Monday, August 31, 2009

Gourmet Night

Join us for our special 6 course gourmet taster menu on September 18 & 20, 2009 at 6:30pm. Menu will include all non-alcoholic beverages and home baked bread. Cost is $50 per person plus tax, dinner only, or $70 per person plus tax with wine pairings.

Menu is as follows:

Amuse Bouche-Moroccan Spiced Seared Sea Scallop with Orange and Olive Salad

First Course-Artisanal French Cheeses

Second Course-Smoked Salmon Blini with Caviar and Creme Fraiche

Third Course-Porcini, Chantrelle & Cremini Mushroom Bisque

Palatte Cleanser-Homemade Peach Sorbet

Entree-Pan Seared Cornish Game Hen with Pork and Orange Reduction and Caramelized Leek & Goat Cheese Twice Baked Potatoes

Dessert-Mexican Spiced Mousse au Chocolate

Reservations Required. Call 815-454-2419 or email us at

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How to Make Good Substitutions

Often a recipe will call for an ingredient that you either don't have or cannot find. Then you are faced with a perplexing challenge. Do you still make the recipe or do you jump ship and find something else to make? I say, make the recipe. There is always a way to make a recipe with substitutions and still come out with something great to eat. Certain items are easy to replace. Leeks for instance or shallots can always be replaced with onions. Look for an onion with a high sugar content, like a red onion or a vidalia and you'll still end up with the sweet onion flavor appropriate for a dish. Don't have garlic around, use some garlic powder and you'll be just fine. Something call for Herbes de Provence but you can't find it, use Italian Seasoning. It's always available at any grocery store and it'll still give you a complexity of flavor you are looking for. Fresh herbs can always be replaced by dried in a smaller quantity. Generally the ratio is to use half the dried in relation to the fresh recommended. Don't have heavy cream?? You can use sour cream or you can use milk. Don't have buttermilk?? You can take a cup of milk and add 1 Tbl of distilled vinegar and let it sit for 10 mins. Don't have butter, you can substitute shortening or olive oil and vice versa. Don't have chilli paste or Tabasco, use Cayenne Pepper and vice versa. The key is to determine what purpose the ingredient serves in the dish. Is it a flavor component, like an herb or spice?? Is it an acid component, like vinegar or lemon juice?? Is it a thickener, like flour or cornstarch?? Is it intended to make something creamy, like milk or sour cream?? Asking yourself these questions when you approach a recipe can make all the difference in finding an appropriate substitute. And if all else fails, you can always send me a note and I'd be happy to offer some good suggestions. Bottom line, don't ever be scared. Cooking should be fun and easy. If you are intimidated by a recipe, find ways to make it less intimidating by using ingredients you are familiar with and never be afraid to try something new. The worst that can happen is that you learn something new in the process and have some fun doing it!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Julia Child Tribute

This weekend we are celebrating the life of a very special person, Julia Child. While we have had such a tribute for the last 3 years, this is the first time it was received with such enthusiasm, largely due to the fact that the movie "Julie & Julia" just opened. I have to say, I am ecstatic that so many people are taking notice of this wonderful woman who changed the face of food and television. While I encourage everyone to see the movie, which is brilliant, I also encourage all of you to spend some time watching her old episodes of the French Chef, which can be seen on You Tube. In preparation for this event, I spent weeks watching old episodes, taking notes on recipes and deciding which recipes would not only be challenging for me to make, but would be interesting for people to experience. I decided on a taster menu to die for, which includes Petites Fondue Frites, Gateau D'Omelettes avec Piperades et Champignons, Saucisson de Menage and Mousse au Chocolat. The process of recreating Julia's recipes faithfully has been a lot of fun, but has also involved some ingenuity in obtaining ingredients. What I have found is that a lot of ingredients that were common when her show came on the air are no longer used or difficult to find, for example saltpeter or potassium nitrate, used to cure the sausages. I was also fortunate to get some help from a local butcher who made a special blend of pork to pork fat for my sausages as per the instructions in Julia's book "From Julia Child's Kitchen." Now for those of you who know me, I'm notorious for not following recipes. I like making things my own and being faithful to Julia hasn't exactly been easy. But, what it has been is tremendously fun and it has shown me one very important thing about her recipes and what she did so differently from others. Everything I have made as per her recipes have turned out exactly as expected. Her recipes are precise and fool proof. In this particular case, don't mess with a good thing. Julia knew what she was doing and I would never presume to second guess anything she did. That's not to say you can't get creative with recipes and add things to make them your own, but do know, if you make a Julia Child recipe as is, it will be tremendous. Most of the recipes aren't too difficult to recreate either. So I encourage all of you to take a look at this woman, her life, her recipes and her legacy. You'll gain great appreciation not only for who she was and what she meant to the world of food, but for food in general. Nobody was as passionate about good food as Julia was and nobody respected food as much as she did. We should all be so lucky to find something in life we are that passionate about. So Happy Birthday Julia and Bon Appetit!!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cooking with Chocolate

This weekend we enjoyed hosting our 3rd Annual Chocolate Taster Menu. When most people think about chocolate, they automatically assume dessert. However, in this particular case, we wanted to stretch peoples imaginations and preconceptions about chocolate and use them in totally different ways to enhance the flavors of savory foods as well. As such, we worked out a menu that would take advantage of the beautiful pairing of chocolate with spicy foods and coffee. Two of the recipes we came up with were Chipotle Chocolate Empanadas and a Spicy Tomato Chocolate Soup. Historically speaking, Mayans and Aztecs used chocolate in this type of savory application frequently so I took the inspiration of these cultures and applied them to Mediterranean staples, like empanadas and tomato soup. Empanadas are typically a meat filling with cumin, paprika and raisins and a common dish served in Spanish Tapas. I twisted this by using sweet spices, like allspice and cinnamon, adding chipotles for heat, and chocolate to round out the flavor. I served this with a Roasted Garlic and Sun-Dried Tomato Aioli and Balsamic Reduction and it was delicious. The soup took the concept of an Italian style tomato soup and switched it up by applying North African flavors like Cumin, Paprika and Harissa, which is a North African Chilli Paste. To mellow out the spice, I added the chocolate and it was served with some Queso Fresco, which is a Mexican fresh Sheeps milk cheese. Try these recipes out at home. You are sure to enjoy them and have a whole new love for the complexity of chocolate.

Chipotle Chocolate Empanadas

Yields: 36 Empanadas

2 pkgs Puff Pastry, Thawed According to Package Directions
2-3 Tbl Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Onions, Diced
2-3 Garlic Cloves, Minced
1 lb Ground Beef
1 lb Ground Pork
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to Taste
½ tsp Dried Oregano
1 tsp Ground Coriander
2 tsps Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp Ground Allspice
2-3 Tbl Tomato Paste
1-14 oz Can Diced Tomatoes
2 Tbl Italian parsley, Chopped
2 Tbl Cilantro, Chopped
¼ cup Dry Vermouth or Dry Sherry
1-2 Chipotles in Adobo Sauce, Chopped or To Taste
4 oz Bittersweet Chocolate
2 Tbl Honey or To Taste
1 Egg
1 Tbl Water
Balsamic Reduction and Roasted Red Pepper Aioli to Garnish

Heat oil in a medium sauté pan over medium high heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and sauté for one minute or until fragrant. Add pork and beef and sauté until browned. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, cinnamon, coriander and allspice. Add parsley, cilantro, tomato paste and chipotles. Add dry vermouth or sherry and diced tomatoes and continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add chocolate and melt thoroughly. Add enough honey to create a slightly sweet/savory flavor to taste. Remove from heat and cool. Whisk egg and water together. Dust work surface with flour. Lay one sheet of puff pastry out onto work surface and roll out with a rolling pin until the seams are sealed and the pastry is approx. ¼” thick. Using a knife or pizza wheel, cut sheet into 9 equal squares. Fill each square with approx. 1 1/2 Tbl filling and seal using egg wash. Press edges of pastry together with fingers and fold over to seal into a little pocket. Transfer to a greased baking sheet. Brush with more egg wash and continue with remaining pastry sheets until all the filling is used up or all the pastry is used up. If you have additional filling left over, use leftovers combined with pasta. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for approx. 20 mins or until the empanadas are brown and puffed. Serve hot garnished with Roasted Garlic and Sun-Dried Tomato Aioli and Balsamic Reduction.

Balsamic Reduction

Yields: ½ Cup

1 Cup Balsamic Vinegar

Place in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer uncovered until reduced by half. Cool and transfer to a squirt bottle for easy garnishing.

Roasted Garlic and Sun-Dried Tomato Aioli

Yields: Approx. 1 Cup

1 Head Garlic
Olive Oil
3-4 Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to Taste
3/4 Cup Hellman’s Mayonnaise
¼ Cup Buttermilk

Remove as much of the outer paper of the garlic as possible. Place on a sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and seal tightly in foil. Place on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 45 mins. Remove from oven and cool completely. Squeeze roasted garlic into a food processor. Add tomatoes, mayo and season with salt and pepper. Puree until smooth.

Spicy Tomato & Chocolate Soup

Yields: Approx. 6-8 Servings

2 Tbl Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbl Unsalted Butter
1 Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Carrots, Peeled and Diced
2 Celery Stalks, Diced
1 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Sliced
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to Taste
3 Tbl Harissa (North African Chili Paste)
2 tsps Hungarian Paprika
2 tsps ground Cumin
1 tsp ground Coriander
½-3/4 cup Dry Sherry or White Wine
1-28 oz Can Diced Tomatoes
4 Cups Chicken Broth
¼ Cup Cilantro, Chopped
¼ Cup Italian Parsley, Chopped
3-4 oz Bittersweet Chocolate
2 Tbl Honey or to Taste
Queso Fresco, Goat Cheese or Crème Fraiche to Garnish

Heat oil and butter in a stock pot over medium high heat until butter melts. Add onion and sauté until translucent, approx. 5 mins. Add garlic, carrots, celery and sun dried tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, harissa, paprika, cumin and coriander. Saute for a couple of minute to toast spices and soften vegetables. Add wine and continue cooking on high until all of the liquid has evaporated. Add tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 45 mins or until the vegetables are tender. Pass soup through a food mill to puree and remove any large particles. Return soup to pot and place over low heat. Add parsley and cilantro. Add chocolate and enough honey to balance acidity. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve hot, garnished with queso fresco, fresh goat cheese or crème fraiche.