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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Couple days in Chicago....oh so much food....

My ribeye burger with gouda and curried onions at Blackbird. Comes with pear salad and frites.

So, you'll have to forgive the poor photography. I somehow went home thinking "nah, I'm not going to cook/eat anything I'll want to share with the world." So stupid...anyways, these are the work of my trusty little blackberry, because in the last few days I spent in Chicago, oh my word. There was food. Glorious food. Enough that I almost don't care I've gained about 5 pounds in a disturbingly small amount of time.

The first stop on our culinary tour was Blackbird, a little Chicago landmark from chef Paul Kahan. It's one of the few restaurants in the city with two Michelin stars (up there with Charlie Trotter's, Tru, Everest, the usual suspects) yet unlike other restaurants of that caliber Blackbird serves lunch, and at a crazy reasonable price. All entrees were around $14-$15. They also have a three course prix fixe for $22. And as you can see from the picture above, the portions aren't crazy small. I also got a diet coke, which was refilled four times. For free. This is why I love my windy city. (nyc: until you offer free refills as generously as the Midwest, there will always be something between us.)
My Dad ordered the sturgeon. It was the best dish out of the three, hands down. Might be one of my favorite fish now. (Not pictured is Mom's whitefish sandwich. Very good, but apparently not very photogenic in my mind.)

After this we went to Alliance Bakery in Wicker Park, and I am so sorry that I didn't take photos of both the bakery and the gorgeous apple custard tart we bought. Because the bakery was adorable, and the tart was probably the best apple tart I've ever eaten. No joke, later that night, when it wasn't even warm, I picked it out of it's little white box, took one bite, and it was all over. That thing was gone within a matter of seconds. My mother was able to drag it away from me for a couple bites, but dad was completely left out. I will most definitely try to find a recipe for that little bit o' heaven, and report back. 

On the plus side, I did take a photo of the jar of peanut butter I made the morning I arrived home. Two different kind of peanut butter in fact (just give me a second while I brush my shoulders off...). The top is a nice, lightly toasted peanut butter and the bottom is an UBER toasty peanut butter. While the top one is more for general applications, the bottom is fantastic for cooking. It made some stellar peanut butter cookies, where you can really taste the nutty, roasted flavor of the peanuts. It's extremely simple to make PB, actually. Roast some peanuts till they're just beginning to brown, toss in a food processor, add a pinch of salt and some honey, and turn that sucker on high. When the nuts start becoming paste-like, stream in vegetable or peanut oil till it thins out to the right consistency. Voila! Homemade peanut butter!

The toothpicks are not actually my sadistic attempts at cake-torturing. I place them around the surface of the cake so the saran wrap on top doesn't touch the icing. Also, I used powdered buttermilk, which was fantastic. Apparently, the buttermilk we buy in stores isn't real buttermilk. Powdered is closer to the real thing.
 So, I might have a problem. Around midnight on Friday, when my parents were tucked away sleeping, I finally had enough of the Ghost Hunters marathon I'd been watching on the Travel Channel (alright, I'll admit it, I was getting creeped out), and instead of going upstairs to sleep like a normal person, I thought, why this is the perfect time to make a cake! Mind you, by this point, I had literally baked about five different things. My baking drive was on overkill. Part of me really didn't want to, but I had seen a recipe on a wonderful food blog by Tartlette ( that I just couldn't get out of my head. It's a caramel cake, with caramel sauce in the batter, and a caramelized brown butter frosting (which I flecked with some orange zest). Now, the frosting sounded wonderful, and in theory it is, but it's literally sugar on top of sugar. Way too intense, so I'm not even going to give you the recipe right now till I perfect it. But don't worry, make the cake anyway. This cake is so good it needs absolutely nothing to fancy it up. It's so good that at 3 am last night/morning I was taking a fork and burrowing underneath the icing just to get at cake. Seriously, MAKE THIS CAKE. And then send me a piece. 

Another item we picked up at Alliance Bakery was a chocolate macaron with a salted caramel filling. The macaron was delicious, but the price seemed ridiculous. $1.50 for a itty bitty cookie? In the Midwest?! My mother turned to me and said "I bet we can make those." And of course, the challenge was laid down. That evening, my mother and I attempted to make macarons for the first time. Ladies and gentlemen, these are frustrating little buggers. The egg whites need to age, dry ingredients need to be sifted twice, the batter needs to be folded about 62 times (even slightly under or over mixed batter ruins the cookie), the cookies must rest for an hour before being put in the oven, oh and don't get me started on the hundred different ways I looked up on how to properly bake a macaron. Needless to say, I understand the $1.50 charge now. Our first batch was over mixed and the cookies came out like flat pancakes. The photo above is my second attempt, and the batter was under mixed. There's no other way to say it: I made Smurf turds. But, looking past that, the flavor of these....oh man. I've had macarons before and have never been that impressed, but these had this wonderful light, almondy flavor, and a great crispness on the outside and chewiness the good thing is I now really love macarons. The bad thing is I'm going to have to kill myself to finally make them right.

Of course, you need a filling for macarons. For some reason, my parents had an abundance of pears in the house, so I thought, why not a pear curd? I haven't made curds in a while, but as far as I know, it's generally fruit in some form (either juice and zest, or pureed), egg yolks, and butter. Since these pears were relatively young, I simmered them in simple syrup with a cinnamon stick and some cloves, blended them, then went ahead with a traditional curd recipe. Oh man, is this stuff good. Very lightly flavored, it works so well with the macaron, or honestly, probably on any dessert-like platform. I'd actually just eat it on its own.

For my goodbye dinner, my mom always makes up a meal that I generally couldn't get anywhere but her kitchen, which is almost always Indian food. We were browsing the produce section of the grocery store and came upon Methi, or fenugreek. That was it, a dish I haven't had in ages but really love: aloo methi. It's chopped up fenugreek leaves cooked with potatoes. This is a seriously Indian dish. I almost never see it at Indian restaurants because it's a flavor that most people who haven't grown up eating Indian food would probably not immediately enjoy. It also makes your kitchen stink a bit. But honestly, the flavor is so interesting and lovely. You mix mustard oil and seeds with asafoetida, turmeric, and these greens and potatoes and get this amazingly pungent, bitter, and delicious dish. If you're brave, I'd definitely give this one a try.

This dish came completely out of left field. Early yesterday morning my mom, my cousin and I were watching one of our favorite shows on the Cooking Channel: French Food at Home. The host, Laura Calder, is adorably quirky and her food looks divine. One of the dishes she prepared was a celeriac remoulade. Now, I'm not really a fan of anything celery flavored, but my cousin was adamant we make this (mainly because he'd just gotten back from India and wanted something on the plate not heavily spiced). It's an easy side dish to make, especially if you put your julienne blade onto your food processor and make quick ribbons out of all the veggies and fruit (something I highly recommend). The flavor of the remoulade was, well, kinda perfect. It was ever so lightly coated in a lovely vinaigrette that has fennel and mustard seed, just enough to give you a taste of the spices but not overpowering the flavor of the celeriac at all. Divine. 
My last supper: aloo methi, gobi (of course), papar (best chip you could ever buy), and celeriac remoulade
It's always so nice to visit home, get re-energized to deal with the rest of life. No matter how chaotic things get, thank goodness there is always a plate of something yummy and two smiling parents just a two hour flight away.

Alliance Bakery:
French Food at Home:

Caramel Cake (based on Tartlett’s)
Note: This was my first try at using buttermilk powder and I thought it was extremely successful. The instructions on the side of my container said it required 4 tbsp of powder and 1 cup of water to substitute 1 cup of buttermilk. Then, instead of mixing the powder and water together, mix the powder with the dry ingredients and use the cup of water as you would milk in the recipe. If your container of buttermilk powder has different instructions, I’d follow those instead of the ones I provide. If you have fresh buttermilk (or another type of milk) instead, go ahead and use that.

10 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
Generous 1/3 cup caramel (recipe below)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
4 tbsp buttermilk powder
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch cake pan.

Cream butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and salt and cream until light and fluffy as well. Add caramel sauce and whip on high speed till well combined. Add eggs one at a time, and vanilla. Beat mixture well.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and buttermilk powder together. Set mixer to low speed and add one third of the dry ingredients. Add half a cup of water. Add the second third of the dry ingredients. Add the last half cup of water, and follow with the rest of the flour mixture. Mix until just combined.

Take bowl off mixer and use a spatula to fold batter a few times, making sure everything is properly mixed. Pour batter into pan and smooth out top. Place pan on a baking sheet and bake for between 45-50 minutes. Rotate pan halfway through. Check cake by sticking a toothpick in the center. A few crumbs should stick and it’s done.

Caramel Sauce (based on Ina Garten’s)
Note: To quicken the cooling of the sauce, I took the 1/3 cup I needed for the cake, put it in a metal bowl, and popped it into the freezer for about 15 to 29 minutes. Stirred it a few times afterwards and it was perfect.

1 ½ cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 ¼ cups heavy cream

Add sugar and water to pot and set to medium high heat. Do not stir. Swirl pot to mix ingredients. Bring to a boil and let bubble away till reaching a dark amber color. As soon as this happens, add the cream and step back to avoid getting splattered. Whisk till caramel becomes smooth again on low heat, about two minutes. Then turn off stove and let sit till coming to room temperature, about two hours. 

Pear Curd

Two large pears
1 cup sugar
2 1/3 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
pinch salt
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp lemon juice
half stick butter

Peel pears, and save the skin from one of them. Chop the pears into a small dice. Place sugar and water into a saucepan. Add diced pear, skin, cinnamon stick and cloves. Turn heat to medium high and bring mixture to a simmer. Stir.

Let pears soften till they are just barely retaining their shape. Strain, reserving the liquid. Take out pieces of skin, cloves and cinnamon. Toss pear into blender and blend into a puree. Set aside in a glass or metal bowl to cool slightly. 

Meanwhile, wash out pot, fill with water and put on medium high heat. Take pear puree and whisk in salt. Whisk in egg yolks one at a time. Add lemon juice and vanilla.

Set bowl over pot of simmering water and whisk vigorously. Continue whisking till curd sets and the curd becomes much lighter in color and becomes pudding-like in texture and thickness. Take off heat, but continue whisking for another 30 seconds. Taste curd. I noticed at this point that I wanted a touch more sweetness and pear flavor, so I added about 2 tbsp of the reserved cooking liquid. Did the trick. Whisk that in and taste again. Add more if necessary.

At this point, if you aren’t happy with the texture of the curd, pour through a fine mesh strainer.

Take a piece of plastic wrap and place directly on the top of the curd. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight before using.

Aloo Methi (Potato w/ Fenugreek)
Note: It’s not necessary to use mustard oil if you don’t have it at home. You can just use all vegetable oil. If you do end up using the mustard oil, along with the mustard seeds, I’ll warn you right now: as soon as those two start cooking, you’re essentially perfuming your house with a light mustard gas. My mom and I started coughing whenever the lid was removed off the skillet. However, the taste was divine. Part of my childhood in a pot, heavenly.

One Last Thing: For god’s sake, open every window in your house/apartment, and make sure the exhaust is on. Otherwise I can’t guarantee you’ll ever be able to set foot in your kitchen again. This is mainly necessary if you are using the mustard oil and asafoetida.

12 cups fenugreek leaves
3 large potatoes
1 tbsp mustard oil
A few grated shavings of asafoetida (hing), or ½ tsp of asafoetida powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp red chili flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Thoroughly wash and dry fenugreek in a large bowl. Set aside. Peel and chop potatoes into 1 inch pieces. Add oils to your largest nonstick skillet, and add mustard seeds. Add the asafoetida into the oil as well. Set heat to medium high and cook till seeds turn pale in color and begin to pop. Add turmeric powder as well and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add chopped potatoes. Toss to coat in spices. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes. While those are going, start taking large handfuls of fenugreek leaves and chopping them down just a bit. Don’t go too fine, you’re just looking to pretty much halve the leaves. Start adding to the skillet, allowing every third or fourth handful to be tossed and settled into the potatoes before adding more. Add salt and pepper.

Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until potatoes are soft. Serve with plain yogurt.

Celeriac Remoulade (recipe based on Laura Calder’s)
 Note: When we tossed the vinaigrette with the celeriac and apple we found that it was just shy of enough. Instead of making more I just sprinkled in a bit more ground fennel and mustard, along with a pinch more salt and pepper. Worked out fine, this vinaigrette adds more like a sheen to the mixture, just the faintest hint of dressing.

1 medium celeriac
1 apple (Fuji or Grannysmith, something crisp and tart)
1 egg yolk
3 tsp apple cider vinegar
3 tsp Dijon mustard
¾ cup Olive oil (grapeseed and vegetable work well too)
2-3 tsp ground fennel seed
2 tsp ground mustard
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice to taste

Peel and julienne both the celeriac and apple (to make quick work of this, use your food processor). Toss together in a large bowl.

In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients except for the olive oil. When properly mixed, slowly stream in the olive oil while whisking vigorously. When you’ve drizzled in about 75% of the oil, stop and taste. Continue if necessary. Taste again, and season accordingly.

1 comment:

  1. That homemade peanut butter is totally in a package heading to Strasbourg isn't it!??!!! Dad let it slip. I love you guys.

    Also, how bout we grab your non-Blackberry camera and hit up Blackbird again as soon as I get back? You know, in the name

    -L'il Sis