Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An Interesting Read

t's been a slow few weeks in my kitchen. With the weather pretty pitiful and the quality of products pretty steady at my local supermarket, I have been hesitant to make a lot of new dishes. Which makes for some blasé reading on a blog. Never fear, I'm making lasagna tonight, and when I make another angel food cake this weekend it can be "cake or death" time. In the meantime, here is an article I read yesterday that gave me some pause.

It's about a push by restaurateurs and chefs for more funding and control for smaller farms. Now, having experienced my first true year with a farmers market (and the fact that I am suffering through the winter months not having one), this is extremely exciting. While big farms are great for supermarkets, we all know the quality of their product is bunk next to Farmer Joe who owns 50 acres. I for one would love to see more locally grown, small farm food in my stores. Certain markets have already started this, but I'm hoping the foodie like nature of our current President will work to improve the food policy.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Russian Tea Time

While in Chicago, it was recommended that I have afternoon tea. After perusing through the art museum, I could think of nothing better to do (plus the restaurant is literally 100 feet away) and headed over with Em. We walked into a warm, bright place with fantastic eastern European music playing over the speakers. While the place offers a full menu, they also offer tea service every day from 2-4:30 pm. Which is what we opted for on a cold afternoon.

First and foremost, the tea. They serve a Russian house blend (which is sadly the only one they do not sell as loose leaf) which is fantastic. If you get a meal you get unlimited tea refills, which is nice considering how good it is. The food comes out in three tiers, bread, savory, and sweet. The top tier was scones with jam and whipped cream. Tasty. The savory consisted of quiches, sandwiches (of salmon or corned beef), a crepe, and a veggie finger sandwich. The sweets were numerous, from cookies and cakes to a brownie and an apple tart. They also included fresh cheese blintzes to go with the meal. So imagine yourself as they put this tower of good in front of you. It was incredible. The food was delicious (I now want to eat blintzes all the time) and there was just so much of it, there was no way we were going to finish it. Excellent meal, and really great service.

Speaking of great service, this being a Russian place, of course they have vodka. And not just any. They make their own. I got a flight (don’t judge, it was almost 4) called the "Molotov cocktail". It consisted of three shots: pepper, honey pepper, and horseradish. I was unaware that the custom is to smell a piece of pumpernickel bread, take the shot, and then eat a pickle (after savoring the vodka). But my waiter was more than happy to teach me some Russian and explain the custom. Awesome. And really good vodka! I never would have thought, but horseradish vodka is great.

Overall this was a fantastic place to eat, and I would happily dine there again. Next time you are in Chicago, I suggest this place for a great experience and really good food.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Rice, Rice Baby

This was either going to be about pasta or rice. And seeing that I am currently staying away from pasta (I blame Christmas), I figured I would go with rice. Now, what is interesting about rice? Well, it's one of the most important foods on this planet, yet the inhabitants of America are 15th in the world of consumption. Really?

It’s a more wholesome grain for you than most anything you can get in bread, it’s simple to digest, and it tastes good! So why do we fill our bellies with pasta and breads and other complex carbs rather than rice? Well, for starters (in my opinion), most of us have no idea how to cook it. I'm sure there are a bevy of other reasons (it does not go with our style of cuisine, its plain, you cannot put sour cream or mayo on it) that people will claim, most of which are a complete hunk. But I'm going to stay with the first topic, that people cannot cook rice, and focus on helping this along.

Rice, in its pure form, does not usually come in a box. It cannot be done in 5 minutes, and it should never say instant. Believe me, I ate a lot of that growing up, and that stuff is NOT rice. Rice, as I know it, comes in primarily two main forms, brown and white (yes, there are loads other, but I'm keeping to the most common ones to cook on an everyday basis). The only difference is that the white has had the outer hull removed. So that means brown is better for you, but also has a different taste (more nutty). White rice comes in many different sub-types that depend on grain size. For the purpose of this exercise, let's stick with long grain, which is mostly what you find in the big bags.

Brand or specific type? It's personal preference. I like sushi rice because it’s a bit stickier, but I know plenty of people who enjoy jasmine because it’s a bit fluffier. Try some out and see what you like.

Cooking, well, there comes the fun part. Cooking white and brown rice are two separate undertakings, so I have included below a method for each. I really hope once you get the (easy) process down it will allow you include more rice in your diet, which is healthy and inexpensive.

White Rice

This recipe has no measurements. Simply make as much as you want. In a small pot, put in rice. Rinse under cold water for about 3 minutes. You want the water to run clear to rid it of excess starch. Pour out most of the water. Place your index finger straight down into the pot and mark where the rice comes up to. You need to add enough water to cover the rice plus this length you just marked off. Strange? Yes. But it works. You can do this by placing your finger (keeping the mark noted) on top of the rice and then filling to the mark. Place on stove over medium heat. Stir once after about 5 minutes. The water will start to simmer and form fish eyes. When this happens (there should be a bit of water still on top of the rice), place a lid on the pot, reduce heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit in pot for another 10 minutes.

Brown Rice

1 ½ cups brown rice
2 ½ cups water
1 t. salt
½ T butter

Brown rice can be a bit tricky, so I have opted to go with the oven (its seriously foolproof) in my prep method. Thank Alton Brown for the inspiration on this. Preheat oven to 375°F. Boil water in kettle or pot (with the salt and butter). Add rice (do not rinse) to a 9x9 baking dish. Pour boiling water over it and cover tightly with foil. Place in oven and bake for one hour.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Trattoria No. 10

In addition to my New Year's Revelations, I have spent a good amount of time traveling over the past month. This has resulted in a good amount of restaurant experiences, which I am more than happy to put up on the blog.

First up, Trattoria No. 10, a Chicago fine eatery specializing in Italian cuisine. I think. Thing is, I never tasted the food. I walked in at about 6pm and was promptly turned away. There was a light buffet in the bar which I figured would be a great meal before heading out on the town. The bar was mostly full, and the hostess so kindly said to us "the bar is full and so is the dining room, sorry". Wow. Score points for hospitality! I was dressed nice, but apparently did not fit the stuffy, rich type that they are looking for.

This leads me to a slight rant. I am so over stuffy food. I have no problem wearing a collar to dinner (I was that evening), but in our food-appreciating society, there is no place for crap like turning away a customer with such disdain. I'm pretty sure I was higher educated than either of the people I spoke to there, but I did not ramble on about the polymorphic complexities of amorphous dispersions to them. Food is good and should be kept simple and available to everyone. Treating someone like they are unworthy to eat their food only says to me that the food is not worth eating.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Years Revelations Part I: Biscuits

This is the first in what I hope is an ongoing series. Over the holiday I was perusing my recipes on this blog and found a few that have undergone some changes since I wrote them up. This often happens to me as I adjust seasonings or learn new things to make a dish better. I spent a good amount of time cooking with Em's (my fiancée) father over this holiday, and we often pass back and forth information on what we like and do in the kitchen.

This instance, we were making biscuits for breakfast (original post found here). I have altered my recipe to pretty much where I like it, at least I thought, and was mostly concerned about fat ratio (like with pie dough). But in my oversight, I forgot something extremely important, which was leading my biscuits to be fluffy, but not flaky. Hydration! My dough was way too wet. The dough was almost goopy, which led me to not knead them (which prevents gluten formation but also prevents the flakiness I was looking for) and just bake them as is. Silly me. While observing John (the dad) rolling out his biscuits, I was amazed at how dry the dough was. I was even more amazed when they came out so good. While enjoying one of these smothered in gravy, I figured out a recipe that is somewhat of a hybrid between his and mine (mine still get more puff than his, muahaha). Take out a little milk, stick with butter, knead a little more, and boom! Biscuits that would make a mother proud.

Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups flour
4 t baking powder
½ t salt
½ t baking soda
1 t sugar
5 T butter, cut into chunks
¾ cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450°F. Sift dry ingredients into bowl. Work butter into flour with fork or fingers until evenly distributed. Slowly add buttermilk until incorporated, mixture should be slightly crumbly but sticks to itself when pressed together. Turn out onto lightly floured surface; knead together for about 30 seconds. Roll out the dough until it is slightly thicker than ½ inch, cut with biscuit cutter or small glass. Place on a lightly greased sheet pan and bake 10-12 minutes or until tops are golden.


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