Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Talking Turkey

Hope it's safe to talk turkey. Fried turkey that is. Don't laugh - this isn't as easy or as stupid as it sounds. It is quite technical - maybe not as difficult as slow smoked barbecue - but it's no slam dunk.

It took two attempts, multiple post graduate degrees and culinary experience to figure out how to do this correctly. First attempt was a fairly overcooked bird on Thanksgiving day - thankfully it was the back-up bird.

Actually it was the "entertainment" for the afternoon as family members peered through the window at the goofs in the yard attempting to divert bone chilling 40 mph winds from the open flames while avoiding getting burned by the 6 gallon cauldron of boiling oil.

The next day a much larger bird (20 lbs) was fried to great success. When one family member was seen eating the crispy, flavorful skin right off the bird, we knew we had achieved our goal.

Keys to a crispy and juicy fried turkey:
  • Salt the bird between the skin and the meat with plenty of kosher salt 2 hours before frying
  • Allow salted bird to sit upright on fryer hook over a sheet pan in refrigerator
  • Dry outer skin with paper towels before frying
  • Bring/hold the peanut oil to exactly 350 degrees F
  • Cook no more than 3 minutes per pound, allow to rest 10 to 15 minutes before carving
  • You may also need to have a specific propane tank connector that will work with the frying set so check it a few days before the big event to avoid last minute snafus.
Although it was tasty it's hard to imagine doing this very often given all of the oil used (almost 4 gallons) and a cooking vessel so big that it was hard to clean even in a laundry tub. One thought is to offer the neighbors a turkey frying schedule throughout the day, cooking one turkey every hour to make better use of the hot oil and set up efforts.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pizzeria Nella


We were fortunate enough to be invited to a pre-opening party at Pizzeria Nella last night. The noise level in the place is either energetic if you are in a lively mood or too loud if you are trying to have a serious conversation. Could have been the crowd but more likely than not it is the open room design, multiple TV screens, piped in music and lack of any fabric anywhere contributing to the noise level.

It's a very pleasing looking space with large pictures of Nella working pizza dough balls into shape across the north wall. A large bar with two TV monitors above frames the south wall. In the southeast corner is the volcanic stone oven and pizza prep station. A well placed and well lit mirror above the station allows diners from almost any point in the dining room to check in on the pizza making action.

The food was very good. Antipasti were exactly as they are intended to be - very appetizing and a nice prelude to the pizza. The warm melanzane (eggplant) had deep, rich flavors of tomato and garlic without overpowering the delicate flavor of the eggplant. An Insalata di Mare (seafood salad) was light and cool with flavors of the sea. A Caprese Salad featured silky smooth coins of mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) large fresh basil leaves and red-ripe tomato halves. The marinated salmon was tender and moist, albeit just a bit fishy.

On to the main star, the pizza. Moderately thin crust dough - soft and crisp at the same time with great flavor. This is Neapolitan Pizza - not cracker thin dough if you are used to that so don't expect it. The edges have some crispness and dark patches from the oven but as you near the center of the pizza the dough is floppy and moist.

The toppings are fresh and of high quality - the prosciutto had all of the expected nuttiness and was not overly salty as many prosciuttos can be. The rucola (arugula) was tender and with a nice peppery bite.

A must is the stuffed pizza - the Vesuvio - a marvelous volcanic shaped pizza with top and bottom crust and a smudge of tomato sauce in the center that resembles hot flowing lava. The filling included mushrooms, prosciutto cotto (ham) and more - well worth the $17.99 price as it easily feeds two.

All in all this place is sure to be a hit. We’ll be back and are quite willing to pay for our next meal there.

(Note: these photos were cut and pasted from their website and are the same shots shown on the restaurant wall.)

2423 N. Clark
Chicago, IL 60614

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Counter - Build Your Own Burger

Visited a very interesting burger concept last week - The Counter - at 666 W. Diversey Pkwy in Chicago. It had that cool steel and bright airy feel like a Chipotle although here they do offer well-trained table servers to take care of you. Soft drinks and tea glasses are large and include free refills. They also offer beer and wine.

The menu is a nice mix of finger foods, salads and sandwiches - burgers from veggie to beef to turkey to lamb and grilled chicken breast sandwiches. The 50/50 mix of parmesan garlic fries and sweet potato fries was a very generous portion of thin and crisp fries with a tasty yet subtle seasoning.

You get four toppings, 1 cheese, 2 sauces and can have your protein on a bun or in a bowl on salad greens. Topping choices include the standard fare plus some not so usual items such as shredded carrots, dilled cranberries, fried or hard-boiled eggs, herbed goat cheese spread, roasted chilis, horseradish cheddar, avocados, caramelized onion marmalade and red relish to name just a few.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Vie - 5 Course Iron Chef Dinner - Secret Ingredient - Pheasant!

Here's the review of our dinner at Vie in Western Springs on Tuesday, 11/3/09 from the Open Table site:

We attended the Iron Chef dinner (5 courses of pheasant) and it was excellent. The courses were small enough so that no one was too full after five courses, a sorbet and dessert. We recommend he keep the house smoked pheasant breast and scotch egg on the menu. The consomme portion was a bit small and the plate not warm enough so the consomme cooled off too quickly. The service was wonderful - attentive but not bothersome, water was always filled, wine was poured etc. The front room is quite cold - they need to work on insulating the windows a bit. This was November 3 - I can't imagine how cold (unbearable) it must be in the winter. We were even seated next to the gas fireplace and it was still chilly. We look forward to returning!

Special Features:
Fit for Foodies, Good for Groups, Neighborhood Gem, Romantic, Special Occasion

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cuban Black Beans and Rice - Authentic Recipe

Ran across this delicious black beans and rice meal a few months ago and had to share the website for all you Cuban food lovers who might want to give them a try. They are easy to prepare - just open a few cans of beans, mix in a jar of sauteed seasoning mix (sofrito) and heat through. Serve over steamed white rice for an authentic tasting Cuban staple without all of the hassle. The website is

My family makes homemade black beans and rice for every holiday meal - it takes hours to soak the beans, slow cook them, make the sauteed seasoning mix (sofrito) and then cook them together again for hours while all of the flavors meld. With these Old Havana Foods products we can enjoy black beans and rice on any night in just a few minutes.

I think their sofrito might be able to be used in other Cuban dishes like Arroz con Pollo, Picadillo or Seafood Paella. When I get a chance to try the sofrito in a few recipes I'll report back.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Seared Red Snapper with Roasted Tomatoes and Fennel

Made this tasty dish a few nights ago. It was very light tasting and yet satisfying.

We roasted the thinly sliced fennel and onions with a touch of olive oil in the oven at 425 deg F until they started to soften and caramelize, about 15 minutes, stirring at least once.

Meanwhile we brought some home-grown, oven-roasted tomatoes (previously slow-roasted at 275 deg F for 3 hours with whole garlic cloves, a hint of thyme, salt and pepper) up to serving temperature in an oven proof skillet. We added the onion/fennel mixture to the pan reserving about 1 cup for later. We did not mix the onion mixture with the tomatoes, just let it fall into the tomatoes.

We then high heat seared the skin-on Red Snapper fillets in a non-stick skillet with olive oil and then placed them on top of the tomato/fennel and onions and topped with the remaining onion/fennel mixture. The entire pan was then returned to the 425 deg F oven to finish cooking the red snapper through and to give additional browning to the veggies.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Siboney Chicago

Check out the review of our delicious lunch at a new Cuban restaurant in Chicago 7/23/09. Click on the title above or cut and paste the URL below into your browser:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Best Meal in Barolo

A few weeks ago we were in Barolo, Italy and enjoyed a fabulous meal at a restaurant called La Cantinetta. The food was great and the service fun and relaxed. Here are a few photos from that evening.

La Cantinetta on Via Roma 33, Barolo Italy
We ordered the antipasti tasting which happened to be five courses of starters. We expected a lot of local cured meats and pickled veggies - we were very pleasantly surprised that was not the case!
The first course or amuse bouche was a very thin slice of local salami and small blini sized frittata of greens - crispy on the outside yet tender and with great flavor.

We didn't think to photograph the dishes until the next course arrived - a rabbit mousse with caramelized red onions and toasted brioche. OMG! Heavenly, and for those of you squeemish about rabbit just think of it as a chicken with fur. It was amazing - creamy, savory, sweet and crunchy!

The next course was delicious vitello tonnato. Have always shied away from this dish thinking it was too strange a pairing. Well I was wrong. A tender, perfectly roasted slice of veal with a tuna and caper sauce. We had to have seconds, hence the dirty plate in the picture!

That was followed by a famous raviolo filled with verdura (chopped mixed greens), a soft egg yolk and topped with Parmigiano Reggiano and browned butter. Amazing that such simple and pure flavors could be so response provoking. The mmm's and oh my's kept flying out of our mouths as we devoured this delicacy.

To bring it to the next level they offered a crispy asparagus tart with a fonduta sauce. It's hard to describe how perfectly crisp and yet light the pastry shell was on this dish. The cheesy sauce was a perfect smooth and silky accompaniment to the crisp and tender asparagus in the tart.


To amaze one even further a dish of spinach gnocci with gorgonzola sauce was beyond description. Surely we will never have gnocci this light and tender without it being at all wet as most gnocci tend to be. We had braced ourselves for knock your head off gorgonzola flavor only to find that the chef used a slight hand with such a potentially overwhelming cheese.

A dish of the local classic - ravioli al plin - were tasty but woefully inadequte next to that masterpiece of spinach gnocci. Regardless of the tastier dish on the table, all the ravioli al plin were consumed!

We had no room for dessert and missed what appeared to be a delicious mixed berry tart that we saw them shaping in the pan just as we were arriving.

We can't wait to return to the area in the future and experience another wonderful meal here.