High performance Provenance potluck….

Wow! I knew I worked with a bunch of foodies, but I had no idea they were talented enough to open a restaurant. Seriously. I talked them out of it, though, believe me. The food at this little get together was some of the best I have had in a long time. If I would have known everyone was such good cooks I would have been crashing their family holiday get ages ago.

I don’t even know where to start. I guess with the reason for this gathering would be a good place. It was unfortunately a going away party for Jane Roberts of Sugarkist pie fame. She is hopping the pond and going to work on her British accent in London. Let’s hope she doesn’t start making steak and kidney pies instead of the tasty fruit pies she has made here for years and sold at the Logan Square Market. Leave it to me to start with dessert, but how can I not tell you about how incredible this mixed berry pie was that Jane baked for her party. You don’t think we would let the guest of honor get away with not baking a pie would you? Especially if it was going to be the last Sugarkist pie we were going to have for years! Rude and selfish, I know, especially since it was 95 degrees out and Jane doesn’t have an air conditioner.  You better believe we savored every bite. Her crust is amazing. A nice dark golden brown. You know I love a well cooked pastry, one that is not afraid of the golden brown deliciousness that means flavor.  Sugarkist pies are just that, too, kissed by sugar. Its lovely lips just grazing the plump ripe blackberries, strawberries and raspberries. I better stop that analogy now. This is a family blog!

Sugarkist Pie Deliciousness

Onto our most gracious hosts, Jeff and Erin, who held this fiesta in their lovely back yard, where Jeff had a charcoal grill, a smoker and a gas grill ready for action. This man is a grilling machine.  Jeff  had done all the cooking for Tracy’s birthday party/wedding about three months ago at Weegee’s. Tracy tricked him into it by saying it was her birthday party, whereas it really turned out to be a surprise wedding also! She’s so sneaky. Jeff would have probably freaked out if he knew he was catering her wedding!  Well, I missed the food at that party, so I was looking forward to making up for it at this party.

Jeff the grilling machine!

First of all, Erin was the most amazing hostess I have ever encountered. She was clearing plates, making sure the next round of food was brought out, making coffee, setting up dessert, making Jeff plates of food while he was cooking. And she made it all look easy. I swear she was gliding, not spazzing out and tripping over herself, like I tend to do when I host a party. Now you know why I don’t host that many.  It was very refreshing.

Erin, our lovely hostess

Booze, oh ya, there was lots of booze. That’s what’s so great about being at a party with friends who own a wine shop, good wine. I had to try all of it also, as I have to know the product I am selling. I  took notes, too. NOT! You didn’t believe that for a second, did you? I would hope you know me better than that by now.  Actually, we ran out of booze. Boys are we drinkers. Joe had to run back to the shop to get more. Oops! My favorites of the night were a Txocoli, a stone dry, yes stone dry, not bone dry, white from the Basque region of Spain. It literally tastes of the sea and wet stones. Perfect for the scorching hot night that it was. And a surprisingly light and refreshing sparkling Shiraz from Australia. I think Jeff said it was one of his favorites.

So, food. Let’s go. It all started with fifteen year old cheddar that I bought at Hooks Cheese in Mineral Point Wisconsin. I had never seen cheddar this old. They are not that common. I went up there a few months ago with my mom. She offered to buy me the cheese until she found out it was $50 a pound! But how could I not buy fifteen year old cheddar. I love Hooks cheese. We carry it at the shop. I asked Tracy if I could turn in my receipt for reimbursement. Hmmm…I don’t think I ever got an answer on that. I think she changed the subject. It was totally worth it and I was happy to share it with all my friends from the shop. I’m glad we all got to taste it. It was VERY sharp, but still fruity and starting to be a little crumbly. It was very distinct, that’s for sure. Right up my alley.  I am not one for subtlety.  The sharper, the more bitter, the better…baby!

Ok, onto dolmas by Nicole. Wow! These babies are a production. Nicole sent me the recipe with her notes and comments, always the fun part. I don’t think about the complexity of the dolma when I am  eating it. I think grape leaf stuffed with tasty filling, yum. Let me pop three more in my mouth, dipping each end in the yogurt cucumber sauce, but this is not considered double dipping because I turned it around to the half I hadn’t taken a bite off of, because I just need more sauce, always more sauce. Oh, I confess, I am a double dipper, only among friends, though. For real.  I am going to contradict myself here. It’s my blog, I can. I loved the subtle flavors of Nicole’s dolmas. I know I just said I don’t appreciate subtlety, but I lied. It is so nice to just eat something and all the flavors meld together seamlessly, nothing jarring, very enjoyable. That’s why I think I ate so many of the dolmas. They tasted effortless. The mark of a good cook. I can’t wait to try Nicole’s mother’s recipe. Well, not the recipe, the dolmas made by Nicole from her mother’s recipe. I am a bit lazy. You know that. I am going to have to finagle an invite when I know she is making them.

I don't have a picture of the delicious dolmas, so here is a picture of the lovely Nicole instead!

Cannot leave the pre appetizer portion of the party without mentioning Aaron’s cantaloupe wrapped in speck that he brushed with a lovely sweet balsamic and honey glaze. He served it with a salad of arugula and parmesan. This dish was very well rounded with the sweet cantaloupe, salty speck and bitter arugula. Aaron seems like a pretty balanced easy going guy. This dish proved my theory.

Boy, I am at 1075 words and Jeff hasn’t even fired up the grill yet! Uh oh. Go grab another glass of wine, run to the bathroom and settle in. We have to think of another name for these poppers because they can NOT share a name with that trashy deep fried TGI Fridays appetizer, which I do love! But these do not even compare. This is the first thing that graced the grill when Jeff had it all fired up.

Poppers on the grill

Erin gets all the credit for these. You need to invite her to all your summer bbqs or holiday parties. I wonder if you can do them in the oven. Erin? Jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese, caramelized shallots and dehydrated tomatoes and wrapped in bacon and grilled by Bobby Flay’s replacement on the Food Network, Jeff Tabels.  Yes, they were as good as they look. Mine was not that hot, but I saw others stick their scorched tongue in their glass of white wine to cool it down.

Poppers on the plate

Earlier in the day Jeff had put that smoker to good use and smoked a piece of salmon. I don’t like salmon except when it is smoked. Back to that lack of subtlety. This was full of smoky goodness. Nothing subtle about it at all. Great a squeeze of lemon, capers, raw red onion and creamy goodness.  It disappeared in a matter of minutes. We had to make sure he had a bite before we finished it off. Then, all manners aside, we were amongst friends here, we literally started picking the scraps off the skin!

The smoked salmon before it disappeared!

Next up, Dietzler Farms rib eye steaks and filet mignon wrapped in , what else, bacon, courtesy of our fearless leaders Tracy and Joe. They brought them, Jeff grilled them to a perfect medium rare. This guy is gooooood.

Dietzler Farms steaks grilling

There is nothing I hate more than an over cooked steak except overcooked scallops. Speaking of scallops, Jeff also grilled scallops, brushing them  in a simple combo of Golden Vadouvan curry and room temperature butter. I will have to say these are the best scallops I have ever had. They were cooked PERFECTLY.  Yes, I meant to shout that! Then Jeff goes and tells me this is the first time he ever cooked scallops and was nervous as hell. I don’t know how he did it because I have had many an overcooked scallop in many a high end restaurant.  But he did and I was grateful. This proves my theory that scallops should be treated simply. Grilled and a simple sauce and you are done. Leave them alone. Step away from the scallops. You had to say that to me because I certainly wanted to eat more than my fair share.

Perfectly cooked curried scallops

But wait, back to the steaks which were perfect as is until I tasted them with David’s compound butter. Ok, David showed up late to the party, as he was working his other job. I do blame him though for my overeating. I gotta blame someone. So I am done eating, except for dessert, and in waltzes David with this unassuming deli container of brown speckled stuff that he says is for the steak. Well, the steak was right in front of me, so I grab the knife and cut off a slice and shmeared some of this grey butter on it. Ohhhhhhhhh…”What the hell is in that David?” I ask, as I reach for the knife cut off another piece of steak  to shmear with more of this heaven. “It’s a classic beurre d’ escargot recipe that I have been wanting to make for years” he said. What that means is it is a compound butter with shallots, garlic,  parsley, absinthe, salt and pepper. He modified it by adding celery salt and replacing the regular garlic with black garlic. The black garlic made it sweeter and gave it more complexity. You need to make this. You can find black garlic at the Spice House. It is just fermented garlic. I call it magic. Needless to say, that knife got a little more use from me.

The perfect vehicle for beurre d' escargots

I said I was done eating, but I lied again. I haven’t even told you about the side dishes. This is why I had to imbibe in a little alka selzer when I got home. I haven’t done that in ages. Let’s see, where to start. Mary made an amazing barley and cannellini bean salad. Boy was this salad a mélange of flavors and textures. (I just like that word “mélange” and it totally fit this salad.) Pearled barley, thinly sliced fennel, walnuts, Dijon and cannellini beans. Mary even made the beans from scratch instead of just opening a can. You could tell the difference. I told you these were a bunch of serious foodies.

Jane with a plate of this amazing food!

Richard and Michael made a potato salad that was not your ordinary mayo drenched boring old potato salad. It blew mine away. I should have known not to bring the same thing, but I had already bought the potatoes and didn’t want them to rot away on my fridge. Richard said their potato salad was an homage to Michael’s father who was born in the Yucatan. He said he found the recipe years ago and modified this yummy mix of potatoes, poblano peppers, olives and eggs by using only very good olive oil, instead of the suggested vegetable oil, adding red peppers for sweetness and adding a bit of the Spice House’s Pilsen blend which has Mexican oregano and red pepper flakes in it. Flavorful and colorful, I am sure Michael’s father would be proud to have this tasty dish honoring him.

Richard and Michael are kale freaks just like me. They also simply tossed cleaned kale with a little olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice and let it sit covered on the counter for a few hours. This gently wilted the kale, making it edible raw. They served it with a great simple little cherry tomato salad and this amazing fresh Bulgarian Double Cream Feta. Oh this stuff was good. Sort of like a cross between cream cheese, brie and feta. A little salty and a whole lot creamy. This on a bagel would be heaven. They got it at Fresh Farms on Touhy and said it was only $4.99 a pound. Score!

Jane, Aaron & Joe enjoying the evening

I did bring a potato salad also, but that is all I am saying. It was good, but nothing close to as tasty as Richards. I also brought my new instant easy, told you I am lazy,  favorite, buckwheat noodles with shiso pesto. I made the pesto awhile ago with shiso from the Bloomington farm. You can also get it at any Asian grocery store. I think it is called pink mint also. The buckwheat noodles are also sold at the Asian grocery store. They are just so delicate and flavorful, yet subtle, and cook in minutes. I just tossed the pesto, a little extra sesame oil, corn and green beans with the buckwheat noodle, garnish with scallions. Done.

Last but certainly not least is dessert. Yes, I was stuffed already. That extra steak put me over the edge, thanks David, but there were still three, yes, three, desserts to tackle. I already told you about Jane’s delicious mixed berry pie about 2200 words ago! It is the best pie I have ever had. Really. I cannot think of one thing that I would change, except that she not hop the pond J   Good excuse as any to visit her in London.  Mary also made a lovely rustic plum gallette. See, we are all over achievers here. Like the barley salad was not enough, she just whipped up a plum gallette also. This is a woman with two jobs, a husband  and a teenage boy. Boy, I have no excuse to be lazy. She puts me to shame!

Tracy cutting the Sugarkist pie with a sneak peek of the yummy plum galette next to it.

Then there was the Coconut Cake with Saffron Cream from the September issue of Food and Wine that David also brought.  I told you I blame my overeating that night and my alka selzer cocktail on him. I don’t even like saffron. It tastes metallic to me, like a mixture of tin and blood. Don’t ask! This cake was so good though. The cream must have mellowed the saffron. Its flavor blended smoothly with the coconut.

This amazing cake went fast!

This dessert didn’t even have chocolate in it and I had one and a half pieces at the party and took two pieces home! Oops. Now everyone knows where all that cake went. Shoot. One piece was for Laurent. I wanted my wonderful husband to know the bliss of this coconut saffron cream cake, and the other piece was for me. I even publically threatened to decapitate him if he ate the other piece! Yes, it was that good and I have been watching too much True Blood, hence the violence! I also brought him a piece of Jane’s perfect pie. I made him share it with me, though 🙂 If I hadn’t brought it home, he would have never tasted it, hence the “commission” .

That my friends were one of the tastiest  parties I have ever been too, not to mention the wonderful conversations among friends. It really reminded me of my most favorite day on the face of this earth, New Years Eve. You’ve heard about that foodie frenzy  among friends that happens every year that I live for. This group of people is as special to me and as talented. I am so lucky to work with this amazing group of people. I vote to make this happen quarterly. Actually Mary and I decided these quarterly parties should be themed. Next quarter will be Spanish appetizers, paired with Spanish wine , of course. Sangria anyone? I might just have to kick it up a notch next time, now that I know what I am up against. Let the friendly competition begin!

An amazing group of people eating an amzing meal!

Good Luck in London Jane. You and your pies will be missed dearly!

1 Comment

Filed under Foodie Fun

Ain’t Nothin but a Hound Dog…

I have always wanted to go in the Hound Dog on Grand Ave. but never have. When I decided to start a blog I said this was going to be the first place I blogged about. Maybe it was my reason for starting a blog. Well you all know this is not my first blog post, although it may sound like it! Maybe I didn’t want to go in because I wanted to keep the romance of it alive.  In my mind, it was this great “find”; amazing food hidden in a store front that advertized burgers and teriyaki, egg sandwiches and bi bim bob. I was afraid to go in and have my illusion shattered, because I knew it most likely would be shattered, smashed, and then I would have to find a new place to fantasize about. I started passing it every Monday and Wednesday on my way to work about six months ago. Ohhh, maybe I would go in at lunch time. It was so close. Maybe I would stop for one of those $2.27 egg sandwiches on my way in.  Nope, never happened.  So when do I decide to go there? On my day off! Not that it is that far from my house. I needed a blog post. It was time….The fears started creeping in again. What if it totally sucked? I would have gone there for nothing and my little story would be ruined and I wouldn’t have a blog post. Well….being the HUGE gambler risk taker that I am (ha!) I decided I would write a blog post about it no matter what! Risky, huh? Plus I decided to go twice in one day. Once for breakfast and once for the Bi bim bob. Oh boy, this could be a very good day or a very bad day. I am trying to keep you in suspense. Is it working???? Ok here we go….

I love this sign.

I actually went to Hound Dog in my pjs, which also happen to be my work out clothes. Is that bad? Just don’t tell Stacy and Clinton from TLC’s What Not to Wear! I have always wanted to be on that show! Laurent doesn’t think I could get on it. I keep begging him to turn me in. I haven’t seen any cameras following me around yet. Damn!

So I packed up my peppermint tea and got in the car to head over to Hound Dog. Yes. I brought my own tea. I am a morning beverage snob. I was not about to drink Lipton!

Don't think this is cold brew!

I had noticed picnic tables outside when I drove by, so I wouldn’t be drinking it IN the restaurant.  I walk in and it is just what I expected. Menu boards with the plastic push in letters, molded fast food restaurant booths., Asian specials pasted on the walls printed on Astrobright paper from Kinkos.

But boy was it clean. It may smell like a fryer, had to throw my pjs in the wash after my visit, but it was clean. The line has a deep fryer, a flat top, a grill and a white apartment stove.  I ordered the egg sandwich.  The owner offered me white or wheat bread, English muffin, croissant or French bread. Wow, what a selection. I got it on French bread. That wasn’t $2.27, but it was still a steal at $3.50 or so. When I asked for cheese, there wasn’t that same choice like the bread. In fact he didn’t even ask me what kind I wanted. I knew what was coming, American cheese. Yes! There is a big neon sign in the front window that says Fast Food. Boy, was it fast. They weren’t lying. It was cooked fresh, but couldn’t have taken more than 2 minutes. The verdict. Screw you McDonalds Egg McMuffin. (Yes I do eat them once in awhile.) This egg sandwich blows you away! Think I might be craving this. Think I will probably stop on my way to work some Monday or Friday. Nothing fancy, but it did the job. I actually could barely finish it. The French bread took me straight back to my days working at my Aunt’s fast food restaurant. I am betting it was Gonella bread, which is made right here in Chicago, over by Chicago and Milwaukee.  We used it for our steak sandwiches. It smelled the same in Hound Dog as it did in 5 Points, my Aunt’s restaurant, just like a fryer! If the owner would have been wearing English Leather, like my uncle, the olfactory memory would have been complete!

I know you can't really see the sandwich, but it was $3.50, that's the important part!

Phew! Breakfast passed the test. It didn’t suck. You don’t know how happy that made me. I didn’t feel so bad about coming back here for lunch, although my stomach will probably beg to differ. I am sure I will be craving veggies for days. I better bring my lunch to work tomorrow.

Ok, fast forward to my lunch trip to Hound Dog. I am sure the owner recognized me. People seem to spot my orange hair a mile away and remember it.  I really wanted to get the teriyaki, because I think that is on the sign, but I don’t like teriyaki. I lied. I actually don’t think I  know when I have ever had teriyaki. The word brings on visions of red sickly sweet sauce on chicken. Not a good start. I am sure the real deal  in a good Japanese restaurant is amazing, but I don’t think Hound Dog was the right place for my initiation into the teriyaki world. I might be scarred for life. The egg sandwich was good, but I was not expecting miracle for lunch! I ordered bi bim bob, or BBB as the owner called out to his wife (?) who was doing the cooking. She cooked this up in about two minutes flat again. I guess it wasn’t rocket science and there were no foams, emulsions, reductions or sous vide to perform, but still, two minutes is fast. It was served in a real bowl too. A plastic bowl, but real, not a Styrofoam to go container. It saves them money, but I was still surprised. In fact, it was the same Asian bowl that I have at home. Yes, my bowls at home are plastic. They are the perfect size and shape and I haven’t found any ceramic ones to replace them yet. We eat mostly Asian food at home anyways, so it is fitting.

I ate outside again. This time I purchased a beverage. I am more of a morning beverage snob than anything. The bi bim bob was ok. Not great, but not inedible either. Would I order it again? Probably not. Have I had worse food? Yes, at the casino in our hotel in Green Bay a few years ago at Thanksgiving. Inedible Caesar Salad. Since when are there olives in a Caesar Salad? And how can you ruin a Caesar salad? Don’t ask me how, but they did. At least this resembled bi bim bob. Like I said. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t memorable at all though. Which can be a good thing. I wish I could forget that Caesar salad!

Here is where I start getting philosophical on you since I have already told you about the food. This place just had a good vibe. When I was there I saw every kind of person come in; city workers, two blond girls (don’t know how else to describe them!), hipsters, a Hispanic family, an older Asian woman and some guys who looked like architects or something! And they all seemed like regulars.  Here was a couple, living the American dream. They owned their own business doing what they knew how to do , cook. It was an honest living. They don’t run in food circles, they don’t judge you, they don’t offer you their politics. They cook and serve you fast cheap food. I  get soooo tired of  the food world with all the competition, the nasty back stabbing and the  gossip. Did you hear so and so serves rice in his restaurant? And mangos? And uses vanilla extract  in his desserts? Oh my gosh! What a crime. Those items don’t grow in the Midwest.  He should be shot!  Did you hear so and so is selling their restaurant? It must not be busy enough. Did you hear so and so is no longer working at so and so and said that…….blah blah blah. So much hypocrisy and one upping and political crap. It’s exhausting.

Was the food at the Hound Dog the best food in the world? No. Did my stomach hurt a little after eating there twice in one day? Yes. (Everything in moderation.) Would I come back? Yes. It was nice to just go and order an egg sandwich. A simple, plain, cheap egg sandwich., without a side of attitude and political correctness. And I am not embarrassed to say that I enjoyed it.

Hound Dog Burger and Teriyaki    2257 W. Grand Ave.   312-666-5797


Filed under Cafes

Coming soon to a bar near you….

Oh boy, am I in trouble…..I have been MIA for a few weeks.  Here comes my excuse…I have been totally immersed in a Nia White Belt training for seven days, twelve hours a day.  And I had to get ready for my birthday party and then I had my birthday party and then I had to recover from my birthday party enough to tell you about it.  That should cover those few weeks. Phew! I know, I know, you are going what the heck is a Nia White Belt Training? Nia is something else that I am totally passionate about, just like food. It is the only form of exercise that I do and the only thing that I have stuck with…ever…for eight years now.   Nia is a form of movement that combines martial arts, dance arts and healing arts. Nia is all about Mind, Body, Emotion and Spirit. It is exercise and therapy all in one, and boy do I need both! There is no way I could describe the life changing experience I had without going over 3,000 words, so I will spare you. All I can say is click on the link find yourself a Nia class and give it a shot. I highly recommend Jamie Klausing’s classes. She is a Nia Black Belt that has been practicing for twelve years. She truly is an amazing teacher, an inspiration and a friend.

Here we go, my birthday party. Don’t ask how old, that is rude, you know. It is enough to say that I have stopped counting, or can’t count that high. Whatever. You probably want to know how much I weight now too, huh? No go on that one for sure. Actually, I would probably rather tell you my weight than my age!  See, I didn’t forget how to go on a tangent…and you were worried!

My birthday party is really the only party we have every year. I keep saying that we need to change that. My favorite thing to do is hang out with friends, especially my friends, because they are all foodies and amazing cooks. I guess I wouldn’t be hanging out with people who weren’t my friends or other people’s friends. Although that is how we got a lot of our friends. They were other people’s friends first, friends of friends and now they are some of our most favorite people on the face of the earth.  I am jumping into these tangents full force.

While there was good food at this party, that is a given, the focus was really on the booze this time! The theme was “cocktails” and not just any old cocktail like tired cosmopolitans or boring gin and tonics, cocktails made with the syrups I am making for the syrup company I am launching in the fall. Hmmmm, does that mean I can write off this party? I hope so. I invited my accountant.

I asked everyone to bring a bottle of booze, well, groups of people, otherwise that would have been out of control. At that our liquor cabinet is still full. I suggested that not everyone bring vodka, so everybody brought gin instead! It was funny. Actually that was said mostly for effect, mostly. We did have a lot of gin. We did have some creative bottles, though, too. Margaret brought grappa, excellent canvas. Erica got all old school and cleaned out her father’s liquor cabinet, just like in high school, and brought  Godiva , obviously we went to high school in two different decades, Kahlua, Crème de Banana, Harvey’s Bristol Cream and Amaretto. Luckily we didn’t get desperate enough to use the Harvey’s Bristol Cream. Although that would have been my choice over the cocktail made with ketchup and mustard. Sort of like a Bloody Mary, but not good, at all. Sorry Bil. Can’t say my friends are not creative.

I started out by trying all the cocktails people were making. Oh boy did that practice end soon! Yikes! Way to get trashed fast. This was my 34th birthday, not my 21st. (Don’t even think of writing in to tell me about my “typo”) It’s funny, as people were mixing away they would comment, “oh, this one is not so exciting”, and I would say, “Why don’t you just dump it and start over?” That was ALWAYS met with a “We can’t WASTE it!” It’s not like thirsty alcoholics in rural Appalachia would benefit from these drinks if you didn’t drink them. Waste them, so you do not get wasted people. Oops, too late.

Chris was the only smart one, she made tiny cocktails, tasters really. Boy does she have a great palate. The very first drink she made was named “Coke”. It was Godiva, club soda and Café de Olla Syrup (Brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, molasses and orange extract). It really did taste like Coca Cola. Don’t ask me how, but it did. Really. I still had my wits and my taste buds at that point.

Mindy made a good one with the Café de Olla Syrup also, and vermouth, mint and apricot nectar. Those are the drinks that intrigued me, the drinks made with the spiced syrups like Cardamom Rose Water, the Café de Olla and the Fig Vanilla Black Pepper.

Dana Joy of Real Food Rehab was also a natural, naturally. Her one drink contribution was sake, lychee and Lemongrass Shiso Syrup.  I think she only had one cocktail. How was that possible? I think the Bills and the Davids made up for it, so it all worked out in the end. Sort of.

The most interesting booze of the night arrived late, but we managed to polish off half a bottle of it. Richard and Michael brought Saffron Infused Gin made by a micro distiller in Dijon, France. Way to go boys.

This stuff was the color of my hair, a beautiful shade of orange and very unique. We all jumped on it. Laurent made an excellent drink with the saffron gin, lemon juice, lemon twist, mint, Hibiscus Basil Orange Blossom Syrup and fresh peach juice that our overachiever friend Seth juiced from Michigan peaches from the farmers market. Not a combo that I would have thought of at all, but boy did it work.

Another interesting alcohol was the bottle that Liz brought. We don’t know what it is! She has moved it from apartment to apartment to apartment and decided to put it out of its misery by bringing it to the party. Perfect. The writing on the bottle is Japanese, all Japanese. Hmmmmm. It looks and smells like a sake that has been aged in wood barrels. Not that I really know what a sake aged in wood barrels looks or smells like. It tastes a little like a whiskey but smoother. If anyone has any insight, send it my way. We went through a quarter bottle of it. I don’t see any recipes using it though.

As I go through the notebook I put out, I see tons of recipes from Jen and Bil. I am glad my friends took this task I put upon them so seriously. I kept screaming “Write it down” all night, but I don’t think anyone listened but those two. And Bil took it a step further and actually wrote down proportions. He is one serious mixologist or at least one serious drinker. (I shall leave that one alone.)

Jen took it a step further and named her soon to be infamous signature cocktail creation of Prosecco, gin, lemon zest and Tangerine Lavender Honey Syrup. People were already asking for it by name at the party. Coming to a bar near you soon…the Dutch 74. It has quite a ring to it, doesn’t it? I asked Jen if the name had any significance.  She said (or texted)  “ It’s based on a French 75, so I named it after my ancestry and year of birth.” (Oops, gave away your age if people are not too lazy to do the math. Not something you have to worry about yet, like some of us!) How awesome is that? It kicks a French 75s butt! Now who wants to be the first to put it on their cocktail menu? Violet Hour? Whistler? Come on, give the Dutch 74 its righteous place in cocktail history.

Now to wade through all the recipes and first figure out what the heck they say, as you could guess, it gets more illegible as the night continues, and then figure out proportions. (You can only ask drunk people to write down so much, besides Bil, who is on the almost on the cusp of Virgo, which explains it, in my mind, at least!)

Sounds like another party in the making!

"The Trouble Twins"


Filed under Foodie Fun

Two fronts walk into a bar…

That, my friends, is what my Kansas City trip was all about, inside jokes and laughing until we cried. It was a nonstop laugh fest from the second we hit Iowa at 77 miles an hour, which resulted in a speeding ticket, but plenty of laughs, well worth the $120 price of admission.

We started off early Saturday morning, Laurent, me and Friend X. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Well, she’s not so innocent, but I promised I would protect her anyways!) We were heading to Kansas City for the heck of it. Well, really, we were going on a reconnaissance mission to check out this snow cone truck, Fresher than Fresh. Even KC, which completely shuts down on Sundays, more about that later, has food trucks. Come on, Chicago, you are sooooo far behind the times. You are willing to let a city in Missouri be more progressive than you? Sad.

We decided to take the smaller roads hoping to find some small towns to stop in and explore. Well, we stopped alright, or were stopped, doing 77 miles an hour in Hwy 80 in Iowa. Oops.  We were actually very lucky.  The cop was very nice. We were nervous, of course, when he asked where we were going, Kansas City. Why? To check out a snow cone truck.  How did we know each other? Friend X used to be my boss. Why I didn’t just say “friend”, I don’t know. He said “I’m just trying to figure you guys out”. Then he looks in the back seat and sees Laurent sitting there quiet as a mouse. He asks how he fits in the picture and Laurent, nervous as heck to be stopped by a cop in Iowa, says “I’m her wife”. (Oops. I promised Laurent I wouldn’t spill those beans. Don’t tell him, ok. That was the funniest part of the trip. I couldn”t keep it from you, dear readers.) I throw in “husband” and the cop goes to look up X’s registration. Let the laugh fest begin! Oh my gosh, we were in tears. Let me tell you that joke did not die the entire trip. I don’t think we will ever let it go. Poor Laurent. Well, the cop comes back and asks if we have any marijuana in the car or meth or cocaine or heroin. I don’t know if he saw us cracking up or what. Funny, he never asked about alcohol. The meth comment supplied us with even more material for our laugh fest. We were off to a good start!

I think it was then and there that X found a spot on the map about 100 miles away and circled it and wrote “Beer” on the map. So, that was our destination, Chariton.  That is when I had my first Budweiser in probably in 20 years, and hopefully my last. That is always my question when people say they love dive bars. What the heck do you drink? I guess know I am just a snob. Of course, when we walked in, all eyes turned and stared. We were the only two women in the bar and definitely the only Chinese! It was all good, though. The beer was cold and cheap.

Speaking of beer, Boulevard Brewery was our first stop when we rolled into town at 6:00ish, eleven hours after we started!! That Bud wasn’t going to hold us much longer. So, we pull up to Boulevard looking for the tap room, just to be told by the security guard that it doesn’t exist. What do you mean a brewery with no tap room? I guess it has to do with backwards Missouri law; they cannot sell beer on premise. We later took a tour, on Sunday, as it was the only thing to do in KC as everything else was closed. We were able to sample beer, but couldn’t buy a pint or even a six pack. The beer we brought home, we had to buy elsewhere.  So, it is 7:00 and we are still without beer. We headed over to 17th and Summit to West Side Local and had a few Boulevards. They have a great outdoor patio, but it was still 95 degrees outside and we weren’t willing to brave it.

When I started researching where and what to eat in KC, I came across Ferverve, a tiny artisan bakery at 17th and Summit.  This was a great little corner. They are not only closed on Sundays, they are closed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday also! They close at 2:00 on Saturday.  When I told Friend X this, over our Budweiser in Iowa, she was as upset as I was about this unbelievable fact. X is a business woman and could not fathom only being open three days a week. She said she wanted to peek in the window anyways, just to even see it. I joked that the blinds would probably be pulled. They were! Laurent suggested she peek through the mail slot, which she thought about attempting, but it was way too low!

Now we were getting hungry and decided that this was the night for BBQ. We heard that Jack Stack had great “burnt ends”, so that’s where we went.  We did brave the patio here, as they were the only seats in the house.  The burnt ends were good, but nothing compared to the lamb ribs and short ribs. I have never had lamb ribs before. I don’t think I have ever even seen them on a menu. They should be on every menu. The gaminess was the perfect complement to the sweetness of the bbq sauce. These were lean very tender ribs, but I found a little fat to munch on. I love lamb fat. Small tangent- My grandfather used to roast whole lambs on a spit in the back yard when we were kids. We would all stand around the spit with forks pulling off the salty fatty skin once it got crispy enough. Yum. I don’t know if I have ever had bbq short ribs either. Or if I have, they were not half as tender as these, fall off the bone goodness.

This not so light but very tasty bbq, a few beers and eleven hours in a car made it bedtime, so off to check into our hotel. Not so fast….they were overbooked and we got bumped…to another state! Nooooooo. So much for the convenient roll out of bed and grab a coffee the next morning plan. It was back in the car for another 15 miles before we could take a shower and rest our weary heads. I guess that is what happens when your hubby works for the hotel and you are only paying $49 for a room.

Sunday in Kansas City. This was when we found out that absolutely everything on my list was CLOSED!! Hello….why didn’t anyone tell me this? Cute little breakfast place, closed. Coffee bar/wine bar, closed.  Chocolate shop, closed. Alrighty then. One place that was open and the reason we came here, the snow cone trailer, over on 17th and Summit. That corner is tiny, but has everything you need. We found ourselves over there quite a few times on the trip.

First, breakfast. We ended up in the Westport district.  The only place open was Simply Breakfast. We had seen it the night before. Cool space, although they could have done so much more with it.  Counter service, I’m a huge fan.  The place was busy, but there was no hustle bustle and we only ever saw two people, one working the counter and one bussing/running. This was weird coming from Chicago where we were totally staffed up on a Sunday with a line out the door.  No espresso machine. Laurent would have to live. No numbers for your table, just a name given. That didn’t seem efficient to me. It was weird; you could not smell any food cooking at all. Guess I am used to tiny breakfast places with an open kitchen and a non working hood spewing cooking fumes into the dining room. We weren’t in Kansas Chicago anymore though.  We joked that maybe alien body snatchers on meth had taken over the diner! (Guess you had to be there. I knew our jokes weren’t going to translate!) Breakfast was good. Egg sandwich on a biscuit which was light a fluffy and only $5.99. Damn.  The whole time, though, we talked about how we could have done it better! Hazard of being in the industry.

We had slept in, so by this time it was time for snow cones! Yay! (I won’t lie; there was a beer in between breakfast and snow cones!)

So we headed back to 17th and Summit to “the garden”.  Such a great environment and the vintage trailer parked in the corner with a line a mile long. The snow cone trailer is called “Fresher than Fresh” and it was hotter than hot outside, so it was the perfect treat.  Let the “recon” begin. So many flavors to choose from, good thing they had a sampler. Perfect. Blackberry lavender, green tea pear, lemon verbena, pineapple Serrano, lemon prickly pear. All refreshing and light. I think prickly pear was my favorite. Don’t think I even know what prickly pear is. I’m going to have to Google that. We drove over 500 miles for these treats so after the sampler we jumped in the line again to get a full size espresso and Mexican cane sugar snow cone. That was going to be Laurent’s caffeine fix for the day. This might have been my favorite. Better than a Frappucino any day, and only $3.00. Hmmm, I’m getting some ideas here. Stay tuned!

Ok, dinner was inevitable at this point, but where should we eat? What was open? Lydia Bastianich has a place in KC, so we went there. Lydia must not spend much time in KC. The room was dated and the food, corporate, but you could buy her cookbooks and jarred pasta sauce at the host stand! It wasn’t bad, just huge portions; I guess we were in KC, bland flavors and doughy pasta. At least get the pasta right, come on. I was expecting hoping for a Mario Batali experience. He is not in his restaurants that often, but the people who are damn well know how to cook! Oh well. It served a purpose. We were fed.

Excitement, we needed a little excitement. Frozen treats provided that before, I bet it would work again. Ice cream. We “needed” ice cream.  So we set the GPS to 4960 Main St. This was the address of Glace, artisan ice cream from Christopher Elbow, the local chocolatier, whose chocolate shop was closed on Sunday. By now Friend X had started calling the GPS “The lady”. That joke didn’t die for awhile. “The lady” was actually not a lot of help finding Glace. The streets got a little screwy. She’s not so good with one ways and street closures. In fact, an entire town in KC was missing! Anyways, I eventually got us to Glace. I was not going to miss out on ice cream with flavors like Farmer Bob’s sweet corn, fleur de sel caramel, Venezuelan spiced chocolate and salty pretzel, a small cup, which allowed you to choose two flavors, was only $3.75. I love KC prices. So that meant six flavors between the three of us. YES! Sweet corn was my favorite. It won over caramel. That’s saying a lot for me, as I am addicted to caramel. The fleur de sel caramel came in a close second though.

We said goodbye to KC the next day, but not before one more adventure, the search for the Maid Rite! Driving to KC I had seen a highway exit sign that said Maid Rite. I swear I had read about Maid Rite in Saveur. (How I remembered this and not where I put my keys, I don’t know!) I said “I think Maid Rite is a concept from the 30’s in this part of the country that serves “loose meat” sandwiches.” I was met with silence from Laurent and Friend X. I said “I could be wrong. But I think that is what it is.” I just said this part about being wrong to be polite. I knew I was right. Laurent and X were of the same camp, that “loose meats” didn’t sound like it could be right at all. Time to pull out X’s  I Phone. Oh ya…who was right? Yup, me. This is somewhat of a family blog (I was going to say respectable, but thought that was stretching It.) so I won’t repeat the obscenities I yelled  out.. Why we didn’t turn around and go to the Maid Rite then and there I don’t know,  because it haunted us for the rest of the trip. I was determined to find another on the way home. I’ll tell you right now it didn’t happen, although there was a fruitless ten mile detour through Springfield that turned up a shuttered sandwich shop with the same name. This detour also produced this great picture. No, we didn’t stop, just laughed and shuddered as we drove by.

We had time for one more adventure before we got home. Missouri was full of hoots and hollers. We stopped in Columbia, where X’s friends had gone to college. She was texting away trying to find a reco for where to eat and have a beer. Booches, her friend John said. Between her I phone, Laurent’s Blackberry’s GPS and “The lady” and directions from the guy at the hot dog cart (See, even Columbia MO has food carts! Sad, Chicago, sad.) we found it. It was a dive bar that had been around since the 1884 with burgers, pool tables and beer.  This is a dive bar with excellent beer though and the burgers  served on wax paper were voted Top Ten Burgers in 200 by USA Today. Score. This was no place for outsiders, though. I got a weird vibe the second I sat down.  It’s like the hackles were raised on the backs of the bartenders and regulars. We were served but not very willingly We ordered our beer and burgers. I was so excited. The burgers looked great. Laurent pulled out the camera to take some pics and that’s when the weird vibe was proven. The owner, I assume, came over and said “We respect people’s privacy here. This is not a zoo or a public place…………”  We were dumbfounded.  We weren’t in Kansas Chicago anymore. This resulted in another round of hysterical laughing and was fuel for more laugh until you cry moments the entire was home.  Basically it was their way of saying “You are not welcome here.”  I guess we were in Missouri, huh? Apparently.  Here is the one picture Laurent got in before we were yelled at.  There are plenty of pictures out there of Booches’ burgers, so cameras didn’t seem to be the problem.  They just didn’t like “our type”.

So, hopefully, you are still with me. I know it was a long one. All in all, the trip to Kansas City was a success. It was not what I expected, but so much more. It was a recon mission that resulted in tons of inspiration, a new direction, and validation.  It was a chance to bond with friends, laugh until you cried, or spit out your coffee or choked on your water.  I could tell you the punch line for “Two fronts walk into a bar”…but you probably wouldn’t laugh. You just had to be there.


Filed under road trips, Uncategorized

Kale, kitties and caterpillars…

Last weekend we headed down to Bloomington, where Laurent has some veggies planted. Don’t ask why we couldn’t plant them right here in Chicago. It has proven to be harder to get down to Bloomington than we thought it was going to. You know, life just gets in the way. In my mind it is already Halloween, with all the weekends planned up the fall. So much for spontaneity!  Needless to say, the two other couples Laurent planted the garden with hadn’t made it down much either.

We were greeted with weeds as tall as the tomato plants and entire zucchini plants decimated by these evil looking white armored beetle bugs. Jerks!  That’s ok, I don’t like zucchini anyways!  The ones that did survive could easily yield a half dozen loaves of zucchini bread (with chocolate chips of course).  We were too overwhelmed to pull weeds; they grow back anyways, what’s the point? So we surveyed the rest of the plots. The banana peppers were looking good. They always remind me of my grandma. She used to pickle them and then eat them straight out of the jar, even the spicy ones. The Brussels sprouts were just starting to get little nubs on them.  I remember studying a Brussels sprout plant in my grandma’s garden for a science project in 7th grade; noting the activity of the insects whose entire world was this plant.  Gardens always remind me of my grandma. I remember picking lettuce straight out of her garden, washing it and eating it with just a little white vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.  She used to make whistles out of the scallion greens by just snipping them and blowing into them. I don’t know if I ever mastered that skill. My sister and I would spend endless hours shelling beans in the back yard, amazed by the kaleidoscope of colors the inside beans presented to us. The speckled purple ones were my favorites. Yup, that was the first tangent of this post! Back to this garden.  Pickles were larger than the garlicky monsters in a Jewish deli. We couldn’t find the beets anywhere. There were enough tomato plants to put Ragu out of business! I better find a good tomato sauce recipe fast. Actually one more little tangent about my grandma. Tangents about grandmas are totally acceptable. You wouldn’t want to cut me off now, would you? My grandma actually makes the best spaghetti sauce in the world and she’s not even Italian. She’s Serbian. She walked me through it recently. Two of her secrets are bacon fat, for flavor, and shredded zucchini for texture and nutrition. Maybe I should have brought one of those monsters home! Hope I remember her instructions when we are up to our ears in tomatoes.

The veggies I was most excited about were the chard, kale and shiso. The rainbow chard was untouched by those evil beetles, so we brought it home and sautéed it up with some garlic, shallots and mushrooms. Easy tasty healthy dinner. That’s all I really need.

I love exotic flavors. You can keep your oregano and sage, give me shiso. Shiso is also known as Perilla and is sometimes called Japanese basil. It is a member of the mint family and its flavor is lemony, grassy and fresh. Although it is very distinct, I think it is subtle at the same time. (Just like me! Ha!) When you go to a Vietnamese restaurant and order any of the dishes that allow you to “roll your own” spring rolls, they will bring a platter of sprouts and herbs and noodles. Shiso is usually one of those herbs. My favorite dish to do this with is #13 Bo Nuong Cuon Banh Trang at Hai Yen on Argyle Street.  You can also order “Beef Seven Ways” there. Do it!

This is a nice clear pic so you can see what shiso looks like.

Ok, back to shiso. We harvested a bunch of this lovely fragrant herb and on the way home I was trying to figure out what to do with it. I had used some before to make a lemongrass shiso syrup for my start up syrup company. I am hoping to have Paul at the Whistler try it in cocktails. But what else could I do with it. We couldn’t eat that many spring rolls in one sitting. It is called Japanese basil so I decided to make pesto with it.  I wanted to make it Asiany, but thought it would be good in a more traditional version. I decided to make two versions, one with almonds and shallots and one with ginger, scallions and sesame oil. I think both would be excellent on pasta, either angel hair or buckwheat depending which version you were using. It would also give a fresh spin on fish, choosing your sides to reflect either an Asian influence like bok choy and shitake or a more Italian flair like eggplant and spinach.  You can buy shiso at the Asian grocery store on Argyle.  For the pesto, just throw everything in the Cuisinart and blend until smooth-ish. Unless you soak the almonds, or use sliced almonds, the pesto will be a little chunky, but I love texture.

This is my artsy fartsy picture of shiso.

Shiso Pesto Version 1

1 ½ cups shiso leaves

½ shallot

3 Tbl almonds

½ cup olive oil

¼ tsp kosher salt

Few shakes of white pepper

Shiso Pesto Version 2

1 ½ cups shiso leaves

2 scallions, rough chopped

3 tsp ginger, rough chopped

2 Tbl almonds

1/3 cup sesame oil

¼ cup olive oil

¼ tsp kosher salt

Few shakes of white pepper

Ok, We’re not done cooking here yet. I haven’t even got to the kale. I love kale. If I hadn’t named this blog “that’s not lettuce”, I would have named it “kale is your friend”. I discovered kale later in life, although I do remember wearing a kale garnish as a brooch once in a younger drunken state!  Now I can’t get enough of it. Like I said, those evil beetles hadn’t touched my beloved kale, so we harvested away. Laurent’s idea of harvesting, though, was pulling the entire plant out of the ground and taking it with us! Ok, that worked. It seems like Ozzie, one of our cats loved the kale as much as I do. He wouldn’t stop trying to eat it.

Bad cat!

Another entity or should I say entities that loved the kale as much as me and Ozzie were about two dozen caterpillars, which we found as we plucked the leaves from the stalks and triple washed them. First I thought they were inch worms, but when they didn’t get all slinky like on me, I figured it out. I don’t think these were “good guys” and got kind of freaked out seeing two dozen of them crawling around in my sink. If anything, it proved the kale was organic.

Bad caterpillar!

Now we had a gigantic bowl of kale. What were we going to do with it? I remember both Richard and Nicole, who I work with, singing the praises of kale chips. So that is what we did. It was super easy and now we have a big Ziploc of a super healthy addictive snack. I’m surprised it actually even accumulated, as we ate at least one whole cookie sheet as soon as it cooled down. Who needs potato chips? (Unless they are Tyrrells sea salt and black pepper, which I ate an entire bag of the other day. Shhhhh. Let’s hope Laurent skips reading this post!)  All you do is toss the kale with a little olive oil and sea salt, lay it on a cookie sheet and bake it in an oven preheated to 350° for about 10 minutes. Don’t crowd it. It will steam instead of bake if you do. Be careful, it will burn, but you also don’t want to pull it out too early, or it will be too chewy. I had a blast trying different spices and salts on it. My favorite was a little bit of smoked paprika. Coming in a close second was a Japanese smoked salt.  I love smoky flavors, as much as I love kale.

So, that was our little mini Bloomington harvest. We did pick squash blossoms also, but I don’t think I did them justice. I’ll have to get some pointers for the next attempt. I’ll leave you with a picture of them, as they were prettier than they tasted.


Filed under Recipes, road trips

More modified modernized Chinese Cuisine…Aka…What I brought to Landi’s 4th of July party

I don’t know when the last time I ate Chinese food  in a restaurant was. Actually I take that back. We ate at Lao Shanghai last night and it was good, very good. I had not had the same experience at Lao Beijing, where they served tortillas with the Beijing Duck. Tortillas! This was not supposed to be fusion food for Pete’s sake. Lao means “old” in Chinese, “classic”.  We go out for Thai food and Vietnamese food a lot, but rarely do we go out for Chinese food. Laurent being from Taiwan and then living in LA and San Fran during his formative years is not so impressed with the Chinese food in Chicago. He complains that it is mostly old school Cantonese which tends to be heavy and goopy. My experience with Chinese food before I met Laurent was chop suey, egg foo young and bad fried rice at Golden Dragon. (Laurent deemed it inedible when I took him there.) He also informed me that Chop Suey means miscellaneous leftovers, or scraps! Not something you really want to order at a restaurant and it is prevalent on Chinese menus here in Chicago. He also said that he had no clue what egg foo young was!

With the slim pickings for good Chinese food in Chicago, we started creating our own.  We modernized old school classics like Ma Po Tofu and Ants Climbing up a Tree, (which is much more appetizing than it sounds! It is so named as the ground pork on top of the cellophane noodles looks like ants climbing on tree branches.) by replacing ground pork with diced tofu and lightening up the sauce.  Our version of congee, classically a peasant dish consisting of a tiny bit of rice and watered down pork stock, thousand year old eggs and scallions tastes nothing like the MSG laden versions in restaurants.  It took me years before I would even taste it when Laurent made it.  It is now my “go to” comfort food when I am sick. Made with a rich homemade chicken stock and lots of ginger, it is the perfect cold buster.  Again, we skip the pork and double up on the ginger, although we do leave in the thousand year old eggs, as I have developed a taste for them.  Don’t ask; Google it. I am not even going to provide a link because you probably won’t associate with me after you do read about them. They are not as gross as they sound. It’s really more of a texture and visual thing to get used to. Now stinky tofu, that’s another story. I spit that out and am traumatized forever from it. It may smell like a good stinky taleggio, but trust me; it does not taste like one, AT ALL! Shudder! Even Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain can’t handle it. So there.

To figure out how to make these classic dishes, we have a collection of very simple cookbooks from the Wei-Chun Cooking School in Taiwan which are written in both Chinese and English The recipes are easy and clearly written, at least Laurent says the Chinese part are. In all fairness, the English translation is not that bad, I can figure out what “crash into powder and cut into slanting slices” means. The directions are concise and no nonsense, very Chinese.

Don't ask me why it is called Chinese Salad Dressing. Bad translation?

While we may not ever attempt Intestine Rings on Green Onion Fingers or Orchid Ham, even though the picture is quite “beautiful”, we have perfected and modernized Spicy Cold Chicken Noodles. It’s the perfect dish to bring to a potluck in the summer, just ask our friends. They are probably sick of it by now.

You only need a few special ingredients for this dish and you could probably make it without them. It would definitely change the flavor, as the ingredients are very distinct tasting, but, you know what, “whatever”. You will have created a new dish and not known what it should have tasted like, so it’s all good! These “exotic” ingredients are sesame paste and Szechwan peppercorns. I love sesame; Sesame oil, sesame paste, sesame candy. (Damn I should have gotten some sesame candy when I was at the Asian grocery store. It’s like peanut brittle, but better.) You may be saying “tahini is sesame paste, could I just use that?” Yes, you could. I prefer the Chinese sesame paste, though, as it is roasted. Because it is made from roasted sesame seeds, the flavor is deeper, richer and more intense, just like I like it. You know I am not much for subtle. The other ingredient that will give this dish a very distinct flavor is Szechwan peppercorns. I know no substitute for them, although I have used Grains of Paradise before, not that you can find that in the McCormick Spice Rack at The Jewel either!  The recipe calls for Szechwan peppercorn powder which I could not find for the life of me in my pantry or at Asian market. I just ended up crushing the whole peppercorns with a knife steel. I prefer the powder, though, as it more evenly distributes the distinct flavor.  We also use one other specialty ingredient, which is a roasted chili flake. The only English writing on it says Hot and Spicy Sauce; not so descriptive.  It’s sort of scary, as there are peanuts in it too, but they are not listed anywhere on the ingredient list. I do put out the warning when I use this condiment. The only way I find it every time in the store is by the weird black and white picture of the solemn Chinese woman on the front! I like it because it is pure roasted chili flavor. I don’t like the vinegary tang of Sriracha or Tabasco in this application. You can use regular chili flakes or some sort of dried chili powder also.

Beware of the unmarked peanuts lurking inside.

So, finally, here is the recipe, after yet another tangent filled blog post.

The amounts on the veggies are guesstimates. Use as much or as little as you like. There is plenty of sauce. Feel free to sub veggies, use different noodles, sub tahini, use veg stock, however you feel like altering it. Make it yours; we made it ours.

This low brow dish can be plated to look fancy shmancy.

Spicy Cold Chicken Noodles

(section 1)

3-4 oz soba noodles

2 chicken breasts

2 cups of mung bean sprouts

1 English cucumber, peeled

½ bunch of watercress leaves, picked from the main stems

2 carrots, peeled

Small red pepper

2 cups snow pea pods or green beans

(section 2)

3 Tbl minced green onion

2 Tbl minced ginger

1 Tbl minced garlic

2/3 cup cold chicken stock

5 Tbl soy sauce

3 Tbl and 2 tsp sesame paste

3 Tbl sesame oil

2 Tbl lime juice

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp chili paste (depending on what you are using, you may want to start lower and ramp up!)

1 tsp crushed Szechuan peppercorns (reduce to ¾ tsp if you find the powder)

1 ½ Tbl white vinegar

½ tsp salt

Boil the noodles until cooked, drain and rinse under cold water, drain and pat dry.

Coat with a little sesame oil, so they don’t stick together.

Add chicken to boiling water and poach for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.

Let cool and shred.

Julienne the carrots and cucumber on a mandolin.

Thinly slice the red pepper and snow pea pods on the bias

Mix all the ingredients in section two together to make the sauce. Adjust taste as needed.

Toss together the noodles, veggies and chicken.

Toss with the sauce.

Garnish with sliced green onions or mint or cilantro.

Notes:  The noodles tend to soak up the sauce, so I wouldn’t toss it until you are almost ready to serve it. You may want to use thinly sliced grilled chicken or pulled roasted chicken. The poached chicken has a distinct texture that may take some getting used to.

Thanks for playing “Yen Can Cook” and have a nice day.


Filed under Recipes

My ‘Ode to Cold Brewed Iced Coffee…

Warning: This is going to be a loooong post, as I am crazy passionate about cold brewed iced coffee. Plus it was written while jacked up on cold brew, which will explain some but not all of the rambling! But you will be rewarded with a recipe, a source for instant cold brew, and a list of places that serve it in Chicago. As of yesterday, it ‘tis the season for iced coffee here in Chicago.  So, grab a cold brew, settle in and read on…..

Cold Brewed Iced Coffee….is there any other way? That is a rhetorical question. Or if you insist on the answer, it is “no”. Wait, “NO!” There is no other way to make or drink iced coffee, besides cold brew. I was converted a few years ago at the café. One of our cooks, Cara, said that Stubbs Coffee (no longer in business) made cold brewed iced coffee and it was a million times better than coffee that was hot brewed and cooled down. I was like “Ya, right.”  Rachel, our baker, concurred with Cara and vouched for how amazing it was. Well, Rachel has amazing taste in food and drink and drinks a TON of iced coffee, so I figured I better go check out this cold brew. Cara and Rachel were right. It was absolutely amazing. It reminded me of drinking wine.  You could taste the terroir, the “sense of place”, and all the nuances of the bean.  It tasted of chocolate, of blueberries, of caramel. There was no bitterness, only richness and depth of flavor. It was a completely different animal. I think an amazing tasting would be to cold brew two or three coffees from different origins and taste the nuances. I am confident that they would taste completely different.

It turns out that cold brewed iced coffee is less acidic than regular coffee.  It has 60% less acid than hot brewed coffee. Why, I don’t know. That might be a question for Neil or Jake at Crop to Cup. Want to weight in here guys?  Because of this fact, it is the only coffee I can drink. I had to ironically give up coffee when I owned the café, as the acid was killing my stomach and had me doubled over in pain; not conducive to a morning rush at all.

It also happens that “cold brew”, which I am now officially shortening it to, has more caffeine than regular coffee.  Tangent- I guess the grammatically correct way of describing this method of brewing coffee would be cold brewed iced coffee. But since when am I ever grammatically correct? I incorrectly and some would say obnoxiously call it “cold brew ice coffee”, dropping the “ed” on brewed and on iced. I overheard someone say how it was their pet peeve when people said “ice coffee” That is should be “iced coffee”. Whatever. Hope they don’t read this blog! They probably don’t. Ok, back on track. Cold brew has a ton more caffeine in it. Again, why, I don’t know? Jake? Neil? I can attest to this in a few ways. #1- that even Rachel, the caffeinated chef, couldn’t drink it after 3:00. Wow! Potent stuff! #2 – it gets me so jacked up, it is not even funny. I am talking head buzzing, heart pounding, talk a mile a minute, jacked up.  Maybe it is because I don’t drink it that often, I don’t know, (Neil? Jake?)  But watch out when I do. I end up writing super long blog posts that barely stay on subject! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Jeff, if you are reading this, you should not drink three of these either!

Now, the big question is, where do you get this amazing drug?  That’s the hard part, at least in Chicago it is.  Not many places cold brew ice coffee. Why? Because it is time consuming, a batch needs to “steep” for 12-24 hours, it takes up a lot of room, we used to have six eight quart containers steeping at one time at the café, and your yield is half that of hot brewed coffee, which equals double the food cost. So, if you do find it somewhere, be ready for a higher price tag. Believe me, it is worth it. Once you taste it, you will seek it out and never go back to the regular stuff, or iced Americanos for that matter; just not the same.  It’s funny, I love Chicago, but it is so behind in so many ways. We are finally catching onto the coffee culture, but cold brew, not so much yet. Cold brew is a given in places like Austin (that place is sooo cool.) and Seattle and Portland. You can also find it many places in LA and NY. It’s funny, when I ask if places cold brew, they usually look at me funny, which either means “Yes, of course, is there any other way?” Or”What the hell does that mean? “

Ice Coffee at Chava Cafe

Ok, where to get it in Chicago.

Café Asado – This is the best ice coffee I have found in Chicago. They roast their own beans and know what a good cup of coffee should taste like. And they are not in a hurry at all. Good coffee takes time, you know.

Floriole –  Everything they make tastes amazing and they do everything the right way. It doesn’t matter how long something takes to prepare at Floriole, just so it tastes good. Rachel is now baking and consuming cold brew at Floriole  🙂

Chava Café –  It is a super cool, modern café that serves amazing food, one of the partners was formerly from  Nomi. This is not your standard café fare. Whenever I head up north, I stop here for my fix.

Southport Grocery – Not only do they sell lots of great local artisan products and serve a great breakfast and lunch, they also make cold brew. Get one of their amazing chocolate toffee scones to go with it. You won’t be sorry.

Buzz Killer Espresso –  They feature a rotating roster of bean roasters from all over. Cool looking shop, They also brew Rishi tea also (my fave). But no decaf in sight! I guess hipsters don’t drink decaf anyways!

The Grind – Always packed coffee shop in Lincoln Square that also serves pastries from local businesses.  I have been stopping here on my way to work. My boss can see it is my eyes when I have sucked down one of their potent cold brews. And then I clean the entire shop while chattering away the entire time. (She has learned to block me out!)

Coffee Studio – Andersonville’s modern coffee shop that is serious about their coffee drinks. They were in Bon Appetit touted as one of the best boutique coffee shops. Their cold brew was seriously excellent. Great rich flavor. It is what cold brew is all about.

Miko’s Italian Ice– The little walk up windows in Bucktown and Logan Square cold brew their ice coffee and have been doing it that way for at least a decade. You can get an amazing Italian Ice here or a cold brew ice coffee.

Believe it or not, Caribou also cold brews! I have not had an ice coffee from there, as of yet, but my hubby told me about it. Nice to know if you are in a pinch.

The Knock Box in Humboldt Park used to cold brew. I don’t know why they stopped. It is a cute unpretentious café that makes for a great atmosphere for hanging out.

Places I wish had cold brew, Lovely Bakeshop, Star Coffee Lounge, and Ipsento. We use Ipsento’s beans. They roast them on site and I think they are one of the best roasters in town. They are not fancy or hip, but their coffee is damn good.

Please let me know if I missed anyplace. I would love to add places to my excel list!

Ok, I’m not done blogging yet! Here is where I tell you how to brew this wonder drug yourself!  It’s super easy. It is just messy and there is no instant gratification, as it takes 12-24 hours to steep. Now they sell a cold brew toddy maker for $30, but it is totally unnecessary. You need no special equipment at all to do this at home, except a strainer and some coffee filters. A French press makes it easier, but you don’t need one. I don’t have one.

Yes it is half decaf. Told you this stuff jacks me up!

Ok, here goes, dump 1 cup of coarse ground coffee into a container, pour in 4 cups of water, stir, let sit for 12-18 hours, filter through a coffee filter and strainer, pour over ice, enjoy!

Unstaged photo. I am just very messy.

Really, It is that easy.  I will say, it is very messy. The filtering process is not pretty. You get lots of silt. That is why I use a coffee filter in a strainer. You sort of have to stir it up. It is not a fast process. But you waited 18 hours for this damn coffee, you can wait a little longer! The yield for a 4 quart container is about 2 quarts, after filtering.

Alternate filtering method; double strainer

So how much does this cost to make at home. Ooohhh, I’m not so good at math, I’ll have to run the numbers by Laurent, the math whiz hubby, who counts in Chinese under his breath! It’s funny to listen to.  With Laurent’s fancy math, accounting for ice taking up 30% of your glass, etc., etc., home brewing ends up costing $1.00 per 16 oz glass. This is definitely not as cheap as hot brewed coffee, but cheaper than getting one out.

Oops, I drank half of it before I could take a picture.

Here is another alternative. Cold Brew concentrate from New Orleans.  New Orleans is king of cold brew ice coffee from way back when. Laurent was just there recently on business. I made him bring me some of this stuff home. I had read about it on the internet. It is cold brewed coffee and chicory. It comes in a container that lets you measure an ounce. It is the same type of container that is used to package gasoline additive or sanitizer, so don’t store them close to each other or you could make a fatal mistake one bleary eyed morning! This stuff is pretty good, not as good as freshly steeped cold brew, but not bad at all. And it’s not messy. And it is cheap. A 500 ml container is $5.50, plus shipping. The math whiz computed this to cost about .30 per 16 oz glass, if shipping cost $5.00.  Super cheap and not messy at all. Go for it!

Took it outside to the porch to enjoy.

So, this was my ‘ode to cold brew ice coffee. (It’s my ‘ode, I’ll grammatically slaughter the words however I like, thank you!) Really, give it a try. You won’t believe the difference. And now I’ve given you three ways to get your fix on.  You will become addicted, I promise.

Here is the info in an organized manner for you people who can’t follow my rambling! You’ll get the hang of it, as you read more of my blog. Or you’ll just nod and say “yes dear” like Laurent has learned to do!

Cold Brew Ice Coffee Recipe

(I usually triple the recipe)

1 cup coarsely ground coffee

4 cups water

Put coffee and water in container. Stir.

Let steep 18 hours, more or less.

Filter into clean container through a strainer and coffee filter or a French Press. May need to filter twice.


Go to www.coolbrew.com and order your cold brew with chicory for easy breezy beautiful  instant iced coffee.


Stop by one of these fine establishments in Chicago.

Café Asado  – 1432 W. Irving Park – 773-661-6530

Floriole  –1220 W. Webster – 773-883-1313

Chava Café- 4656 N. Clark – 773-942-6763

Southport Grocery – 3552 N. Southport – 773-665-0100

Buzz Killer Espresso –1644 N. Damen – 773-366-8377

The Grind – 4613 N. Lincoln – 773-271-4482

Coffee Studio – 5628 N. Clark – 773-271-7881

Miko’s Italian Ice – 1846 N. Damen and 2234 N. Sacramento – 773-645-9664

Caribou Coffee – www.cariboucoffee.com for locations

Have a great ice coffee season.


Filed under Cafes, Recipes

Jimmy Jamms Sweet Potato Pies

I don’t even need to think of a snazzy title full of alliteration for this post, it’s already done for me. Thank goodness, because while this day ended up great, it did not start that way.

I started out the day on the wrong side of the bed last Tuesday. The neighbor’s dog started its incessant barking way too early and our lulu cat decided to chime in and howl/scream/just plain annoy me. It was cold and rainy, not a good start to a day off at all. I dragged myself out of bed, complaining the whole time. At that point, Laurent made a quick exit to work with a “sorry, gotta run, hon” Probably just glad to make it out alive, as my grumpiness would most likely be directed at him, poor guy.

I sucked it up and put on my bright yellow rain boots and got in the car to head to Beverly to buy bottles for the syrups I am making. (Syrup company to launch sometime in the fall! More about that some other time.) Of course there was traffic.  After this drive into unchartered territory, I was hoping for some type of fun discovery to brighten my day. I got my wish. As I was driving west on 95th, I passed Jimmy Jamms Sweet Potato Pies. Oh ya, my kind of discovery! I had heard about this café that serves everything sweet potato on the Hungry Hound or read about it in the paper, or something, but it wasn’t on my radar or my excel list at all, and then I just came upon it.  Time for a U-Turn.

I parked and walked in and was greeted with a sample of sweet potato ice cream. How could that not turn my day around? Yum. I love sweet potatoes, savory or sweet. And they had it all here. I wanted to hold off on my blog post to go back and try one more item, but I just couldn’t wait to tell you about it. I did try quite a few items, so I am not lacking material, by any means. Now you know I am not good at making decisions. This was torture! I asked the friendly woman behind the counter what I should have. I couldn’t decide between  the Jimmy Jamm Loaded Yam, a loaded sweet potato with filled with sautéed onions, green peppers, brown sugar, shredded cheese, chicken or steak and mushrooms,  or the Sweet Potato Stew or a deli sandwich on sweet potato bread.  The stew just sounded perfect for this cold rainy day. She threw me for a loop when she said that her favorite was the chicken and sweet potato waffle.  She said the chicken was so perfectly spiced that she didn’t even need hot sauce on it. Where was that on the menu?  I didn’t see it anywhere. I can’t forgo a server’s recommendation, as they have hardly ever steered me wrong. Even though I had my heart set on a loaded sweet potato, I gave in to the recommendation.  I placed my order and she reminded the kitchen staff that she had told me how perfectly it was spiced, so “do it right” she told them.

While I was waiting for my chicken and waffles to cook, I went a little crazy in the dessert department! I ordered a piece of sweet potato pound cake, ‘for Laurent “, (yes I meant to put those quotation marks there!)  a piece of sweet potato bread, these donut looking pastries filled with sweet potato and a piece of sweet potato pie.  That decision was hard enough, as there were about four or five varieties of sweet potato pie, with pecans and pralines or with honey cream cheese topping. I went for the classic. I also had to leave the cupcakes, cookies and ice cream there. Next time. Next time.

So, I took a seat on one of the big comfy chairs to wait for my chicken and waffles. It arrived and I let out an “oh my!” and immediately started taking pictures of it. I took one with my camera phone and sent it to Laurent, who immediately responded with “where’s mine?” Let me tell you, I took him leftovers. There was no way I could finish that. The dish had four huge meaty wings and sweet potato waffle the size of the 10” plate. First, the chicken. The server was right, this chicken was perfectly spiced. I have never had fried chicken this good.  It was not spicy by any means, but  spiced or seasoned with herbs, maybe a little chile, all mysteriously infusing the batter and chicken with great flavor, but not apparent to the naked eye at all. The batter was flaky but not falling off. The chicken was juicy and piping hot. This waffle was the perfect complement to the chicken. It was a little tart, ( buttermilk?) but sweet at the same time. You could definitely taste the sweet potato, but it wasn’t dense or heavy at all. It was served with butter and syrup, which I used a little of, but it really didn’t need it. It is so rare for me not to pour any kind of sauce that is given to me over my food. I’m just a saucy girl! These chicken and waffles did not need it at all. I am not a chicken and waffle expert by any means. In fact, I think I have only had it one other time, but this was good stuff and I think it may have ruined me for all other chicken and waffles in my future.

I packed up the rest of my feast for Laurent, and dug into the sweet potato pie, which comes with a warning saying “These pies are very addictive and may cause you to buy more” . Heed this warning, as it is true.  While I resisted this time, as I had a bagful of other goodies to try, I was very tempted. The sweet potato pie was very tasty, creamy, sweet, spiced, but not too much of any of these, except tasty. Great balance, texture, flavor. I have heard that you have to order whole pies for the holidays early, as they sell out fast. At $10 a pie, a full size pie, I can see why.

Jimmy Jamms Sweet Potato Pies made my day. The staff was super friendly, the food was tasty and it was super inexpensive. Lunch big enough for two and all these yummy sweets added up to only $20! $20! This place is a bargain and a half with friendly service and excellent food.  I can’t wait to go back and try that loaded yam and the stew and more of those chicken and waffles and top it all off with some sweet potato ice cream, of course. Get yourself to Beverly soon.  It is well worth the drive!

Jimmy Jamm Sweet Potato Pies, 1844 W. 95th St. , 773-779-9105, Closed Sundays


Filed under Cafes

Fabulous Floriole

I like to write about places and food that I am crazy passionate about. I usually don’t write about the latest hottest newest foodie place to go to. That is what The Hungry Hound and Time Out does; and they do it well. I can’t compete with them with my rambling not always grammatically correct tangent filled blog posts. But I am so crazy passionate about this latest hottest foodie temple of fabulousness, that I have to gush about it. Floriole. You know the whole background already, Sandra had/has a stand at the Green City Market and now she has a much anticipated beautiful two story café. That’s the short version. Here comes my long version.

My last stop before being tested for Celiac Disease recently was Floriole. If I could never again have wheat/gluten, Floriole was going to be my “Last Supper” and “Last Dessert”!  The good news is that I do not have Celiac and I can continue to gorge myself on Sandra’s pastries. I will try to control myself next time, as on my last trip I had a sandwich, an almond crème croissant, a sticky bun, and a chocolate croissant, plus an iced coffee. No joke! I thought I was going to be handed down a death sentence, so I was going to live it up while I could.

Floriole recently started offering sandwiches, a few choices a day. Perfect. Why do you need ten million sandwich choices, where the only difference between one sandwich and the next is the condiment? You don’t. Why do you need tasteless bread piled a mile high with gloppy sauces and tasteless tomatoes? You don’t. What you do need is one of Floriole’s perfect sandwiches. They are very “French”, with a shmear of condiment, a few slices of meat and a slice of cheese.Simple, yet with such fresh complex flavors. These ingredients were meant to show off the baguette, that lovely baguette, which was the star of the show. You know how sometimes you will take half the bread off to get to the good stuff inside a sandwich? You wouldn’t even dream of doing that at Floriole. In fact, you will probably buy whole loaf on your way out the door, for later. It probably won’t even make it to the car without you stealing a bite.

The other ingredients such as the Otter Creek spring raw milk cheddar, the ramp pesto made from Bare Knuckle Creek Farms ramps, the Black earth Meats ham were top notch, but the bread…..ohhhh the bread. You have not tasted a baguette until you have had Floriole’s. I never knew this is what a baguette should taste like. I didn’t know baguettes had flavor and texture. I thought they were tasteless neutral vehicles for stinky cheeses. This baguette had chew, it had crust, and it tasted clean and yeasty. It was nothing at all like its cardboard cousin, “that baguette imposter”. Hence, this ham and cheese sandwich was what sandwich dreams are made of. And bonus, it was only about $7.00, maybe less, I don’t remember. All I know is I would pay double for it and still be happy! It didn’t come with greasy chips, or tasteless slaw or anything else. It didn’t need to. It was all about the sandwich.

Onto the pastries….yum. Just like the baguette was the perfect example of what a baguette should be, a picture, or better yet, a taste of Floriole’s croissants should be in the dictionary next to the definition of croissant. I have never been a croissant freak, again, probably because I have never had a good one in Chicago.  I have had an amazing croissant at a tiny little bakery with one table in Toronto, and in Paris, but never in Chicago. I have only had “fake” croissants in Chicago. You can tell by looking at them, these crescent shaped pastries masquerading as croissants, that they were not real. That they were made by some other method other than laboriously layering paton dough with butter over and over again and letting them rest and rise and do their thing. Floriole does it the right, time consuming way, as they do everything. Thank goodness. I have had three of the croissants at Floriole. Not all on one trip! Come on, that would just be gluttonous. Oh, wait….I did have two of them on one trip! Let me defend myself here by saying that the almond crème croissant made for a better picture, but I really wanted a chocolate one, because chocolate IS my middle name (after caramel). I did take the chocolate one to go and I did share it. So there. I also had a ham and cheese croissant on a separate trip. Lesson: Good ham plus good sharp cheese plus great technique and attention to detail equals a perfect croissant. No matter which croissant, or two, that you get, you will be very happy. Number one, you can taste the butter. Number two, you can taste the butter! And this makes for a super flaky, do not eat in your car, crispy, yet tender, perfect example of that classic French pastry.

Onto that sticky bun… I will confess that this was my second sticky bun. No not on this trip! I do have some self control. Not much, but some. I had no self control on my last trip, when I got that amazing croissant. I also got a sticky bun to share with my husband, as he loves them. Well…needless to say, he still has not had even a bite of Floriole’s sticky bun. Oops. I meant to only eat half, because, do you really need a whole sticky bun, after eating a ham and cheese croissant? Don’t answer that. Well, I ate a bite, then another, then my half was gone, just another little bite, well, by that time, I told myself it wasn’t worth saving him the one little bite that was left, so I destroyed the evidence. Now he is going to read this and I am totally busted! Those sticky buns are addictive. They are gooey and chewy on the outside, but the inside stays tender somehow. You know how with most sticky buns you can’t wait to get to that one center bite, as it is the most tender and perfect? Well, Floriole’s entire sticky bun is tender and perfect. No need to wait to get to the middle, you can enjoy every single bite. (even your husband’s half)  It is not too sweet, but still covered in lovely caramelized sugar. How she does it I don’t know, but I’m glad she does.

One last bonus, they cold brew iced coffee at Floriole. It makes sense. They do everything else the right way there, of course they would make iced coffee so it is rich and complex and full of flavor.

I just want to leave you with this (mental) picture, as I didn’t capture it on film. As I sat at Floriole, eating, enjoying, observing, musing…I saw person after person literally picking the crumbs off their plates, wanting to savor that very last morsel of their Floriole pastry.. I won’t lie, I found myself doing the same thing. It was that good.


Filed under Cafes

Tacolicious deliciousness…..

One more San Fran post…This is the real stuff, into the city for some serious adult eating (No offense Aaron.) This post is part lucky stumbled upon, but found out it was on “my list” deliciousness, part deliberate  top of “my list” we must eat here hip, chef hangout tastiness, and part oh, how did that slip past my radar and not get on “my list” amazingness.

On Sunday, after an afternoon of family brunch where we made ricotta blackberry crepes and endive, crème fraiche, frizzled prosciutto hors d’ oeuvres, we headed into the city to shop/eat/explore.  We drove straight to the Marina District, where we had success on our last trip in the shopping/eating category. I never thought I would say “I love this neighborhood”, but I do. It is so civilized. Told you, I’m getting old! It is clean. There are great boutiques, lots of food choices and we can find parking. How can a neighborhood be “boring” if the amazingly tasty top of “my list”A16 is in it? As good as A16 was, you know me; I want to try something new and exciting, or at least different.

We actually weren’t even planning to eat, we were just in search of a cool place to imbibe, but stumbled across Tacolicious. The place was rockin’, so of course we wanted to go in.  We had a drinks at the location when it was Laiola and were wondering what was up. When we looked at the sign, I knew the name sounded familiar and fun. I pulled out my handy dandy list and there it was but listed as a stand at the Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.  They had closed Laiola in 2009 to grow their farmers market taco stand. YES! I could cross coca cola braised beef tacos off my list.

Problem was…we weren’t really hungry. Oh well, minor problem. Just one little taco wouldn’t hurt. Oh, but, you could choose four tacos for $12.00. Ok, twist our arms.  Here was the line up….Fried local cod with cabbage and tangy crema, house made chorizo potato, guajillo braised beef short ribs, and shot and a beer braised Petaluma chicken. Plus the tacos came with a salsa sampler. Laurent was in heaven and boy were they pretty colors. The green was a creamy tomatillo and jalapeño; the creaminess had to come from a touch of avocado blended in. That’s my guess. The beautiful yellow was habanero and was not going to get near my tongue. The smoky red was smoky in flavor, too, from, you guessed it, chipotles. Mmmm. I love smokiness.

Ok, tacos. Fried cod – yes, yum, thank you.  Chorizo potato – good.  Chicken – surprisingly above the house made chorizo in our very scientific ranking system. Short ribs – chewy, tender, sticky, smoky, slightly spicy, wish I could eat three more of these tacolicious deliciousnesses.

After Tacolicious, it was onto Tornado, the Haight dive beer bar for a beer, as Tacolicious’ beer list left a lot to be desired. Plus we had to digest before heading to……drum roll please….Nopa.  I knew I only had one day and one restaurant to choose from on “my list”, my entire excel spread sheet of choices culled from Food and Wine, blogs, and foodie friends. Talk about a hard decision, especially for someone who is notoriously bad at making decisions (I just want it ALL!) Actually, I lied, it was an easy decision. Hands down, Nopa won, recommended by Alex Lopez, the Food Diva and Food and Wine magazine and touted as a chef hangout. If the chef’s are eating there, then I am eating there.  Nopa stands for North of the Panhandle, where the restaurant is located.  Sounds hip.  That’s what counts, right?  Nopa was delicious. That simple. You knew the moment you stepped inside that it was going to be good. Actually, I knew a few blocks away that it was going to be good, as we smelled the wood burning oven belching out its sweet smoky, meaty smells. Mmmmmmmm.

There were two seats at the bar, lucky for us, as we walked in with no resos and not a chance in hell at getting a table. We prefer to sit at the bar anyways, less commitment, if it’s not good, which was not going to be a problem at Nopa. Plus, if you order a full meal at the bar, that makes the bartender happy as his check, and tip, just went way up. If you order just appetizers at a table, pricey real estate at busy restaurants, you make for an angry waiter, which equals bad service. It is hard enough getting good service these days.  I much rather have a happy bartender wait on me.

This happy bartender was a pleasure. He was well versed and knew what he was talking about and took the time to explain white whiskeys to us, which caught our eye on the drink menu, and the drinks that were made with them. He suggested a white Manhattan for Laurent so we could compare it to the white buck that I ordered, which, by the way, is a cocktail made with ginger beer and lemon. White whiskeys are whiskeys made with no barrel ageing, hence they are white, as they do not pick up any color from the barrel they are aged in. I am just getting into whiskies, and love tasting them and learning about them. I don’t think I like white whiskeys, though, as I love the taste that the barrel imparts on the booze. It tasted a little too much like tequila to me. (Tequila and I go way back and do not really agree with each other, if you know what I mean.) It was a fun experiment, though; he white whiskey, NOT the tequila.

We weren’t starving. Not a good position to be in here. We managed to eat an entrée, a side and a dessert, though, “for the sake of research”. You know how at some restaurants you can find a million appetizers you want to try and no entrees. Well, it was the opposite at Nopa. While the appetizers looked great, Laurent and I both eyed at least three entrees we wanted to try.  Time to call in the bartender for advice. I always go with waiter recommendations, as they have the inside scoop. I was in the biz for years, trust me, I know. We were leaning towards the milk braised goat with English peas, spring onions and tarragon, just because, well, when else do we eat goat? The bartender, though, said that the grilled country pork chop was the best pork chop we would ever have. Plus I was much more interested in the fried baby favas and kumquats on the side, than the English peas. The pork chop won. The bartender was right, it was the best pork chop we have ever had, cooked perfectly to medium rare, as promised. Yes medium rare. We are out of the dark ages of trichinosis and these pigs had lived a happy life on a local farm and were not going to make us sick if not cooked to a leathery death, like our moms used to do. Oops, sorry, I mean my mom! This was the second time we had fried baby favas on this trip.  I could move to Cali just to be able to eat those in early May every year.  The thin slices of kumquats were the perfect foil to the lightly fried favas and the juicy smoky, slightly fatty, in a good way, pork.

The polenta side dish we ordered was so much more than merely a “side”.  Cubes of polenta, I expected it to be a creamy soft polenta for some reason, but who am I to argue with this deliciousness, I would not have changed a thing.  So, cubes of polenta, with a creamy, sauce of blue cheese and honey and chunks of walnuts in a crock, raised to the roof of the wood burning oven to crisp and caramelize. I think I danced when I ate it. No, I KNOW, I danced when I ate it. I think know we sopped up every last bit of that salty/sweet sauce with a piece of crusty bread. Don’t worry, little polenta side, you are a main course in my eyes.

How we had room for dessert, I don’t know. Oh, I remember, we didn’t. Did that stop us from ordering it? No. Let me tell you, the portions here are a nice size, and dessert was no different. Dessert had my friend Stacy’s name all over it. Lavender pot de crème with dark chocolate pudding cake and cocoa nib caramel. You know that I can’t pass up anything with the word caramel in it. This was literally two desserts. Told you they weren’t shy with their portions.  The lavender pot de crème had chocolate on top of it…bonus….and was silky, creamy and smooth and did not taste like soap at all! Some lavender desserts do, you know. The dark chocolate pudding cake was delicious as well, and I managed to get every last bit of that cocoa nib caramel off the plate without actually licking it. I am very talented that way. Very happy. Full belly. Good night.

Good morning. Time for one last San Fran meal, on the way to the airport. Scott suggested Out the Door, the infamous Slanted Door’s casual restaurant.  This was a great idea, as we have never been to The Slanted Door, and we could now try the food without breaking the bank. Well…sort of. $50 for lunch was a bit of a stretch to be called “cheap”, in my book, but let me tell you, I would rather pay $9 for a bowl of soup and have it be a damn good smaller bowl of soup. You know, now that I think about it, $50 wasn’t crazy for lunch. $9 for soup, $12 for entrée, $5 for side, that is totally reasonable. It was the fancy beer Laurent ordered just for the cool bottle, $10, and the $4.50 fancy blooming jasmine tea that sent us over the “cheap” mark. It was all worth it, though, including the fancy beer bottle and blooming tea. It made for great pics, as you will see. (Hey, that rhymes :))  Plus I was one happy camper after eating at OTD (as us insiders call in. JK. That is what is actually on their business card.) And that is how Laurent likes me!

First the room is light and airy and modern and casual and comfortable.  We sat at the bar, as usual, but had no trouble committing to a great lunch. We were pretty “fooded out” by this point and welcomed the clean, light Vietnamese flavors on the menu.  I ordered chicken pho and Laurent ordered grilled lemongrass pork over vermicelli noodles with a crispy imperial roll. We also ordered a side of snap peas and shitake mushrooms. I love pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, but have never ordered chicken pho, thinking it was the wimpy way out. And I am no wimp! Hands down, this was the best pho I have ever had and the best chicken soup I have ever had.  It tasted like quality. It tasted of good, clean ingredients, excellent technique and of pure chicken. Now we make our own damn good chicken stock at home and think it is essential to a good soup. We do cheat and use the crock pot and it works. But this is the real deal. You could tell this stock was made by a trained professional. It was clean and clear, but none of the flavor had been filtered out. I will make an educated guess and say that the chicken bones were roasted, as they should be, before they made their way into the stock pot. The chicken was juicy, both the white meat and dark meat. Rare occurrence, indeed.

Laurent’s lemongrass pork was excellent. Classic  Vietnamese fare, but better. The cha goi, or imperial roll, was light and crispy and not the least bit greasy at all. And the snap peas were plump and crunchy and tasted like Spring, balanced by the earthy shitake mushrooms. I don’t think shitakes should even be called mushrooms. I take that back, button mushrooms, should not be called mushrooms. These are two different animals, or I guess I should say vegetables. The texture of shitakes is not at all slimy, like those insidious button mushrooms. I don’t even like those things fried with ranch dressing on them, which will make almost anything taste good. They just don’t taste like anything.  Shitakes are meaty, yet delicate, chewy (I would say “toothsome” but I DESPISE that word and its overuse!) with the most amazing burst of pure flavor umami. I could eat this kind of food all day long.

Since it was raining and we had a little time to spare before saying goodbye to San Fran, I ordered the Thousand Days Red Jasmine Xian Tao art tea. Green tea leaves are wrapped around the clover type flower and formed, dried, reshaped,  scented with jasmine and hand tied with a silk thread. If that is not worth $4.50, I don’t know what is! The tea had the most amazing bouquet and was so soothing to sip. We were mesmerized by the flowering of the tea and how it floated and danced and sunk in the glass.

It was a very pleasant way to pass a half hour on a rainy day and a beautiful image to take with us as a memory of our amazing trip. A trip that was full of pleasant surprises, unfolding in ways we hadn’t imagined, delighting us in its simple pleasures and exciting us with new discoveries.

Leave a comment

Filed under road trips