Kelly the Culinarian: May 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008

Food find: Sushi station

I love sushi, it's just delicious with so many different flavor options. And the Sushi Station in Rolling Meadows is an interesting little place.

You sit at a table or a bar in front of a giant, covered conveyor belt. All kinds of sushi move through this conveyor belt with little labels telling you what they are. When you see something you like, just pluck it off the belt.

The beauty of it is the plates are colored coded so you know how much each plate is. When you're done, the waitress adds up the plates and that's it, there's your bill.

It's just so efficient. And the sushi is mighty tasty.

I'm partial to the sushi with spicy mayo or extra wasabi worked into the roll, but that's just me. There's more sushi on the conveyor belt than is explained in the menu, but if there's something you want that isn't out there, you can always order it.

Most sushi plates are $2 to $4 a piece, but I did see some $6 plates. I avoided those ones.

The sushi was fresh, the veggies inside crisp and the rice perfectly prepared. For essentially fast-food sushi, it was quite superb.

Be aware -- those plates add up fast. Lunch can easily cost you $30 for two. But the sushi is worth it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Media meal: Top Chef's meat extravaganza

This episode was all about the meat. To begin the episode, the remaining five chefs were given 20 minutes to create seven tomahawk steaks out of a slab of dry-aged beef. Not only was the slab huge, but dry age is really tough to cut through.
Spike won this through superior butchering skills. His secret was to cut off the aged parts and then trim up the chops to the signature lolly pop shape. The quickfire had nothing to do with taste -- after butchering, the chefs got 30 minutes to create a medium-rare steak. It was all about the cooking and butchering. Some chefs went with hybrid combinations of stove, oven or grill, while others braised in butter or oil. But the butchering is really what made the steak.
As a result of his win, Spike got the advantage of yet again picking what ingredients he would like to use in the elimination challenge, which meant the other chefs couldn't use it. And he blew it again.
The chefs were tasked with taking over Rick Tramonto's signature steak house, Tramonto's Steak and Seafood, for the evening. The joint is actually located in Wheeling, just in case you're considering a trek.

The VIP judges table included the winners from the past three seasons. No pressure, or anything.

Spike chose frozen scallops and the tomahawk steak. The scallops were one hot mess. As they thawed, he realized they were all ill prepared and soggy. In his attempt to shake the competition, he did himself a huge disservice. He got himself eliminated over it, just shy of the final four. Lisa was also in the bottom with another ill conceived dish.

Stephanie, while she was on the bottom at the quickfire for an overcooked steak, took the prize at this challenge. Antonia and Richard also got the nod for favorite plates.

So get ready for the final round in Puerto Rico! Sounds delicious. And don't worry, I'm sure we'll see the eliminated chefs as assistants in the final episode.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: Chicken fiesta

It's finally summer! I love the flavors of summer. Everything is fresh, bright and verdant. While my tomato seeds died, the seedlings I bought are fairing well.

Until they give off fruit, I'm onto buying. But I devised a tomato-rich recipe for chicken for the happy day when I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with.

This dish includes lime and chipotle marinated chicken breast grilled with melted cheese and topped with sour cream. It's served alongside Mexican-style rice and pinto beans along with a homemade rustic salsa. PS - Mexican food is really hard to photograph attractively.
You need:
Two chicken breasts
10 limes
Chipotle salsa
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons of sour cream
5 tomatoes
3 onions
2 green onions
1 jalapeno pepper
1 bunch cilantro
1.5 cups rice
1 packet taco seasoning
1 can pinto beans

3 cloves garlic

Olive oil

To start with the chicken, I marinaded it in a chipotle salsa and the juice of three limes for three hours. Make sure to trim the breasts of fat and blot with a paper towel before putting on the grill for 12 minutes or until cooked throughout.
For the salsa, you'll want to finely chop five small tomatoes, two small onions, a half-cup of cilantro, two green onions and one jalapeno pepper. I take the rib and seeds out, but that's up to you as to how much heat you'd like. I also added the juice of a half of a lime to keep the flavor going and help break down the salsa into one flavor. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.

For the rice, I brown a clove of minced garlic and a half of a chopped onion in two tablespoons of olive oil. Then, I added 1.5 cups of long-grain rice and allowed it to brown for five minutes, stirring constantly. Next, add three cups of water and one packet of taco seasoning, stir to coat and bring to a boil. Stir every so often and keep cooking until all the water is absorbed/evaporated. Stir in another three tablespoons of chopped cilantro for a fresh flavor and another tablespoon of the chipotle salsa.

Drain and rinse the beans. Brown another clove garlic and half an onion in a tablespoon olive oil. Add the beans and stir to coat in oil. Just warm the beans and add salt and pepper.
I know it's multi-stepped but you could save time if you'd like to buy some of the elements. It sure is tasty.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: No-knead bread

I know it's not Sunday, but it's a holiday.
Anyhow, I found this recipe and I'm having a bit of an existential baking breakdown. I've been babysitting various loafs with all kind of hard-to-find ingredients that require lots of attention, kneading and timed turning.

And this recipe is none of those things. You need scant ingredients, time and labor to make this loaf, and it's like anything you'll find at one of those fancy break shops. I suppose you don't even need a stand mixer for this, but it does make it easier.

Here's how it goes:
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cups water

Mix the ingredients on low with the flat paddle. It will be sticky and not smooth. Place the whole thing in a draft-free corner overnight, 12-18 hours. It will be bubbly on the surface when done.

Turn out on a floured surface and press into a flat circle and then tuck over the ends, adding flour to keep it from sticking to your fingers or surface. It will still be sticky and quite watery.

Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest 15-20 minutes. Then take out and gently form into a round loaf and place in between two floured cotton towels, but not terry cloth. Allow to rise until doubled.

At least a half an hour before cooking, start preheating the oven and your cooking vessel. I used a square casserole dish, but you can use any oven-safe pot or dutch oven with a lid. Put the whole thing in the oven and heat to 450 degrees for a half hour.

Place the messy little loaf into the pot and shake to evenly distribute. When I got to this stage, I thought there was absolutely no way it would turn into anything. It was sticky, unattractive and too watery.

Put the lid on and pop in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 15 minutes or until golden brown. I took my loaf out of the pan entirely for this step to make sure it was browned all over.

I was aghast at how simple this recipe was but still yielded a beautiful loaf with a chewy crust and moist inside as well as a robust flavor. What have I been doing with all those other recipes ... I'll be investigating this for a while.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Media meal: Top Chef restaurant wars

Alas, it did not disappear, it was just on hiatus.

So what's that they say about little girls ... "when she was good, she was very good. When she was bad, she was very naughty indeed."

The same can be said of the chef's restaurant creations.

The quickfire challenge was working the egg station at famed Chicago breakfast joint Mitchell's Antonia won that one.

So the teams paired off predictably, with Dale and Lisa of course ending up on the same side of the kitchen. Of course they got help from previously voted out chefs ... yawn. Mid challenge, Anthony Bourdain waltz in as well. Have to make sure everyone is paying attention.

Lisa and Dale's incongruity was so, so apparent in the food. Dale and Lisa's concept was Asian. It's true; Asian is all Dale cooks, and not even that well.

The other team, however, went with a high-end bistro. Their food sounded and looked fabulous. It got high marks from the judges and the patrons.

The Asian food, not so much. The judges didn't like the decor and the chefs themselves couldn't agree on the food. They argued over portion sizes and spices, so it's no wonder their food didn't go over well.

The bistro concept won, of course, and Stephanie took the top prize. Dale got the ax -- he was becoming more and more of a loose cannon and did a lot of what seemed like unnecessary yelling. Which brings me to the second point. If Lisa makes it to the final four, I'll be quite surprised. She's been in the bottom for the last two challenges and does not take criticism gracefully. I don't either, but I'm not a chef on a reality show.

The numbers are stacked; a woman might finally win Top Chef. Antonia and Stephanie are both kicking ass in the competitions, even more than the men.

The culinary world is a boys club, but I'm rooting for the ladies this season. They're just the better chefs in the group.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Drink discovery: 71 Pale Ale

The Ram Brewery and Restaurant is always packed. I'm not positive why, but the one in Rosemont is located close to lots of businesses and their brews are great for happy hour.

On Saturday, Tim and I went there with a friend. They always have delicious beers. Tim and I both like their blond beer (in the background), that has a light taste with a little bite as an aftertaste. Their new brew is the 71 pale ale, made with five hops to create a copper color and a nice hoppy flavor that isn't overwhelming. Sometimes, when I order hoppy beers I swear it tastes like soap. Not at all the cast with the Ram's newest brew.

As for their food, we went with appetizers. We shared the spinach and artichoke dip, which was a bit spicy and very cheesy paired with some garlic toasts. We got zingers, boneless chicken wings dipped in hot sauce, which I did not eat. We also got their potato skins -- they make them quite pretty by cutting the skins into little petals and dressing them with cheese and bacon and serving them along side sour cream sprinkled with dill.

I love appetizers and beer.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies

So they don't look so hot, but believe me, they sure are tasty. The directions listed below will make sure your cookies don't melt into one big cookie like mine did.
You'll need

2 sticks room temp butter

3/4 cups sugar

3/4 cups brown sugar

2 eggs, room temp

1.5 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

2 1/4 cup flour

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup mini peanut butter cups

I only made these because I found these adorable mini peanut butter cups in my baking aisle. They're so cute and tiny!

So here's what you do. Cream the butter in the stand mixer on medium with the flat whipping paddle. Add in the two sugars and mix until combined. Add the eggs one at a time and wait until incorporated. Add vanilla, baking soda, cinnamon and salt while it's still going on medium. Turn off the mixer and add one cup flour, then turn it back on and allow to incorporate. Next, add flour 1/4 cup at a time until incorporated. Finally, add the chips and cups and mix slowly until evenly distributed.

Chill in the freezer for at least a half an hour. Take out and spoon onto two cookie sheets, about 24 cookies. Place the sheets back in the fridge for a half an hour. By allowing the butter to cool again, you get a firmer cookie that's less likely to spread when you put it in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350, cookie for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Gooey and delicious!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Drink discovery: Lychee cocktails

Look at me, I'm trendy! Last night, I went out with a friend from high school to a bar in Libertyville. Firkin is known for its superior selection of beers on tap and has been part of the idyllic Milwaukee Avenue forever. The interior is really cool with colored Christmas lights everywhere and exposed brick. It's where adults go to drink in the suburbs.

Anyhow, I decided to forgo the normal beer for their martini special of the night, the lychee fruit cocktail. Anne later told me this is the next big thing. Lychee, or as the US Food and Drug Administration spells it, litchi, is a fruit from China. If you've never had it, it tastes like a tropical version of a berry. It's quite delicious.

And let me tell you, it packs a potent punch in a cocktail. The cocktail was both sweet and bitter with nice little shavings of ice. Mine was made with vodka, as many martinis are, but I'd imagine lychee fruit would go well with rum as well.

If you're looking for something new, here's an option.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Media meal: Top Chef healthy lunch

I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure Andrew is getting more nuts. For example, he wakes up in the morning and tells the camera that "I'm either going to stab someone today or make some really good food."

Hmmm. I don't know about that approach.

Tonight's challenges were all about creating healthy dishes. For the quick fire, they got 45 minutes(!) to create a healthful salad. Excessive in my opinion, but whatever. Spike won the quick fire, which for the elimination challenge, he got 10 extra minutes to shop and whatever he chose for his dishes, the other chefs could not use.

The challenge: Create a healthful lunch for Chicago's finest, the officers and cadets of the police academy. As Padma put it: protect their health and serve them something fabulous. I have respect for Chicagoland cops. It isn't easy to work crappy hours in a dangerous job, depending on where you are, and have ridiculous weather fluctuations.

Anyhoo, Spike choose chicken, lettuce, bread and tomatoes. Good strategy, way to screw everyone else.

Dale and Stephanie were the top pick tonight. Dale, predictable, made an Asian-inspired dish. Stephanie went with a really hardy soup that turned out well-seasoned, but Dale still won.

Andrew, in his frenzy, forgot to include a whole grain, a requirement. He also did sushi, which isn't exactly a hardy dish. I had it for lunch today, in fact, and I was hungry in three hours. Spike didn't use his ingredients well and the judges called his chicken salad "pedestrian." Ouch.

Lisa's whole-grain rice just wasn't cooked well, neither were the green beans or shrimp. Andrew freaked out after Lisa called him on not including a whole grain. Awkward.

The judges made clear that the decision was unanimous: Andrew was out.

And surprisingly, he didn't need a security escort.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: 'Ciso sour dough loaf

I've never been to California; I've never tasted their famed sour dough bread. But I have succeeded in creating my own starter and branded this one.

This isn't a short process and I suggest starting the night before. Take your starter out of the fridge and allow it to warm to room temperature. Dump it into a plastic bowl, add one cup flour, one cup warm, purified water, a teaspoon sugar and just a pinch of packaged yeast. Whip the starter together using a wooden spoon or silicone whisk and make sure to get lots of air into the batter. Place in a warm corner overnight so that it starts to foam. Now you have a sponge.

Next, add the following to the work bowl of the mixer:

1 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon packaged yeast
1 and a 1/2 cups of the sponge (put the rest in a Tupperware container and put back in the fridge)

Using the flat attachment, mix together the ingredients until smooth. Next, place 1 cup of milk and 2 tablespoons butter in a bowl and heat together in the microwave until warm. Place that in the work bowl and beat again until smooth. Change to the hook attachment and add 3 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour one cup at a time until you have a ball of dough that attaches itself to the hook and pulls away from the bowl.

Take out of the work bowl and place onto a floured surface. Knead for three minutes. Put in an oiled bowl and turn to coat. Let it rise until doubled.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead again for one minute to distribute the yeast. Divide into two and form into round loaves. The best way to do this is make a ball, turn any seams over and then move the ball between loose hands until the top of the loaf is tight, smooth and creating small blisters on the surface.

Place the two loaves on separate oiled baking sheets. Allow to rise again until doubled. Create an egg wash of one egg and two tablespoons of milk lightly beaten together. Brush on the top and then slash. Any shape will do, crosses, Ts or squares. I just like the K ....

Bake in a 375-degree for 30 minutes, then take off the baking sheets and bake another five to seven minutes to allow the whole thing to brown, including the bottom.

Looks as awesome as it tastes.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Media meal: Every Day with Rachael Ray, June/July

  • Rachael Ray has an adorable summer 'do in this issue. I'm so ready for summer, but it's just not happening here. In fact, for Mother's Day, we're expecting a 49-degree high. Joy.

  • Anyhow, here's what you can expect in the June/July issue:
  • A Fourth of July potato appetizer
  • Grilled steak sandwich in five ingredients
  • Cooling toiletry products
  • Reviews of hot dogs (Bar-S Beef Franks is the overall fav)
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner with Kate Walsh
  • A great series of kabob recipes (I want it to be warm enough for the grill)
  • A review of mandolines
  • A salsa recipe with three ways to use it
  • How to use shrimp in bulk
  • $10 dinners ... very practical and tasty
  • Different lettuces
  • A review of grills and accessories, with recipes and recommendations to fit your lifestyle
  • How to use passion fruit
  • Homemade strawberries dipped in chocolate
  • Pool-party eats
  • Using peppers in hors d'oeuvres
  • A spread on the Wisconsin Dells!
  • In the fridge of Tony Danza

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Top Chef: Wedding wars!

Apparently, this season they will not be doing the standard restaurant wars in which the chefs team off, start and stock and eatery and then get judged. Instead, the eight chefs split into teams to feed a wedding reception. First, the teams competed in a relay.

First, one person had to peel five oranges and turn them into segment. Next, peel two artichokes in the fancy manner. Then, scale and filet a monkfish (what an ugly, dinosaur-looking fish, by the way). Finally, the team had to create a quart of handmade mayonnaise without the assistance of a food processor. Dale got all pissy when his team lost. I'll get a pity party together just for him.

The winning team got to decide if they'd like to cater to the bride and her 125 guests or the groom and his 125 guests. They chose the bride, a very ambitious and risky move in my mind. The bride is usually quite discerning. Plus, this couple owns their own eatery and wedding venue. But no pressure or anything.

But the bride had easier foods in mind -- meat and potato type dishes, along with pizza. The also constructed a beautiful wedding cake that I was stunned at -- it's hard to make a cake that large overnight.

The groom's idea of his favorite food, Italian, didn't go over so well. The roasted veggies for the antipasta bar (cool idea) were not cooked well, the groom's cake may have tasted good but it was ugly and the bruschetta looked brutal.

The teams each got $5,000. For 250 people, that's not bad at all in Chicago. The bride's team won, putting the groom's team on the block. Dale told the judges he essentially did everything short of inventing the Internet. Apparently his whining and martyrdom helped, because instead, Nikki got eliminated for not taking more leadership.

I think she should have stayed over Dale -- he's just so persnickety and uncooperative. Also, is it just me, or is Andrew getting more odd? I guess editing can do anything.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Food find: Pequod's Pizza in Morton Grove

Oh, Chicago-style pizza, I love thee. After traveling all over the place, I can confidently say that there's no place like home when it comes to pizza. I had some truly horrible pizza in Arizona and some passable pizza in D.C., but this is the best.

And my new favorite out of the best is now Pequod's Pizza in Morton Grove, although there's one in Chicago too. I don't know what's with the logo (a whale with a pair of thong panties on its head), but let me tell you about the joint. It's tiny and it's a little dilapidated.
It reminds me of an establishment I used to frequent in Michigan that had a bar and some little tiny tables and a pool table. You might be able to serve the whole dining room from one spot and it's delightfully and purposefully slightly ramshackle, just so you know what you're getting into.

As for the pizza, it's amazing. The crust is thick and yeasty, crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The tomato sauces manages to be delicious without being sickly sweet; the tomatoes still have a kick. The cheese and pepperoni were delicious if not a bit standard. What Pequod's does that's different is they let the cheese on the edges burn or "carmelize" as they say, which produces a satisfying crunch. Same with the edges of the spicy pepperoni.

If you're in the neighborhood, this is where it's at.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: Pork loin

Mmmmm, pork. Really, a pork loin is a great cut of meat because it's easy to cook. Even easier, at Costco, they come pre-marinaded.

We tried the onion and garlic flavor. The trick to make these delectable are simple:

  • Allow the meat to get the chill off. Set it up on the counter top in the package for about 15 minutes.

  • After removing it from the package, use a paper towel to blot off the excess moisturize.

  • Get a large skillet really, really hot. Sear each side for about five minutes to get a crust, but don't force it or you'll rip it right from the pan. Not tasty.

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place on a baking sheet and stick in the oven, turning every 12 minutes.

  • Cook it for about an hour, or 20 minutes per pound.

  • Pull from the oven and place on a cutting board. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.

  • Cut into thick slices and enjoy!

The verdict on the Costco pre-marinaded pork is very positive. The marinade was tasty, perhaps a little too much pepper, but good. The pork was tender enough. Worth the $14, for sure.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Parker house rolls

My goodness, I just can't keep myself away from breads. I just love the magic of yeast roaring to life and leavening my dough. And kneading is such a great stress-reliever now that I've mastered the technique.

This roll recipe is great if you have a stand mixer. Here's how you make the magic in your home"

Heat one-third of milk in the microwave for about one minute, or until it's warm to the touch. Add one and a half packets of yeast and set aside until it bubbles, about 10 minutes.

In the interim, add 2/3 of a cup milk, two sticks melted butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup sugar into the bowl of the mixer. Mix it on the low setting using the hook for about three minutes or until the sugar is dissolved.

Add two beaten eggs, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder along with the yeasty mixture. Incorporate on the low setting, then turn it up to about four so that the mixer is beating the ingredients rigorously. Add four to five cups of flour a quarter cup at a time with the mixer on high, which will probably take about seven minutes. You want each quarter cup to incorporate before adding another. You know you've added enough when the dough starts to form a ball around the hook.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly for a few minutes, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. You want a satin-y kind of dough.

Put in a greased bowl and turn to coat. Allow to double, about an hour and a half.

Turn out onto a floured surface and cut into circles using a three-inch cookie cutter or a coffee mug. They should be about a half inch thick.

Put on a greased cookie sheet, brush the surface with more melted butter and turn over and seal, creating little half moons. This creates about two trays of rolls.

Allow to rise until doubled, probably about another hour.

Cook in a 250-degree oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Pull them out of the oven and brush with more butter, then serve. Butterlicious.