27 November 2006

Ravioli, Sans Pasta

Roasted Butternut Squash Purée with Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese and Sage

Oh, golden and luxurious ravioli filling, I hereby elevate your status from ‘filling’ to ‘side dish.’ By means of this declaration, you may finally rid yourself of the confines of your bland pasta encasements and bask in your own squishy squashy glory. Your epicurean rank now is equal to that of mashed potatoes and creamed corn.

So...I hope I am not being lazy when I make homemade ravioli and leave out the ravioli. It’s just that I’m not good at making homemade pasta. I’m much better at helping my friends make homemade pasta, which means that I lovingly turn the crank of the pasta machine with one hand and hold a wine glass (more lovingly) in the other hand. Friends, whilst you slave over piles of eggy flour and clumps of sticky, uncooked ravioli, I sit at the kitchen island spooning velvety mouthfuls of squash into my mouth when your backs are turned.

Since that joyful November evening during which when I ‘helped’ my friends make ravioli, I have made this ravioli filling twice as a side. It stands on its own, splendidy, and has the potential to surpass your main course.

Roasted Butternut Squash Purée with Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese and Sage
~adapted from Butternut Squash Ravioli Recipe at epicurious.com
1.5 pounds of butternut squash
2 tablespoons butter
2 onions, diced
1 clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped finely
3 oz. goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees faranheit.
Cut the squash into two halves and scrape out the seeds. Discard seeds (or save for garnish).
Place the squash cut side down onto a baking sheet. Bake for about an hour, until the squash is tender and easily pierced with a fork.
Set aside to cool

Meanwhile, prepare the onions by cooking them over medium-low heat in the butter for about twenty-five minutes. Add the sage and garlic about halfway through the cooking time. When the onions are soft, dark, and caramelized, take them off the heat and stir in the goat cheese.

When the squash has cooled, scrape the flesh into a bowl.
Add the onion mixture.
Using a hand mixture, blend the squash and onions until smooth and creamy. Alternatively, use a food processor.
Season to taste.

15 November 2006

A Single Tear Drips off a Prepubescent Moustache

Erielle is in a horrid mood today. She yelled at some students at school this morning, and she didn't yell quietly. The two children (well, one of them has a moustache so it is doubtful whether or not he can be considered a child) were not doing anything intentionally malicious, thus, the remainder of the class is now terrified of their crazy teacher.

Now safely locked in her office, Erielle is disappointed in her irrational anger, which tends to surface randomly and cannot be suppressed. Still fuming, she plans to squelch her lingering fury by checking out the newest German porn sites during her planning time. To hell with the censors on the school computers. Let them come and get her and cart her away.

On second thought, Erielle decides she is not interested in porn sites today, and will instead eat the entire plate of chocolate cherry cookies that she made especially for her students but too bad for them they’re a bunch of jerks and they’re not going to get any.

In the event that the consumption of these cookies does not diminish Erielle’s angst, please list further anxiety-relieving procedures that come to your minds, preferably those that can be followed within the confines of a windowless cube that is engulfed by the cacophony of a seventh grade band that is playing the same song that the seventh grade band has been playing every single goddamnit year for the five years of Erielle’s short-lived career as a mean middle school orchestra director who makes pre-teens cry.

Optional objects or mediums available in windowless cube for anxiety-relieving procedures:
-random, broken, inexpensive musical instruments that sound like crap
-the internet
-a scanner
-a toolbox
-a co-worker's lunch
-a grizzly bear costume
-a stop sign
-a bottle of ibuprofen and about 140 bandaids
-$8.36 in ones and change
-two unopened tubes of Krazy Glue

(Events in this dramatization have been modified. Erielle has not made any students cry for at least 1.5 years, and she doesn’t visit German porn sites. She does, however, have students with prepubescent moustaches, and prepubescent moustaches gross her out, so she likes those students less. They don’t get any cookies.)

Chocolate Cherry Cookies
from Cooking Light

The cocoa powder gives these cookies a wonderfully strong chocolate flavor, and the dried cherries give each bite a fruity tang. There is not even a full stick of butter in the recipe, and only on egg, but somehow the cookies turn out chewy and moist with a crunchy outside. What more can you want from cookie?

1 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder (I used Shaffern-Berger, the good stuff, but if you’re making it for ungrateful middle school students who don’t know how to behave, just use Hershey’s cocoa powder)
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt

1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg

2/3 cup dried cherries (I use a cup)
3 tbs. chocoloate chips (surprise, I use about 6 tbs.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients and whisk until combined.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar.
Add the egg and the vanilla and mix until blended.

Gradually add the dry ingredients, scraping down the side of the bowl to incorporate all of the batter.

Fold in the chips and the cherries.

Scoop tablespoons of batter onto a greased baking sheet.
Bake for 12 minutes, then let cookies sit on baking sheet for an additional 5 minutes. They will not look done when they come out of the oven, but they will continue to cook on the baking sheet.

12 November 2006

Guess what, NYC...Chicago has its Own Magnolia Bakery, Except It’s Not Cupcakes, It's Sausages!

Mushroom and Garden Vegetable Chicken Sausage
with Shiitake-Chevre Sauce and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

You may or may not be aware of the infamous Magnolia Bakery in NYC, whose charm and whose cupcakes are supposedly so irresistible that New Yorkers and tourists (mostly tourists) have been observed waiting in lines that that wrap around the corner and stretch for blocks. (thanks to Amateur Gourmet for the video link.)

Like many, I learned of Magnolia bakery when SNL's "Lazy Sunday" skit skyrocketed the bakery’s appeal to millions. I have not visited Magnolia Bakery, therefore I am not at liberty to comment on either the quality of the cupcakes or what makes this place such a sweet-tooth magnet. But - rumor has it that the cupcakes do not live up to the expectations of those who have waited in the line.

Well, there might not be as many people in Chicago as there are in NYC, but we certainly have an establishment whose wrap-around-the-corner-lines are worth the wait, and isn’t it fitting for our city that it is a restaurant that showcases ground meat?

Hot Doug’s
The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium

“There are no two finer words in the English language than,
‘encased meats,’ my friend.”
-Secret Robbie

I feasted at Hot Doug’s for the first time yesterday, and I am simultaneously gladdened and saddened by the experience. I am gladdened, simply because Hot Doug’s exists, but I am saddened because I live on the opposite end of the city from Hot Doug’s, and forty minutes is too long to drive for a wiener, at least on a regular basis.

No, what am I saying? No distance is too far, and no wait is too long for these exceptional, gourmet sausages! Not only does Doug serve a wide assortment of sausage types, but the condiment combinations he dishes up are mouth-wateringly too good to be true.

Take a look at this Specials menu and tell me you wouldn’t experience difficulty choosing just one wiener from this list:

Go ahead, look me in the eye and tell me you would rather eat a cupcake than “Portugese Linguica with Saffron Rouille and Romao Sheep's Milk Cheese.”

Portugese Linguica with Saffron Rouille and Romao Sheep's Milk Cheese

What is linguica? Why, I'm glad you asked. It is Portugese sausage that is seasoned with onions, garlic, and paprika. What’s a rouille? I can tell you that, too. It’s a sauce that consists of olive oil with bread or breadcrumbs with spices.

If 'linguica' and 'rouille' were not previously in your vocabulary, than your epicurean lexicon was just improved by this vicarious e-visit to Chicago's fanciest hot dog joint.
Do you you think you could learn new words by eating cupcakes?
I think not.
Don't think I am smack-talking cupcakes. I enjoy a good cupcake now and then. But right now I so gastronomically elated about my meal at Hot Doug's that I cannot think about anything else, especially cupcakes, which are just distracting in general.

I left Hot Doug's with a happy heaviness in my belly, which was created not only by the best sausage experience of my life, but also by the heavenly duck fat fries. I hope there is duck fat in heaven. I also hope that in heaven, blood orange mustard cream is lovingly poured over gourmet sausages. I even hope there are cupcakes. I just hope you don’t have to wait in line for any of those things.

There's Doug, chatting with a customer behind his framed citation
from the city of Chicago warning him to stop serving foie gras.
Doug is a condiment genius AND he's sassy!

Saucisse de Toulouse with Blood Orange Mustard Cream, Fromage Chaume and Fwah Graa(TM) "Butter"

Smoked Rattlesnake Sausage with Apricot-Dijon Sauce and Blue Cheese
drizzled with Truffle Honey

The joint was packed!

Hot Doug’s
3324 North California
Chicago, IL 60618
Phone: (773) 279-9550

Hot Doug's even has its own theme song!

08 November 2006

The Best Pork Tacos in Chicago and a Shameless Plug for my String Quartet

taco al pastor at Arturo's, yum!

Have you ever said to yourself that someday you would really like to start listening to more classical music?
Might you have also said to yourself that one of these days, you will really stop spending so much money eating out?

This Friday, you can begin to fulfill both of those resolutions, for only $4 plus the price of drinks. This is how:

Go to Arturo’s on Western and Armitage Avenues.
Nibble complimentary chips and fresh salsa.
Treat yourself to a flavorful taco al pastor.
Savor the flavorful meat that has been marinated, spiced, and vertically broiled on a rotisserie.
Take advantage of the fresh taco garnishes, which are always plentiful and delicious. Only the avocados cost extra. Totally worth it.
Sigh with pork-filled contentment, and roll on over to Danny’s.
Grab a drink from the bar.
Relax, sip your booze, and listen to a free concert by Quartet Parapluie.
Attend post-concert dance party.
Go back to Arturo’s for a post-dance-party taco al pastor.

wonderfully fresh and spicy salsa

Yes, you can find a less expensive pork taco in Chicago, but it probably won’t taste better than it will at Arturo’s. And yes, you can find a string quartet that’s better than Quartet Parapluie, but you’ll probably have to fork up alot of cash for tickets, and you certainly won’t be able to drink booze while you listen to the performance.
No fun!
Come and see us instead!

We’ll be playing Ralph Vaughan William’s String Quartet in G minor, and Maurice Ravel’s String Qaurtet in F Major. For fans of the movie The Royal Tennenbaums, the second movement of this piece was played at the very beginning of the movie when the family members were being introduced. You’d recognize the piece if you heard it…it begins with fast, joyful pizzicato (plucking of the strings)…it may very well be one of the most joyful beginnings to any piece of music ever written.

Pork tacos and Ravel in one night. Can life get any better?

Quartet Parapluie at Danny’s
Friday, November 11th, 2006 @ 8:30 p.m.
1951 W. Dickens, Chicago, IL

Arturo’s Tacos
2001 N. Western, Chicago, IL

the ceiling at Arturo's

04 November 2006

Dahling, you simply MUST get a microplane grater.

Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Parmesan Crisp And Toasted Squash Seeds

I got one!
I am so happpppeeeeeeeeeee!

If you have never used a microplane grater, then you have never experienced the magic of effortlessly transforming a hard chunk of parmesan into a billowy cloud of wispy curls that is four times the size of the original piece of cheese.



If you have used a microplane grater before, you are thinking, “Oh, isn’t she cute. Yes, I remember my first time using a microplane grater. I was so young and stupid then. But now I am experienced and wise.”

For years I had meaning to buy a microplane grater, but every time I saw one, I decided there was something else that I needed more.
On my ongoing list titled "Things-That-I-Really-Want-To-Buy-But-That-Are-
Not-Essential-To-My-Happiness," a microplane grater was between a salad spinner and a fat separator.

I was so young and stupid then. But now I have a microplane grater, and now I am experienced and wise, and also happy. And now I can make parmesan crisps in the blink of an eye.


And assuming I still have an acorn squash sitting on my counter from a trip to the farmer’s market more than a month ago, I can make acorn squash soup with parmesan crisps in 10,800 blinks of an eye. That’s assuming it takes an hour for the soup to cook, and you blink three times per second. Hmmmm….I just tried that for about twenty seconds but now my eyelids hurt. I will re-compute. Blinking twice per second for an hour is a more practical pace and it comes out to 7,200 blinks of an eye.

Acorn Squash Soup with Parmesan Crisps in 7,200 Blinks of an Eye
For the soup:
1 acorn squash
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 small onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cups vegetable broth (or more if you prefer a thinner consistency)
¼ orange juice
¼ cup half & half or milk or a combination of both

For the parmesan crisps:
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated with your handy-dandy microplane grater

For the Sweet and Spicy Toasted Squash Seeds
(technique and recipe adapted from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks)
1 egg white
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon brown suger
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Prepare the squash:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Cut open acorn squash and scrape out seeds. Reserve seeds.
Place squash halves on baking sheet, cut sides up.
Spread butter on squash and sprinkle with salt.
Bake for 45 minutes, until flesh is browning on top and can be easily pierced with a fork.
When squash is done, raise the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees F for the crisps.

While the squash is roasting, prepare the seeds….
Rinse seeds and dry on a paper towel.
Whisk egg white and stir in spices.
Add seeds to egg mixture and stir well.
Drain extra egg whites and spread seeds on a baking shee lined with parchment paper.
Bake in oven for 12 – 15 minutes (you can bake the seeds while the squash is roasting).

While the seeds are roasting, prepare the soup….
Sauté onions over medium high heat until softened.
Add carrot and cook for three minutes.
Add broth and cook for 15-20 minutes, until carrots are soft.
Pour broth mixture into blender.
When the squash is ready, scrape the flesh into the blender.
Add the orange juice and the half & half.
Blend until creamy.
If the soup is too thick, add more broth or milk as needed.
Season to taste.

And now, for the parmesan crips...
Raise the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees F.
Spoon heaping tablespoons of grated parmesan onto a baking sheet (about 3 inches apart). Success is guaranteed if you use a silicone mat (I love my SILPAT).
Bake for 3-5 minutes until cheese is golden and crispy. Do not let the cheese become too brown, or the flavor is overpowering.

Amost done….
Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with toasted seeds. Garnish with a parmesan crisp.