Saturday, November 21, 2009
For the latest edition of homecookingschooled, Charles and I found ourselves at the Green City Farmers' Market in Chicago. We were sourcing ingredients for a Jose Andres tapas dinner, specifically freshly laid eggs for an authentic Spanish tortilla (check out the site for complete details on our dinner).
While on our egg hunt, we also sampled a very tasty apple cider from Seedling farms which inspired us to make an apple cider sangria - since what's a tapas party without sangria?
Thinking red wine would be too strong, I decided to use a base of a fruity and slightly sweet Riesling to best highlight the apple-y flavors of the cider. I added your usual suspects of diced apples, oranges, lemon and lime juice and simple syrup. Cinnamon or canela is a common ingredient in red sangria and apple and cinnamon go together like pb&j so a few cinnamon sticks went in as well. The flavor was still a little flat and needed a boost. I happened to remember a bottle of apple vodka that I had in our bar and decided to add a couple of splashes which eventually turned into half a bottle. With the addition of ice, the flavor was now perfect! The sweetness of the apple cider really came through, the cinnamon added a nice spicy note and the apple vodka provided a snappy granny smith apple finish.
If you're looking for something out of the box and festive to serve your guests for Thanksgiving, especially when they first arrive, consider sangria. It's easy to make, people can help themselves to it and sangria appeals to a wide base of drinkers from your lush of a cousin to your aunt who swears she only drinks on special occasions.
Cinnamon Apple Sangria
2 bottles Riesling - I used an off-dry Riesling from Monterey
1 quart Seedling Apple Cider
2 gala apples - diced
1 large Navel orange - skins removed and sliced
Juice from 1 lemon and 1 lime
1/4 cup simple syrup (you can use sugar but it may be difficult to dissolve)
1 1/2 cups green apple vodka (I used Vox but you can also use Smirnoff which is less expensive)
3 cinnamon sticks
Empty two bottle of Riesling into a large mixing bowl. Add the remainder of the ingredients and chill for a minimum of 1 hour. Simple syrup and vodka can be added to taste. Serve in a wine glass filled with ice. A splash of club soda can also be added if you want a fizzy sangria.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The tater tot scene reminded Chris of a charity cookbook that was put together by his mother and her friends. Everyone contributed a few signature recipes and then the cookbooks were sold in order to raise money for the local hospital. His mother's contribution included a recipe for bubbly clam dip - take a can of clam soup, heat until bubbly and then garnish with saltine crackers. Anything served with pineapple rings was instantly deemed Hawaiian style (pronounced high-why-yun). Chris said the book also contained a recipe for tater tot casserole from a woman named Bev Maddox, a frequent character in his stories as she was the town gossip and a close family friend. Chris remembers Bev Maddox telling his mother about the Johnson's fancy powder room - the toilet seat was transparent with a selection of real coins embedded in it. I loved any story involving Bev Maddox and I was most definitely intrigued by the idea of a casserole made from tater tots.
Chris didn't have a copy of his mother's cookbook so I asked him to describe what the tater tot casserole was like and I also did some research online. Most of the recipes called for browned ground beef baked with a layer of tater tots and cheese, a preparation that sounded boring and dry. I somehow struck the idea to create a creamier sauce akin to a sausage gravy which would coat the tater tots and prevent the casserole from drying out. I made my first attempt at Thanksgiving dinner five years ago and it was an immediate hit. We can't have a Thanksgiving dinner without it now. I've also given this recipe to so many friends and they too have added tater tot casserole to their holiday collection. Crew in Uptown also features it on their weekend brunch menu - since it's a potato dish, it's really good as a breakfast item with eggs. I will warn you, this casserole is nothing fancy and it is very unhealthy (some of my friends refer to it as Alpana's Heart Attack Casserole) but it's really good.
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 lb of bacon - sliced into 1/2 inch strips
8 oz or 1/2 roll of country sausage (Jimmy Dean, Bob Evans, etc - I make my own)
2 cloves garlic - minced
1 1/2 cups onions - diced
2 ribs celery - diced
1 10.7 oz can Campbell's Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup ( you could also use celery soup)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese (optional but it does add a nice depth of flavor)
1 8 oz bag shredded cheddar cheese (I use mild but feel free to use sharp)
Pre-Heat oven to 400 degrees
In a dutch oven or large pot, melt the butter and then add the sliced bacon and cook until slightly crispy but still soft. Remove bacon from the pot and reserve. Add sausage to the pot and cook until light brown and crumbled. Remove sausage and reserve with the bacon. Drain all but 3 tablespoons of grease from the pot - if you don't have enough grease, add some more butter. Saute onions, garlic, celery and chili pepper on medium heat until soft and translucent - about 10-12 minutes. Add sausage/bacon to the onion/celery mixture and saute for 1 minute. Lower the heat and then add the cream of chicken soup - the mixture will instantly turn gloopy and thick. Thin the mixture with the milk and simmer for 5 minutes until all the lumps are gone and the mixture is nice and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and add the sour cream and half of the cheese. Stir until the cheese has completely melted. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
Put the tater tots in a large mixing bowl and coat evenly with the sauce. Place the tater tots in a buttered casserole dish and then sprinkle the remainder of the cheese on top. You can use more cheese than what I call for here. Place the dish on a baking tray (the dish tends to bubble over) and then bake for 45 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown and the tater tots are completely done. Enjoy!
DUCK CONFIT STRUDEL
Wild Mushroom Cream, Parsley Oil
2007 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages
SEARED SCALLOP, HOUSE CURED PORK BELLY
Hard Cider-Mustard Jus, Celery Root Puree
2008 Georges Duboeuf Mâcon-Villages
COCOA BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIB
Whipped Sweet Potato, Carrot -Ginger Relish
2006 Georges Duboeuf Morgon
Humboldt Fog, Saint Andre, Maytag Bleu, Pickled Cherries
2006 Georges Duboeuf Juliénas
CHOCOLATE BANANA TARTE
The event cost is $65 per guest plus tax and gratuities. Reservations are required; Call 773-348-8886 for Mon Ami Gabi located in Chicago (2300 N. Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614).
For additional information, please contact Nicole Gebhart at email@example.com.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
If you are having trouble viewing this video, click here (links directly to Chicago Tonight)
In last night's segment of "Ask Alpana" for Chicago Tonight, I offered wine pairing suggestions for Thanksgiving dinner. Not all of our viewers have access to a specialty wines store therefore I picked wines that were available for purchase at a major supermarket (The two exceptions being the Crispin Hard Apple Cider and the Vieille Ferme white wine. You can find the Crispin at Binny's or Whole Foods and the Vieille Ferme is available at any Binny's).
There is one tip that I forgot to mention: instead of buying multiple bottles of the same wine, I would suggest purchasing a variety of different selections and then set up a wine tasting buffet for your guests to sample from. This way, everyone gets the type of wine that is best suited to their tastes and a wine tasting is a fun way to keep people occupied, especially if you are running behind in the kitchen.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I wanted to know a good introductory course to all things wine and sommelier-esque in Chicago, preferably downtown...like anywhere near wabash and superior. No, seriously, I'm willing to go anywhere (outside of my neighborhood) in Chicago to take and relish in a class, recommended by you, that could orient and familiarize me with said things. I want to see if my curiosities will either wane due to a passing interest or if they will engorge me like a flame and take me over!
thanks so much,
This Thursday marks the official release of Beaujolais Nouveau, the first wine of the year. The release coincides with celebrations and parties throughout the world. If you're a Chicagoan looking to join the festivities and get your Nouveau on, Mon Ami Gabi (A Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant) is throwing a party.
The event will take place this Thursday, November 19th, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. A similar party will take place at Mon Ami Gabi’s Oak Brook location, with Executive Chef Bruce Williams. Event cost is $35 a person, plus tax & tip. To register please call (773) 348-8886 for Mon Ami Gabi Chicago and (630) 472-1900 for our Oak Brook location.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Third Course - Salad of Mixed Greens
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
During my early days of wine education, I would attend as many trade and public tastings as I could. These tastings gave me access to so many different types of wine, especially pricier or esoteric selections that I could not afford to purchase on my own. I would also interview winemakers, importers and distributors and use their feedback to bolster my knowledge and understanding of the subject.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Three thoughts come to mind upon hearing the word Yosemite: a mustached cartoon character, my childhood home and the place where I almost died.
If you grew up watching Looney Tunes cartoons, Yosemite Sam is easy enough explain. I grew in a house located on Yosemite Street (FYI - my porn star name would be Pepper Yosemite). And finally, I am reminded of the time I almost died on an 8th grade class camping trip to Yosemite National Park. We were there in the dead of winter which meant lots of snow, something I nor my parents from Fiji had ever experienced hence our ill-fated choice to pack rain boots instead of proper snow boots. During a hike in the mountains, I lost my footing on an icy sludge covered trail and came dangerously close to falling off the edge of a cliff. That's when my friend Christina Ferrante came chasing after me, grabbed my arms and saved my life. So there you have it, when you say Yosemite, I think of: a gun wielding cartoon character, the source of my porn star name and how I learned the importance of proper snow boots.
And now, courtesy of 7-Eleven, you can add wine to that list as well. This past Tuesday, the convenience store chain announced their plans to launch their very own line of wines that will be marketed and sold under the brand name Yosemite Road. Two flavors will be offered at approximately $4 a bottle, a "fresh and zesty" Chardonnay "with notes of apricot, peach and honey," and a "full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with juicy plum overtones". The wines will be released in 15,000 outlets, including 7-Eleven stores in the U.S. and Japan, as well as other subsidiaries of parent company Seven & i Holdings Co., Ltd., an $87.9 billion Tokyo-based corporation.
The decision to use the Yosemite Road brand vs the company name is a smart one since it doesn't immediately connect the buyer to a 7-Eleven. I mean, how many of us would show up to a dinner party with a bottle of wine marked with a 7-Eleven logo? At least, how many of us would do it without trying to be funny or ironic on purpose? That would be klassy with a circle k.
I will say that my initial reaction to the idea of 7-Eleven wines was great - I finally know what wine to pair with Funyuns. But all kidding aside, are consumers going to take 7-Eleven wines seriously? I'm not a fan of Two Buck Chuck but it's certainly been a huge hit for Trader Joe's and I certainly understand the reason for the popularity. Many people have come to rely upon Trader Joe's to seek out quality, esoteric grocery items so it's only natural they would trust "Trader Joe" to pick out some wines for them as well. The same could be said about places such as Costco or Whole Foods. What kind of wine is to be expected from a place that is synonymous with slushie drinks and Slim Jims?
The company did announce that the wines will be offered for a limited time only. My guess is they are testing the waters to see if they get a big bite (hee hee) from consumers. If they are successful, I'm sure we can expect similar moves from other big name companies in the food service world. White Hen Pinot Grigio, anyone?
Monday, November 9, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
On November 12th, Ben Pao (a Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant) and yours truly will host a Hot Pot Dinner, kicking off the Beijing portion of their Regional Dinner Series. The Hot Pot technique is traced to Northern China, circa 400 A.D., where Mongolian soldiers upended their helmets, filled them with water, held them over a fire and dunked hunks of meat in them to boil. The tradition of "wei-lu", meaning to circle the pot, spread throughout the country and became synonymous with communal feasts.
The evening begins at 6:00 p.m. with a cocktail reception and Beijing-inspired passed appetizers like shredded star anise-braised pork with homemade lotus buns, duck mu-shu rolls, and sesame-crusted garlic tofu. The Hot Pot Dinner will follow with wines that I have chosen that pair perfectly with the vast flavors of hot pot. The evening ends with guests dipping into a chocolate fondue, hot pot style. Included in the evening are raffles to win a hot pot and all of the sauces for your home enjoyment, as well as gift certificates good for November and December - the months that Beijing Specials are offered in the Restaurant.
The Hot Pot Dinner experience is priced at $55.00 all inclusive. This style of dining is perfect for groups, as 5-6 guests are seated around the Hot Pot. For more information regarding the style of dining and to make your reservation call Ben Pao at 312-222-1888
Here are photos from the Beer and Sichuan dinner that we did at Ben Pao this past summer.
Guest speakers Jim Ebel from Two Brothers Brewing Co & Beer Expert Wes Phillips with Ed Culleeney from Ben Pao
Sichuan Style spicy lake perch with Allagash White
Ma Po Doufu with Two Brothers Domaine Dupage French Country Style Ale
Dry Chili Chicken with Left Hand Brewing Co. Juju Ginger
Twice Cooked Pork Belly with Brasserie Dupont Foret Organic Saison
Chengdu Ice Cream Sandwich with Tyranena Brewing Co Rocky's Revenge Bourbon Brown Ale
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
A couple of weeks ago, I was at Drinks Over Dearborn celebrating their one year anniversary and Kyle, the owner, told me about these $8 ice cubes from a company called Glace Luxury Ice (pronouned gloss - because you know - they're $8 ice cubes and the company has to be fancy like that). The 2.5 inch balls are made from purified water and are supposedly hand-carved in Canada and delivered in “elegant packaging” complete with dry ice. A pack of 5 will set you back $40 and a bag of 240 spheres is an astonishing $1440.00. According to the company website, these chunks of frozen water are "designed to occupy the top position in the premium ice market." The website also goes on to compare the product to wine and suggests, "the ice may be 'aged' for a period of three to four minutes. This aging will allow the ice to acclimate to room temperature and cause 'frost' to form on the surface." And then if that is not fantastic enough, they offer this gem, "Glace Luxury ice will "crackle' and 'spider' but it will not break apart like less deserving ice or home-made ice." Surely you knew that your ice did not deserve you.
(image via Luxury Ice Co.)
The whole idea of luxury ice harkens a time before the world went into a financial meltdown where excess was all the rage and bars were in a frantic race to see who could come up with the most ridiculous, over priced cocktail. Diamond stuffed olives anyone? You have to admit, it takes balls (hee hee) to charge $40 for a bag of something that people are used to getting for free.
Now I like to keep an open mind about these sort of things since after all, I am in the beverage business and we're not exactly known for our prudence. The fact of the matter is, ice is one of the most important ingredient in a cocktail. Without it, now matter how good the base spirit, bad ice will ruin a drink. It would be like cooking a prime piece of Kobe beef with rancid fat. The meat is doomed. Ice will also absorb odors in the freezer and pick up surrounding flavors. Hmm...is it me or does this gimlet taste like salmon? The shape and size of the ice can greatly influence how the drink tastes therefore bars devoted to the craft of mixology will often stock ice in several shapes: cube, block, cracked, and shaved. Shaved ice melts quickly which is great if you want to dilute your drink. Enjoying a nice whiskey or scotch? Try a big block of ice which melts at a slower rate allowing you to enjoy a more concentrated drink. Respect for ice has even spawned a new generation of ice snobs.
The Glace Luxury Ice company has decided to shape their ice in the form of a 2.5 inch sphere but this idea is not a new concept. The Japanese have been enjoying their brown spirits over hand carved ice balls for quite some time now. According to a post detailing the spherical trend in Japan in Wired Magazine earlier this year, “a 2-inch diameter ball of cold has a lower surface-area-to-volume ratio than a typical cube. That means it melts more slowly, preventing vintage hooch from warming up and getting watered down.” Check out this video of a Japanese bartender chipping out a spherical cube by hand. Now this would be worth $8!
I certainly appreciate the thought process and reasoning behind offering this product and if there are people out there who are willing to fork over the cash for it, well good for them but I'm not one of them. And why would I when I can use filtered water and make ice spheres of my own using a round ice tray? Oh, but where can I find such magical round ice trays? The MoMA store sells them for $16.