Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie

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I made chocolate chip cookies the other day following Alton Brown's The Chewy recipe. I am convinced that they are the best chocolate chip cookies *ever*.

The recipes calls for bread flour which makes the delicious cookies plump and chewy. Be sure to refrigerate the dough for at least a few hours before baking. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Veerasway

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I heart the West Loop. I recently had dinner at Veerasway, a "fresh Indian" restaurant.

While we waited for our table, we enjoyed cocktails at the bar. I had the mumtaz maharita, an Indian margarita. It was refreshing; the fresh ginger and cumin added a nice kick. The cocktails are unique, Indian inspired creations. There was great energy in the restaurant.

Upon seating, we were served papadum wafers accompanied by three chutneys: cilantro-mint, tamarind, and yogurt. We loved the cilantro chutney so much that we asked for more, but the second time it was watered down and not nearly as delicious.

We started with bindi chat fry and samosas stuffed with potatoes and peas. And cocktails, yummy ones.

Bindi chat fry is okra finely sliced lengthwise and fried, seasoned with chat masala, red onion, tomato, and fresh cilantro. It is crunchy, fresh, tangy, salty. I love it with the yogurt dipping sauce. 

Lately I have been disappointed with the lack of flavor in samosa stuffing at most Indian restaurants. Veerasway was the exception. I could taste onion, ginger, lemon, salt, green chilis, and spices in every bite of the stuffing. And it was delicious.

We ordered the mutter paneer with pea spouts, saag aloo, rice, and black pepper, cilantro, garlic naan. The mutter paneer was rich, creamy with a tomato base and pronounced cardamom. The dish had fresh peas and is topped with fresh pea sprouts. LOVED it. 

The saag aloo has fresh spinach and fingerling potatoes, with a touch of cream. Red chili, ginger, lemon, and cumin seeds added a kick and complexity to the dish.

At Veerasway, the ingredients are Indian inspired but the dishes are exciting and creative. The quality and freshness of the food was unsurpassed. Oh, and the naan is fabulous. 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

U2

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I know it's not food & wine related, but I just *had* to share my happiness.


U2 360. Chicago, IL.
September 12, 2009.

Amazingness. Cannot stop smiling.

Favorite moment: Bono asks everyone to hold up their cellphones and shouts, "Let's turn this place into the Milky Way!" For that moment it felt like we were in a tiny galaxy in Soldier Field captivated by glittering lights and soul stirring music.

Set list:

Breathe/ No Line on the Horizon/ Get On Your Boots/ Magnificent/ Beautiful Day-Blackbird/ Elevation/ I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For-Stand By Me/ Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of/ Unknown Caller/ The Unforgettable Fire/ City Of Blinding Lights/ Vertigo/ I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight/ Sunday Bloody Sunday-Oliver's Army/ Pride (In The Name Of Love)/ MLK/ Walk On-You'll Never Walk Alone/ Where The Streets Have No Name

Encore:

One/ Bad-40

Second encore:

Ultra Violet (Light My Way)/ With Or Without You/ Moment of Surrender

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Graham Elliot

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I was looking for an excuse to try Graham Elliot Bowles' restaurant, Graham Elliot. The concept is serious food without the pretentiousness. I finally had dinner there for a friend's birthday.

The ambience is trendy yet casual. High energy, good music, no dress code, no tablecloths. When we were seated, we were welcomed with a basket of white truffled popcorn with parmesan. As truffled popcorn is something I regularly make, I was slightly disappointed that 1) the popcorn tasted stale and 2) it was not well seasoned. My dinner companions, however, loved the truffled popcorn and asked for a second basket.

The food was exciting, creative, and tasty. The server was accommodating of my dietary restrictions and offered to create a plate from the vegetable accompaniments on the menu. He also recommended the sweet corn bisque, which was certainly the highlight of the meal.

Here is a recap of what I had.

Course 1. Sweet corn bisque incorporated with chipotle jam, crushed corn nuts, garlic marshmallow, lime crema. The sweet corn bisque is poured at the table over the other components and then the server asks you to stir everything together. The components work in harmony to create a dish that is sweet, creamy, spicy, crunchy, fragrant, and has nice acidity. Each spoonful tasted different and led me to uncover more complexities. Outstanding dish. 

Course 2. Smoked eggplant topped with tomato marmalade accompanied by Israeli couscous and caramelized fennel. Beautiful but not very filling. It was the first time I had Israeli couscous. Have you had this stuff? It was amazing. I love the texture and it is a refreshing change from usual couscous.

Course 3. Chocolate cake, two ways with a meringue and ice milk. Enough said.

I *really* hope that Graham Elliott adds vegetarian main courses to the menu.  But honestly, I would go back just for the sweet corn bisque.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Arun's: 12 Course Tasting Menu

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Four diners. Twelve courses over two and a half hours.

After much anticipation, we finally dined at Arun's, chef Arun Sampanthaviva's refined interpretation of traditional Thai cuisine. There are twelve courses. And no menu. Diners inform the server of any dietary restrictions, allergies, and spice preference. Our group had varying spice preferences and the dishes were individually customized accordingly.

The twelve courses are customized for the table. Other tables are served different dishes throughout the night. The first six courses are tastings, the next four are served family style, and the final two courses are desserts.


Service was nicely timed. Our experience may have been better if we had the same waiter each time. Unfortunately we had a new trainee who had a difficult time remembering and explaining the dishes. And the table next to us was loud and obnoxious, which certainly colored our experience.

Below is a description of our dinner.

1. Steamed rice patties with a coconut center topped with fried shallot and scallions.

2. Paan (bettlenut leaf) with red chili, coconut, peanut, shallot. Served with a thick, sweet tamarind sauce. Excellent combination of flavors.


3. Spring roll filled with tofu and bean sprouts, topped with sweet and sour tamarind sauce and mustard. Yes, that is a tomato rose and a carrot butterfly.


4. Rice dumpling filled with tofu and jicama served over a rather mild, tomato-ey sweet and sour chili sauce


5. Threaded tofu served over noodles with spinach and soy sauce. The threaded tofu was the star of the dish. This was the first dish where I felt that common Thai ingredients were transformed into unexpected (and delicious) creations.


6. Spicy broth of noodles tofu cabbage, tomato sprouts, scallion, and fried shallot. Presented with a fried brocoli rabe. Absolutely wonderful flavors and textures. I wanted more of this soup.


The first six courses were well executed, well portioned, and well timed.

After that, things started to fall apart. The next four courses were served family style which detracted from the fine dining experience. The portions were far too large and there was a lot of food left on the plates when we were done. The experience felt no different from dining at the neighborhood Thai restaurant. However, the food was quite delicious.

7. Tofu packet with sweet potato, sweet sour spicy sauce, topped with "tempura" brocoli, bitter melon. The textures and flavors worked well together. I thought the bitter melon tempura was a nice touch. Wait, tempura isn't Thai-- what's going on here?



The seafood version had a fish carved out of carrot that reminded us of Nemo from "Finding Nemo!"


8. Two bundles of asparagus, eggplant, zucchini, and carrot, in a delicious red curry sauce. 


9. Spicy eggplant and zucchini with basil, perfectly seasoned with garlic and red chilis. Excellent flavors, very tasty.


10. Vegetables in light sauce. This dish was very "eh." It lacked flavor, lacked texture, and was the least interesting.


The final two courses were desserts.

11. Salty rice with coconut sauce crowned with a mango slice covered in mango sauce. The dish lacked color and texture (it was mushy). I forgot to take a picture of it.

12. Lychee sorbet in crispy cup, seasame roll, poached pear and raspberry coulis. This dessert was creative and had nice flavors. However, the poached pear seemed like an after thought and was not well incorporated into the dish.


Overall the experience was memorable, but it is unlikely that I would dine at Arun's again.

On a different note, we loved Nemo the carrot fish so much that one of my dinner companions took him home to show her children. She tells me that the children played with the carrot fish for a couple days and then ate him.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Napa Valley: Cabernets, Bouchon, and Bistro Jeanty

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I just returned from an amazing trip to Napa filled with exquisite wines and fabulous food. We tasted big Napa Valley cabernets and chardonnays from Far Niente, Caymus, Joseph Phelps, Cakebread, and Frank Family. We toasted sparkling wine from Schramsberg. We dined at Bouchon, Chef Thomas Keller's excellent French bistro, at Bistro Jeanty, an homage to rich French comfort food, and at Bistro don Giovanni, a bustling Italian bistro. We marveled at the breathtaking views from a hot air balloon flight at sunrise.

Happiness.

Here are highlights from the trip.

Day 1.

Far Niente

We knew the tour was going to be special from the moment we walked in and saw our names written on a chalkboard welcoming us to Far Niente. Although we arrived 10 minutes late for our appointment, we were greeted pleasantly by the host and immediately escorted to catch up with the rest of the group. 

Our tour guide was engaging and knowledgeable as he led us through the winery and caves. The man-made caves were impeccable and stunning. The property is beautiful, especially with the Spring flowers in bloom, and offers breathtaking views of the well-maintained Mondavi grounds. The tour culminated with a tour of the family's vintage car collection, including a 1951 Ferrari 340 America and a 1966 Ferrari 500 Superfast. It was unexpected and fun.



We made our way to the beautiful tasting room where we were greeted with six wine glasses and accompanying cheeses.
  • 2006 Chardonnay: toasted hazelnuts, apple, bosc pear, fig. Fabulous.
  • 2007 Chardonnay: orange zest, tropical fruit, papaya.
  • 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon: spice rack, roasted coffee, chocolate, tobacco.
  • 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: cassis, chocolate, vanilla, oak, velvety. LOVE.
  • 1999 Dolce: honey, apricot, silky texture. Heavenly.
  • 2005 Dolce: floral, light bodied, slightly grainy.
The 2006 Chardonnay was the first Chardonnay I have ever fallen in love with. Starts with fruit and good acidity and finishes with toasted hazelnuts. Well-controlled oak integrates the fruit and crisp acidity. Rich, well-structured, perfectly balanced. Far Niente Chardonnay never goes through malolactic fermentation. Our guide said that the creamy layers in the wine come from sur lie aging and regular stirring of the lees. 

The 2006 Cabernet was oh so heavenly: silky, black cherry, vanilla, velvety chocolate, oak. Big and full on entry, bright fruit and spice/oak gives way to a long, layered finish of chocolate and dark fruit. Smooth, full-bodied, balanced, and soft tannins. Elegant and luxurious. 

The 2000 Cabernet: roasted coffee, chocolate, spices. Think cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg.  Glossy, light-bodied, well-structured, with soft tannins. Dark fruit mellows into roasted coffee, chocolate as a wine matures. Evidence that the wine ages beautifully. I really enjoyed the vertical tastings. 

The tour guide went on and on about how incredible Dolce is and referred to it several times as "Napa Gold" and "liquid ambrosia." The 1999 Dolce paired deliciously with the blue cheese, but I wasn't crazy about the wine.

I highly recommend the tour and tasting at Far Niente... and the wine! I am determined to visit Nickel & Nickel, the sister winery specializing in Cabernet, the next time I find myself in Napa.


Joseph Phelps

We quickly made our way to a terrace tasting at Joseph Phelps. The terrace tasting takes place outdoors and offers sweeping views of the beautiful grounds. The weather perfect-- sunny, blue skies. 

There were three stations each pouring different wines. The pourer at the first station was friendly and knowledgeable. The second station was pouring for a large group so we did not interact much with him. When we reached the third station, no one was there and we waited for a while until someone finally noticed us. She poured the last set of wines without any explanations and rushed us through the tastings. I asked a question about the wine we were drinking, Insignia-- the pride of Joseph Phelps, and she was rather abrupt. Quite a different experience from the intimate tasting we had just come from at Far Niente. Maybe the experience would be better in the private tastings.

We did enjoy spending time on the terrace overlooking the beautiful grounds. It would be a lovely place to have a picnic. Highlights were the 2006 Chardonnay, Joseph Phelps Insignia, and ice wine.



In desperate need of food, we stopped for excellent sandwiches to go at Oakville Grocery on our way to Caymus.

Caymus

I have a special place in my heart for Caymus. The first high-end California cab I ever had was Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon with my brother in 2006. It was lush, with dark fruit and chocolate integrated with the perfect amount of oak. I didn't know much about Cabernet  back then but I knew it was the best wine I had ever tasted. I remember telling my brother that California wines are far too expensive and I prefer to drink Aussie Shiraz, NZ Sauvignon Blanc, German Riesling Spatlese, and Italian and Spanish reds. Well, that bottle of Caymus cab changed everything. 

Caymus does not offer a tour, only a tasting for up to 10 people at a time. Reservations required and fill quickly. We tasted four wines and our host explained the wines in a wonderfully intimate way.
  • 2003 Sauvignon Blanc: toasted nut, citrus, tropical fruit, fuller bodied, oak. Fantastic.
  • 2006 Zinfandel: plum, pepper, tanins.
  • 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet: cassis, red fruit, chocolate, oak, silky. LOVE.
  • 2006 Special Selection Cabernet: soft, cassis, pronounced oak, hint of tobacco, velvety. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.
The 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet was sublime as usual. Cassis and cherry cola in the nose gives way to intense flavors of cassis, sweet oak, and dark chocolate. Fruit-forward but dark chocolate is more pronounced in the body than typical Cabernet fruit. Full-bodied, moderate tannins, with long, persistent finish.

WOW. The 2006 Special Selection Cabernet is hands down one of the best wines I've ever tasted. It is 100% cabernet. Dark and rich, beautiful layering of cassis, black cherry, chocolate, and spicy oak. The dark fruit lingers and lingers in the finish. Extremely full-bodied, opulent in the mouth. I cannot wait for an occasion to drink this special wine again!

Cakebread

I must admit that I had a fair amount of wine before arriving at Cakebread for our group tasting. The tasting took place outdoors and it was rather hot. I don't know about you but drinking red wine under a blazing, hot sun is not very appealing to me. Awnings would have tremendously improved the experience. Our tour guide did not seem very knowledgeable, which was very disappointing. He was unable to answer some of our questions and seemed defensive of the wines if we voiced anything less than enthusiasm about the wine he poured.

Highlights were 2006 Chardonnay and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chardonnay was creamy but showed more oak than fruit. The finish was incredibly long. The Cabernet was herb and earthy in the nose but dark fruit and spicy oak are pronounced on the palate. It was slightly more tannic and not as full-bodied compared to the other cabernets we tasted during the day.

After a much needed nap, we were ready for Dinner at Bistro Jeanty.

Upon arriving at the charming bistro, we were promptly seated and given the specials, handwritten on a small chalkboard. I loved it.

We were wined-out-- I didn't think it was possible-- so unfortunately we did not try any of their fantastic wines. We decided to order two appetizers from the specials. I knew I wanted the famous tomato soup in puff pastry long before I even made the reservation. And it was Divine.
  • Leek tart with mushroom jus. Excellent flavors. Loved it.
  • Grilled asparagus with tomoatoes, egg white, yolk served with hollandaise sauce.
  • Tomato soup in puff pastry... buttery flaky puff and savory soup.
  • Mousse au chocolat brulee, not at all like creme brulee just choc mousse with hard top.

Day 2.

Hot Air Balloon Ride

At the ungodly hour of 5:30am, we were picked up from the hotel and taken to the meeting place, Red Hen Cantina. We signed release forms over coffee and light breakfast. Closer to 7am we made our way to the balloon take-off site. The first whoooooosh of the gas flame startled me so much I jumped! We were one of the first balloons to go up in Napa valley and watched the sunrise as we slowly drifted over beautiful wine country. Our pilot was awesome. He offered enough information to make things interesting but let us have our own space and enjoy the experience. There were 10 people in the basket. One of the balloons only one couple in it-- he proposed!  Breathtaking views. Majestic colors of all the balloons in the sky.


After landing, we were greeted with a lovely champagne brunch and had plenty of time to get to our first wine tasting.



I first had Frank Family wines at an informal wine tasting in my neighborhood wine store in 2006. I enjoyed the wine but never came across it again. We were early for our Schramsberg reservation so we decided to walk into Frank Family for a tasting.There were some bottles left over from an even the night before so we got to taste a few of the reserves that are not normally part of the tasting. Overall I was impressed by the wines and the prices.
  • 2007 Chardonnay: toasted almonds, oak, vanilla, creamy, very long finish.
  • 2006 Carneros Chardonnay: vanilla, toasted almonds, heavier oak, yellow.
  • 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir: fruit, smokey, light bodied but complex, lingering soft finish.
  • 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet: cherry, tobacco, chocolate, smooth. Best buy under $45.
  • 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford: intense fruit, less earth, soft cedar, chocolate, full bodied.
Schramsberg

The tour of the caves was awesome. Jacob Schram employed Chinese laborers to hand-dig the caves in the 1870s. The caves were expanded in the 1980s. The caves are covered with hanging mossy lichen, a sharp contrast to the immaculate cave walls at Far Niente. Our guide said the lichen helps maintain humidity in the caves. It was an enjoyable educational tour. We learned about méthode champenoise, the traditional method of making champagne, and about riddling, the process of turning of bottles to consolidate the lees for removal.


We ended the tour in the sunny tasting room. Highlights include
  • Blanc de blanc: soft bubbles, dry, green apple.
  • Blanc de noir: demi sec, soft, tropical fruit.

We had a lovely lunch at Bistro don Giovanni, an Italian bistro. We were lucky to get a table on the terrace overlooking winery grounds. I had spring risotto with asparagus, arthichokes, mushroom, tomato, peas, and fontina. Outstanding dish with fresh ingredients.


Our last winery stop was at Steltzner, where we did a walk-in tasting. Highlights were the Estate Malbec (very full-bodied) and Estate Cabernet Franc.

We rested before our much anticipated Dinner at Bouchon.

The dining room is classical French. White walls with large mirrors, opulent. After two days of tasting big Napa cabs, my palate was overwhelmed. The sommelier was wonderful and listening to our needs. He suggested two half bottles, one white and the other red. 

The Tor Chardonnay was beautiful. Toasted almonds, crisp acidity, pear with a hit of vanilla, integrated with oak. The Bourdeaux Pomerol was exactly what our wined-out palates needed with dinner: light bodied with bright red fruit. 





We decided to share the endive and watercress salad with roquefort, toasted walnuts and walnut vinaigrette. The walnut vinaigrette added acidity but also brought out the toasted walnut flavor. It was a nice touch.



For my main I had Gnocchi a la parisienne: Alsatian style pan-seared gnocchi with a ragout of spring vegetables with beurre noisette and sage. The herbed gnocchi were not made of potato but of pâte à choux and egg and then gently poached in water. It was very intriguing. Tasty, light, glossy texture. The hazelnut butter added a lovely nutty flavor to the spring vegetables and complemented the herbs. Superb. Will dream about this dish for many nights to come.



I had the cheese plate to finish: Tomme crayeuse (cow) dense, creamy, mustard, mushroom / Chabichou du poitou (goat) dense, chewy, chalky, nutty, piquant / Bo Poisse (cow) bitter, creamy, pungent, mushroom, tangy.


I had first ordered Opal creek instead of tomme crayeuse. But the opal creek smelled of ammonia and gasoline. Not kidding. It was so strong the the table next to us commented on the foul odor. And I am a cheese lover. I had yet to meet a cheese that I don't love. When the server returned she asked me what I thought of the cheeses and I told her. Smiling, she said she absolutely agreed and offered to replace the cheese with the tomme crayeuse. She promptly returned with a new cheese plate for me. That is excellent service. 

I loved Bouchon and  am excited to try other Thomas Keller restaurants. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

Asparagus wrapped in phyllo

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I've always wanted to wrap asparagus in something, other than the obvious prosciutto. I made this appetizer for a dinner party and it was a big hit. Enjoy!


Asparagus wrapped in Phyllo
(adapted from Paula Deen)

1 lb asparagus, tough ends removed
1 package of phyllo dough, thawed
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted in the microwave
1/2 lb aged parmesan reggiano (as high quality as you can afford), finely grated
fresh ground pepper
sea salt

Note: A brush is useful for applying the butter to the phyllo.

Preheat oven to 375. Unroll the phyllo on the counter top and cut a 6" wide stack of sheets. The width of the phyllo should cover up to the tips of the asparagus spears and leave some of the end exposed. Put the rest of the phyllo in the freezer immediately to keep from drying out.

Remove one sheet, keeping the rest covered with a towel. Brush the sheet with melted butter. Dust the sheet with fresh ground pepper, sea salt, and generous amounts of parmesan. Place 2 asparagus spears on the short end of the sheet and roll. Place flat in a baking dish, seam side down. Repeat until all spears are used.

Sprinkle parmesan, sea salt, and black pepper over the wrapped asparagus. Bake in the oven for 15-18 min until crispy.
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