Tuesday, February 26, 2008


It really doesn't get much better than this. A french classic that's stood the test of time.

Gourmet March 2007

Brunch or supper, this croque-monsieur with an egg on top has the charm of a small French bistro in each bite.
Active time: 35 minStart to finish: 35 min
Servings: Makes 4 servings.
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 1/2 oz coarsely grated Gruyère cheese (1 1/3 cups)
8 slices firm white sandwich bread
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 lb thinly sliced cooked ham (preferably Black Forest)
4 large eggs
Make sauce:Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, then whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Whisk in milk and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 5 minutes. Whisk in salt, pepper, nutmeg, and 1/3 cup cheese until cheese is melted. Remove from heat and cover surface directly with a sheet of wax paper.Make sandwiches:Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons sauce evenly over each of 4 slices of bread, then sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese (1/4 cup per slice). Spread mustard evenly on remaining 4 bread slices and top with ham, dividing it evenly, then invert onto cheese-topped bread to form sandwiches.Lightly oil a 15- by 10-inch shallow baking pan.Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately low heat, then cook sandwiches, turning over once, until golden, 3 to 4 minutes total. Remove from heat and transfer sandwiches to baking pan, then wipe out skillet with paper towels.Preheat broiler.Top each sandwich with 1/3 cup sauce, spreading evenly. Broil sandwiches 4 to 5 inches from heat until sauce is bubbling and golden in spots, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off broiler and transfer pan to lower third of oven to keep sandwiches warm. Heat remaining tablespoon butter in nonstick skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then crack eggs into skillet and season with salt and pepper. Fry eggs, covered, until whites are just set and yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes. Top each sandwich with a fried egg and serve immediately.Cooks' note: The egg yolks in this recipe will not be fully cooked, which may be of concern if salmonella is a problem in your area. You can use pasteurized eggs (in the shell) or cook eggs until yolks are set.


Bitsy's Vinaigrette

I am officially taking the liberty of posting my Mother's coveted Vinaigrette recipe since I dare say, she never will. She often claims technical illiteracy, yet she can somehow figure out how to play bridge online with people in Russia! Nonetheless, you will be happy i did.

Bitsy's Vinaigrette

1/3 Cup White Vinegar
1/3 Cup Balsalmic Vinegar
2/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 tsp Dry Mustard Powder
2 tsp Sugar
2 tsp Thyme
2 tbs Pepper (heaping tablespoons)
2 tbs Garlic Salt (heaping tablespoons)

Mix together, shake and keep in the fridge. It is incredible alone, or use it as a base and mix with Blue Cheese or Ranch Dressing. Yummy!

Shoepeg Corn Dip

Well, it is a rainy day in Atlanta so I thought I would put some posts on my sister Elizabeth's unbelievable blog. So here goes......

This is my favorite dip recipe that my friend Kim gave me years ago.

Shoepeg Corn Dip

8 oz Cream Cheese
8 oz Sour Cream
4 oz Mayo
1 Packet Ranch Dip (powder)
8 oz Fire Roasted Salsa
1 bunch chopped Scallions
2 Cans SHOEPEG Corn
Grape Tomatoes

Combine the first five ingredients and stir. Chop and add the remaining. Add chopped grape tomatoes before serving. Serve with tortilla chips and enjoy. This dip actually tastes even better the next day when all the flavors have really meshed. Yes, your diet starts tomorrow!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Last Supper

Last October, the big buzz in Chicago was about Charlie Trotter's 20th anniversary dinner. If I had 5k to blow, I could have rubbed elbows with the finest chefs in the world. A girl can dream. My foodie friend just forwarded this great article calling it "the last supper". It's a great read and I thought I would share. Provides an inside look at just how tough this industry can be.

Big night. Big mystery.
Why did Michael Carlson vanish the day after serving dinner to the greatest chefs in the world?

By Phil Vettel and Monica Eng Chicago Tribune reporters
February 13, 2008

On an unseasonably warm Friday night last October, the culinary gods filed into a tiny restaurant on a gritty stretch of Wicker Park.There was Ferran Adria from Spain, Heston Blumenthal from England and Pierre Herme from France -- considered by many to be among the world's top chefs. Other culinary heavy hitters followed close behind.For the workers at Schwa, it was like seeing the 1927 Yankees roll in their front door.

"To look out the [kitchen] window and see these guys walk in, all eating at our restaurant, it was just a huge ego boost," says Nathan Klingbail, one of the cooks that night. "These are all the people we idolize."For 33-year-old Michael Carlson, chef/owner of Schwa, the dinner marked the pinnacle of his meteoric rise from anonymous assistant chef to proprietor of one of the most talked-about restaurants in town. On this night, Chicago chef Charlie Trotter -- a superstar in his own right -- had chosen Carlson to serve a 14-course, four-hour meal to his high-profile guests."It was as high a pinnacle as you could ever have," Carlson says. "It will never get better than that."

The day after the dinner -- with a full refrigerator and a full reservation book -- Carlson disappeared.The world's great chefs hadn't actually come to Chicago to see Schwa. They were in town as part of Charlie Trotter's 20th anniversary celebration, a weekend blowout of exclusive parties.But even chefs have to eat, so Trotter and staff happily squired them to several noteworthy Chicago spots, including Blackbird, Topolobampo, David Burke's Primehouse -- and Schwa.
Carlson's unassuming 24-seat BYOB restaurant was the unusual choice, and not just because of its offbeat location, between dingy apartment buildings and facing a tire-and-hubcaps store. Carlson was a culinary maverick, an iconoclast whose choices often flew in the face of fine-dining expectations.Blessed with a single, undemanding investor -- his father -- and blissfully uninterested in cashing in on his prodigious talent, Carlson ran a restaurant that focused on food, and almost nothing else.

Schwa had no waiters; Carlson himself brought dishes to the table, or one of his chefs did. There was no wine list; Carlson had never even applied for a liquor license. Guests brought their own wine, but Schwa had no glassware apart from simple tumblers.Schwa served no bread; Carlson once told fellow chef (and bread enthusiast) Brett Knobel, "I don't believe in it." Dining room guests heard the same music that played for the chefs in the kitchen: loud, raw hip-hop and heavy metal.Yet critics and customers alike praised the restaurant and Carlson's inventive cooking. Reservations were notoriously difficult to obtain, particularly because Carlson kept his dining room half empty much of the time so as not to overtax the three-man cooking crew."You can do a lot," Carlson says, "when you don't care about money."Reservation requests left on the answering machine took a long time to confirm; Schwa had no front-room staff, so Carlson and/or another chef returned calls when they could.

For a while, it was rumored that Schwa wouldn't answer calls originating from suburban area codes, a legend that makes Carlson laugh."The people who come here the most are from the suburbs," he says.Even so, the rumor only burnished the restaurant's mystique. So when Trotter sought a special spot to entertain his discriminating guests, he chose Schwa."I wanted to take these guys to a place they'd not been before," Trotter says. "And I'd not been there myself. Honestly, I didn't realize how small it was."In fact, Trotter's party required almost every chair the 15-by-30 dining room could hold."I told them we'd be a party of 20, and they said, 'We barely seat 20,'" Trotter recalls. "I told them don't worry, it would be OK."Nonetheless, agreeing to accept was not an easy decision. Carlson says he turned Trotter down at first, but, hours later, relented."We were like, that's crazy, and we called back," Carlson says. "I mean, how often do you get to cook for those cats?"

But Carlson did get some help.First, with the blessing of Alinea chef/owner Grant Achatz, Klingbail -- a former Schwa chef, now Achatz's sous-chef -- agreed to work at Schwa for the big night."It was absolutely a dream come true," Klingbail recalls. "It was my birthday, for one thing, and I got to cook for the best chefs in the world."Second, Trotter dispatched a full supply of stemware, wine and several staffers to help serve."They couldn't have been more innocent from that standpoint," Trotter says. "I just helped out front so they could do their thing."All Carlson had to do, on 10 days' notice, was create incredible food for more than 20 of the most discerning palates in the world.Piece of cake.

Carlson fashioned a "best of Schwa" menu of his top dishes from the last two years. The meal started with a hollowed-out beet, filled with chocolate-bacon ganache and rolled in cocoa, to be washed down with a shot of beet juice and white chocolate foam. Later came jellyfish pad Thai, ravioli with liquid quail egg filling and white truffles, sauteed sweetbreads with cardamom marshmallow, lamb with curry and a mini-glass of root beer, and soft pretzels paired with caramel and mustard seed-filled dates.In the convivial dining room, two long tables of diners speaking French, Spanish and English punctuated the breathtaking courses with toasts to their host and one another.

At the beginning of the meal, Trotter exhorted guests to sit with people they didn't know. Midway through the meal, he made everyone change seats.In the kitchen, Carlson, Klingbail and sous-chefs Blake Bengsch and Aaron McKay raced to cook, plate and serve the most important 14 courses of their lives."It was difficult," Carlson admits. "Our kitchen is not really set up for it. Things like the pad Thai and ravioli were a little easier. But the lamb was difficult ... just a matter of so many little intricacies on the plate and keeping everything hot by the time you plate them all."

Before that night, Carlson already was spent, mentally and physically. For the past three weeks he had been developing a new menu, operating on no more than three hours of sleep a night. To add to the pressure, Carlson went all out to impress his guests. "It was the most courses we'd ever done," he says.And maybe too many for even a pack of notoriously voracious chefs. French pastry chef Pierre Herme, jet-lagged from flying in from Moscow that day, kept dozing off. Spaniard Ferran Adria, who had been served a five-course meal at Topolobampo just hours earlier, became so full that he stopped eating about halfway into the meal. Says chef and cookbook author Michael Ruhlman, who sat with Adria, "He felt that it was rude not to finish a course, and thus better to decline it completely."Carlson brushes off the notion that uneaten food added to the stress, but McKay says, "It's not ideal to see some plates come back with uneaten food from your idols."Still, official reports from the meal were glowing.
The following day, Adria praised the crew, calling them "young and passionate" and the meal "an entire story." Trotter called the food "brilliant." English chef Heston Blumenthal said, "I ate everything on my plate," and "I love to see that young passion." Even the exhausted Herme said he "enjoyed all the different flavors and textures." "They did a great job," Trotter says."It was really an amazing dinner," remembers Blackbird chef de cuisine Mike Sheerin. "I'd had a lot of those courses before, but that night they were still great."
After the frenzy of the cooking, the euphoria of the postmeal congratulations, Carlson slammed back a few glasses of wine and took his first relaxed breath of the evening."How do you describe it?" Carlson says. "It was the most exciting thing that we'd ever done. We were so amped from it."
But the next morning, with the Schwa staff gathered, Carlson announced that he was closing the restaurant, effective immediately."I just said I couldn't do it," Carlson says.By late Saturday, one diner on a blog complained that Schwa had canceled his reservation. By Sunday the news of the closing was making its way around town.When the Tribune called Schwa on Monday morning, sous-chef McKay answered. "I'm here canceling all reservations, and we are not taking any new ones," he said, sounding exhausted, rattled and dejected. "[We are closed] because the better portion of our staff is dealing with personal problems affecting their personal life. ... [We are not going to open] until they are in good shape. ... I just want my friends to be OK."
In the weeks following the closure, attempts by the Tribune to reach Carlson or talk to friends proved futile. Most in the chef and food community closed ranks around their colleague, refusing even to speculate on what might have happened.McKay and Nathan Klingbail called other chefs, offering the contents of Schwa's refrigerator so nothing would go to waste. One of the beneficiaries was chef Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate, who fashioned a four-course menu dedicated to Schwa. "Out of respect for our friends," Segal says.Those dishes were the last anyone would taste of Schwa for at least four months." We were fried, burned out," Carlson says. "This industry, great as it is, can wear on you in every facet. And not all of us are super chefs who can deal with everything that gets thrown at you."
Ordinarily, a closing that abrupt -- and so apparently capricious -- would have jilted reservation-holders screaming for blood.Instead, there was understanding, patience and an outflowing of support on blogs and in person."Of course, some people weren't too happy," Carlson says. "But generally our guests are kind and genuinely concerned about us. They were incredibly supportive, sending me books on focusing yourself and learning to relax."
In fact, Carlson had been talking about a vacation for quite some time. At one point, there was even talk of Klingbail's taking over the reins while Carlson took a break, a notion Carlson dismissed."I couldn't not be there," he says. "We're all control freaks, man."Carlson will speak of his hiatus only in the vaguest of terms."I kind of cut off all contact," he says. "I left town for a while. I was just taking some time for perspective."I got to spend a lot of family time, which I had been missing horribly," he says. "It ruined me. I can't go four hours without calling Lily, my [17-month-old] daughter, now, and being, like, 'Hey, how're you doing.'"
Wednesday, Carlson will unveil the next iteration of Schwa, with an all-new kitchen staff (including Jonathan Ory of Heat and Bluprint and Gaetano Nardulli of Butter), a spiffed-up dining room and a new menu, in the same location. For the last two weeks, he has been serving practice dinners to friends, family and many of the customers he abandoned last fall.
Carlson's immediate goals are to return Schwa to its high culinary level while minimizing the stress that triggered its closure."When you have something you are really proud of, obviously you can never really relax," he says. "But you can't kill yourself. The stress wears on you, but you've got to find that happy medium."To that end, Carlson has added a fifth man in the kitchen. He's also started coming to work at 11 a.m. (rather than 8 a.m.) so he can hang out with Lily in the morning."It's about gaining perspective to say, 'Hey, man, the restaurant will still be here, but my daughter is only going to be 1 once.'"Not only is running a restaurant stressful, experts say, but it's also a challenge for which many trained chefs are unprepared."Just producing good food is stressful," says Chris Koetke, dean of the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago. "But when you layer on all that other stuff ... I've known a lot of fabulous chefs, who figure their next natural step is to own their own place, and then find there's a whole separate layer of stress beyond running the kitchen. Almost invariably, something gets affected, whether it's your health, your personal relationships or something else."
"When I started, it wasn't, 'Learn the mother sauces, and then let me tell you how to read a spreadsheet,'" Koetke says. "Nobody did that; all the training was about how to be a really, really good cook. Now in Kendall we do teach [business issues], but for a lot of students it's a steep learning curve."Carlson always intended Schwa to be a relatively relaxed operation. Its very name is a phonetic symbol that indicates an unstressed vowel; the word was part of his teenage slang. Instead of "Chill out," he would say, "Be schwa."This time around, it's a mantra he's trying to practice himself. Will it work?"Well, I hope so," he says. "I know I'll never give this up, so I have to learn to deal."- - -
The 14-course menu
1. Truffle-size roasted beets hollowed and filled with bacon chocolate ganache and rolled in cocoa. Served with a shot of cold beet juice and white chocolate foam in a glass rimmed with bacon powder.
2. Oatmeal-dusted fried oysters served with cooked oatmeal, raisins and maple syrup.
3. Roasted corn soup with grilled corn, mayonnaise, chili and lime.
4. Pad thai using jellyfish as noodles.
5. Quail-egg ravioli topped with shaved white truffles.
6. A sweet cone filled with rosemary, juniper and yuzu pudding ("mock pine") and sea urchin ice cream with salted caramel and pink peppercorns.
7. Purees of avocado and cauliflower served with golden trout caviar.
8. Spanish mackerel with zucchini flower, hummus and rosewater yogurt.
9. Braised beef tripe mixed with a brioche puree to create a panzanella (bread salad).
10. Sauteed sweetbreads with green cardamom marshmallow and smoked plum.
11. Lamb with green curry, Israeli couscous and homemade root beer.
12. Savory cheesecake made with Humboldt Fog cheese and shaved black truffles.
13. Rhubarb puree, honey sorbet and camomile agar cubes.
14. Soft pretzels with turmeric ice cream and mustard and beer emulsion next to dates filled with salted caramel and bloomed mustard seeds and rolled in crispy crushed pretzels.----------

The guest list
Among the culinary luminaries who attended the dinner at Schwa:Ferran Adria: Chef/owner of Spain's El Bulli, which has been named best restaurant in the world the past two years by Restaurant magazine. Widely seen as the father of progressive modern cooking.Charlie Trotter: Chef/owner of four-star Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. Winner of countless awards, including the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Chef of the Year in 1999.Heston Blumenthal: Chef at The Fat Duck in Bray, England, which has been either first or second best restaurant in the world in Restaurant magazine the last four years. Also a purveyor of the "modern cuisine," he is considered one of the best chefs in England.Thomas Keller: Chef/owner of French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., and Per Se in New York. Widely considered the best chef in America. French Laundry was No. 1 on Restaurant magazine's "World's 50 Best Restaurants" list in 2003 and 2004 (currently No. 4).Pierre Herme: Known for his artistic and avant-garde creations, he is considered the greatest living French pastry chef.Albert Adria: Pastry chef and co-owner of El Bulli; brother of Ferran.Michael Ruhlman: Best-selling author of "Making of a Chef," "The French Laundry Cookbook" and "A Return to Cooking." A Culinary Institute of America-trained chef and popular blogger.Larry Stone: Former Trotter sommelier is considered one of the top sommeliers in the world.Wylie Dufresne: Chef and owner of New York's WD-50, considered one of the top American outposts for the modern style of cooking.Michael Sheerin: Chef de cuisine of Blackbird and former sous-chef at WD-50.Oriol Castro: El Bulli sous-chef who did a stint with Trotter in 1999.Matthias Merges: Trotter's chef de cuisine.Michael McDonald: Chicago-area native and executive chef of Trotter's C in Los Cabos, Mexico. Will head the kitchen at Restaurant Charlie, Trotter's Las Vegas restaurant opening Feb. 25.--

Monica Eng- - -Who is Michael Carlson?
Trying to compile a biographical timeline for Michael Carlson is not easy. The chef is hazy on dates and years. He is sure that he was born June 5, 1974 in Chicago and raised in Glen Ellyn and Lombard.But when we asked for more details, things got murky.The facts we could independently confirm are in brackets.
Q: So you attended college before cooking, right?A : Not really, man.
Q: You studied at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago for at least one semester. What years?A: I really couldn't tell you. Maybe eight years ago, maybe 10.
Q: OK, but during that time you were working for chef Paul Bartolotta, right?A: Yeah, whenever he was at Spiaggia -- his last two years [1998-2000]
Q: And after that you went to cook and study in Italy under people such as Valentino Marcatilli at San Domenico.A: Yeah, I was there for like two years and I know that 9/11 happened during that time.
Q: When you returned to the States you worked with Grant Achatz at Trio.A: Yeah, I was his first hire after they opened [in late 2001] and was there until about eight months before he left [in August 2004].
Q: Then you traveled to England to work with Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, right?A: Yeah, that was for a few months right after I was at Trio [in late 2004].
Q: When you returned you were going to sign up for the Alinea crew, but then the Lovitt space [which he took over for Schwa] opened up and you worked there.A: Yeah, just for like three months to see how I liked the kitchen. I remember the weather was warm [spring and summer of 2005].
Q: Then Schwa opened in fall of 2005.A: I think that sounds about right.
Q: Then you were voted one of the Best New Chefs by Food & Wine in July 2006.A: Yeah, I think.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Red Snapper Coach House

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of dining at the Coach House in Lexington, Kentucky with my classmate Labe Jackson and his wife, Carol. The Coach House is a wonderful supper club, and a favorite fine dining destination in the area. They also liked to serve the Shaw Gamay. The owner, Stanley Demos, was a wonderful host, and gave me a signed copy of his Coach House Recipe Book. I have enjoyed several of his recipes, but this recipe for the Coach House Red Snapper has always received great reviews.

4 Red Snapper filets, 7 ozs. each
1 1-lb. 4 oz. canned whole Tomatoes
1 golf ball sized chopped Onion
1 clove minced Garlic
1 tbls. chopped Parsley
2 tbls. Butter
Salt and Pepper to taste


1 1/2 cups Mayonnaise
2 tbls. Dill Weed
1 tbls. chopped Parsley
Grated Parmesan Cheese
Pinch of Paprika

Directions: Salt the snappers and dust with flour. Pour some vegetable oil in a large skillet and saute fish until golden in color. When done, remove and keep warm.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion. Cook until transparent. Drain the tomatoes and add to the saucepan along with the minced garlic, parsley, salt and pepper and continue cooking for 10-minutes.
To prepare the sauce, mix the dill weed, parsley and mayonnaise at least an hour ahead of time and refrigerate.

To assemble the dish, place the snapper filets in a baking dish and spoon over each some of the tomato mixture until you use it all up. Cover same with the mayonnaise sauce and sprinkle each filet with some grated Parmesan cheese and dust with paprika.
Place under the broiler until sauce begins to bubble. Remove and serve hot. This will serve four.

I have had success using this recipe on stripped bass and other medium firm white meated fish too.



I don't need you to spell check my blog. This is what I do for fun with the very little time I have. Leave your negative comments on another blog. This is a place for friendly people to come. Your comments will be deleted so start going somewhere else. You are not welcome here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

La Madia

I had heard great things about La Madia from friends that have gone since its October opening. After a late night at the office, a couple co-workers and I decided to go grab a bite. After all, it's only 4 blocks from the office at 59. W. Grand.

The exterior looks a lot like Blackbird from the outside. It has a pretty expansive dinning room with a contemporary minimalist interior. A perfect place for a first date or bite with friends because it’s trendy but won’t break the bank.

As an upscale pizzeria, their pizzas certainly deliver. I HIGHLY recommend their pepperoni (3 kinds) pizza with truffle oil. I almost licked the plate. Their classic Parma was a little lacking. For those that order it in the future, I would ask for a couple of lemons to squeeze on the arugula. At least on ours it needed a touch of citrus. Pizzas run from 9-15 dollars and wines average about 9 a glass. 1 pizza for 2 people is plenty.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Guest Gifts

P.S. Here's the packaging for the toffee and truffles I sent home with my guests last week.


Tapas Night - Part 3

How can you go wrong with these two dishes? They are SO easy and SO delicious. I used jumbo shrimp which made for a very creamy and luscious treat. They were cooked to perfection. For the caramelized onion, I drizzled some very good balsamic that I picked up in Rome which added another great depth of flavor. I ended up marinating the steak in diet coke and lime juice. It was a perfect combination.

Garlic Shrimp
12 jumbo shrimp (medium are fine)
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon red chili flakes

Peel and devain shrimp. Sauté shrimp on medium high heat in butter and garlic. Add red chili flakes and cook for 3 minutes turning shrimp on either side while basting it with butter and garlic mixture. Serve immediately.

Marinated Skirt Steak and Caramelized Onions with Balsamic
1 can of Coke
1/2 lime
1 red onion
2 tablespoons balsamic
1 tablespoon butter
1 skirt steak
2 teaspoon sugar

Pour coke and lime juice into bag and add steak. Marinate for 5 hours. Cut onion in half. Cut halves into small strips. Add to sauté pan on low heat with butter. Add sugar. Sauté over low heat stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. Add balsamic and serve warm. Can be made ahead and reheated.

Grill steak (I used my indoor grill pan) until medium rare on high heat, about 3 minutes per side. Cut into strips and serve with onions. Season with salt and pepper.


Tapas Night - Part 2

My boyfriend loooooves mussels so I wanted to make sure we recreated this dish on tapas night. I have wanted to cook mussels in a curry sauce so we decided to add curry powder to the homemade marinara that we made (see previous post for recipe). Got rave reviews and very easy and quick to make.

For the chorizo, I actually went to Cafe Iberico's market and bought it. I would check specialty markets or ask your butcher where you can get your hands on some. It is so good and has a perfect amount of kick. Just sauté them on the stove top for about 8 minutes.

Steamed Mussels in Curry Marinara Sauce
1 pound of mussels
1 teaspoon of curry
1/2 fish stock (I used chicken cause that's all I had and it worked fine)

Add marinara to dutch oven over medium high heat. Stir in curry and stock. Add mussels. Genteelly stir and cook until mussels open up, about 4 minutes. Serve immediately with fresh parsley.

Tapas Night- Part One

Last night we had friends over for my first tapas party. We ate 7 dishes over three hours and my best friend made killer sangria. We created everything from scratch which required a lot of time with the food processor but it was so worth it. We decided to make the tapas that we usually order at Cafe Iberico. Everything came out delicious and we had a blast.

Prosciutto and Manchego on Tomato Bread
This is so simple and yummy. Make sure to use fresh bread and straining the tomatoes is key so the bread doesn't get soggy.

1 baguette
2 roma tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
olive oil
6 thin prosciutto slices
6 manchego cheese

Slice baguette into 3/4 inch slices. Add roma tomatoes, 2 garlic cloves and a tiny bit of olive juice to the food processor. Puree for 10 seconds. Immediately stain juices so it leaves the fresh minced garlic and tomatoes. Spread tomato on top of baguette. Next to slices of bread, stack manchego and prosciutto on top of each other. Serve.

Baked Goat Cheese in Marinara and Pesto Crustinis
10 ounces goat cheese
1 16 oz can of whole pealed tomatoes
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 of chicken stock
2 teaspoons thyme
3 basil leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 cup of pine nuts
1 cup of basil leaves
Olive oil
1/8 parmesan cheese
1 baguette

Slice goat cheese in half and place in pan (see picture). In a dutch oven on medium heat sauté onions and garlic until translucent about 7 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir for about 1 minute. Add can of tomatoes, stock, basil, sugar and time. Simmer for about 40 minutes. Puree in batches. Spoon sauce around goat cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes.

Add basil, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan cheese to food processor. Puree while gradually adding olive oil until it gets to desired consistency. Slice baguette in 3/4 inch slices. Spread pesto on baguette slices and toast. Serve with baked goat cheese.

*For potatoes, see recipe in archive for Alioli potatoes


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pork Chops Stuffed with Gruyere, Green Apple and Walnuts with Sunchoke Puree

I saw that my local market had sunchokes and I have never used them in my cooking before so I gave it a shot. I went home and looked at my 'Produce Bible' to learn about these weird looking things. If they hadn't said 'Sunchokes' on them in big letters I would have easily mistaken them for fresh ginger. They look very simular. So, after reading up on my new friend, I decided that I would just wing it and puree it and serve something on top. I decided that stuffed pork chops sounded pretty good and I knew that Drew loved them so that's the genisis of last nights dinner...

Sunchoke Puree
1 bag of Sunchokes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of chicken stock
1 shallot, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sage

Scrub sunchokes with vegetable brush. Boil in hot water for about 20 minutes, strain. In a seperate pan, add 1 tablespoon of butter, shallots and garlic and saute until they are translucent about 2 minutes. Add garlic, shallots and sunchokes in food processer and puree in batches while adding chicken stock and dried sage. Season with salt and peper. Can be made ahead and reheated.

Pork Chops
1 granny smith apple, cored and chopped
1/2 cups of walnuts, chopped
1/4 of gruyere, chopped
2 pork chops
2 fresh sage leaves

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Cut slit in the side of the pork and create a 'pocket' in the meat. Stuff each with equal parts apple, walnuts and greyer. Sear on high heat on each side about 3 minutes until brown in over safe pan. Pop pan into oven and bake chops for 12-14 minutes. You want the meat to be a little pink but not too pink. Juices should run clear.

Ladle hot sunchoke puree on plate and place pork chop on top. Garnish pork with left over walnuts, apples and cheese. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

North Pond

Most guys just buy their women flowers or chocolates on Valentine's but my boyfriend got me great reservations for an early celebration. Thanks babe!

I have been DYING to go to North Pond. I've lived in Lincoln Park off and on for 5 years, walked by it a hundred times and haven't even stepped foot inside to have a drink! Well, my time has finally come.

North Pond is named after the pond it sits by in Lincoln Park (the actually park!) and has gorgeous views of Chicago's skyline. The chef, Bruce Sherman, is highly accliamed and won numerous nods from the Beard Foundation. He was born and Chicago and makes maximum use of local and organic ingrediants on his menus.

We were seated in a room built of brick and wood that had a fireplace and it felt very cozy. Gazing outside on an unusually snowy park made us feel as though we were dining somewhere off HWY 70 in the Rocky Mountains that we love so much.

Drew orded the venison and I think he almost licked his plate. He started with the celery root and apple purree soup with crab butter ball and cashews. I found it to be a bit sweet but he enjoyed it and I am a sucker for table side presentation. I ordered the soft-boiled farm egg with spinich coulis and parmesan emulsion. I'm a huge egg fan so I loved this and the yolk mixed beautifully with the foam.

For dinner I ordered the fruit and nut encrusted squab with roasted sunchokes and wild huckleberry sauce. Now, this had a ton of potential but it just missed the mark. For some reason they had the squab wrapped in philo dough which wasn't crispy enough. It was actulally kind tough and I ended up just picking everything out. But you can't beat huckleberries and our waiter was very knowledgable all around. Turns out you can get quail eggs at Treasure Island Market and the Chef got his huckleberries in late August from Washington State and preserved them. Who knew?

The service here is the type of service I love; on the spot but relaxed and unpretentious. I wish Alinea was the same....

Head on over to North Pond and get a taste of Lincoln Park. By the way, the people watching is great...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Friendly Reminder...

...That ANYONE can post on this blog if they love food like me. So if you are interested, please shoot me an email at emariennes@gmail.com and I'll send you an invite to register. Happy blogging!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chicken Sausage Burgers with Balsamic Onion Barbeque Sauce

Well, I have finally found something blog-worthy as my first post...

I found this recipe in Rachel Ray's "Just in Time." It says it is a 30 minute meal but I would disagree with that. It's easy and fun to make but it takes about an hour (but then again, I'm cooking in a kitchen at school that hasn't been updated since the Reagan administration.) Anyway, here is the recipe:

Chicken Sausage Burgers with Balsamic Onion Barbecue Sauce

4 tablespoons EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil), plus more for liberal drizzling
1/4 pound pancetta, chopped
2 red onions, chopped, and 1/2 small red onion very thinly sliced
Salt and black pepper
1 fresh or dried bay leaf (I didn't use this, though, and it still was delicious)
2 pounds ground chicken
1 1/2 tablespoons of fennel seed, lightly toasted
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more if you want it extra spicy
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Zest and juice of 1 orange
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, from 4 to 5 sprigs
4 garlic cloves, finely grated
A couple of generous handfuls of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese (I used Parm)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (eyeball it)
1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons honey or dark brown sugar (I used honey)
2 ripe tomatoes sliced
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves, torn
1/2 Belgian endive, chopped
1 cup arugula leaves, shredded
1/2 head of radicchio, chopped
4 crusty rolls, split, toasted, and drizzled with EVOO (the recipe says it serves 4, but the burgers were HUGE... I would say maybe 5 to 6)

Preheat a grill pan or outdoor grill to medium-high.

Place 2 tablespoons of the EVOO in a pot over medium-high heat. If you're cooking outside, you can put the pot right on the grill. Add the pancetta to the pot and cook and stir to crisp it up, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chopped onions to the pot and season them with salt and pepper; go heavy on that pepper, because it will really balance out the sweetness of your sauce later on. Add the bay leaf.

While the onions cook, place the ground chicken in a bowl and add the fennel seed, red pepper flakes, allspice, orange zest, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper, and cheese. Mix the meat with the seasonings and use the side of your hand to score the mixture into 4 equal portions. Form each portion into a large patty. Make a shallow dent into the center of each patty to prevent the burger from bulging as it cooks. Drizzle the patties liberally with EVOO and grill for 6 to 7 minutes on each side.

When the onions are very soft and begin to caramelize, remove the bay leaf and add the Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, honey or brown sugar, and the orange juice. Let the sauce continue cooking to thicken and sweeten up for 6 to 7 minutes, or until the liquids are syrupy. Add more black pepper to taste.

While the onions cook, arrange the tomato slices on a plate. Sprinkle with the red onion slices and basil leaves and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of EVOO. Season with salt and pepper.

Mix the chopped endive, shredded arugula, and chopped radicchio together. Pile some of the chopped lettuces on the bun bottoms, then top with the burgers and lots of onion barbeque sauce. Set the bun tops in place and serve with the tomato salad.

ENJOY! (For dessert, I recommend mints for your breath...)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Peanut Toffee

I made this homemade toffee and bagged them in plastic bags with pretty ribbon and notecards for my guests to take home with them after my dinner party. Cooking candy reminds me of my high school chemistry class. It's like an experiment. Very easy and tastes delicious.

Peanut Toffee

Butter baking pan and put on a heatproof surface.
Bring butter, sugar, and salt to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat, whisking until smooth, then boil, stirring occasionally, until mixture is deep golden and registers 300°F on thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes.

Immediately stir in whole peanuts, then carefully pour hot toffee into center of baking pan. Spread with spatula, smoothing top, and let stand 1 minute, then immediately sprinkle chocolate on top. Let stand until chocolate is melted, 4 to 5 minutes, then spread over toffee with cleaned spatula. Sprinkle evenly with chopped peanuts, then freeze until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Break into pieces.

Cooks' note: Toffee keeps, layered between sheets of parchment paper, in an airtight container at cool room temperature 2 weeks.


Recipe of the Week: Winter Squash Soup

I made this soup on Saturday night for 10 people and it was a huge hit. However, gutting and roasting ten acorn squashes is time consuming. And squash can be tough to handle. I went at them with my new clever and they were still tough. So, expect a little workout. I garnished mine with a dollop of creme fraiche, a pancetta crisp and fried sage leaves. Like I said, it was a crowd pleaser and the presentation in the squash bowl was wonderful.

I added a little extra chicken stock to thin it out a bit and extra herbs. I did not add the cream and sugar because I didn't want it to be more heavy than it already was and I prefer savory over sweet...

Winter Squash Soup
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 14 1/2-ounce cans low-salt chicken broth
4 cups 1-inch pieces peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 cups 1-inch pieces peeled acorn squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 1/4 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1 1/4 teaspoons minced fresh sage
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons sugar

For soup:Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add broth, all squash and herbs; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until squash is very tender, about 20 minutes.

Working in batches, puree soup in blender. Return soup to same pot. Stir in cream and sugar; bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill. Rewarm over medium heat before serving.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Huevos Rancheros

My boyfriend's family is from Santa Fe and he loves Southwestern food. So, last night I wanted to surpise him with a dish that felt close to home. My mom used to make us 'breakfast for dinner' as kids and we used to love that so I decided that Huevos Rancheros would be perfect. (Mrs. Smith, I know you must have a better recipe so feel free to share or comment!)

Now, there are a lot of varriations out there so feel free to mix it up. You can use canned salsa or add a few more chopped tomatoes. Try adding some chopped jalapenos to add some heat to the sauce. You can use black beans or refried. I choose not to fry my tortillas and on and on and on...

Huevos Rancheros
Olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped (about a half cup)
1 15-ounce can whole tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted, if you can get it (or 1 -2 large fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, when in season)
1/2 6-ounce can diced green Anaheim chiles
Chipotle chili powder, adobo sauce, or ground cumin to taste (optional)
4 corn tortillas
4 fresh eggs
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
1 can of beans (blk or refried)

1 Make the sauce first by softening the onions in a little olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Once translucent, add the tomatoes and the juice the tomatoes are packed in. Break up the tomatoes with your fingers as you put them in the pan. If you are using fresh tomatoes, chop them first, then add. Note that fresh tomatoes will take longer to cook as canned tomatoes are already cooked to begin with. Add chopped green chilies. Add additional chili to taste, either chipotle chili powder, adobo sauce, regular chili powder, or even ground cumin. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and let simmer while you do the rest of the cooking, stirring occasionally. Reduce to warm after it has been simmering for 10 minutes. Add salt to taste if needed.

2 Prepare the tortillas. Heat the oven to a warm 150°F, place serving plates in the oven to keep warm. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet on medium high, coating the pan with the oil. One by one (or more if your pan is big enough) heat the tortillas in the pan, a minute or two on each side, until they are heated through, softened, and pockets of air bubble up inside of them. Then remove them and stack them on one of the warming plates in the oven to keep warm while you continue cooking the rest of the tortillas and the eggs.

3 Fry the eggs. Using the same skillet as was used for the tortillas, add a little butter to the pan, about two teaspoons for 4 eggs. Heat the pan on medium high heat. Crack 4 eggs into the skillet and cook for 3 to 4 minutes for runny yolks, more for firmer eggs.

To serve, spoon a little of the sauce onto a warmed plate. Top with a tortilla, then a fried egg. Top with more sauce, sprinkle with cilantro if desired. Serve either one or two eggs/tortillas per plate, depending on how much you want to eat. I'm a 2-egg 2 tortilla person myself.
Makes 2-4 servings, depending on your appetite.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Recipe of the Week: Potatoes Aioli

Potatoes Aioli
3/4 lb salad potatoes
1/2 cup mayonnaise (the real stuff no miracle whip please)
3 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste or put through a garlic press
2 tablespoons parsley, minced (I use chives sometimes instead)

Boil potatoes in salt water until tender; peel and cut into 3/4 inch chunks.
In a bowl, combine mayonnaise, garlic, and parsley. (Mayonnaise should be a little thin, dilute with lemon juice or soft vinegar if necessary.).

Fold the potatoes into the sauce gently, season with salt to taste, serve at room temperature.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Cafe Iberico

For as many times that I have been to this place, I have not blogged about it. Well, Cafe Iberico, today is your day.

I've been to Iberico over 20 times. It's cheap, loud, fast, huge, always packed and consistant. They have a large variety of tapas. The potatoes aioli (potatoes in garlic mayonaise) are amazing. I could just eat those for my meal and be perfectly happy. Other favorites are the baked goat cheese in tomato sauce, the skirt steak with carmelized onions, garlic shrimp and the assortment of chorizo.

If you're looking to save some $ or are just in the mood for a good time, I would hop on over to Iberico. They don't take reservations so be prepared to wait.


This is totally un-food-related

But I HAD to share. I could, in fact, eat him with a spoon! My foster dog, Sam, enjoying the weather.