Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bouchon: Cauliflower Au Gratin

To go along with the simple roast chicken I decided to make Thomas Keller's Cauliflower Au Gratin from his Bouchon cookbook. The recipe calls for one head of cauliflower, but in retrospect two would probably be better. Once I cleaned the leaves off the head, I removed the florets and saved the stem.

First you caramelize minced onions:

After trimming the hard exterior of the stem, the recipe calls to put the soft interior in a food processor to mince and then add to the pot:

After adding some spices (including some spicy curry), heavy cream and while milk is added then reduced:

After the sauce has reduced, the florets are laid out in a pan and the sauce is spread over the florets. Before adding into the oven breadcrumbs are added to the top:

Here is the final product:

The Verdict

A very good side dish. Too often side dishes are made that could just as easily be a meal in itself. This dish is perfect as a side to a light protien, like the simple roast chicken.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Big & Little's Restaurant

Big & Little's Restaurant
939 N Orleans St # 1
Chicago, IL 60610-3001
(312) 943-0000
Big & Little's is new to the River North scene, but has made quite a big splash recently as it was the Chicago Tribune's Cheap Eater of the Year award winner. "Little" of Big & Little's was a contestant on Hell's Kitchen (he got kicked off quickly) but his only previous cooking experience was teaching classes at the local William's Sonoma. It may not look like much from the outside, but inside B&L is turning out great inexpensive twists on old favorites. Their menu consists mostly of seafood items like fish tacos, poboys, and fish sandwiches but also includes more traditional items like burgers and hotdogs. They've also become known for their "truffle fries" which are their normal fries topped and served with truffle salt (a simple addition but a big improvement that makes for tasty fries).

Here is the kitchen (that's "Little" on the left):

I went with one of their specials, the soft shell crab po'boy:

Overall Big & Little's is a great place for an inexpensive lunch (about $10pp) if you're in the River North area and you're in the mood for quality but casual seafood lunch items. The employees there (including "Big" and "Little") are alot of fun and are happy to long as you go somewhat early. Once noon rolls around the lunch crowd overtakes the restaurant forcing long lines and a lack of seats. My recommendation is to get there around 11:30 to make sure it's a stress free visit.

Bouchon: Simple Roast Chicken

A couple of weeks ago I received Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook. One of the first recipes that stood out to me was Keller's "Simple Roast Chicken," mostly because it was so simple. Keller calls for a "fresh farm raised chicken" so I made a trip to The Butcher & Larder (2323 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL) to pick up a 3 pound chicken: 

After we trussed the bird, Keller calls for only salt and pepper for the bird, no butter as is traditionally used, as he claims that butter creates steam and that he wants a dry heat to cook the bird. So we didn't use any butter. Here's the bird before we put it in the oven:

And after only an hour of cooking at a high heat with no basting:

Before serving Keller recommends some thyme, and to "serve simply":

The Verdict:

A very tasty and moist chicken. The flavors are very simple, but with a high quality fresh bird I'm not sure you need a whole lot more than salt, pepper and thyme. We were surprised just how moist the meat was, despite not using any butter in the cooking process. I have to imagine that this is a very healthy dish. After we had our fill, I stripped all the meat I could find off the bird and saved it for later, when I made some great chicken salad by adding a little mayo and celery.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Butcher & Larder: "The Untouchables" Sausage

Here is another glorious item from the team at The Butcher & Larder: "The Untouchables" sausage-green onion, bourbon and Great Lakes Eliot Ness beer. A fantastic beer sausage that features a wonderful spicy bite and a smooth beer and bourbon finish. Their sausage machine is constantly cranking out house creations that change almost daily. I would recommend heading down there and grabbing a sausage or two along with some pate as it makes for a great treat!

Hot Doug's

Hot Doug's
3324 North California
Chicago, IL 60618

The quote painted on the wall says everything about Hot Doug's: "There are no two finer words in the English language than 'encased meats,' my friend." No there isn't!

I made my way up from the city yesterday to take a long lunch, bringing a friend from out of town on his first visit to Hot Dougs. I've found that visiting on a Saturday can be a complete zoo...with lines at 11am snaking down the block and taking an hour to get your food. Going during the week is the way to go, as I've rarely seen the line longer than 15 people at noon on a weekday.

Anytime I come to Hot Doug's, I try to go light on the fries and enjoy a couple of sausages as they are so unique (and ever changing) I can't choose just one. Yesterday, I went with my all time favorite sausage: the Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel, and the day's celebrity sausage: Saucisson Alsacienne: Bacon Sausage with Creme Fraiche, Caramelized Onions and Morbier cheese.

The duck sausage is heaven on a bun, as three of my favorite things to eat are foie gras, truffle, and duck. I even had my picky eater friend order it and he loved it. When I asked him if he liked the foie gras, he said yes and "what is foie gras? I hope it's not pork liver or something crazy like that."...I told him to google it when he got home.

The celebrity sausage exploded with bacon flavor, and I loved the morbier cheese coupled with the onions. Very good and an example of the sausage talents of Hot Doug's.

I also took a bite of my wife's order, which was the Traditional Irish Pork Banger with Guinness Stout Mustard and Cahill's Porter Cheese. This was pretty good, but in my opinion nothing special.

The only benefit to coming on a weekend and standing in line is that they have the duck fat fries, so we settled and had some of the standard fries.

All in all, Hot Doug's is a favorite and a place that everyone who comes to visit the city should try to see in order to experience the "real" Chicago.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ad Hoc at Home: Vanilla Ice Cream

As I've been using Ad Hoc at Home as a springboard into the world of ice cream making, instead of skipping ahead to slightly more complicated recipes I decided to make what Keller calls the "base" for many of his ice creams and other desserts. Here are the ingredients needed for the basic vanilla ice cream (note the real vanilla beans):

After heating up the cream, milk, sugar, and eggs the main step in the recipe is removing the beans from the vanilla stalks and placing it in the mixture (along with the stalks as well) and allowing to sit at room temperature for a while to allow the mixture to absorb the vanilla flavor. Here is the mixture pre-trip to the fridge:

After letting the mixture sit in the fridge overnight, I mixed it in my Kitchen Aid ice cream maker/attachment and placed in the freezer to let sit and firm up. Here is the finished product:

The Verdict:

This was a very good ice cream. Like Ad Hoc's  other desserts, it is very rich and should be limited to 3 or 4 bites. The ice cream tasted the best for two days after I made it, after that it started to loose its texture and became a bit icy.

The Butcher & Larder: Pate

I just wanted to share a picture of the fantastic pork based pate that I picked up this past weekend from The Butcher & Larder (2323 N Milwaukee, Chicago). I stopped in looking for some of their "Country Pate," but Chris asked if I would like to try some of this instead. I'm glad I did as it is some of the best pate I've ever had. All of the pates are made from farm raised animals in house, the pate below is pork liver based. Even if you're not a big pate person, it's worth giving it a try at B&L. Serve it with some simple toast and enjoy!

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