cut up.

I came across this picture while clearing out some old files. A guy I have never met in real life drew it from a photograph of me.