Friday, April 30, 2010

Best Restaurants in the World

I'm a few days behind on this, I did see it when it came out earlier this week but I suppose it's no longer "breaking news". However, I still wanted to mention it. Restaurant Magazine (a British publication) put out it's annual "S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants" list for 2010 just a few days ago. Without further adieu, here's a taste of the list - the top 10:

1. Noma (Copenhagen, Denmark)
2. El Bulli (Roses, Spain)
3. The Fat Duck (Berkshire, UK)
4. El Celler de Can Roca (Girona, Spain)
5. Mugaritz (Errenteria, Spain)
6. Osteria Francescana (Modena, Italy)
7. Alinea (Chicago) *yeah Chicago!!*
8. Daniel (New York)
9. Arzak (San Sebastian, Spain)
10. Per Se (New York)

These restaurants are without a doubt, the best of the best. I'm sure I'll never see the inside of 99% of them. I remember hearing about how crazy it is to get a reservation at El Bulli, something about writing handwritten letters a year in advance...I don't even know. Thomas Keller's The French Laundry fell to #32, and there are entire websites dedicated to explaining the best methods for securing reservations there. Even if I had the money to buy meals at these places, I don't think I could get in.

Big news of the year was that Noma knocked El Bulli down to #2, after four years atop the list. This list is a bit different in that unlike Michelin stars, there are no criteria the restaurants have to meet. There is simply an international voting panel that makes the decisions.

Here is a tasting menu from Alinea's website. I would LOVE to go. Maybe someday...

Chicago's Downtown Farmstand (and a celebration!)

I'll start with the celebration part first. I got a JOB! Finally! I'm not going to say where it is, because I have no idea what my new company's policy is about blogs or writing anything about the company, so I'm just not even going to go there. But I'm excited to get back to work. This doesn't mean I'll be writing any less, just maybe at different times of the day. We happened to have a cute little half bottle of Veuve in the fridge, so we popped it open for a celebratory drink on the balcony. Doesn't the half bottle make it look like the champagne glasses are huge?

Now on to the farmstand part of the post. I am itching for the farmers markets to open in Chicago! Just a few more weeks. The Division Street market (near our apartment) is open on Saturdays, and the Daley Plaza market (downtown) is open on Thursdays...I can't wait! But in the meantime, I found Chicago's Downtown Farmstand. It's a little place that almost looks like a convenience store from the outside, but is full of local products.

They have a small produce area:

They also sell lots of other locally-made goodies like olive oil, marinades, mustards, honey, and extracts.

And, they have bakery items. I overheard someone working there telling a customer that they were sold out of sandwiches, so I obviously couldn't get a picture of those.

I bought some eggs, and later I'll explain what I used them for.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chicken Stock

Everyone sings the praises of homemade chicken stock - cooking show hosts, restaurant chefs, my mom, my cats...ok not really, but you get the point. It's no secret that homemade chicken stock is far superior to what you buy in the store, it's just that I hadn't gotten around to making any until now. Whenever I'm making a recipe that calls for chicken stock, I never have the foresight to make any chicken stock a day in advance. But, the chicken carcasses were starting to pile up in my freezer so I figured it was about time to do something with them.

I called my mom to ask her for a recipe, because she recently did some sort of class on stocks and showed me the packet of recipes when I was home in March. But she wasn't home when I called and I was too impatient to wait, so I consulted the next best person for this...Ina Garten. Ina's recipe calls for whole chickens, and I had carcasses so I had to adjust a bit. Plus, I didn't want to make such a huge amount (her recipe calls for 7 quarts of water). I don't even have a pot that big. So here is her recipe with my adjustments.

2 whole chicken carcasses, plus leftovers from 2 bone-in chicken breasts
1 large yellow onion, unpeeled and quartered
3 carrots, unpeeled and halved
2 stalks celery with leaves, cut into thirds
2 parsnips, unpeeled and cut in half, optional
10 sprigs fresh parsley
7-8 sprigs fresh thyme
10 sprigs fresh dill
1/2 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in 1/2 crosswise
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Place the chickens, onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, parsley, thyme, dill, garlic, and seasonings in a large stockpot. Add 3 to 3 1/2 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours. Strain the entire contents of the pot through a colander and discard the solids. Chill the stock overnight. The next day, remove the surface fat. Use immediately or pack in containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

That's the beginning of the stock. I went with the optional parsnips. Now for the gross part. I refrigerated the stock overnight, and then removed the surface fat. Ewwww.

The stock actually looked green when I took it out of the fridge, but as you can see once I started skimming off that layer of fat I had a nice, rich, brown chicken stock.

The only tip I would give is if you're unsure how much water to add, err on the side of less rather than more. You can always add more, or dilute it if it's too concentrated once it's done. But if you add to much in the beginning...not much you can do to fix it. Ina's original recipe called for three 5-lb whole chickens, 7 quarts of water, and double the rest of the ingredients I listed, and actually triple the onions (she calls for 3 onions but I used one because the one I had was pretty big). If you go with whole chickens (or chicken parts) instead of leftovers, you can eat the chicken once the broth is done cooking. I used the stock for the lentil and vegetable soup, and was SO much better than store-bought stock.

P.S. I made homemade granola bars yesterday for the fourth time, and this time I used dried strawberries and Turkish figs instead of dates, apricots and raisins. Yummm.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lentil and Vegetable Soup

I watched Ina Garten make this soup on her show recently, and it looked so good. And then I realized I had the recipe in one of her cookbooks that I own. Here is the full recipe which serves 8-10, but I cut it in half.

1 pound French green lentils, picked over and rinsed
Boiling water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 large onions)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chopped leeks, white and tender green parts only (2 large leeks)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice (8 celery ribs)
3 cups carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice (6 carrots)
3 quarts chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons dry red wine or red wine vinegar
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

In a large heatproof bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onions, garlic, leeks, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of pepper and the thyme and cumin and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the celery and carrots and cook until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste and lentils to the pot. Increase the heat to high, cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, reduce the heat to moderate and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 1 hour. Stir in the red wine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmesan.

Cutting it in half was the perfect amount for two people for dinner and leftovers for lunch. The cumin gave it a really good flavor, and I used homemade chicken stock which made a huge difference (more on that later). I loved the parmesan on top...I actually wish I had made parmesan croutons or toasts instead, that would have been even better. Next time!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fish Tacos

We just got some grill accessories as a wedding gift (thank you Katy and Nick!) and we were eager to use them, so I thought fish tacos would be a good choice to make use of our new fish griller.

I used tilapia, but mahi mahi or red snapper would have also worked. With our grilling tools we also got some tasty spice rubs, so I used the spicy chipotle one...but if I didn't have those I would have combined some chipotle chili powder, garlic powder, and salt. I also used canola oil on the fish.

For toppings, I added spicy black beans, and made mango salsa by mixing these ingredients:

2 mangos, diced
1 jalapeno, finely diced
1/3 of a red onion, diced
handful cilantro, chopped
juice of 1 lime
couple pinches kosher salt

I packed corn tortillas into a foil packet and heated them up on the grill as the fish cooked. The tortillas only needed a couple minutes, while the fish cooked for about 5-6 minutes on each side. Cut up the fish into small pieces, add the toppings...and voila!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Columbus Weekend

This past weekend I went home to Columbus for my 10-year CSG (high school) reunion. It was a busy weekend so I didn't have as much time as I usually do to try new bakeries or wander around the North Market, but of course I did eat a lot of good things.

We started Friday night off with some wine and snacks on the porch. This picture is not really focusing on the food too much, because I've showcased my mom's cheese plate ability before, and because I wanted to show how nice the yard looks - everything was so green and in bloom which was beautiful to look at (but not so pleasant for my allergies).

That night we went to dinner at Third and Hollywood, a relatively new restaurant in Grandview. It's a really pretty restaurant with a big, long bar and a stone fireplace. My dad said it has a northern California feel to it which seems about right. It's pretty dark in there so I only took one picture. This is one of the appetizers - wood grilled artichokes. They are so salty and delicious, and the leaves get a nice char on them from being grilled.

Of course, a trip home must include Jeni's. I tried two new flavors (Rhubarb Rosé, and Buckeye State) as well as an old favorite (Lemon Yo).

For those of you not from Ohio, a little multiple choice.

A buckeye is:
a. a nut that grows on a buckeye tree
b. the mascot of THE Ohio State University
c. a peanut butter and chocolate candy shaped to look like a buckeye nut
d. all of the above

The correct answer is d. And so Buckeye State ice cream is peanut butter ice cream flecked with chocolate. And I put a buckeye candy on top (thanks for sending them over, Mrs. Murnane!).

The rhubarb and lemon were actually very tasty together...

Part of the reunion weekend was a luncheon at school on Saturday. I took this picture not so much for the food that was served, but for the dish. These are the dishes we ate lunch on every day at school. My plate was usually filled with chicken fingers and cookies. Jamie Oliver would not be happy. Our school did have a lot of great choices for lunch - a hot dish option, daily salad bar, PBJ every day, pasta, milk and juice, and of course dessert.

For lunch on Sunday we went to Lindey's in German Village. If I were moving back to Columbus, I would live in German Village. It's so cute - brick houses and brick roads. The top picture is Lindey's, and the bottom is the view as you walk out of the restaurant.

I had a BLT with avocado. I can't resist a BLT for Sunday lunch.

I also spent a lot of time with these ladies over the weekend.

Quincy is being shy, but Ruby is showing off her goose baby. What a great weekend!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Peaches (Praski)

Alright CSG girls (and everyone else, but especially CSG girls) - get ready to be very jealous. Yesterday I had the honor of making Jacquilyn's famous "peaches" with her! For those of you who don't know, these are wonderful little sugary cookies filled with jam that Jacquilyn's grandmother used to make for her to bring into school on her birthday every year. Jacquilyn's family is Macedonian, and after a little internet research I learned that these cookies are traditional among countries that used to be part of Yugoslavia. In Macedonian, they are called "praski" - or, peaches. I hope that's all correct information. J, let me know if it's not!

So without revealing any secret family recipes, here's how it was done. First, obviously, the dough:

That's Jacquilyn mixing the dough. What's in it, you want to know? I'll tell you one ingredient...sugar. Hehe. Ok, fast forward to cookies coming out of the oven. Oops. We messed up a little and they flattened out. They did taste good, though.

That's ok, we'll start over. After adjusting the recipe a bit, we got the right result - nice little round cookies.

And now, building the peaches. We made little sandwiches with strawberry preserves, colored them with red and yellow food dye, and then covered them in a sugar mixture.

Aren't they so pretty? And if it's possible, they taste even better than they look. Secret grandmother recipes are always the best. Thanks again, Jacquilyn!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Grilled Cheese

I don't remember what sparked the idea, but I decided I should make some fun grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner last night. Then I found out that April is National Grilled Cheese Month (who knew?) so I definitely had to do it. I grew up on grilled cheese sandwiches. And Eggo waffles. But really, my mom has probably made thousands of grilled cheeses. It's pretty much all I would eat. Instead of the classic American cheese on Pepperidge Farm bread that I loved when I was a kid, I went for some more sophisticated versions last night.

Most importantly, start with good bread. I chose a French country loaf.

First sandwich: Camembert, thin slices of a Granny Smith apple, and whole grain mustard.

Second sandwich: fontina, prosciutto, and arugula.

Third sandwich: Cana de Cabra goat cheese (semi-soft), strawberry jam, chopped macadamia nuts

Yummm. I think my favorite was the fontina one, probably because it had prosciutto in it. But they were all good. Everyone does grilled cheese their own way, but I like to melt butter in the pan and then butter the top piece of bread (instead of buttering both pieces of bread). But with butter, cheese, bread, and prosciutto or apples or jam or whatever you decide to add, you can't go wrong.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dirk's Fish & Gourmet Shop

So the main reason I went up to Lincoln Park yesterday wasn't Sweet Mandy B's (see below), but in fact to buy some fish for dinner. I always buy my fish from Whole Foods because of the convenience factor, and because it's always good. But Sarah had mentioned awhile ago that there was a great fish market in Lincoln Park. She didn't tell me the name of it, so I just did a little online research and found Dirk's (warning - if you click on this link the website has music and I couldn't get it to stop any other way than turning the speakers off). I don't know if it's the one she was talking about, but if not - oh well, I'll just get to experience a new market.

Here's what I was greeted with when I walked in - the first case had some ceviches and seafood salads, and "Chicago's Best Shrimp Cocktail" as well as a secret recipe mustard sauce. Ok, twist my arm...I bought a dozen shrimp (they were small) and a small container of the sauce.

They also had three types of oysters - including one of my favorite, Kumamoto - as well as clams, shrimp, and mussels. There wasn't a huge selection of fish but what they had in stock really fresh.

I was really in the mood for red snapper so I could make it with almonds again, but they didn't have any. The halibut looked nice so that's what I chose. Time to go home and eat!

We started with the shrimp and mustard sauce:

The mustard sauce was really tasty. It was a nice departure from cocktail sauce, although I do love cocktail sauce. Someone else really likes shrimp...

And now for the fish. I just put salt, pepper, and a little olive oil on it.

Peter grilled it for about 4 minutes on each side, which was perfect. I melted a little butter in a small skillet with an equal amount olive oil, as well as some lemon juice and poured it over the fish once it was done...served with a salad, it was a really fresh, light dinner (I had to leave room for the dessert tray).

Sweet Mandy B's

I was in the mood for an adventure yesterday, so I decided to go up to Lincoln Park to go to this fish market I found online. You know how when you type an address into Google maps, businesses and restaurants near by pop up on the map? Well, Sweet Mandy B's came up just a couple blocks from the fish market. Of course, I had to go. I knew about Sweet Mandy B's because Abby, my bakery connoisseur friend who used to live here, told me that SMB is one of her favorite bakeries. And I don't take her suggestions lightly, so no question that I should stop by. I texted Abby for some advice:

me: Hey I think I'm going to sweet mandy b's today, what should I get? What's good besides cupcakes?

Abby: Oh, so jealous! Def a whoopie pie if they have them. Otherwise, pb choc rice krispie, iced molasses, choc gingerbread or iced sugar cookie. Let me know what u get!!!

Wowie. I tried to find their website, but they don't have one so I had to rely on Menu Pages and Yelp. Every review on Yelp was all about the cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes, and more cupcakes. Don't get me wrong, I love cupcakes, but that's why I asked Abby what else I should get. Given the choice, I prefer cookies/bars/brownies to cupcakes. So, off I went.

A block away from the bakery, I saw this in a store window. There was no sign so I have no idea what the shop was called, and I couldn't see in the door or windows because of big dark shutters...but this was so great I had to take a picture.

I took it as foreshadowing of what I would look like after my bakery visit. And finally, Sweet Mandy B's:

The part on the left is the actual shop, and on the right is the sit-down part where you can bring your goodies to eat on the spot. My plan of attack was to get a couple things to bring home for after dinner, and to get one thing to eat as I strolled to the fish market since it was so nice out. Here are the bakery cases, kind of in the order you see them as you walk in:

Ohhhhhh my goodness. What should I get? I didn't see any whoopie pies, but one of the first things I came upon was the mintrageous chocolate cookie, as you can see in the first picture. Anything with mint and chocolate...and I'm sold. What else...I saw the rice krispie treats, but with all those lovely cookies I couldn't sacrifice a spot on my line-up to a rice krispie treat. No offense, rice krispies. I asked where the iced molasses cookies were because I couldn't find them, and the girl pointed them out - they weren't labeled. They're in that second picture on the top shelf in the middle. The ones with lots of white frosting. They looked amazing, and Abby recommended them so I decided to go for it.

I couldn't stop at just two cookies, and so many Yelp reviewers raved about the cupcakes, so I moved along to the cupcake department. So many choices...carrot cake, orange, Reese's...I chose the almond cupcake with vanilla icing because I remembered a reviewer on Yelp said it was her favorite. I thought I should stop there, but I easily could have kept going. The grand total for my treats - $6.24. Amazing! Considering cupcakes at More cost $4, three treats for only $6 was a great deal.

Bye, Sweet Mandy B's! I'll be back again soon.

The cookies were so lovely and big I didn't think it would do them justice to eat one while walking, so I decided to save them all for after dinner. Fast forward to 9pm:

Baked goods platter! There's nothing better. We cut everything in half to share. First up, the chocolate mint cookie.

Mmmm. Really chewy, lots of chocolate chips, good mint flavor. Kind of like a mint brownie in cookie form. Next up, the iced molasses.

Holy cow...this cookie was AMAZING. So soft, chewy, and the vanilla frosting was really wonderful. The cookie tasted like it had spices in it similar to a pumpkin pie, probably cinnamon and nutmeg and plenty other things I couldn't distinguish. Still one more thing to taste - the almond cupcake.

Cupcakes can sometimes be not so fresh and just kind of so-so, but not the case here. The cake was moist and fluffy, and the frosting was light. The cake had a subtle almond taste, and I loved the slivered almonds on top.

The consensus: iced molasses was the winner. I mean, they were really all winners...but the iced molasses cookie was our favorite. Commence sugar coma.