Sunday, December 27, 2009

A few meals from this fall

It's been a long time since anything I've cooked has shown up on the blog. Looking back through the archives, the last posting that featured something that I cooked was way back in July. Between moving, vacation, and getting ready for the job market, we haven't had a lot of time to cook and have been eating out a lot. I have been cooking, though. I just haven't been taking pictures or updating the blog. I won't post recipes here since I can't really remember a lot of them at this point, but here are pictures of a couple of the meals I've made this fall.
Earlier in the fall, I was able to take advantage of some of the great farmer's markets in Chicago. There is a weekly market a few blocks from us in Wicker Park, where I was able to get fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn to make a nice gazpacho.
On another trip to the farmers market, I got a bunch of cherry tomatoes, green beans, and fingerling potatoes and used these along with toasted pine nuts, shaved parmesan, and aged balsamic vinegar, and fresh hand cut noodles for a nice pasta dish.
As the weather got colder, I started buying veggies like brussels sprouts and beets. In the picture above, I roasted brussels sprouts and beets. The brussles sprouts were roasted with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. The beets were roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, and orange zest. I served this with a pork tenderloin that had been brined in a mixture of apple juice, salt, brown sugar, mustard seed, thyme, and bay leaf. The roasted pork loin was dusted with fennel pollen and served with an apple reduction and some couscous.
Since moving back to Chicago, I've also had the opportunity to have a few meals with my sister's family. It's nice to have family in the same city and do family dinners. For one of the meals, I made a tagine with chicken, chickpeas, and apricots. This is a really good dish, so I'll try to post a recipe at some point. I really like this picture of my niece, Midori, waiting patiently for her dinner.
Lately, I've been doing a lot of my shopping in the Fulton Market area where there are some great butchers and fishmongers. Most of the stuff here is wholesale, but they have a few retail outlets. Isaacson and Stein is a great place for seafood and its only about a 5 minute drive from my place. On one of my more recent trips there, I picked up some Chilean Sea Bass.
I marinated it in a sake-miso mixture using the Nobu recipe and served it with crispy sushi rice cakes and seared spinach.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Chicago dogs

Chicago has an amazing culinary scene, but to most people, it hot dogs and pizza may be the first things that come to mind when thinking about Chicago food. While I haven't had time to do a comprehensive tour of all of the best hot dog joints in the Chicagoland area, I've had the opportunity to check out to of Chicago's finer hot dog establishements: Hot Doug's and Superdawg. These places are both very good and very different.

Superdawg is a drive-in place that looks like it hasn't changed in several decades. A somewhat creepy pair of hot dog statues sit on top of the drive in. They had red lights in their eyes, making them look like demented dolls from some B-level horror flick. Their hot dogs are awesome, though.
Superdawg is a great example of a classic, Chicago style hot dog.

The Superdawg comes tucked in a box with fries and a pickled green tomato. Both of the accoutrements are awesome, but the real star, of course, is the hot dog.
A Chicago style hot dog must have a giant pickle, mustard, and no ketchup. This is the only kind of dog they serve at Superdawg, and they do it well.

In contrast, Hot Doug's serves a vast array of different dogs. This place is a tribute to all things sausage. When you walk in, you see this quote on the wall, and this more or less captures the vive of the place.
To give you an idea of the variety they offer, here are some of the specials.
And they always have a weekly special.

This is the kind of place that carnivorous foodies love. It has been feature on "No Reservations" and I'm sure it has received all sorts of foodie hype in other venues. With this hype comes long lines. When we went here, the line was wrapped around the block and we had to wait around 45 minutes to order. At Superdawg, we waited about a minute.

We tried a number of different hot dogs at Hot Doug's, but because of a memory card glitch, we only saved pictures of the Chicago style dog
and the "Game of the Week"
We also tried the Foie-gras dog and a few other specials. The foie dog was probably the most novel dog that we ordered, but I don't think I would try it again. It's a bit rich. The other dogs were awesome, although I think that Superdawg's Chicago style dog is better.

I thought that both of these places were really good. For a great Chicago style dog, do to Superdawg, but if you are in the mood for something a little more adventurous and you don't mind long lines, you should definitely hit up Hot Doug's.

While I'm on the topic of Chicago dogs, Abby and I have become proud new dog owners since we moved to Chicago. Here's our pup, Hachiko. We adopted him from a rescue organization in late September, and he's about a year old now.

New city. New workspace

In August, we moved from our old apartment near Harvard Yard in Cambridge to a nicer, newer place in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. Among the many new experiences associated with moving to a new home and city, a new kitchen is one of the things that is most pertinent to this blog. It is, after all, where a lot of the food on this website is produced. While my new kitchen is certainly a cut above my old Cambridge kitchen in form, I'm not sure that it is a step forward in function.

Here's the old kitchen in Cambridge:
and here is the new kitchen in Wicker Park:

The new place certainly looks nicer. We traded linoleum floors and faux granite counters for hardwood and real granite, and I love our giant new fridge. We also got a lot more cabinet space and, thankfully, our new cabinets don't look like they are straight our of the 1950s.

We also got this nifty chalkboard and a built in wine rack.

I love how the new kitchen looks, but there are some things about the old kitchen that I miss. In our old place, we had a big walk in pantry that had tons of storage space. There's no pantry in our new place, so, in spite of all the extra cabinets, I feel like I have less storage space. We also don't have space for a breakfast table or kitchen island, so we don't have as much usable counter space. I often like to have several different things going at once in the kitchen, so this is a big drawback. Also, the sink in our new space is smaller, which is really annoying.

I'm sure I'll love the new kitchen after I've had some more time in it, but for now, I'm still getting used to it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Venice: Our last supper at Osteria da Alberto

Nearly four months after returning from our trip, I finally am getting around to the last post from our Italy trip. Staying true to our strategy of eating at Slow Food endorsed restaurants, we decided to stop in at Osteria da Alberto for our final meal in Italy. The food here was simple, flavorful, and provided a fitting end to a fantastic culinary trip.

We started our meal with mussels with parsley and lemon and a big bottle of white wine. Like just about every other restaurant we went to in Italy, the house wine here was high in quality and low in cost.
Next, we had a seafood risotto. Usually I'm not that impressed with risotto. It's something I make often, and usually, I think that the stuff I make at home is just as good as anything I invariably pay too much for at a restaurant. That was not the case here. This was, hands down, the best risotto I have ever had. The rice was perfectly cooked. A lot of the time, risotto is overcooked so it gets all mushy, making it impossible to distinguish each grain of rice. Here, each grain had a little bit to it, but it was cooked just long enough so the interior wasn't chalky. The rice was perfectly flavored with a subtle seafood broth and bits of assorted seafood such as mussels, scallops, and fish.
We finished with squid cooked in its own ink served with polenta. Again, this dish was perfectly prepared. The squid was nice and tender, and the lightly grilled polenta was perfect for sopping up the tasty squid ink sauce.

Venice: Cicchetti

I've neglected my foodblog for a while, so here are a couple more posts to finish off our Italy trip and then I can move on to Chicago, our new home (for this year, at least).

Anyhow, back to the food. As I've already mentioned, Abby and I were really surprised about how much we liked Venice. The food here is fantastic, and, like Spain, they have a great tradition of "small bites" that you can wash down with a glass of wine.
Referred to as "Cicchetti," these small bites could be described as the Venetian take on tapas. Like tapas, they come in a variety of forms, and they are perfect for food oriented travelers who would spend all day hopping from one restaurant to another if constraints - both on your wallet and stomach capacity - didn't interfere.

We spent most of our time in Venice wandering through the back streets and stopping in at every cicchetti bar we could see. There is a considerable variance in quality, but two of the more memorable places we went to were "Cantina do Mori" and "All' Arco"
These two places are right next to each other. We had seen Cantina do Mori on an Anthony Bourdain show, and it has to be, by far, the oldest eating establishment I have ever been in. It has been in business for around six centuries!
All' Arco was significantly more modern, and we were drawn in by the numerous "Slow Food" awards posted in their window. We ordered several different varieties of bruschetta
and an amazing tomato salad. While Cantina do Mori was good, I think All' Arco takes the award for best cicchetti in Venice.
Cicchetti isn't just bruschetta, though. We went to places serving poached artichoke, grilled fish and shrimp, croquettes, arancini
as well as seafood salads and fried anchovies.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Venice: Wandering the streets and markets

Venice was the last stop on our trip. We almost didn't come here. We heard it was overrun with tourists (true), smelled bad (not true), expensive (true), and was not nearly as romantic as everyone made it out to be (not true).

In spite of all the tourists and the obvious "Disneyland" feel that the whole city has, Venice was a thoroughly enjoyable place with great food and stunning architecture. As I've mentioned before in posts about Siena, there is something very peaceful about a city without cars. The air feels cleaner, you notice your neighbors more since you have to walk everywhere, and everything just seems to slow down a little bit. In Venice, you get all of those benefits plus canals. There's no other place like it, and as you walk around the city you are constantly struck by the opulence of it all. To build an entire city state on water at the time that Venice was built takes an extraordinary amount of wealth and no small measure of conceit.
In building there city, it is clear that Venetians wanted no visitor to have any questions about the extent of their wealth. While modern Venice may be overrun with tourists, they are all concentrated in a very small swath of the city. It's almost as if they are cattle, being herded along the widest streets and canals which are lined with shops, stands, and restaurants all selling the same thing.
If you go off these well trodden paths, however, Venice offers a maze of quiet streets full of these doorbells.
I'm not sure how anyone could walk by these and not press them. Among the many places to visit is the Rialto market. This market, which is more than 900 years old, is THE place to go for fresh food, and, when we went, it was surprisingly uncrowded.

The Rialto market is divided into two sections. One sells a large selection of seasonal produce ranging from assorted mushrooms
to squash blossoms, tomatoes, and cucumbers
and a colorful assortment of chiles.
The second part of the market is filled with tables piled high with fresh seafood, much of which comes from the waters surrounding Venice.

Fresh scallops are in abundance, and, unlike many of the scallops I see for sale here in the U.S., these are sold in there shells, so you can use the whole scallop, not just the abductor muscle. I actually didn't know you could eat the other parts of the scallop until we had an amazing scallop tasting at Sushi Yasuda, where Chef Yasuda served us every part of the scallop.You can also get octopus
freshly caught sardines and anchovies
and monkfish. I really wish I had a market like this near my place.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cinque Terre: Osteria a Cantina de Mananan

Unlike its four sister villages, Corniglia sits high up on the hillside, affording amazing views of the coastline, but at a cost. In the the summer, or, at least, in August, the long staircase up from the train station can be an unpleasant effort, and it acts as a deterrent to many of the tourists that pack the waterfront cafes of Cinque Terre's other villages. Those who take the hike up the hillside are able to stroll down the single street of this tiny village in relative solitude and, if you make a reservation at Cantina de Mananan, you can have some of the best Ligurian food around
One of the first things that catches your eye as you pass by (actually, the only thing, since there isn't much else) is the doorway, which is plastered with endorsements and awards from the various groups that hand these things out to deserving restaurants.
Hidden behind the door is a tiny little dining room with stone walls, a chalkboard with the daily menu, and precious few tables. Every seat in this restaurant is by reservation, and they are only open for a few hours around lunch and dinner each day. Most table don't get a single turn in, so don't expect to eat here as a walk in.
In keeping with the Cinque Terren tradition, this place specialized in seafood dishes. We began out meal with a seafood antipasti consisting of anchovies three different ways (with vinegar and lemon, olive oil and garlic, and fried), smoked tuna, white beans with tuna...
...and, on the side, salt cod with olives, tomatoes, and capers in a light broth.
we also had artichokes, which were good, but still no match for the legendary artichokes of Volpetti, in Rome.
Next, it was on to the main courses. It's worth noting, if it wasn't clear already, that this place takes its food very seriously. They even offer eating instructions on their place mats.
The directions were printed in English, German, and French, and perhaps they were prompted by one too many tourists asking for cheese or pepper to put on their pesto or seafood pasta. These are perhaps the two most popular dishes here. We didn't order the seafood pasta since you could only order it in servings for two and we wanted more variety. Instead, we opted for the pesto, which, they boast, is the best in all of Liguria.
We also had a whole, grilled branzino, which was served with nothing but a slice of lemon. The fish was so fresh and well prepared that it needed nothing else.
We ended our meal with a panacotta with blackberries, huckleberries, and blueberries. This was a really light, tart dessert. Neither of us really like sweet food, so this was perfect for our palates.
I would say that this was one of the best meals of our whole trip. If you are in Cinque Terre, this is a restaurant that you cannot miss. Just make sure to make a reservation ahead of time or you will miss out on this gem.