Monday, September 3, 2012

Night At the Four Seasons

It's not often you find food with a sense of humor, never mind hotel food with a personality. But Chef Kevin Hickey, of Allium at the Four Seasons, manages to capture both with his menu. Matt and I had the pleasure of dining there last Saturday.

We started with the cheese lavosh, a flat bread that came held up by a hanger. Our server encouraged us to break off pieces without regard to the mess we would make—encouragement that would be very much needed, as we had just walked through the polished marble lobby of a freaking fancy hotel. Seriously, the Four Seasons is nice. The lavosh was delicious, and unlike Cafe Spiaggia's cheese bread did not taste like a Cheese-It.

We followed it up with the bison tartare. It was my first time eating any kind of tartare, and I'm glad I chose this place to try it. The bison was rich and had a complex flavor. The chips added a crunch, the soft-poached eggs more richness, and the mustard some spice. It was really well balanced; our only complaint was that there wasn't enough chips to accompany the big pile of meat we were served.

Post-tartare came our main courses. Matt had the wagyu skirt steak. He said it was very well cooked and based on the one bite I tried, I agreed.

I still preferred my order, however, the Wisconsin walleye. Matt doesn't like seafood so I make a point of ordering it most of the time when I eat out. I had never had walleye before (it was a night to broaden some horizons) and it tasted fine. The succotash beneath it was the real star of the show. Loaded with bacon, ham, corn, as well as other delicious tidbits, it was a different experience every bite. The chow chow, a pickled relish, was more sweet than pickle-y, but I enjoyed the sugar on top of the fish & veggies.

For dessert we order a couple of small things. First was the lemon-basil marshmallows. Lemon and basil is an excellent combination if you've never tried it. In particular, I recommend Giada's Italian Lemonade. The marshmallows were about what you would expect, both sweet and pillowy.

Matt loves lemon, so we got some lemon bars, which were fine. The real standouts on the dessert menu, at least as far as the critics are concerned, are the miso-butterscotch milkshakes and the smores. We weren't up to such a large dessert, though, and I appreciated that Allium offered some smaller sweets.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

More cupcakes from Martha

This time, the red velvet cupcakes, which with blue sprinkles became Fourth of July cupcakes!

They were cute and got good reviews from my coworkers.

Book Review: American Grown

Some may regard Michelle Obama's new book with weary cynicism for its oh-so-conveniently timed release. But if you can manage to set aside any misgivings you may have for the pandering nature of America's electoral process, you'll find your efforts well worth it. The release date may be politically motivated but the content of American Grown is both charming and relevant. It details not only the First Lady's (and friends') work creating and maintaining the White House garden, but also the history of the White House's relationship to agriculture, community garden efforts across America, and Michelle Obama's campaign, Let's Move, that encourages kids to get out of the house and exercise.

These topics are of course especially relevant given the problems associated with the American diet. I think the last major study I saw stated that by weight, the U.S. made up 33% of the world population, while in numbers we comprise only 5%. American Grown hearkens back to a time when the U.S.'s food culture wasn't primarily made up of things like cheeseburger-flavored potato chips and doritos shell tacos (which sound disgusting, by the way, and no one can convince me otherwise). It includes tips for planting your own garden, whether you live in the city or the suburbs. The chefs of the White House also provide a handful of recipes to help you get started eating healthily. I tried a couple of them out.

First was the corn soup with grilled vegetables. To create this, you first cut the kernels off of corn (if anyone has any tips for how to get the kernels not to go everywhere, I'm all ears) and boil the cobs to make a corn stock.

Then, you puree the kernels and cook the puree in a saucepan. After a while, the kernels will gelatinize. This happens when the starch in the corn absorbs water and swells. The mixture thickens, and then you can add stock to thin it out. I added a little too much, and since for whatever reason you weren't supposed to let it boil (it's NOT primarily a cookbook) the final product wasn't dense enough to support the grilled vegetables.

However, it still tasted good. The combination of corn and thyme in particular was delicious.

The macaroni and cheese with cauliflower puree turned out better and was easier to make—a good dish for a weekday evening.

And as if the pictures of children gardening and fruits and vegetables weren't cute enough, the First Dog, Bo, shows up occasionally. His main duties in life are apparently (when he's not investigating the White House garden) sitting for pictures and being groomed.

But hey, he does his job well.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mid-day ice cream run

Never have I felt closer to an ice-cream hawker1—I'm literally standing two feet away from a cooler propped up next to the JBar entrance of David Burke's Primehouse, surrounded by co-workers who have followed me for ten blocks for supposedly great ice cream. I've dragged them there with promises of delicious and unusual flavors. It had better be worth it, or I'm going to be much reviled around the office.

Photo courtesy of Joyce, associate and amateur photographer extraordinaire

And it was! I had the old-fashioned (as in the cocktail) cone, comprised of bourbon brown sugar ice cream, orange sherbert, and bourbon-soaked cherries. It was one of the best ice cream cones I've ever had (although still not as good as Jeni's) and generous with the bourbon. You can try similarly unusual flavors every Friday from 3-5 at DVP's pop-up ice cream shop in River North. In addition to the old-fashioned, so far I've seen flavors like black velvet, margarita, boston cream pie, dreamsicle, and more. My coworkers have already repeatedly shown interest in future visits. I just hope the margarita flavor comes up again...

Find out the flavors for each week on twitter!—@DBPrimehouse

1 A Google search of 'what do you call someone who makes ice cream' revealed this as the most amusing answer.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Chicago Beer Week at Nellcôte

It's been a couple weeks since it happened, but our experience at one of the hottest new restaurants in town was interesting enough to warrant a late post. Matt and I went there for the glorious time of year know as Chicago Craft Beer Week. I'm not much of a beer drinker but Matt likes it and occasionally I'll find something that I enjoy.

The interior of Nellcôte was gorgeous and you could definitely tell that they had invested a lot of money in it. I think the last number I heard was around a million...well spent on antique wallpaper, designer furniture, and candelabras (actual candelabras, with candles, mounted on the wall). It was a little on the overly-trendy-but-somewhat-lacking-in-personality side, which for some reason always makes me feel self conscious. I think it's because I feel like I'm encountering society as a whole rather than an individual, and suddenly there's an overwhelming pressure to conform.

Fortunately, the food on the whole was tasty enough to allay any fears about Nellcote being a haven for the glitterati, although you wouldn't have guessed it from the first course. We started off with an asparagus shooter, and if that sounds disgusting, well, that's because it was. It was cold and a little oily and just generally unpleasant.

Thankfully, we soon got our drinks, two cherry lambics, the special beer for the night. They were very good, although Nellcôte can't take too much credit for that.

And post-shooter, the food was very good, especially the bread. Apparently they mill their own flour and make all the breads and pastas in-house, and major props to them for doing so. We had a selection of three breads, (baguette, brioche and focaccia) and all were deeply flavorful and tasted really different from one another, despite having a superficial resemblance. Following that we shared a taleggio, scallion, and pancetta pizza, more than enough for two people. And finally, to top it all off, we shared pineapple, chocolate and coconut sorbet, all three flavors of which were delicious.

Having gone back afterwards and read some of the critical reviews, it seems like Nellcôte is very well regarded for its breads and pastas and not so much for just about everything else. If you were to go, I'd recommend sticking to the rolls and spaghetti.

So tapioca is kinda gross

All right, so tapioca may not be gray. In fact it's a very nice shade of white but that doesn't preclude it from being gelatinous and downright weird.

In a previous post, I had mentioned that I was going to try a recipe for dulce de leche tapioca. I went through with it and, despite having a tub of uneaten tapioca in my refridgerator, I'm glad I did so. The tapioca tasted good but the texture was sticky and just kind of odd. Perhaps it would be enjoyable for others, but definitely not for me.

The only thing I really liked about trying out this recipe is the process in which the dulce de leche was made. Dulce de leche, meaning milk candy, is a sweet spread made by cooking milk and sugar. The end result is thick and rich and has a slightly nutty flavor.

To make dulce de leche you could, if you were so inclined, carefully cook the two ingredients together for over an hour, all the while monitoring it and adjusting the temperature to see that it turns out correctly. Or, if you're like me and don't feel like doing that, you could buy a 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk and boil it unopened for 3 hours. You just have to make sure it stays covered with about an inch of water the entire time and that you don't burn yourself at the end of it, and ta-da! You have dulce de leche. Stir in some salt and other flavorings (e.g. cinnamon or vanilla) and bam! You have flavored dulce de leche. It's so easy and really cool.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I won a cookbook!

OMG, I'm like totally buggin!

Last week I mentioned that I had entered in a minor contest to win a cookbook via, and I won! I get Cooking with Chocolate: Essential Recipes and Techniques, nominated for a James Beard Award for last year.