Tuesday, March 27, 2007

15 hours

7:30 am - Leave my house for the airport

9:00 am - Get on the plane to Chicago

9:30 am - Eat most of a $2 airplane snack of Pringles for breakfast

9:30 am (ahh, the power of timezones) - Land in Chicago

10:45 am - Walk past the new Garret Popcorn location on Randolph. Breath deeply, vow to stop on the way back.

11:00 am - Lunch at the Park Grill Chicago. This restaurant is actually in Millennium Park, so you wouldn't necessarily expect it to be a great spot for a foodie lunch. But it was very convenient to our meeting, and came with recommendations from at least one foodie, so I figured it was worth a shot. When we arrived at 11 it was dead quiet, but by the time we left the place was filled with people - downtown workers, families with kids. The food was pretty good. I had a lamb sandwich with goat cheese and roasted red peppers and salsa verde. One of my coworkers had the Kobe beef burger (with Gorgonzola, caramelized onions and grainy mustard) which, our waiter tells us, was ranked the #3 best burger in the city of Chicago. Both the sandwiches came with fries, and they were perfect. Hot, crisp, really nicely done. The other coworker we were lunching with had the crab and avocado salad and couldn't stop raving about it. So if you're in the neighborhood and it's not too busy, give it a try - it will probably be a better meal than you'd expect.

12:15 pm - Head off to get ready for our meeting.

4 pm - Finish the meeting.

4:30 pm - Stop at Garrett's popcorn and buy a small bag of caramel crisp to bring home. Yes, I know it would be more traditional to get the Chicago mix, but I wasn't in the mood for cheese corn with my caramel corn. The popcorn tastes even better than it smells, and the whole experience reminds me of my youthful days working for Kernels Popcorn.

6 pm - Get through security at O'Hare and ask the airport cop if there's a Gold Coast Dogs accessible from the terminal we're in. There is, and it's just a short walk away. I get a char dog, although I once again give shortshrift to the purist Chicago experience, and only top my dog with mustard, tomatoes, pickles and celery salt (leaving out the onions, relish, and sport peppers).

7:00 - On the plane

9:30 (time zone shift bites back) - Land in Detroit

10:30 - Home! I munch on a little more popcorn, drink some water, and go to bed.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Giant Cadbury Cream Egg

Visit Pimp that Snack to read all about how this jaw-dropping creation was made. It weighs in at nearly 5 lbs and an estimated 10,000 calories!

It's certainly an impressive feat of candy engineering. The thought of actually *eating* it totally grosses me out though. Like most people I've talked to, I loved creme eggs as a kid, but now find them so sweet as to be inedible.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wine Club - Merlot

The task - "Merlot, but interesting." Too much merlot tastes exactly like every other Merlot, so we tasked our wine seller with finding us an interesting variety from different countries. Nothing here is going to become an all-time favorites, but they were certainly interesting.

2005 Trumpeter Merlot Mendoza Argentina
Nice fragrant nose. Plum, black pepper, "mulberries on a hot sidewalk." But a funky edge too. Smoke and burnt marshmallow after some time sitting in the glass. Noticeable acidity, strong mineral finish, slight "oily" body. 2.4 alone, 3.5 food. 1/3.5 alone, 2/4 food. $10.99

2004 Aquinas Merlot Napa Valley
Fruit forward nose (cherry). Plus caramelized sugar, leather and wood. Hint of "well aged compost." Fruity on the palate too. Smooth cherry flavors with a hint of cloves. No tannins. Pleasant, but one-dimensional. Good for quaffing. 3.2 alone, 3.4 food. 2/5 alone, 2/5 food. $11.99

2002 Felipe Rutini Tupungato Valley Mendoza Argentina
Smells "old world." Notes of forest floor - pine needles, musrhooms. "Where the forest meets the sea." Smooth, but not too smooth, some mild tannins. Quite dry, with moderate acidity for a little bite. "Chewy." Very drinkable, but not at all boring. Slight mineral finish. 3.3 alone, 3.3 food. 1/5 alone, 2/5 food. $15.99

2003 Chateau le Marquisat la Perouse Bordeaux
Bad bottle - pretty serious brett. A little bit of brett can be appealing, but this was definitely a fault. Even so, some people found things to like about it. 1.7 alone, 2.1 food. 1/3 alone, 1/3 food. $11.99

(Understanding the ratings: Wines are scored on a 5 pt scale. The scale does not reflect a formal evaluation of the wine, just how much people like or dislike it. Scores reflect averages and ranges across the group. Wines are tasted and scored first alone, and then with food. )

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Congrats, Chef Alex!

Ann Arbor's own Alex Young, chef at Zingerman's Roadhouse, is a Beard Foundation 2007 nominee for best Chef in the new "Great Lakes" category. It's great to see a local name on the list, and to see Zingerman's get the recognition, but I'd be amazed if he pulls out a win as the competition is pretty fierce:

Best Chef: Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH)
Grant Achatz, Alinea, Chicago
Carrie Nahabedian, Naha, Chicago
Bruce Sherman, North Pond, Chicago
Michael Symon, Lola, Cleveland
Alex Young, Zingerman's Roadhouse, Ann Arbor

Kitchen Chick has a great profile of Alex on her blog. The full list of Beard nominees is available here (pdf).

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Maple-Mustard Pork Tenderloin for 36

My butcher has had a great price on pork tenderloin lately, so I've cooked it a couple of common meals in a row. This time, I got thinking about pork, and what would go well with it, and immediately thought of maple. And mustard as a nice complementary flavor. I went looking for ideas on the net and found a lot of people using apple cider vinegar, and that was an excellent addition - it ensured that the sauce wasn't too sweet. I served this with mashed sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli and salad.

Maple-Pork Tenderloin for 36
12 lbs pork tenderloin (about 8)
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
vegetable oil

8 oz maple syrup
8 oz dijon mustard
4 oz apple cider vinegar, plus extra for deglazing
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle the pork tenderloin with salt and pepper and set aside for at least 5 minutes.

Mix the sauce ingredients together.

Preheat one or more large heavy pans. Add just enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Working in batches, sear the tenderloins for 2 minutes on each side, for 6 to 8 minutes total. Place onto a baking sheet. When all the tenderloins are seared, coat them generously on all sides with the sauce. You will use about half of the sauce. Reserve the extra.

Roast tenderloins in the oven for 15-30 minutes or until they reach an internal temperature of 145 to 160, depending on how well done you like your pork. Remove from oven, cover loosely in foil, and let rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

While the tenderloins are roasting, deglaze the searing pans with extra cider vinegar, scraping up all the accumulated fond. Add reserved maple-mustard sauce to pan and set aside. When the tenderloins are done, add any pan juices from the roasting pans, and reduce sauce by 1/3.

To serve, slice roasted tenderloins into medallions and place on platters, topped with maple-mustard sauce.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Easter Chocolates from Tammy's Tastings

I'm now accepting orders for Easter Chocolates over on my business website. Flavors are desribed below, but visit the Easter sale page for prices and details on how to order. And please feel free to tell your friends!

Truffle Bunny – This adorable bunny is available in your choice of 72% dark chocolate with dark chocolate ganache, or milk chocolate with milk chocolate ganache.
Cardamom – Aromatic floral spice notes of cardamom combine with earthy dark chocolate for an exotic treat.
Raspberry – Organic raspberry puree infuses every bite of these dark chocolate delicacies.
Peanut Butter – These peanut butter centers don’t come out of a jar. We start by grinding roasted peanuts with caramelized sugar, add milk chocolate and cream, then mold them in dark chocolate shells.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Uh-oh: Butter is evil again

Trans Fat Fight Claims Butter as a Victim - New York Times

Remember how we call used to eat margarine, because it was deemed to be more healthy than butter? And then we discovered trans-fats, and margarine became the adversary. Well, now butter is back in the food paranoists sights - one quarter pound of butter contains 3.12 grams of naturally occurring trans fats. Researchers aren't sure, but think that naturally occurring trans fats don't have the negative health effects that artificially created ones do. But big companies, like Starbucks, don't want to have to explain all that to their customers, and FDA labeling states that "if a product has a half a gram or more of trans fat per serving, the amount has to go on the food label and the food can’t be called trans fat-free, even if butter is the only fat." So...

...wholesale bakers are being forced to substitute processed fats like palm oil and margarine for good old-fashioned butter because of the small amounts of natural trans fat butter contains.
Changing ingredients isn't the only strategy:
Sometimes the change means eliminating butter or other dairy products that register trans fat; other times it means reducing portion sizes so nutritional analysis shows that, for example, a cookie has less than half a gram of trans fat per serving.
And butter is only the beginning. Ground beef: 1.33 grams per quarter lb. Brie: 1.12 grams per quarter lb. Cup of milk: .24 grams. According to the article, meat purveyors are already getting nervous as more and more places push trans fat bans.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Beyond Molecular Gastronomy

ruhlman.com: The End of Molecular Gastronomy?
We are at a remarkable point in our culinary history. The burst of creativity that began at El Bulli and has carried on in places like Fat Duck and Alinea (among a handful of other notable American restaurants) has been thrilling. But I think the innovations we’ve seen have been more than enough for now. Now, like the innovations of Nouvelle Cuisine in the 1970s, techniques such as hot gels, unusual starches and gums, foams, and sous vide cooking, need to find their proper place in the evolution of those restaurants fueled by the creative spirit and striving for innovation--without being dogged by the ungainly and inaccurate term “moleculary gastronomy.” It is the new new cuisine. But we stopped referring to Nouvelle Cuisine as such, after its essential mandates were fully incorporated into the fine dining idiom. In the hands of a chef such as Achatz, whose culinary fundamentals (how to cook a potato, how to make a chestnut puree) are so exquisite, I hope we stop calling the new new cuisine anything at all other than really good food.

Chocolate Tasting

On Sunday I invited a bunch of friends around to taste some chocolate with me. I'd ordered some E. Guittard single origin bars to taste, and then had collected up various odds and ends
I'd gotten in trade from people on the net. I wanted to taste them all alongside the basic couvertures I'm using for my chocolate making, to see if there was something I should be using instead, or if any of them called out for use in a particular pairing.

We tasted 13 different chocolates - 10 dark and 3 milk.

Dark Chocolates
1. E. Guittard 61% (B)
2. Noel 64% (B)
3. New World 64% (U)
4. E. Guittard Sur del Lago Venezula 65% (SO)
5. E. Guittard Quevedo Ecuador 65% (SO)
6. E. Guittard Chucari Columbia 65% (SO)
7. E. Guittard Ambana Madagascar 65% (SO)
8. Valrhona 2002 Chuao Venezuala 65% (SE)
9. E. Guittard 72% (B)
10. El Rey Apatmate Carnero Venezula 74% (SO)

Milk Chocolates
11. Callebaut Milk (B)
12. El Rey Irapa Rio Caribe 40% (SO)
13. E. Guittard Orinoco 41% (B)

B=blended, SO=single origin, SE=single estate, U=unknown

I have a horrible chocolate vocabulary, so I don't have detailed tasting notes to share. But I was pleased that the E. Guittard chocolates I have been using stood up well against the rest. I didn't particularly like the El Reys - as one attendee, also a chocolatier, said "I know I'm supposed to be impressed by El Rey, but I'm just not." The 74% in particular was downright unpleasant - kinda chalky. I'm not really sure what #3 was - it was labeled as "New World 64%" but I can't find anything like that anywhere on the net.

Of the four Guittard single origin bars, the Ecuadoran (#5) was the favorite. Mostly, I think, because it tasted the most like how we expect chocolate to taste. The others were more varietally distinct. #6 was interesting - woody, smokey and kind of peaty - might be good on it's own as a single origin truffle.

#8, the single estate bar, was very complex. Lots of layers of flavor. It comes from the Chuao cocao bean, which is only grown in one small place in Venezula, which is only accessible by the ocean, blah-blah-blah... Very unique, very interesting. It's a vintage chocolate, in that it has a year of harvest associated with it, and is made only from beans from that harvest. This was a freebie that I got from Chocosphere when I placed my giant chocolate order with them recently.

#2 came from an eGullet friend who traded me her go-to chocolate pistole for some of my bonbons. It was quite different from the others in the tasting, I think because it has much lower acidity than the others. It had some distinct anise and cinnamon kind of notes. Some people thought it was almost peanut-buttery. It's not a clean enough tasting chocolate that I would want to use it for general use, but I may play around with it for for a cinnamon or peanut butter center, places where it's unusual character will contribute.

The milk chocolates were, well, milk chocolate, which I mostly don't like. But the E. Guittard Orinoco was better than the other two, so I'll keep it as my basic milk chocolate for now. Even my friend Sue liked it, and she generally doesn't like milk chocolates that are high in cocoa content. So if I've found a milk chocolate that both she and I like, then it's definitely a keeper!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Interview with Grant Achatz

Fascinating read from Chicagoist. Here's a taste:

Chicagoist: Could you start off by describing in layman’s terms what you call “hypermodern, emotional” cooking, or what’s also known as “molecular gastronomy” or “science food”?

Grant Achatz: We really look at the whole thing as a block of time. We can cook individual meals or dishes. But for us, we’re trying to entertain, captivate, insatiate, all of those things combined into one experience for x amount of time. We have you in the chair for between two to six hours. What are we doing with that time? Well, we’re going to try to entertain you. We’re going to try to feed you, obviously. If food and service is the medium, how do we refine or craft an experience that is not only unique, but also … you mentioned “emotionally driven.” When people ask, “what is your goal with this?” I say, “I want people to feel.” Sometimes that feeling is going to be elation. Sometimes it’ll be intimidation. Sometimes it’s going to be happiness. When people think of cooking, that seems like a stretch to them. They think that, as a chef, my job is to feed you good-tasting food. That’s only part of that for us. We recognize that, and we focus on that, and all the other elements, as well.