Often I find spur of the moment plans turn out to be more fun than long-awaited ones. Last night’s dinner, seated at the chef’s table for a 6 course with wine pairings was no exception.
Feast & Imbibe is a pop-up concept by partners Heather Bublick and D’Andre Carter who met while at Moto. D’Andre handles the food and Heather chooses the wine pairings. The dinner they prepared last night, served at Logan Square’s breakfast and lunch haven JAM, was nothing short of spectacular. I’m talking on the lines of NEXT good or as Heather shared with us, what she and D’Andre now say “schwa-quail-egg-ravioli-good”.
Dinner came together like this. A hallway conversation with a co-worker, several emails, confirmations and a last minute surprise from Heather of adding a 5th to our 4 top, a great young man from the premium reservations start up, Table Host, who was going to be there so “might he join you and you’ll all be seated at the Chef’s Table”. Easy.
So much to say about the conversations had but food and wine what this is all about. Suffice it to say my dining cohorts company was delightful. Feast & Imbibe is what we did. Our menu included 2 plates not listed on the night’s menu, below. Study Of Quail (Seared Quail, Celery Root Nest, Quail Egg, Quail Food) and Foie Gras Ice Cream (Pecan, Mango Puree, Mango Chip, Pomegranate Sponge Cake). Did I say, yeah, yeah, yeah yet?
Read on, study the photos for the artistry of presentation that matched the flavors, textures and fantasy used to create them and make your reservation soon. Planned menu changes are set for May 1 and again July 5th and I imagine this fun-loving, hardworking and incredibly talented pair will surprise and delight us all.
Top left, coconut braised lamb belly, tempura eggplant, grilled abalone mushrooms, butternut squash puree, cauliflower all with a hint of Indian spices. Top next, in rich chicken broth, lamain (hand pulled noodles), smoked fiddlehead ferns, perfectly cooked sea bass, pickled ramps and egg yolk. Top next, study of quail, celery root nest, perfectly cooked quail egg, mirepoix schmear, edible flower petals, quail food – sunflower seeds, freeze-dried corn. Top right, amazingly light and not too sweet chocolate & truffle fluff, beet sorbet on which D’Andre shaved spring truffle! Large photo, bed of marscapone cream, blood orange chip, roe, Meyer lemon reduction and bread crisps. Middle left, wines. Bottom left, Foie Gras ice cream, pecans, mango puree, pomegranate sponge cake with pineapple puree. Nuff said.
After quite a hiatus, I’m jumping back into the blogosphere and hope to woo you back.
I’ve been cooking and taking pictures this whole time but with a new position at work (a very fun and exciting one at that, being the 3D specialist for Crate and Barrel’s awesome, soon to be public, 3D Room Planner – for now a sales associate in a C&B Furniture Store near you can test drive it with you), an awesome 2 week trip out West AND getting my daughter off to college (she’s carrying on my families tradition at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa) life has been busy. Whew and Amen.
My garden actually survived Chicago’s ridiculously hot and dry summer thanks to a $10 soaker hose that delivered a long cool drink to those poor plants everyday so I didn’t have to. This super easy recipe uses tomatoes, basil and wild garlic flowers that are overflowing right now.
Summer’s End Pasta
Ingredients for 2 servings – multiply as needed
- 1 1/2 cups chopped cherry or other super fresh tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic – smashed and minced
- 4 basil leaves – rolled and sliced (**chiffonade)
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- sea salt to taste
- freshly ground pepper
- 3-4 Tbsp olive oil – use the best quality you can get for this one
- 6 oz dried pasta – fusilli, spaghetti, linguini
- generous grating of Reggiano Parmigiano
- 1 wild garlic flower stalk (pinch white flowers off from green stems)
This one is so easy the sauce can be put together while the pasta cooks. Mix chopped tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, basil, oregano, salt and pepper in a medium size bowl and microwave for 2 minutes or heat in a sauce pan until the tomatoes soften slightly. Drain pasta and toss with tomato sauce, add grated parmigiano and toss again. Top with wild garlic flowers before serving. This simple dish is good hot, room temperature and even cold.
** Chiffonade is a cooking technique in which herbs or leafy green vegetables (such as basil, sage or spinach) are cut into long, thin strips. This is generally accomplished by stacking leaves, rolling them tightly, then cutting across the rolled leaves with a sharp knife, producing fine ribbons.
“Chiffon” is French for “rag” referring to the fabric-like strips that result from this technique. To chiffonade simply means to turn into rag-like strips, as seen in the 2nd picture above.
This technique is unsuited to small, narrow, or irregularly shaped herb leaves such as parsley, thyme or rosemary due to there being less surface area for the knife to do a practical job.
A few months ago my daughter did an extra credit project for her French class in which she researched Nutella and reported on it. She also made Nutella and the class taste tested it and the real deal. I wasn’t too surprised by some of her findings but hearing that hazelnuts make up only 13% of the decadent spread threw me for a loop. Common sense and some label reading shows that this is a special treat, not an everyday food. But only 13% nuts is… is nuts. I was also surprised that France consumes 26% of all Nutella sold worldwide. I’ve long thought of Nutella as a quintessential Italian sweet treat that schoolchildren eat slathered on a hearty slice of pane pugliese. Italy has had a long-standing love affair with hazelnuts paired with chocolate. Think Giandua ice cream, smooth and creamy or its nut studded counterpart Bacio, found in any self-respecting gelateria. Ferrero Rocher and Baci by Perugina are standards in the boot and have made their way to the USA in recent years. Despite Nutella’s Italian origin, France and the French people have embraced it the most. But, it was two American mothers who were ‘duped’ into believing that there were health benefits to eating it. Oy vey, only in America.
If you know French, you can learn all you’ll ever need to know about Nutella from Sarah’s Power Point Presentation and learn how to make your own, more nutritious, almost 100% nuts, spread below. There is a notable difference in how nutty and good our homemade spread tastes and with only 1/3 cup powdered sugar it is not overly sweet. Good on a spoon or piece of bread.
2 Tablespoons of Homemade Chocolate-Hazelnut-Almond Spread vs. Nutella
Makes about 10 ounces
- 3/4 cup whole raw hazelnuts
- 1/2 cup whole raw almonds
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Place hazelnuts on a shallow baking pan. Keep to one side of pan, place almonds on other side. Toast until the hazelnut skins are almost black and the nut meat is medium brown, about 15 minutes. Keeping the hazelnut and almonds separated on the pan, stir each several time during baking to insure an even color.
- Wrap the cooled hazelnuts in a clean kitchen towel. Rub until most of the skins come off. Some of the skins will remain but won’t add a bitter flavor if most is removed.
- Process nuts in a food processor, scraping down the sides and edges of the bowl occasionally. First, you will get coarsely chopped nuts, then a fine meal. After a few minutes the nuts will form a ball around the blade, before you know it you’ll have hazelnut/almond butter thanks to the heat and friction that extracts the nut oils.
- Add the powdered sugar, cocoa and vanilla. If the mixture seems too thick, slowly drizzle a little vegetable or nut oil to make a spreadable consistency. It will firm up as it cools so don’t thin out too much with oil.
- Store in the refrigerator for 1-2 months in an airtight container (it won’t survive that long with all the spoons dipping into it for ‘just a taste’). Stir before spreading in case separation occurs.
Happy St. Patrick's Day! Check out this easy bread that is great today with dinner or tomorrow toasted for breakfast. It only takes about 5 mintues to put together and another 35 minutes to bake.
Irish Brown Bread
- 3 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup white flour
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 3/4 tsp. baking powder
- 2 tsp. salt…
Last night’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pans dinner may have been one of my favorites. Despite being only 6 strong, the offerings each person brought were thoughtfully prepared and fit the theme of the evening – make a dish using an unusual ingredient or an unusual combination of ingredients. I had several strong cravings today for these flavors, that’s how good it all was.
Our hostess Tina, greeted us with Gin and Tonic Royals… a lovely G&T with a splash of Veuve Clicquot and a pitted loquat floating in the bottom of the martini glass. None of us could resist eating the alcohol laden loquat that tasted like a cross between apricot, pear and mango. This photo does not do the drink justice… none of the pretty bubbles show.
Tina’s unusual ingredient was agar, more a helper than full-on ingredient, agar is a gelling agent made from the cell walls of some species of red algae, so it’s vegan and kosher a win win for some folks. She used it to make brie cream to top Pringle potato chips that she sprinkled with ground coffee beans and olive oil she had infused with vanilla beans.
She also used agar to make bittersweet chocolate gelée that went with grilled cauliflower and cocoa nibs and a smidge of sea salt. Do I have your attention yet? Tina has 3 very active boys at home so I’m not sure how she pulls this stuff off but both these taste treats were fantastic.
Our last appetizer was oven roasted radishes. Not being a radish lover I was hesitant, but of course tried one and schazam, wow. These were really good. Cooked in a piping hot oven they were sweet and no longer had the usual radish hot bite.
While we sipped and savored these bites, the rabbit Emily stuffed with prosciutto, pancetta, salami, garlic and fennel fronds was resting, just waiting to be carved so she regaled us with the story of taking her sons to Paulina Meat Market to purchase the rabbit, trying to be stealth about it with Easter coming in less than a month…this has us in tears. With no collusion, Emily’s rabbit was complimented perfectly by Sue’s sumac bread salad. Made with an abundance of grilled onions, tomatoes and cucumbers, much to our amazement no vinegar or oil was added making it very light yet packed with flavor.
After sitting a spell, we moved on to dessert.. Oh boy. Liz brought her famous Snow Pudding, a recipe from her childhood combining very lemony meringue topped with crème anglaise packed with microscopic vanilla bean seeds… ummm. I’d been dying to try this since she first posted it on her blog, Lazy Cook, Crazy Cook, last winter.
My contribution to our dinner was Stout Ice Cream. My neighbors, Rod and Paige, were very generous to part with a cup of their home-brewed 1815 Oak Stout from the last half growler they had stashed away. My idea that beer and ice cream are far from being unusual ingredients on their own, used together, they fit the unusual combination requirement for tonight’s dinner.
As if all this was not enough, Tina carried out about 8 bottles of ports and liqueurs for us to sample. Luckily, we know that alcohol kills any germs spread from sharing glasses so we had sips of a chocolate cherry port, another tart cherry liqueur and a couple of others but the consensus was the Spanish Licor 43 over ice was our favorite. Made from select fruits and herbs from the Mediterranean basin it is smooth and the perfect end to a perfect meal. Thanks to these amazing women with their talents, humor, wisdom and willingness to share ideas, “The Sisterhood” is moving into its third year together. Next meeting looks to be at the end of April, theme undecided but there is little doubt how great it will be.
Kale, whether raw or cooked is a nutritionally superior food. We’ve all been reading and hearing this for years but eating is believing when it comes to certain things and for whatever reason it took me some time to warm up to kale. When the kale craze hit a few yeas ago, a friend sent me a recipe saying she makes it and eats it straight from the mixing bowl on the counter…the leaves are just a tad tough and bitter for my taste so I shyed away from her raw recipe. Then I learned about kale chips. Cross my heart and hope to die (not really), they are so good and easy to make especially if you have a Trader Joe’s nearby where you can buy kale pre-washed and cut into bite sized pieces. All you have to do is preheat the oven to 400, pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil into the palm of your hands so you can toss the leaves to lightly coat, then bake for 10-15 minutes. The dark green leaves turn into gorgeous, translucent, airy-light chips. During the baking time toss with a spatula every few minutes to keep any leaves from burning. No salt needed.
Baking removes all the moisture from the otherwise thick leaves.
I’d not intended for them to be eaten this way but learned that gnocchi and kale go great together.
Thanks to some great connections (and friends) the dining/theater at Next el Bulli still has me speechless. Posts to this blog are usually food I cook that I hope you’ll try for yourself. Not this one. Instead, I will tell you that the seemingly ridiculous amount of money spent on this one meal was worth every cent (or ten spot). 29 courses, mostly bite sized portions paired perfectly with libations ranging from sparkling Cava to Sake, custom brewed beer, sherries or vino de Jerez, fruit nectar and exceptionally good coffee. The pictures I took with my little point and shoot camera are only a record of the food and drink. What they don’t capture is the character of the waitstaff who are highly versed in every ingredient, preparation and detail of the menu. They are professionals, fun-loving and clearly enjoy being there. With a language of their own that doesn’t use words, their eyes are always open, aware of how the meal is being experienced, there to make the experience perfect. It was.
I’ve edited the 220 photos I took down to a mere 70+...for you to enjoy on Youtube. Here is a preview photo.
cauliflower cous-cous with solid aromatic herb sauce (cous-cous de coliflor con salsa sólida de aromáticos) from the 2000 menu at elBulli, the highly acclaimed, much-lauded restaurant on Cala Montjoi, Catalonia’s Costa Brava that closed in 2011. The menu we were privileged to partake in was a collaboration of Chefs Ferran Adrià, Grant Achatz and Dave Beran.