Monday, April 30, 2012

The Gage, Chicago

Friday April 27
Jon and Lois love to go to Chicago for theater, ballet, and opera.  This time we joined them for a fantastic presentation of Handel's "Teseo" at the Chicago Opera theater. 

The picture shows Renée Tatum as Medea with Teseo, Cecelia Hall - the latter one of the best voices, not to mention most believable in a pants role, we've ever seen.  But kudos also go to the Baroque Band, to Manuela Bisceglie as Agilea (the love-interest), and to Gerald Thompson (Countertenor, Egeo) for the most hair-raising aria ever sung by someone without hair.

After the performance, we walked a couple of blocks to The Gage for dinner.  Jon and Lois are well known there, so they were greeted with acclaim. 

Excellent fresh bread and sweet butter came to the table, and our server recommended a Benegas Lynch Cabernet Franc 2005 from Argentina.  It was very fine, as was a Blue Rock cabernet sauvignon that followed it.
We ordered a tableful of appetizers to graze from: locally foraged morels, asparagus, and egg; spicy chickpea fritters with a ginger-chili bagna cauda; a rabbit salad, savory chunks of bunny on arugula scattered with crisped arare rice, and horseradish vinaigrette; caramelized lobster with lobster curry sauce and basil on the tastiest jeweled lemon quinoa; and an excellent bison tartare with l'Amuse gouda and giardiniera emulsion, presented with a little quail egg in its half shell and slices of apple and pear on the side, mixed up tableside in the traditional fashion by our nice English server, with rye toasts to eat it on.

For mains, we shared a huge bowl of mussels in creamy vindaloo sauce, and a thick (and slightly dry) slice of roast saddle of elk with honey poached figs, ricotta, and cardamon syrup.  But most things were of a high order of tastiness, and it added up to a magical evening (thanks, Medea!).

Honey in Northside

Thursday April 26

Our friend John Miller was in town to give a lecture, so we joined Peter and Kathryn in taking him out to dinner at Honey.
Honey is very much a neighborhood place, so it was humming even on a Thursday.  Luckily they had a free table, comfy chairs, and a friendly,  attentive server whose red hair made her resemble a Toulouse-Lautrec pastel.
Of course we had to have appetizers along with our wine (lecturing is thirsty business).  One was a special, crabcake on spinach and Israeli couscous.  It came with a thatch of sprouts and chive blossom, sprinkled with crispy rice noodles, and a smear of seasoned mayo, so it was well up in the height category as well as tasting nicely crabby.  The other was P.E.I. mussels (thanks, Canada!) in a surprising honey peach-citrus cream.  Honey is a frequent ingredient at honey.
"Ribeye" was on the chalkboard outside, so we had to have a generous wodge of medium-rare, along with chilpotle butter, asparagus (again!) and sweet potato hash.  Our other main was a New Fish, Kingklip.  Though the fish itself looks eely, the fillet was lush and white, nicely seared alongside some (slightly over-roasted) baby root vegetables.
Honey is a bit quirky, but on the whole, it satisfies.

Salmon Bulgogi, Bok Choy, and Mushrooms

Wednesday April 25
At Findlay Market on Saturday we bought some local early bok choy, plus a bag of button mushrooms, purely on spec.   Both needed to be eaten, so we searched "bok choy" and "mushrooms" on epicurious, and came up with one of their blue ribbon recipes. 
Lucky we had a pair of salmon fillets in the freezer.
We read the reviews and made a few changes.  Left the skin on the salmon; used our button mushrooms instead of shiitake; substituted a touch of chili sambal and extra garlic for the chili-garlic sauce; stir-fried bok choy stems first, then mushrooms, then leaves; and to zzhiz up the bland vegetables, didn't boil down the abundant leftover marinade separately, but added it to the stirfry.  Our salmon took 12 minutes to be done to succulent perfection.

Pork Parmigian' with Asparagus

Tuesday April 24
Back on April 9, we used half a large can of crushed tomatoes, and the other half can has been in a tupper in the fridge ever since.  What to do?  Barbara was seized with the mirage of a veal parmigian', the way every Italian restaurant used to serve it during the '50s.  But since veal scaloppine is so expensive, we went with one of the little batches of 5 scaloppine that we cut off our cheap pork tenderloins - and, of course, asparagus on the side.
If you get the timing right, you can manage this without dirtying too many pans.  First, wash and trim the asparagus, put it in a pan that will be large enough to lay out the pork later, and roll it in olive oil and coarse salt.  Roast it in a 500º oven for around 15 minutes or until tender; take it out and let it and the pan cool a bit. 
Now, the sauce.  Mince a big clove of garlic and sauté it in a saucepan filmed with olive oil for a minute.  Then add a Tablespoon of tomato paste and stir it around to toast.  Throw in the (leftover) half can of crushed tomato, some dried thyme, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.  Let it simmer and thicken until the time is right.
Grate about a cup of cheese.  About 3/4 mozzarella to 1/4 parmesan is traditional, but we used 3/4 fontina to 1/8 asiago and 1/8 pecorino romano.  You need some grating cheese to give the melty but bland cheese flavor.  Mix 'em up thoroughly.
Then get the pork supplies ready.  Salt and pepper both sides of the scaloppine.  Put a small drift of flour into one dish, and a large one of panko in another; season the panko with salt, pepper, and oregano.  Beat an egg in a bowl and salt it lightly.
On to the assemblage!  Take the asparagus out of the cooler pan and put it onto warmed plates.  Film a big skillet with olive oil and heat it up.  Take each pork medallion, dip it thoroughly on each side into the flour, then the beaten egg, then the seasoned panko.  As each is done, put it into the hot skillet and brown on both sides.  When done, remove them to the asparagus pan, until you've got them all in there.  Top each with tomato sauce, then with the cheese, and broil in the oven until the cheese is brown and melty, about 5 minutes.
Serve on the warm plates with the asparagus.  And it's terrific.

Salmon-Asparagus Fettucine in Pesto Cream

Monday April 23
There was a grilled fillet of salmon left over from the weekend grad conference, so we adopted it for a quick pasta meal, paired with (what else?) asparagus. 
Procedure was simple.  Chopped the asparagus into inch lengths, boiled the stems, then the tips, in the pasta water, then fished them out and drained them.  Heated some butter, then thickened some heavy cream, in a pan; seasoned it with a spoon or two of our homemade pesto.  When the fettucine was almost cooked, tossed the crumbled salmon and asparagus into the cream sauce, then tossed in the fettucine when it was done. 
We love these almost-instant spring pastas. 

Horn and Hardart Beans and Cornbread

Sunday April 22
Our various tries with the recipe have come to this.
After all our experiences, we now use navy beans, whizz up and pre-cook the bacon and onion together, and make sure we have enough molasses.  Actually, we used the pan in which we pre-cooked the bacon and onion to assemble the non-bean ingredients and simmer them a bit.  Then, instead of draining the beans completely, we dippered most of the liquid out of the crockpot and reserved it, then added the saucepan full of seasonings, rinsed it out with some of the reserved liquid, and kept that liquid standing by in case the level of liquid over the beans needed to be topped up (the crockpot likes to have just a mite of liquid over all the beans).  If there's some liquid left at the end, leave the cover off and simmer on low for half an hour; that'll make the beans nice and dark as well.
Holt made the cornbread he likes (without the vegetables).  It was a natural American combo.

Classics Goes Green at Via Vite

Saturday April 21

We've been to this restaurant before, and enjoyed it.  Now we were going as guests of today's Graduate Student conference, Classics Goes Green, a very suitable topic for the day before Earth Day.  Bea, who had made the arrangements, saw to it that the restaurant did us proud: not only was the Fountain Square location picturesque in itself, but it happened to be Prom Night, with many showily-attired young people to look at. 
We were seated upstairs at a large table in a private room, looking out on a nice terrace - a good thought for some warm night in the future, with drinks and comfortable sofas looking out on Fountain Square.
We got carafes of the house white and red, chatted with the participants, and pondered the menu.  Our appetizers ended up being a single octopus tentacle ("wild"!) curled around potato purée, in a piquant anchovy-lemon vinaigrette; and a warm Boucheron goat cheese blob, like a little saganaki, at the bottom of a pile of spring salad greens and pistachios, drizzled with raspberry white truffle vinaigrette.
For main courses, we got a succulent "overnight braised" lamb shank with dreamy, creamy polenta; and the special, sliced duck breast (a bit bland) with a very succulent fresh corn "flan" (yet another purée - but there's nothing wrong with purées).
The conversation sparkled, the food stood the test, and we think our visitors had as good a time as we did.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Crab and Asparagus Risotto

Friday April 20
Monday's crabcakes (like all our crab recipes) took up half a pound can of crab, so we needed something to do with the other half.  We googled recipes using the search terms "crab" and (you guessed it) "asparagus."  And after all the recipes for Vietnamese soups, we found this.
As Barbara was at home, she threw together the simple broth in a snap, and let it simmer for a couple of hours until Holt arrived.  We halved the recipe, but with only a quarter of an onion, and used the stems as well of the tips of our (local) asparagus.  Maybe if your Italian mother in law were coming over you'd use only the tips, and then she'd yell at you for being wasteful.  And she'd be right.
It took 30 rather than 15 minutes for the rice to be tender (is there some alternate universe where rice and beans take half the time to cook?), but the dish was excellent, conveying the subtle taste of crab unmasked.  And we have lots of broth left over and frozen, so we'll have no trouble doing this again.

Penne Primavera

Thursday April 19
We are bravely carrying on eating the products of spring while we can, though we must say that it's becoming a problem to find something new to do with asparagus.  This time we went to the appositely named Pasta Primavera.  Barbara had just seen Lidia Bastianich make hers with little but the vegetables and a chopped tomato or two, so that's what we did. She blanches her vegetables, though, and we only blanched and peeled our fava beans.  The asparagus, zucchini, parsley and scallions were just sautéed, making a lovely green panful.

At the end, we chopped and threw in one big roma tomato, and that was all we needed.  The fresh spring flavors came through as they wouldn't have with a cream sauce.

Stuffed Pork Medallions with Brussels Sprout Hash

Wednesday April 18
Back in January, when Barbara harvested the last of the brussels sprout trees from our garden, she put a bag of the tiny sprouts in the fridge crisper drawer.  Then she forgot about them until today.  Surprisingly, they were still usable, though they needed to be trimmed again, which left them about the size of large peas.  But they made a nice brussels sprout and potato hashand this time we were careful to use a nonstick pan.
For the protein part of the meal, we got out two nice thick pork medallions and slit a pocket into each, which we stuffed with chopped fresh sage leaves and grated fontina cheese.  Then we seasoned with salt and white pepper, and sautéed them in oil until the pork was palest pink and the cheese was just on the point of oozing out.  They needed no sauce to give them flavor.
And today Barbara drove out to the Northside Farmers' Market and got 3 more pounds of local asparagus.

Penne alla Saffi

Tuesday April 17
Yes, we're back to eating asparagus.

Crabcakes with Fennel and Pink Grapefruit Salad

Monday April 16
Found another can of TJ's crabmeat in the fridge, and this is our favorite thing to do with it.  A few dice of both yellow and red pepper made the cakes colorful.  One must be judicious with the mayo, however: enough to make them tender, but too much makes them fall to pieces in the pan.
As an accompaniment, we tried fennel and pink grapefruit salad.  We made several changes as we sliced and tasted: first, we kept it all in the same mixing bowl, so didn't need to chop up the grapefruit slices; we needed two grapefruits to get the right balance with our one medium fennel bulb; and we only used as much parsley as we used mint.  Results were pretty good, and it did not contain asparagus, so it was a refreshing change.

Steaks and Leftover Vedge

Sunday April 15
What could be simpler?  A couple of cutrate ribeyes from Kroger's on the grill, plus the leftover roast asparagus (did we mention that we're having asparagus every day?), parsnips, and potato kugel from Easter dinner heated up as a side.  Just had to jazz up the steaks with a wodge of gorgonzola butter.

Bundles of Swai

Saturday April 14
It's spring, and we're having asparagus every day, though we do try to vary the cooking methods we use.  This time, we went for Bundles of Sole, but since Trader Joe's stopped carrying sole, we Switched to Swai.  (We expect to see that as the slogan for an ad campaign for Vietnamese catfish.)
We prepared the dish this waybut this time made the sauce by sweating the diced red onion in butter, then adding the juice of a whole lime; once it boiled down a bit, threw in chopped fresh tarragon and cream and let it thicken.

The dish came out very well, though swai is slightly thicker and less delicate than sole, so the inner part of the roll was a mite underdone.  Next time we'll cook it a little longer, for a sweet flaky fish on either side of the products of spring.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Penne with Asparagus and Lemon Cream

Friday April 13
We buy spring asparagus every chance we get, and this is one of our favorite things to do with it.

Post-Lecture at La Poste

Thursday April 12
Our old friend Martin Winkler was in town to give a talk to the Classics Club, so we joined a jovial party (Daniel, Valeria, and Bea) to regale him at La Poste afterward.
La Poste tends to ring changes on rather than change its standard dishes, so once again we had appetizers of seared scallops (this time on parsnip purée along with a salmagundi of mushrooms and onions braised in dark beer) and veal sweetbreads with bacon, egg, and sweet potato hash.
They don't usually have "rabbit confit," so we went for it.  It turned out to be a rather plain side of bunny, on baby bok choy and fingerling potatoes in a brown sauce.  Our other main was the fish special, grilled barramundi, served with an intense tomato purée.  Both were nice, but nothing to write home about.  Still, with a bottle of sauvignon blanc and one of pinot noir, plus pleasant company, it was a very good evening.

Sliced Lamb with Tabouli

Wednesday April 11
What we decided to do with all the lamb we still had from Sunday was invite friends over to help us deal with it.  Lynne and Tom agreed to take on this dangerous service, and brought a well-named and good-tasting wine, Augustus, to help us along. 
Holt toasted slices of his crescia al formaggio, and we topped it with a tomato and balsamic confit to start the juices flowing.  Then we went on to slices of rare lamb, along with some salsa verde made with garden herbs (parsley bolstered with a little savory), some tablespoons of capers, and a couple of anchovy fillets, all chopped fine and mixed up with lemon juice.

Our side vegetable was tabouliwith added chunks of red and yellow bell pepper and Roma tomato to make it extra colorful.
The sweets at the end were the same as on Easter, but this time we drank Rhiannon wine with them, which turned out to be as chocolaty as an Easter dessert.  Even Lynne had some!

Lamb Hash

Tuesday April 10
As you can imagine, there was quite a bit of lamb left over from Sunday.  So we made the simple processor style of hash from the browned end.  But we used our new trick of cutting off the fat from the meat and using it to brown the onions; the potatoes were Yukon golds; and the liquid was chicken broth. 
There's still plenty of excellent rare lamb left, so we'll have to consider what to do with it.

Tomato and Mozzarella Rigatoni

Monday April 9
We had some nice fresh mozzarella, plus a need for more simplicity, left over from yesterday's feast.  Both called for a plain tomatoey pasta.
We made the sauce by frying half an onion, chopped, and a clove or two of garlic, minced; then added half a large can of chopped tomatoes, plus whatever fresh ones were left from yesterday, and some minced fresh oregano.  That simmered for as long as it took to boil the rigatoni, which got tossed in the pan with the sauce and then the cubed fresh mozzarella, plus plenty of romano cheese.
It hit the spot.

Adoration of the Lamb

Sunday April 8
We invited Sharon and Liz over to help us celebrate Easter Sunday with a hearty lamb dinner.  We hadn't gotten it together to dye any eggs, but scattered our Bowling Bunny toys around to decorate the place.  Oddly, Dora didn't attack the bunnies so much, but went after the cabbagy green balls you throw at them. 

For appetizers, we laid out a platter of Jungle Jim's house-made mozzarella, genoa salami, tomatoes, and garden arugula, along with an assortment of olives, homemade cornichons, pickled daikon, and sour tomatoes.
The snacks got piled onto slices of Holt's Umbrian Easter bread, Crescia al Formaggio, from Carol Fields' recipe but using pecorino romano and asiago instead of parmisan.  A half recipe made a beautiful round loaf in a soufflé dish.


Dinner was of course the butterflied leg of lamb, slathered with rosemary and mustard according to Julia's recipe.  The vedge roasted around it was parsnips and onions, and then a sheaf of asparagus roasted in another pan while the meat rested.  Sharon kindly supplied a potato kugel with onion and carrot, and Liz brought a hefty red wine to go with it all.
Strangely enough, there were no Peeps or chocolate bunnies for dessert, so we had to make do with Graeter's coconut chip, our friend Lois' triple ginger cookies, and pastries we had been keeping for just such an occasion since our North Philadelphia eating tour.
So an eatin' Easter was had by all.

Scotch Broth with Fava Beans

Saturday April 7
We got a giant leg of lamb for Easter/Passover, though Barbara managed to restrain herself from rubbing it on the doorposts.  Holt boned it out today and used the bone to make Scotch broth. 

There were a couple of changes, one small and one large.  The small was to add thyme as well as rosemary to the simmering broth.  The large was to throw in a bunch of parboiled fava beans and simmer them a while before serving.  With such exotic Mediterranean additions, this broth was like the Scottish Enlightenment.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Pork Fajitas

Friday April 6
We had some leftover tomatillo salsa and flour tortillas from Tuesday, so from among several Mexican options, we decided to make (Tex-Mex) fajitas.
We defrosted a package of four thin-sliced pork tenderloins and dusted them with a mix of ca. 1/2 tsp. each of red chile, cumin, and salt, and a pinch of pepper.  Drizzled them with a little lime juice and olive oil and let them marinate for an hour or two.
When it was dinner time, we sliced up a yellow and a red bell pepper,  plus a large onion.  Seared them in a pan with a bit of hot oil, peppers first, then onions, until the pepper edges were brown and the onions golden and tender.  Removed and covered them, then seared the meat in the pan until done, flipping every minute for a total of about 4 mins.  While the meat rested a bit, deglazed the pan with lime juice and the liquid from the tomatillo salsa.  Then sliced the meat, warmed the tortillas, filled them with meat and vedge ad lib, garnished with dabs of yogurt and tomatillo salsa, and rolled them up.
This is one of those dishes you literally can't put down, because it would just unroll.  But you sure can get 'em down, if you know what I mean; and those who aren't native speakers of English probably don't.

Crab and Asparagus Fettucine

Thursday April 5
This is our favorite of the various recipes.  

This time we found new ways of finessing it: Holt poised the asparagus on a ruler to shave it with a choice of vegetable peelers, and threw out the tough outer two shreds; and we used lemon thyme to substitute for both fennel in the seasoning and for pea shoots as the final garnish.

Skate with Beurre Noir and Pea Shoots

Wednesday April 4
Barbara drove out to Jungle Jim's to get a buy on leg of lamb for Easter/Passover.  And since it's Holt's heavy teaching day, she bought him back a treat: skate wings, still only $2.99 a pound, expertly flensed by the Jungle staff.  JJ's also had fresh and tender snow pea leaves, perfect for a side dish when stir-fried with 1 Tbsp. each of minced garlic and ginger root, some salt, and perhaps a sprinkle of water at the end; Barbara got that ready while Holt skated.

Ailes de raie au beurre noir et aux câpres
1 wing of skate (about a pound)
zest & juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp capers
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
Get your mise together: zest the half lemon, then squeeze the juice.  Cut skate wing in half and season with salt and pepper. 
In a nonstick pan, heat the tablespoon of oil on medium.  Cook the skate wings for approximately 2 minutes on each side (depending on thickness) until just cooked through.  Plate and set in warming oven (okay, it's the toaster oven, set on 90º F.). 
Add the butter to the hot pan for a minute or so, until it turns amber.  Add capers, lemon zest and juice, plus half the parsley, and scrape the pan up.  Pour over the plated skate, and sprinkle with the rest of the parsley. 
Serve with the pea shoots that have been tenderizing under cover for the few minutes it took.

Crab Enchiladas

Tuesday April 3
A can of Trader Joe's second-best refrigerated crab clawmeat is a standard backup in our fridge.  Usually we make crabcakes, but in this case, we went more Mexican.  We've made crab enchiladas before, and we did it again.
We only changed it by using colby-jack cheese (though all Monterey Jack would be better) and yogurt in the filling.  Also the enchilada filling contained no fresh cilantro, as there was so much in the fresh-made tomatillo salsa.

Steak and Salad

Monday April 2
After yesterday's overeating, we needed something a bit simpler, and we also needed to eat up the last of the spring salad mix.  We made it simple by grilling a ribeye steak, and then we went and made it complicated by slathering the steak with gorgonzola butter.  Served it alongside a spring mix salad with tomato, cucumber, and sherry vinaigrette.

Holy Ravioli!

Sunday April 1
We've written about the semiannual Italian dinner at Sacred Heart church so many times since we started the blog that all you have to do is search "Holy Ravioli" (or "Scared Heart") and you'll get all the details.  But this is the first time we've remembered to bring a camera.  So here are the volunteers moving the flats of freshly-made ravioli out of the basement to roll them in to the kitchen, past the salivating people waiting on line. 

And here is the shouting maitre d', who got the six of us (Holt, Barbara, Valeria, Eleni, Jun, and Daniel) a table in the back. 

We gave the newcomers a seat facing the mural and the Frank Sinatra imitator who was introduced last year to add to the already-brain-numbing noise. 

But now that I have an image of this mural, it seems stranger than ever.  For one thing, The Blessed John Scalabrini, Mother Cabrini, and their priestly and devoted companions are shown in a deserted semi-tropical landscape with a palm tree, and they were mainly concerned with immigrants in urban areas.  Is Scalabrini gesturing toward the setting sun ("go west, young woman!")?  If so, that seacoast sure doesn't look like his diocese Piacenza, which was inland.  And how did I see Indians here for all those years? 

The cost of the Italian dinner is now $12, and the number of meatballs has decreased to two.  But it's still worth every penny.  Only those who had skipped breakfast succeeded in eating the entire meal, while the rest filled up their tuppers and brought ravioli home. 

And in the evening, we could only manage something light but poetic: a salad of spring mix, sliced Anjou pear, and toasted walnuts.

Monkfish Salad with Spicy Vinaigrette

Saturday March 31
Today at Findlay Market, we bought not just a pound of fresh monkfish, but two separate batches of "spring mix" salad greens, one featuring johnny-jump-ups as an edible flower feature.  Of course we needed to eat it all right away, so we found a recipe that combined monkfish and salad.

We cut the fish into collops on the slant, and steamed (or more exactly, sautéed) ahead.  We could have cut the amount of dipping sauce to a Tbsp. each of oil and lemon juice with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt.  As for the dressing, it's wildly overestimated by the recipe.  We used three tablespoons of oil for the two garlic cloves, 1 Tbsp. of sherry vinegar, plus about a half tsp. of piquant pimenton de la Vera instead of all that red pepper.  That did just fine, especially on the bed of fresh and flower-studded spring mix.