Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Being 33 so far means more dinner and more wine

Is it dorky to blog about my birthday dinner?  Is it absurd that my only birthday pictures are of food?  Don't answer those.  Instead, come along with me on a tour of my birthday meal from Moto, the restaurant famous for its chef's innovative and sometimes wild preparation and presentation of gourmet cuisine.

We sat down for a 10-course meal with wine pairings and over the course of three hours, enjoyed the following:

The menu.  Yes - we enjoyed it.  Mine was on a tortilla sheet with salsa.

The "Snowman" - tuna with sake lemon foam and sea salt eyes.

The "Rosebud" - pickled beets, frisee, rose petal, and something else I can't remember (this "something else I can't remember" will come up again, I assure you).

"Foraging" - Monte's second dish.  Moss made of bread and truffles with asparagus.  *

"Vichyssoise" - Halibut served with crispy shoestring potatoes, leeks sauteed in butter, blended potato leek soup, and parsley powder served from a pot of liquid nitrogen.  *

Sushi Roll - rabbit loin, brussel sprouts, sesame and allspice aioli.  I love this presentation.  *

Monte's - Orange crab cake with lemon cream cheese, fennel, graham cracker crumbs and butternut squash ice cream.  *

Seared Quail with sugared peanuts, corn powder, and cola and cranberry puree with edible cracker jack paper.

Rooster with cornbread puree, carrot tops, micro cabbage leaf and a sage emulsifier poured from a candle over the entire dish.  *

Pork Belly, some kind of mushrooms (the menu currently says maitake, but I'm not sure that is what we had), red cabbage and mushroom puff

Blue cheese puree, pear something or other, apples and chamomile foam (excellent with the port).  No picture.  I guess I was having too much fun to stop and snap one!

Wintergreen Fluff with thyme infused pineapple and coconut powder.  I couldn't eat this.  I gave mine to Monte.

For dessert Monte had Earl Grey ice cream and crumble with chocolate mousse and greek yogurt.

For dessert I had cereal.  Yup!  Almond milk and cereal flakes with liquid nitrogen frozen raspberries.  It was fantastic with the last two wines.  I could start eating cereal if it was always served with an excellent cuvee and champagne.

We finished with a beaker of something or other (I thought I tasted cardamom in there) with a frozen corn packing peanut on top.

The food was fantastic.  The wine was perfect.  The presentation was so much fun.  We got a tour of the kitchen and had a really memorable time.  Then, because we're gluttonous, we went over to my favorite bar and got a burger and fries and ended the evening with a beautiful little surprise from the staff there:

I like being 33.

* indicates something I'm going to try to recreate.  I'll link to the recipe, once I've figured one out.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Urgent AND Important

I have been SO busy lately!  I don't know - I guess it is end of the teaching year type of stuff that has kept me tied up.  But I haven't had time to practice the piano.  Or read.  Or exercise.  Or answer e-mails from friends.  Or drink wine on my porch.  Or any of the things that I would typically do on nice summer days. 

And today - I finally cracked.  Halfway through doing something that is both urgent and important, I started crafting.  That's right.  Making CRAFTS.  With glue.  And yarn.  And even toothpicks.  Here are the results:

A pretty dumb one:  a sheep grazing in a jar.

A drawer and champagne cork jewelry box. 

 I'm particularly happy with how this one turned out.

And now I'd better finish my work and jump in the shower and head off to teach before anybody notices that I stopped for a morning.  I hope nobody notices the marker I can't get off my fingers!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cooking in Oaxaca

Okay - after a week of gorging ourselves on Oaxacan cuisine, Megan and I decided to take a cooking class.  At Casa Crespo, under the hilariously dour tutelage of Oscar, the owner, Megan, I and five others cooked and enjoyed an entire Oaxacan meal.

The class started with a leisurely coffee while we all decided what dishes most appealed to us.  Once we decided, we all sauntered (There is no walking in Mexico - and definitely no brisk walking.  Only ambling, sauntering, moseying, meandering and maybe a bit of strolling.) to the Sanchez Pascuas market to buy our ingredients.  This was perhaps the most instructive part of the class. 

Before even reaching the market, I learned:
  • soaking chiles in vinegar and water reduces the heat (spiciness)
  • avocado leaves can be used to flavor salsas and moles
  • tinga is the name for a dish composed of shredded meat, tomatoes, chipotle and onion
  • chipotle is dried or smoke jalapenos
  • the chocolate in Oaxaca has no milk in it.  Just almonds and cinnamon.

Once in the market, Oscar took us on a tour and named and described the use for all the chiles we encountered.  I must admit that the options at Whole Foods for chiles can't compete.  Oscar mentioned that many of the uses for chiles are simply to add color to the food or salsa, and why would we need those chiles when we have Red #40?

Back at the restaurant, we rolled up our sleeves, donned our aprons, and got to work, first with making tortillas.  I've tried it since at home, but was quite disappointed in the results without having a tortilla press to use.  But, it was fun!

Then we started working on the almond mole, the stuffed chiles, and the quesadillas.  Besides learning that everything is better if it is first blanched, soaked or roasted, we learned that..... (let me put my serious face on here)... "Puebla says by accident they created mole.  This is not possible.  It is a complicated process!"  No no.  Mole was invented in Oaxaca.

Anyway, after much snacking and much cooking, and five salsas, an avocado soup, chocolate ice cream, cucumber drinks and guacamole later, we were ready to take a break while everything cooked.

The meal was fantastic.  The company was interesting.  The instructor made me want to instigate trouble.  And, recipes in hand, I am going to attempt them all here in Chicago.  I'll return with links to the successes.  This was one of the most memorable and lasting vacation activities I've ever had - I've shared the story and the pictures - I can't wait to share the tastes and the smells with you!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Food in Oaxaca

One of the most interesting things about travel to me is tasting the local cuisine.  On my recent trip to Mexico, I not only got to taste the cuisine, but I got to devour it.   For the foodies out there, these are the highlights from what I enjoyed:

 Enfrijoladas con pollo frito and Entomatadas with queso fresco, raw onions, and thinly cut red meat (tosajo).
El Tipico (an adorable breakfast place with a walled garden patio in back).

 Consome de pollo (soup, beautifully presented, with rice, chicken, avocado, chilis and tomato).  Crema de flor de calabaza (squash blossom soup with pumpkin seeds).
La Olla (a lovely place for dinner with several levels - the top terrace has a gorgeous view of the city)

 Taco de ejotes con huevo (green beans and egg) and taco de cazon (shark).
Itanoni - a wonderful place with such an array of fabulous choices of tacos, tamales, quesadillas, juices etc.  I'm definitely going back there!

 Tetelas espirituosa - beans, sour cream, cheese, salsa, and hierba santa.  SO GOOD.
Itanoni again.  Couldn't help it.
 Canelas (cheese wrapped in hierba santa).
La Biznaga.  The open air ambience was so lovely here, that I forgot to take pictures of some of the most wonderful food both times we went here!

 Chichilo with chicken, green beans, and nopal.  Seven different moles in the background.
Los Pacos.  A lovely, airy restaurant, that specializes in moles.  I bought some to take back home with me and can't wait to recreate this meal (without the grasshoppers).

 Carrot tinga tostada with lentil humus, sour cream, and Parmesan cheese.
La Jicara.  A pretty new, and delicious restaurant adjacent to a fabulous bookstore.

 Champurrado: a mixture of atole (a porridge-like drink made of masa) and frothed Oaxacan chocolate.
This was at a lovely little market in a church plaza.  Look at that froth!!

 Chille Rellenos.  The spicy kind.  Delicious.  Sweet.  Beautiful.  At this point in the trip, I had stopped writing everything down!  Casa Oaxaca.  I think.  A breezy, palatial restaurant with great service and a very interesting menu (try the shrimp cocktail).

Now, wasn't that colorful?  I think these pictures, more than any others, represent Oaxaca to me.

Creepiness in Oaxaca

While the environment was lush, the buildings gorgeous, the people friendly, and the food amazing, there was a lot of creepiness I encountered on my recent trip to Mexico that I just have to share.  I give you these examples:

Chapulines.  Grasshoppers sauteed in garlic and oil.  Only creepy when I was picking legs out of my teeth.

Agave plants.  Very cool.  Only creepy in that they look a bit of aliens that have descended from space in front of this Baroque church in order to hatch or suck our soil of nutrients.

A very tasty fruit called Granada China.  Only creepy because it looks like a brain-slug and you eat it like you're doing a shot.

An art project?  A mummy parade?  I actually can't think of what's NOT creepy about this.

I heard that in places in Mexico, women wear live bejeweled bugs on their blouses as ornamentation and that there is actually a market for portraits done of your baby on Jesus's lap.  And I'll leave the creepy image of the pornographic skeleton figures to your imagination.

Beauty in Oaxaca

I recently visited my good friend Megan in Oaxaca.     
The perfect vacation: relaxing, seeing the world, and catching up with a friend.

The churches and other Baroque era buildings were just gorgeous.

It doesn't take much to entertain me.  Just walking around town and stopping in places on a whim was fantastic.

We did eat a lot.  I mean - what are vacations for???

The scenery was gorgeous.

Did I mention that it was in the upper eighties while I was there?

Oaxaca was such a beautiful place to visit - with something for everyone.  You should go!

I can't wait to go back.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ugliness that is Commonplace in February

Is anyone else cheering the nice weather?  Is anyone else hoping that was the end of it?  Bring on spring!  The blizzard pics from the Trib were great, and everyone saw them.  This however, is what February is mostly like.  Dirty.  Cold.  Frozen.  Cluttered.

Just enough shoveling to make a car-fort.

Free chairs!

If you put your name on your lawn furniture, everyone knows who to be mad at!

Don't even bother moving.