Sunday, March 30, 2008

#51: Nuts + Nuts Roasted Cashews

I am becoming quite spoiled and really starting to enjoy good, gourmet nuts. They are such a satisfying snack! I know people have been saying that for a long time, but I always thought of nuts as something to snack on at a bar, not something to keep in the house unless a certain recipe called for them.

When Food & Wine Magazine listed three types of international nuts on their 100 Tastes to Try list for 2008, I ordered them right away. We went through the Australian macadamia nuts (#50) rather quickly and have since placed three re-orders. More recently we tried the Indonesian cashews (#51). These I ordered from Nuts + Nuts in all four flavors: original (mixture of sweet and salt taste), lightly salted, honey sesame, and spicy (has bits of lime leaves and cut chillies). They are ALL GOOD! Honestly, I do not have a favorite.

The first ones I tried were the honey sesame and I was sure nothing could taste better than those. Then I tried the spicy and I thought there was a tie. Original is unique too and I figured the three flavors will be my preference over the plain ones. I finally tasted the plain ones and who would have though a plain, lightly salted, cashew would taste to good. I think the secret is the freshness. Each package is vacuum sealed.

I have a feeling I'll be ordering another round of nuts from them again. At only $3.00 a pack they are quite affordable. The company website is still not operational but you can order by contacting them via phone or email. Lucky for me I still have a few packs left.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Weekend Veggie Box

I got another Fresh Picks box today! Twice a month we are surprised by a big box full of veggies and other local, organic goodies. This week's box is filled with spinach, russet potatoes, zucchini, suntan peppers, lettuce, micro greens, carrots, yellow onions and beets. Now the fun part comes - what am I going to make with it all?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dinner at Table Fifty-Two

Last night I went to dinner with my friend at Table Fifty-Two. I first heard about the restaurant while reading an article in Food & Wine Magazine and then noticed that recommendations for this restaurant kept popping up in other magazines and websites as well. I had been trying to go there since last fall - but every time I called they were booked. So in January I finally called and got the next available reservation - March 26th. I took it and added it to my calendar. Two days ago they called me to confirm the reservation and told me if I did not call back to confirm then they would assume I was not coming and I would loose the reservation. I was so glad I checked my voice mail!

So after all this I was really wondering what all the hype was about. This restaurant is owned by Chef Art Smith who is best know for being Oprah's chef. The restaurant is small and probably only has about thirty tables. But we had a great experience here. The restaurant is in what used to be a coach house - behind the old Chez Paul. It is very cutely decorated - homey and intimate. There are candles all over the place, flowers on each table, and you can see the wood-burning oven behind the bar.

At the beginning of our meal we received a deviled egg topped with pickled okra and some cheesy biscuits. For starters we ordered a salad and flat bread. The duck flat bread was SO GOOD and it was a perfect combo of salty, sweet, greasy and crunchy. For dinner my friend ordered the sea bass special of the day and I ordered the chicken which the waiter informed me was their most popular dish. We were happy with it all.

Chef Art Smith popped out of the kitchen a few times during the evening to greet guests. He checked on us only one time but I saw him giving copies of his cookbooks to a few special visitors.

After dinner we each had tea and the teapot and matching cups was the perfect touch to the homey atmosphere.

It was pretty pricey for good old southern food. But this type of food is unique to a city like Chicago. I not sure if I would bring my friends from out of town here - especially if they live in the South. But if they are from another country, I would definitely bring them here to give them a taste of good (and healthy) American food!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Thai-Style Beef with Noodles

I haven't made anything from Gourmet Magazine in quite a while so I was determined to find something to make. I decided to try out the Thai-Style Beef with Noodles featured in the February, 2008 issue.

This recipe turned out really amazing! The beef seemed to be a bit plain to me - the marinade didn't really soak in any flavor. But the broth was really impressive. It tasted like real authentic Thai food that I would get in a restaurant. I love when my recipes turn out as flavorful as this.

For me it was fun because I got to use the Le Creuset stove-top grill I bought myself for a Christmas present. While the beef cooked up well on the stove-top grill pan, the vegetables were what I was really amazed with. The grill marks really got in there and they actually tasted like they were grilled outside! The grilled peppers and green onions added a really great taste to this noodle dish.

Three of us ate this for dinner and we all gave it thumbs up. If I make this again though I think I may want to marinate the beef overnight or figure out a stronger marinade to use. I'd keep the broth and the rest of the recipe exactly the same though.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Potato, Greens and Goat Cheese Quesadillas

While I was flipping through my stack of foodie magazines I came across this recipe for Potato, Greens and Goat Cheese Quesadillas in the March, 2008 issue of Bon Appetit Magazine. I was looking for something simple and tasty and what is a more perfect fit for that than quesadillas?

This recipe claims to take 35 minutes to prepare but I'm sure I spent more than an hour on it. I might be a bit rusty as I have been out of the kitchen for a bit, but preparing the potatoes and shredding the cheese seemed to take a half hour all in itself.

These quesadillas came out good but hot. They definitely have an interesting taste combination - the mustard greens and jalapeno cheese are spicy and the potatoes and goat cheese are to cool things down. I think I made a mistake though because I used some habanero cheese from Costco and it really flared up the taste of the mustard greens making it all pretty hot. I have never had mustard greens before and they remind me of horseradish! I ended up with alot more of the potato mixture and greens than I could fill the quesadillas with. I think I could have made 8 instead of 4 with this recipe. But it was a nice snack and definitely interesting. I may make them again for a dinner party, but this time I will use jalapeno cheese as suggested!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

#55: A Salty Chocolate Bar

I love milk chocolate. Sometimes, when I'm really in a pig out mode I like to eat potato chips and chocolate. It has to be good old-fashioned Lay's or some type of plain, greasy, salty potato chips. None of these fancy chocolate-dipped potato chips will do. There is just too much chocolate and not enough salt on those.

Image my surprise when Food & Wine's 100 Tastes to Try in 2008 included a Salty Chocolate Bar as #55 on its list. I was definitely intrigued, and also doubtful. I ordered L’Artigiano’s Salty Chocolate Bar from Worldwide Chocolate. It was $8.99 for the 3.5 ounce milk chocolate bar.

At first I thought this candy didn't taste like anything special. It was good quality milk chocolate so I could not complain. As the last of my first bite melted away on my tongue, I started tasting the salt. Hm, I think I needed to do that again. So the second piece went down. Definitely more salt this time. Flakes of sea salt are right inside the chocolate - you can see them!

Overall, this candy bar is pretty good. It is definitely something interesting and unique so I'm glad I tried it. However I'm not sure if it completely addresses my salty/sweet craving. I miss the crunch and grease of my potato chips. So, while I do enjoy this candy bar, I think I will still turn to my Lay's chips and Lindt truffles for my fix.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Chocolate-Mayonnaise Cupcakes with Butterscotch Buttercream Frosting

Tonight I had a sweet tooth so I decided to make these amazing Chocolate-Mayonnaise Cupcakes with Butterscotch Buttercream Frosting. I found the recipe in Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey and it is the first thing I have made from this book.

These are real cupcakes made from scratch. Consequently, they are not quick to make. The "mayonnaise" in these cupcakes might put some people off because it might seem unappealing. But it makes the cupcakes creamier in a way so don't be afraid to try it. It took even longer to make the frosting than the actual cupcakes themselves! But they are incredibly tasty. The frosting is both light and rich at the same time which is interesting. I made the frosting recipe as written but I only used about 1/3rd of it so I suggest halving it - why waste all the butter!

The photo in the cookbook that accompanies the recipe shows the frosting pipped on top of the cupcakes so that they look fancier. I just spread the frosting on and it still tastes as good to me!

Chocolate-Mayonnaise Cupcakes with Butterscotch Buttercream Frosting
Makes 24 standard cupcakes

2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup natural cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mayonnaise (not low-fat)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups boiling water

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two standard 12-cup muffin tins with paper cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the sugar and eggs and beat with an electric mixer set at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the mayonnaise and vanilla just until combined. Reduce the speed to medium and beat in half of the flour mixture just until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add half of the boiling water and beat at very low speed just until the batter is smooth, 5 to 10 seconds. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat just until combined, 5 to 10 seconds longer. Beat in the remaining water. The batter will be somewhat thin.

Divide the batter among the prepared cupcake cups, filling them about two-thirds full. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool completely. When the cupcakes are completely cool, frost them with the Butterscotch Buttercream Frosting and serve.

Butterscotch Buttercream Frosting

6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 pounds (6 sticks) cold unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. bourbon

Combine the eggs and brown sugar in a the metal bowl of a standing mixer. (Alternatively, use a metal mixing bowl and a handheld electric mixer, but be prepared for a workout.)

Fill a large saute pan or frying pan with water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Place the mixing bowl in the simmering water and whisk the eggs and sugar constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is thick and fluffy and very hot, 3 to 4 minutes. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature; it should be anywhere between 120 and 140 degrees.

Remove the bowl from the simmering water and, using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs at medium-high speed until they are tripled in volume and form soft peaks and the bottom of the bowl is completely cool to the touch, about 10 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and salt.

While the eggs are mixing, unwrap the individual sticks of butter and rewrap them loosely in plastic wrap. pound the butter 5 or 6 times with a rolling pin, or until the butter is soft and malleable but still cool.

With the mixer speed still on medium-high, add the butter, approximately 2 tablespoons at a time, to the egg mixture, beating in each addition until it is incorporated. When all the butter has been incorporated, slowly dribble in the bourbon. Don't start to panic if the buttercream seems to liquidly or looks curdled as you beat in the butter. It will magically emulsify into a smooth, creamy frosting by the time the last little bit of butter is mixed in. Have faith; it's worth it. Frosting is ready with the buttercream is smooth and glossy.