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?)