Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Boka

There's a little restaurant on Halsted called Boka that I'd been meaning to try for a long time, and not just because it is in such close proximity to Alinea that you can practically smell their food through it's jet black exterior...

Boka. It's been around for a few years. Food and Wine named Chef Guiseppe Tentori one of 2008's "Best Chefs." We had a good meal, not great, with a few exclamation marks punctuating the evening.

The first really fantastic things were the cocktails. Dave had a kiwi sour with fresh kiwi puree. It had little black seeds floating at the top. He ordered it hoping it would be really sour. When I tried it, my face nearly caved in on itself from puckering my lips. I had a Dark and Stormy, a rum cocktail mixed with ginger beer. It was sweet, tangy, and refreshing.

Beets are one of Dave's favorite things, so we ordered the beet salad with yuzu, walnuts, and bacon. Our salad arrived split onto two plates, with vibrant red beet puree artfully smeared under chunks of yuzu that were sprinkled with bacon so fine it could have been dust. A bit of frisee added to the crunch of the nuts, and a generous dash of black pepper balanced out all of the sweetness of the fruit and veg. Beautiful to look at, beautiful to eat.

The highlight of the meal award goes to pastry chef Elizabeth Dahl. We shared a Meyer lemon-tarragon cake. The souffle cake was sliced and grilled, the outside harboring a delicate crunch that yielded to a center that melted away in your mouth. It was topped with candied fennel and blood orange segments. It was the best dessert I've had in months.

The service was impeccable from start to finish. I'm pretty sure that the bread guy called us "dudes." His laid back attitude helped to lighten a very formal mood.

I'll go back to Boka to sit at the bar with a drink and dessert.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

When Life Gives You Extra Brownie Batter...

Do not throw it away! Show someone you care, by baking it in an individual serving sized, heart-shaped foil tin.*



Can you tell it's almost moving time? I'm taking efforts to clear out the cabinets and foodstuffs. I have a lot of these foil tins, and an obscene amount of Jello...

*You could also just eat it raw. There's no rule against that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Back to Work

Finally, I was given the go ahead to return to work. After my first day back, I am a walking zombie, lead foot and all.

I'm going to bed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A few of my favorite things

My most favorite dip in the whole world, or at least of the ones I've tasted so far, has roasted red peppers as it's base. I'm in love with roasted red peppers. The second largest component is almonds. They may be my favorite nut. Add in a clove of roasted garlic, a couple dashes of balsamic vinegar, a little extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper, and you're done.

There are some convenience foods that I will never understand, and jarred roasted red peppers are one of them. Sure, they'll save you a little time, but it's so easy to roast them at home, and the smell of them cooking is phenomenal. Why Yankee Candle Company doesn't manufacture a roasted red pepper votive is beyond me!

Some people oil them up and roast them in the oven. I stick them right on the flame of the stove, sans oil. If the oven isn't getting turned on for another reason, I'm too impatient to wait for it to heat up.

Give it a few turns, and make sure to use tongs unless you want roasted red fingers, too. When it's nice and charred, stuff it into a plastic bag and let it cool. The steam inside the bag allows you to easily peel away the peppers skin, seeds, and ribs, leaving you with nothing but fleshy pepper goodness.

I like this dip with fresh garlic too, but some folks find it too stringent, so usually I roast it, to mellow out its flavor. It has to be done in the oven with olive oil, or you're probably going to burn the house down. No shortcuts here.

Roasted Red Pepper and Almond Dip
3/4 cup whole almonds, toasted
3 whole red peppers, roasted
1 clove garlic, roasted
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar to taste
salt
pepper

Whizz the toasted almonds in a food processor until they are the texture of sand.
Add remaining ingredients and pulse until combined.

It's so easy! All hail the mini food processor!

If you're planning to bring this to a party, package it in a reusable take away container, and sprinkle with fresh parsley. No one will believe that you made it.

It's good with pita chips, and especially good if you bake the pita chips yourself and cut them at really evil angles.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hello, Spring!

I need to lose a few pounds. THERE - I said it. Seven stagnant weeks and an unending supply of chocolate and peanuts has taken it's toll. It's time to take action, before it gets really ugly. It's time for fruits and veggies.

Fortunately, spring has finally rolled into town, and it's telltale foods are in the markets. It's also fortunate that I can now easily get to the market. Yay!

Last night I made some killer asparagus, which I didn't take photos of because i was too busy chowing on it. Trust that it's insanely tasty, and make yourself a batch now, while the asparagus is looking good.

Once again, the collection of recipes at epicurious.com comes in handy - Asparagus with Lemon-Herb Sauce

Now, if I could just stop thinking about the damn butter pecan ice cream that's in the freezer, I'd be all set.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

No happy returns as school bans birthday cake

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Children in a New Zealand school have been banned from bringing cakes to share on their birthdays, due to new government healthy eating guidelines.

Outrage! This would never happen in America. We're way to unhealthy to allow this kind of legislation. Four birthday cakes in a week? What's wrong with that?

Monday, April 7, 2008

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream

If you have a problem with ice cream, then you have a problem with me. That's no joke.

You'll be hard pressed to find anyone who enjoys ice cream as much as I do. I'm not prejudiced. Chocolate or vanilla, with tasty morsels or luscious caramel ripples, in a bowl or atop a cone; I love it all. Portion control can sometimes be a problem, but I won't rest until the FDA responds to my demand to increase the amount of a single serving. A half of a cup? Who are they kidding? A half of a quart is more realistic. That equals a pint for all of you non-baking/not concerned with measurement folks, which is convenient when you're sitting down with a full container of Haagen Dazs.

Last Christmas I received an ice cream maker attachment for my KitchenAid mixer. It's the gift that keeps on giving, both for me and for the giver, who likes ice cream almost as much as I do. It works just as well as some other freestanding models I've tried, but requires a lot less cabinet space.

I had a hankering for butter pecan. I don't usually crave that particular flavor, but it seemed that with top notch ingredients like Plugra butter and gray sea salt, that a home version might yield amazing results. My intuition was correct.

The magical ice cream freezer bowl has been hanging out in the freezer overnight, getting good and frozen, and ready for action. Commence ice cream making!

The first thing to do is get the pecans good and toasty. Put them in a pan over low heat for a few minutes, giving them a good shake once in a while. They'll get a bit darker and will smell nuttier. Remove from the heat and douse them with butter and a sprinkle of salt. Leave them to cool and soak up all of that goodness.

Before it's ice cream, it's custard. It's eggs, sugar, cream, and milk, tempered together and cooked until slightly thickened, then strained out and cooled.

The straining part is really important, unless you like scrambled egg curds in your hot fudge sundae.

After allowing the custard to chill, transfer it to your maker and follow the instructions that came with it. You still have the manual right?

Somewhere between twelve and fifteen minutes, my KitchenAid transformed that cream sauce into velvety soft serve. The paddle is made of plastic, and I'm seriously afraid of breaking it. The nuts could lodge between the paddle and bowl and wreak some serious havoc, so I manually stirred in the butter-drunk pecans rather than tossing them into the mixer. Resist the urge to stick a straw in it and drink it milkshake style. Again, the nuts could lodge in the straw and cause some serious havoc. Just get it into a sealed container and into the freezer. Give it time.(you can do this - just sit on your hands, rock back and forth, and hum for 7 hours while it firms up).



The next day pretty much rules.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream
1 cups pecan pieces
2 tablespoons Plugra
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream

Friday, April 4, 2008

Friday Night Fun with Frosting


I love cake, and alliteration.

I'm mobile, thanks to this glamorous velcro-laden, Marilyn Manson inspired buckle-fest of an orthopedic boot. The first task at hand is a perfect yellow cake. Sounds simple, right? I've certainly been around my fair share of cakes. More than my share, really. Even so, I bet it takes multiple attempts to create the ideal recipe.

So, here's attempt #1. I don't know what effect I was going for with the chocolate buttercream decorations. Isn't that hideous tray a good diversion? It really distracts the eye from the ugly piping, especially the ones that resemble hairball clogs in the shower drain.