Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cooking Class: Monet's Table

I recently discovered that the Alliance Fran├žaise de Chicago offers French cooking classes. The first class I signed up for, "Being A Chef: Monet's Table", featured recipes from the cooking journals of Claude Monet which are published in Monet's Table. It wasn't clear if Monet created these recipes himself or if he just wrote down his friends recipes, but they were all in his journal.

During the class we discussed foods that commonly found in Giverny in the late 1800s and common preparation techniques. There were no immersion blenders for food processor back then!

Herb Soup
This recipe is really unique because you basically took a salad and wilted it in butter and then pureed it all together. The main herb used in sorrel which I was unfamiliar with, but after tasting this amazing soup I am on the lookout for a sorrel plant so I can grow my own.

Baked Wild Mushrooms
The simplicity of French cooking was demonstrated with this recipe. Calling for morels, cepe and crimini mushrooms, we were had to improvise on this one. We used dried morels and omitted the cepe entirely. But just baking the mushrooms with a little oil, garlic and parsley was more flavorful than you can imagine. Served with some crusty bread and it was a little meal all by itself.

Braised Sole in White Wine Sauce
The "main course" for which we substituted turbot for the sole. While it came out well, this was the most confusing recipe of all. We braised the fish I learned that you can cut parchment paper the exact size of the pan and use that instead of a lid. This way the "cover" is right on top of the food and all the flavors meld together much better.

Chocolate Gateau
An ALMOST flourless chocolate cake. It rises like a souffle and a little bit of batter made from only 5 ingredients makes an wonderful rich dessert.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Have you guys had an Izze yet? It's a sparkling fruit juice that I am seeing all over the place. I wanted to try it because I like juice and it has a cool bottle design. That was my theory anyways. Finally today I grabbed one while picking up a sandwich for lunch. Personally, I didn't like it. I thought it tasted like a wine cooler from the 80's. Has anyone else tried it? Are any of these new designer fruit drinks out there any good?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Grilled Chicken Thighs

Have you ever grilled oranges? Putting fruit on the grill is a great idea. They were featured as a garnish in photo accompanying the recipe for Grilled Chicken Thighs with Green Olives and Sherry Vinegar-Orange Sauce. Just cut in half, brush a little oil on them and throw them on the grill. They add a lot of drama and color to the dish you serve them with and they actually taste good too.

The page for this recipe Bobby Flay's Grill It! is covered in grease spots. That must mean I had a lot of fun preparing it, right? I like almost all recipes using chicken thighs so I definitely wanted to try grilling them.

Most people may just throw their chicken on the grill or use a store bought marinade, but it is well work preparing this sauce to go with the chicken. My family members were gobbling it up like it was candy! I served this with some Rice-A-Roni and Marinated Grilled Portobello Mushrooms.

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Green Olive and Sherry Vinegar-Orange Sauce
Serves 4

4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 shallots, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups orange juice (not from concentrate)
3 Tbsp. aged sherry vinegar
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 fresh rosemary sprigs, plus extra for garnish
3 Tbsp. honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (8-ounce) bone-in chicken thighs
1/2 cup picholine olives, pitted

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft and lightly golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the orange zest and juice and the vinegar and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the broth and rosemary and simmer until reduced by half and slightly thickened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Strain the sauce into a bowl, stir in the honey, and season with salt and pepper. The sauce can be made 1 day in advance, covered, and refrigerated. Reheat before using.

Heat your grill to medium.

Brush the chicken on both sides with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken on the grill, skin side down, and cook until golden brown and slightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn the thighs over, close the cover of the gill, and continue cooking until just cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes longer.

Remove the thighs to a platter and drizzle with some of the sauce. Tent loosely with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. Scatter the olives around the platter and garnish with rosemary sprigs. Serve additional sauce on the side.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Marinated Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

A simple and easy way to prepare portobello mushrooms! And the interesting part is that you "marinade" them AFTER you grill them. The picture does not due these mushrooms any justice, but I had some technical problems this evening.

I have been finding lots of wonderful recipes like this one in Bobby Flay's Grill It! This one in particular is simple and crowd pleasing (to those who like mushrooms). I can see this becoming a standard side dish which I will prepare quite often while grilling this summer.

Marinated Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
Serves 4

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Pinch of red chile flakes
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 medium portobello mushrooms, stems removed
1/4 cup canola oil

Heat your gill to medium.

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, red chile flakes, thyme, and parsley in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. The marinade can b e made 4 hours in advance and refrigerated.

Brush both sides of the mushrooms with the canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the mushrooms on the grill, cap side down, and grill until golden brown and slightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn the mushrooms over and continue grilling until just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes longer.

Remove the mushrooms from the grill and cut inti 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the mushrooms in a large bowl, add the marinade, and toss to coat. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. The marinated mushrooms can be made 4 hours in advance and refrigerated. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Grilled Salmon with Cellophane Noodles

My first attempt and cooking fish on the grill didn't turn out so well. The recipe is great and the fish ended up tasting very flavorful, but I didn't realize how flaky the fish would become and it fell apart on the grill. Note to self: do not put fish directly on the grates, use something in between which will be easier to pick up the fish from.

Besides the fact that my fish came off the grill in large chunks, this dinner is great for a weeknight. You get all the flavor and presentation as if you have been preparing a complicated meal, but it all comes together in less than a half an hour.

The noodles on their own are pretty boring. But they add a wonderful texture and it changes up the honey-soy salmon that you may have tasted before.

Honey-Soy Lacquered Salmon with Cilantro Noodles
Serves 4

3 packages (2 ounces each) bean thread noodles

4 center-cut salmon fillets (about 6 ounces each), skin on and scaled, pin bones removed

Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher or sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more for sprinkling

5 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons Asian sesame oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill on medium-high.

In a large bowl, soak the noodles in hot water to cover until softened, about 20 minutes.

Generously brush the salmon fillets on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. To make the glaze, in a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of the honey, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and mix thoroughly. Set aside.

To make the dressing, in a small bowl, combine the remaining 4 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 tablespoon honey, the sesame oil, and the lemon juice mixing well.

Drain the noodles will in a colander, shaking the colander a few times to make sure all the water is removed. pat the noodles dry with paper towels. Toss the noodles with the dressing, cilantro, and sesame seeds. Set aside.

Oil the grill grate. Use tongs to arrange the salmon fillets, flesh side down, directly over the medium-hot fire. Grill the salmon until grill marks are etched across the fillets, about 3 minutes. Turn the fillets, skin side down, and brush the salmon flesh generously with the glaze. cover the grill and continue grilling the salmon until it is almost opaque throughout but still very moist when tested with a knife, or an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 125 to 130 degrees, 3 to 4 minutes longer.

Divide the noodles among dinner plates. Using a wide spatula, place a salmon fillet in the center of each plate, on top of the noodles. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cooking Class: Four Regional Cuisines of Thailand

This summer I have singed up for a six-part series on Thai cooking held at Kendall College. The classes will be held once a month for six months. The first class was called "Four Regional Cuisines of Thailand".

Discover the secrets of Executive Chef/Owner Arun Sampanthavivat of Arun’s Thai Restaurant in Chicago. Chef Arun invites you and friends to this one-of-a-kind series of Spice Up’s Adventures in Thai Cooking classes that will be chock full of useful tips and techniques. Starting Tuesday, June 17th Chef Arun will teach a three hour course of his six part installment that covers one subject in depth each month expanding from Four Regional Tastes of Thailand to the Art of Thai Menu Design. With Chef Arun’s step-by-step instructions, hands on guidance and easy recipes, he is sure to have you whipping up dazzling dishes in no time. After just a few classes, your family and friends will be convinced that you've studied at Kendall College. Space is limited be sure to register today

Classic Thai cooking always balances the four fundamental flavors of hot, sour, salty and sweet, with the occasional addition of bitter. Four Regional Tastes of Thailand will be a survey of Thai culinary culture, aiming to take you to explore the exotic tastes of the exotic land of Thailand. Four regional cooking of the classical Thai tastes will be offered; the diversity of flavors, textures, and forms of the Thai cookery tradition.

This class delivered everything I was expecting it to. We started off the class in an auditorium and Chef Arun gave a very informative overview of the different cuisines of Thailand. After about a half an hour we went down into the kitchens and got to work. We prepared four dishes, one from each region of Thailand.

The Central Plains: Mee Kati (Coconut Noodles)
These were rice vermicelli noodles that we died pink! It is the traditional way to serve them and makes for a very elegant presentation. It seems simple, but I think that is the most unique lesson I took away from the class. While soaking the noodles in water, just add some red food coloring.

The North: Nam Prik Ong (Pork Chili Dip)
This one blew me away. I'm not sure what I expected based on the name, but was it ended up being was like a ground meat chili. But very fine and flavorful. It is served with vegetables which was a really unique compliment to the greasy, spicy meat.

The South: Khanom Chine Nam ya (Rice Noodles with Fish Curried Sauce)
Fish curried sauce may seem gross, but I assure you it is simply amazing. The recipe calls for a strip bass and you end up smashing the cooked fish in a mortar and pestle and them mix it in with a curry paste. I never thought I'd be mashing up a fish to use in a recipe!

The Northeast: Kai Yang (Thai Grilled Chicken) and Som Tum (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)
Absolutely AMAZING chicken! There were all sorts of amazing real Thai dishes and I couldn't get over how flavorful these chicken legs were. This is definitely something I"ll be making on the grill this summer. However, I doubt I'll be making the papaya salad because even though it was really great, you had to SHRED an entire papaya! I simply do not have the patience for that. I might give it a go with my mandolin though...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Drinks native to the Dominican Republic

I was introduced to two VERY interesting drinks while in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: Mamajuana and Caipirinha.

While it is the national drink of Brazil, the guide escorting us to our resort told us that Caipirinha is a very popular drink in Punta Cana. This is the one drink I ordered most often (besides beer or wine of course). If you like mojitos you will probably like a Caipirinha. Instead of being mint based, this drink features a lot of limes.

THE drink of the Dominican Republic is Mamajuana. Actually, it is thought to be a strong aphrodisiac and we were warned about that from our guide. It is made by placing a bunch of roots and herbs into a jar and then filling it with rum and wine. It sounds nasty but I assure you it wasn't too bad. We ordered one to taste it and it was very spicy and flavorful. It reminded me of something I would want to drink on a cold winter evening in front of the fire, not on the beach!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Blackbird's Kalamata Olive Cake

I had one of the most unique desserts at Blackbird. Even though it has been around for a while, Blackbird is still a really well known restaurant in Chicago and it is even listed on Food & Wine Magazine's 2008 Go List. With unique food such as the Kalmata Olive Cake I had for dessert, you can see why!

The full name of the dessert is "kalamata olive cake with rhubarb, toffee and buttermilk ice cream". I don't know what was more unique, making cake with kalmata olives or making little balls out of the cake!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Chicago's Sister Cities Festival

The variety of "sister cities" that Chicago has is quite interesting. My lunch today was from 3 of them! The annual Chicago Sister Cities International Festival is going on this week at Daley Plaza. Apparently there are 27 "sister cities" and while they weren't all represented, there was a good selection of different foods.

There were a group of musicians playing while I walked around - it sounded like Spanish or Mexican music. A "savory" turkey and cheese crepe represented Paris, France. A couscous salad representing Petach Tikva, Israel had with really good black and green olives and LARGE Israeli couscous. And a very refreshing (and not too sweet) mango shake represented Lahore, Pakistan.