Saturday, March 31, 2007

New Business Cards

BZA on a deadline...go BZA...go BZA...

Friday, March 30, 2007

Second Showdown Installment

Wednesday night the usual suspects got together for the second round of cooking competition, gluttonous eating, and other random fun-ness. That's not a word.

Anyway, Wednesday's theme was pork tenderloin. Make all the jokes you want, but I am pretty sure that we coined them all, in the weeks just prior to the meeting of our loins.

Simone, Nathaniel, and I prepared pork. All three had quite different flavors, and we were happy that they were cooked perfectly. Nate, who is perhaps the best host I have ever met, covered the rest of the bases - sides, homemade strawberry rhubarb pie, and little potted spider plants with special inscriptions to take away. The side of my pot says "I had sexual relations with your significant other's younger sibling." Another pot said, "I have shat better dinner guests." It was that kinda party.

Simone's pork, lovingly named Adolf for her native land, was spectacular. She definitely deserved to win the battle. Wrapped in Serrano ham (leave it to a German to wrap pork in pork, eh?) and smothered in a lovely sauce with halved figs and papaya slices, it was meaty and very light at the same time. I remember joking about how figs are such a "sexy fruit," and getting a lot of blank stares back.

Nathaniel's tenderloin, Romeo, was crusted with dijon, garlic, breadcrumbs, and fresh herbs.

Mine was marinated in homemade teriaki sauce and served with Asian jus. She was called Soon-yi.

First course was a slightly spicy stewed tomato florentine soup made with special tomatoes that Nate's mom canned and sent him. Alongside the meats, Nate made a red potato and parsley mash and really lovely roasted asparagus with lemon, butter, and parmesan. His pies were a smash. This man can cook!

Since Nathaniel and I tied (AGAIN), we'll be facing off once more. Date TBA.

Thanks Simone for the photos!
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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Grand Mart (Mecca?)

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in a new grocery store in an unfamiliar neighborhood. It's suitably named Grand Mart; the place is enormous. The Grand Mart chain is operated out of Washington D.C., but there's really nothing chain-like about it. They specialize in Asian foods, and specifically Korean goods, but they also cater to the specific neighborhoods they move into. In this case, at the intersection of Cicero and North Ave., they're stocking a lot of Hispanic groceries. They also have a little bit of every other ethnicity you can think of.

Total hours spent in the Grand Mart = three. I strolled in wonderment for the first hour without even pushing a cart. There was so much to take in, it was almost overwhelming. The produce section has so many things I've heard of, but never seen: Thai Basil, Sesame Leaf, Fuzzy Squash, Banana Flower, Turmeric Root, Lotus Root. My Filipino friend, Milette, gushes about Durian fruit and how it is impossible to get in the States. Of course, Grand Mart stocks it. They had four different kinds of papaya and more varieties of peppers than you could eat in three weeks. It was astounding.

The meat and seafood department was equally as impressive. Cornish game hens, rabbit, oxtails, and many other things you can't get at the large corporate chain groceries. I don't think any amount of coaxing could persuade me to try pork uterus, but if you're looking for it, go to Grand Mart. Very fresh seafood sat in beds of ice, and there wasn't the faintest smell of rot. They had whole catfish, snapper, clams, mussels, oysters, and crab legs.

I bought a bunch of stuff, much of which I have yet to try, but one of the best things I found were frozen bao, those yummy little steamed buns that are filled with a variety of things. I chose pork filled and shrimp and mushroom filled, and now I have lunch for several days.

I also picked up a package of frozen coconut leaf bean cakes. There are four small cakes, individually wrapped in dried leaves. They look like little presents. I'm taking them to Tags tomorrow to share with my coworkers.

Grand Mart is so chock-full of awesome shit that I don't think it would be possible to absorb it all in ten trips, let alone three hours. I walked out with six bags full of food for right around $30.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

So you want to know what I do at work all day? Here's a peek:

The best part is that MY BOSS took the video.

"Ohhh that's pretty..."

My dinner looked exactly like prison food, or what I imagine prison food looks like. Since I've never been in the joint, I can't be too sure. Staring into the large pot of it also brought to mind the scene from Oliver Twist when the poor, malnourished orphan boy begs, "please sir, I want some more." It was that kind of slop.

I consumed something approximately every 15 minutes over the long weekend. After all that overindulgence, I needed to get to the produce market ASAP and start ingesting fruits and vegetables, and soup seemed like an easy way to begin.

The base of this soup is roasted cauliflower and flagelot beans, flavored primarily with toasted fennel seeds and sauteed onions. I often get bored with soups that are completely smooth, with no chunks or croutons or something to break it up. After 5 or 6 spoonfuls, I'm over it. You know nothing new is going to happen. So, rather than puree the whole thing after it was cooked, I left some of the roasted cauliflower florets and flagelots whole and added them back into the rest of the puree. It sounds okay in theory, right?

Well, it turned out to look like a dirty mess. The caramelized bits of cauliflower and the jaundiced tinge of the vegetable stock made the whole thing way too yellow-brown, and there was no other color to set it off (read: I forgot to buy parsley). The texture of the puree was equivalent to really loose grits, as if you'd added three times the amount of liquid necessary to cook them. It was grainy no matter how long I whizzed it in the food processor.

It was an experiment gone awry, although it could have been worse. It served it's function as being a bowlful of cheap nutrients. I'd love to say that I will come back and try to revamp this idea, but I'd be lying. It's just that throwing random ingredients together, even if it comes out as prison gruel, it's kind of fun. And don't worry about me starving to death tonight, because I actually ate an entire bowl of it.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Diana and I arrived in New York City in the middle of a miserable winter storm. With all of the snow, sleet, and wind we were lucky to have made it there at all.

Despite the weather, we had a fabulous time. Both of us agree that the best part of the weekend was our meal at Blue Ribbon on Friday night, although it was technically Saturday morning.

Blue Ribbon is an institution in the NYC culinary scene. It's been around for 14 years, which is equivalent to eternity in New York, where restaurants come and go every day. Chefs tout it as the place to dine after work. The kitchen stays open until 4:00 am.

Although we had some problems getting there (not a taxi in sight and a broken high heel), once we were inside Blue Ribbon we were glad we had literally weathered the storm. The place is tiny and dark, perfect for long meals and conversation.

Sean Lennon sat 20 feet from us, and some guy from VH1's "Best Week Ever" was even closer.

The insanely good-looking, all male staff treated us like royalty. Diana fell a little in love with the friendly host, who turned us on to a great bottle of Australian syrah and sent out free dessert.

We shared foie gras with candied apple shavings and toasted challah. I had grilled pigeon with barley and sweet potato puree. Diana had fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Our comped dessert was a flourless chocolate cake with a trio of ice creams and chocolate sauce.

The food was killer, the service was killer, and it was so very "New York" that it all went down between 1:30 and 3:30 am.

Pics from the rest of the trip...
Eating at a French cafe in Brooklyn
The St. Patrick's Day Parade that wouldn't end...

5 Pointz, Long Island City, Queens

Manhattan from Central Park
All they serve is rice pudding.

We bought matching snow boots. We didn't have a choice.
Somewhere in Soho
Pop Burger

The Met

Thursday, March 15, 2007

She's a florist, and it's her birthday. It just seemed logical. The flowers were much more glittery than the appear. The camera didn't catch it.

Cake, deconstructed:
Devil's Food Pudding Cake
Lavendar and Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream Filling
French Vanilla Buttercream
Sugar Crystallized Edible Organic Flowers (Stocks, Marigolds, Snapdragons, and one huge Daisy)

Happy Birthday Amy!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Reading about Eating

Everyone seems to be buzzing about the Slow Foods Movement lately. I wonder if it will be just a fad (remember in the 80s when muffins were considered diet food?) or something that will stick. Whatever it turns out to be, it's making me long for the return of the outdoor farmers market.

If you haven't seen it yet, last week's Reader is a special food issue, and there's all kinds of interesting stuff in it.

This is a great read about shopping for and preparing ethnic foods. Several of the places Sula talks about are right around the corner from my place. I'm glad someone brought them to my attention - now I need to go!

Monday, March 12, 2007

61 Degrees at the Lake

The first few days of spring in Chicago are amazing. You can feel the winter hibernation ending. People walk an extra few blocks instead of taking CTA, and you can actually see skin peeking out from lighter clothes. Dogs go crazy, like they haven't been let out in months. Stores leave their doors open to the streets. Barbecues are the best smell in the entire world.

I'm not sure there is anywhere I'd rather be than Chicago when the weather is compliant.

Tonight, going to Schubas to see The Prototypes, a French electo-pop band. Andy tells me they had a song in an iPod commercial, but I'm unfamiliar. They're opening for All Smiles, a band started by the former guitarist from Grandaddy. Seems like there will be a sudden drop in energy going from the first to the second band, but it should be fun regardless.

Go outside and do something!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Death of Romance

I spent the afternoon at Oakbrook Hills Country Club. Kristin asked me to accompany her and Colin to their wedding menu tasting. I wish I could say that we were pleasantly surprised, but the fare was exactly what you would expect for a country club wedding. That is to say that everything was extremely average.

There was chicken. Grilled chicken breast, chicken wellington, chicken stuffed with goat cheese, chicken with some kind of tasteless brown sauce.

There was salmon. Salmon with chardonnay cream sauce. Salmon with soy glaze. There was also some kind of halibut with Italian herbs.

There was filet mignon, of course. Filet with your choice of four sauces, which all looked exactly the same and were not labeled.

Roasted root vegetables with no flavor. Really lovely, thin whole carrots with long green tops and no flavor. Some veggie medley that included pearl onions, peas, tomato ragout, but still no flavor.

Four kinds of potatoes. Butternut squash soup. Cream of mushroom soup. Three kinds of green salads with assorted dressings. Shrimp cocktail, grilled shrimp, crab claws, oysters, mussels, sushi. Cheese plates with crackers and dried fruits. Blah blah blah.

Two different wedding cake vendors, a large sweet table. Cherries jubilee, bananas foster, some peanut brittle and ice cream thing, tiramisu, triple chocolate mousse. I don't even have to say it...

Two dirty vodka martinis helped to ease the pain. There was no way you could possibly try everything, or even want to. It was all so impersonal, and it made me a little sad that this is how most people do it, shelling out mega-bucks to feed your guests things that are just barely passable, as if that's any kind of celebration.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Le Lan and Thursday Night Mischief

Brian took me to Le Lan on Thursday night. Coincidentally, the Tribune ran a glowing review of them that same day. I am glad we went when we did, as I suspect it will be difficult to get a table there any time soon.

Le Lan started in 2005 as an upscale, but still inviting French-Vietnamese restaurant. They were names Best New Restaurant by Chicago Magazine that year. The new executive chef, Bill Kim, seems to be focusing a lot more on Asian flavors than his predecessor.

The space has a lot of exposed brick and each table is adorned with an orchid (Le Lan in Vietnamese). One wall displays a large mural of a dragon. At one point, Brian told me they were playing an Air song, but the music was so low I couldn't even tell. They preparing to open the upstairs to accommodate more guests. They're going to need the space.

Each Tuesday Le Lan serves a three course prix fixe for $38. They will begin offering the same deal Monday through Thursday from 5:00 to 6:00 to attract a pretheater crowd. It makes me wish I worked downtown so I could take advantage.

We really enjoyed our meals. Here's what we had, thanks to wonderful recommendations by our server.

Amuse Bouche - miniature steamed bao buns with hoisin sauce

Thai Young Coconut Soup - Brian had this. I didn't try it, so I don't remember exactly what was in it, but I remember him saying it was exactly what he wanted.
Beef Carpaccio with Scallion Pancakes - It was sliced thinner than paper thin, and topped with jicama, toasted Panko, salmon roe, and microgreens. The plate was gorgeous. It looked like the red wine reduction had been painted down the side of the plate, which may have been the case.
Cava Champagne

Banana Leaf Wrapped Blue Nose Grouper - Brian's entree. A large piece of fish came atop a mound of Napa cabbage, fingerling potatoes, and red Thai curry sauce. The fish was very delicate and mild. Paired with a dry German reisling. It was good, but...

Tea-Smoked Duck Breast - My entree. Slices of duck breast, crispy outside and very pink inside, served with savory rosemary bread pudding, baby bok choy, and kumquat-star anise reduction. The flavor combination was sweet and unlike anything I have had before. It was perfect. Paired with a rich French malbec.

Pomegranate Gelee with Chocolate Almond Terrine - Brian's dessert. Immediately before it got to the table, I told Brian that I don't particularly enjoy gelees because of the crazy amount of gelatin in them. That may have been poor dining etiquette on my part...he didn't particularly enjoy it after hearing my dissertation. But he did like the terrine, especially with the snap from fresh pomegranate seeds.

Quince Souffle with Quince Caramel Creme Anglaise - My dessert. (Sidenote: OFF THE WAGON.) The real deal, wait 15 minutes for it to bake, if you want this one. The server broke the puffed brown top table side and poured in the creme anglaise, which I would have drank straight from the little carafe if they'd let me. It was very good, even if the texture at the bottom of the ramekin got a little too close to scrambled eggs. I thought that the quince flavor could have been a bit more pronounced, but it was delish in it's own right.

It was a very nice, refined dinner. And then we went back to our normal selves.

We met up with Diana and Harrison, and the stupidity that ensued need not be documented. A few finer points:
* Di and I dancing like crazy to Billy Idol, when no one else in the bar was even paying attention to the music, let alone dancing
* Complete recitation of Paul Revere by Beastie Boys in Harrison's Volvo
* Actually falling in the middle of the street in front of Sofitel to get away from Brian, who was tickling me to try to make me pee in my pants.

Work was a blur yesterday. I love my friends, but you all make me tired.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Love My Heritage

Thanks to the Pogues for reuniting with their original singer, Shane MacGowan and touring through Chicago for 2 nights. These guys have been around forever, but they play their shows with so much energy, you'd think it was their first. The crowd loved them on both nights.

Thanks to all my Irish bretheren, who drink like they're dying tomorrow, and tip like they're Trump. There is no sound like the whiz that escapes when opening a can (yes, a can) of Guinness, and there's no comparison between Jameson and Jack Daniels.

Special thanks to the guy who bought two beers and left $86 in my jar. Sometimes it's good to look Irish, I guess. That made my whole week.

My feet are very swollen from jumping around in inappropriate footwear.

Monday, March 5, 2007

This and That

I have to go into Take the Cake today and tell Mary I'm not going to take the job with her...I'm freaking out about it, but I know it's the right decision. The money's not right, the lack of health insurance definitely isn't right, and there's something else missing too. Regardless, I feel awful going in today, after training with her for six weeks, to tell her it's not going to work out. Feels like a break up, and no one likes those.

My roommate made cookies yesterday and I ate one. Don't judge me. I'm back on the wagon until NYC, when I'm giving myself absolution to eat whatever I want. I'm not passing up black-and-white cookies, assorted goodies at cream tea, and whatever else comes my way while we're there.

A question came into my head when I was in the grocery the other day. How come prepackaged chicken breasts come in threes? Chickens certainly don't have three boobs. I don't think the average American family has three people. It's probably a cost issue. Perhaps the styrofoam container that holds three is the most cost-efficient. I'm just curious...

Also curious how it is possible that a package of spinach I bought a month ago is somehow still looking fresh. It's been opened in my fridge for just as long. I forgot about it for quite some time, and when I came upon it yesterday I was shocked and appalled that the leaves are not at all wilted or decomposing. That's scary.

Friday, March 2, 2007

We Have Moxie

You host one little themed dinner party, and all of a sudden the alt-weeklies are running stories about it...ha!

Duke, you sly thing, you keep a good secret!

I had Strawberry Shortcake sheets on my twin bed when I was a little one. This explains so much.

Day 10

Today is day 10 of the No Sweets cycle. I am proud of myself for not giving in thus far. There have been some pretty wicked temptations. It's too ironic that just when I swear off of them, the folks at Tags jump headfirst into testing new recipes. I almost broke for a Napoleon made with all-butter puff pastry. Almost.

I want some damn chocolate. It's 6:00 a.m. and I already want it. I'm accustomed to eating it every day, and I think my brain misses the serotonin and endorphin release that comes afterward.

I think I would rather be a vegetarian than give up sweets for good.