Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Forget the Oscars--Come To The Salon!

It's that time again--I've marked four new Salon dates on the February calendar! Click on the Salon name for tickets:

Rustic Italian Salon. Rustic Italian cooking is definitely a favorite style in the Salon! We'll focus on the earthy, hearty and (most importantly) delicious foods that have made peasant-style cooking the envy of all royalty. Come warm up with us in early February and BYOB some of those big, bold country wines. Dukes and Dutchesses, check your crowns at the door! Saturday, February 4 @7pm, $50.

Mid-Winter Market Salon.
Who knows what Puxatawny Phil will have told us by now? Perhaps we're in store for a long, brutal winter, or maybe some green shoots are due up out of the ground before too long. Either way, we've got a bit to wait for the asparagus and ramps to start poking up, so until then, let's use all the great, rugged produce we're able to get our hands on now! If you've ever wondered what to cook in the middle of the season of frozen ground in Chicago, come join us as we find all the hidden gems awaiting us in the market and we'll create a rich, hearty mid-winter market dinner together. Anything goes, and please note that this is not necessarily a vegetarian Salon. BYOB as always! Thursday, February 9 @7pm, $50.

No Valentine Required Brunch Salon.
All the hearts and cupids and arrows and whatnot can get downright annoying this time of year, regardless of your relationship status! Come take respite from the swirling strings and cook a tasty brunch with us in the Salon! We'll focus on some brunch classics and maybe explore some new terrain as well. BYOB as always, and I promise there will be no chocolate-dipped strawberries! Sunday, February 12 @11am, $50.

Vegetarian Salon.
Was George Washington a vegetarian? Well, we've never heard any debate on that subject, and it doesn't really matter. But I'll say this: in the Salon on his birthday, we're not about replacing meat with boring faux-meats. We're celebrating all the gorgeous vegetables available to us as we endure the depths of winter in several different preparations, letting each vegetable and grain be what they are--delicious and nourishing! Come explore the bounty in this highly market-driven Salon; based on what I find at the market, we'll prepare a full and delicious meal. The Salon is BYOB, please bring whatever you'd like to drink! Wednesday, February 22 @7pm, $50.

The Food on the Dole Salon is all about bringing your ideas alongside an empty stomach--all levels of cooking ability welcome, from newbie to chef! See you soon!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Hokey Pokey

An excellent Salon last night; in fact, the picture of what I intended when starting the Salons. Folks from all walks of life and levels of cooking ability arrive, wine in hand, a slight bit of anxiety in the air about being in a foreign kitchen with strangers, not really knowing what's on the menu. Then, slowly, as wine is poured, and conversation begins; the oven turned on and the action commences, those layers of initial trepidation start to melt away; bonds, if not friendships are forged and people really start to cook with each other. Sitting down to the table with the menu we just created, the conversation continues, and the meal carries on long after the delicious food is consumed. And that's the spirit of the Salon--we come together in the name of spontaneously created, seasonally appropriate food, learn a few techniques and methods along the way, and construct a certain level of kinship with others joining us. It's a great thing, and it's made great by the people who attend. Me, I just facilitate it. And it's a joy to watch.

Last night's crew made a lovely red kabocha squash soup, garnished with black cumin and the squash's roasted seeds; a salad of so-strongly-flavored-and-delicious-especially-in-the-winter greenhouse lettuce, carrots, pomegranate seeds, crisp fried garlic and shaved winter cheddar; and a knockout "root cellar" risotto with golden beets, celeriac, garlic confit, lacinato kale and Gene's oh-so-tasty smoked pork rib belly. Well executed and certainly well enjoyed, it was a great meal, and a great night. As we look ahead to next Wednesday's Pasta Salon, I offer my many thanks to those who braved the cold last night and warmed up in the Salon, and I sincerely hope to see you all again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Everyone Needs To Know How To Do This

My gastronomically demanding brother was in town over the weekend, which always sends me into a bit of a frenzy over eating options for him. He needs things to be great, but not precious; full of flavor but not stupidly busy; familiar but not commonplace. On top of that, there was a dismantling of our beloved Denver Broncos to be witnessed, which throws into the mix the inevitable need to secure a spot to watch said game, that isn't over run by thick-necked sports goons, has great beer, and food to match. A tall order for a span of time covering 3-4 meal periods. Gulp.

In the end, everything turned out great--he was satiated and returned to his food sanctum of San Francisco. The sports needs were met with a trip to The Bad Apple, a place we would have gone anyway because of their amazing inexpensive-relative-to-other-places-that-have-amazing-beer-lists beer list, a general lack of the sort of sports enthusiasts that produce caustic howls routinely every 30 seconds for oft-inexplicable reasons, and the top-top-notch burgers. But more importantly, on Sunday, we did what everyone should do now and again: we roasted a simple chicken. Here's how:
  • Get a good chicken, preferably one that knew--or at least saw--the out-of-doors at some point in it's life and lived a bit longer than 3 weeks.
  • Rinse it. Dry it.
  • Rub it with butter. Or, if sickened by Paula Deen's recent--and, naturally, quite profitable--revelation (or by Paula Deen in general), use olive oil.
  • Shower it inside and out with salt and pepper.
  • Cut a couple lemons in half. Put them in the cavity of the bird along with some herbs and possibly garlic.
  • Tie the legs together and tuck the wings behind where the neck would be to make a compact chicken that will cook evenly.
  • Put the bird on a roasting rack made of either metal or aromatic vegetables such as carrots, celery, onion and garlic.
  • Surround the bird with a few lemon wedges. Charred lemon is downright tasty on roast birds.
  • Put it in a 425ºF oven for an hour or an hour and a half. If you are taking it's temperature, do so in its inner thigh, and shoot for about 155ºF (as it rests, it'll hit the 165ºF the FDA has got you worried about).
  • When done, let it rest (uncovered unless you live in an igloo, or something like an igloo) for 10-15 minutes.
  • Carve it. Rub charred lemon on it.
  • Eat it.

Simple! It's delicious, and will satisfy the most demanding of your kin. A skill every decent cook should have in their arsenal.

Meanwhile, we move forward into a sold out Winter Market Salon tomorrow night, but have a couple of seats open for next Wednesday's Pasta Salon. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Top of Spaghetti...

I've just, just finished the last meatball from New Year's Eve. Here we are, 11 days and a freeze/thaw later and I've finally made my way through the meatballs I was worried I wouldn't have enough of that lovely night (though upon rolling and searing them off, I actually froze about a third of the mixture, which now awaits another tasty application). I've been trudging my way through them, not really eating much other than meatballs--not that there's anything with that--and admiring that particular quality that foods like this have of getting better as time goes by. They've gone in torta rolls for sandwiches, been eaten cold as I stood with my head poked in the fridge and served next to the remnants of the three color lasagna, also from NYE (and, incidentally, completely for the aesthetic of looking at the stratified layers of lasagna and squealing with delight at seeing different colors of pasta made from eggs, carrot juice and spinach rather than offering any huge flavor effect). But yesterday's incarnation was perhaps my favorite--boiled dry spaghetti in the last bits and pieces of meatball/sauce that was sitting at the bottom of the pan. I froze this most tasty and often discarded bit (not unlike a roast chicken's oyster or pope's nose, or that big piece of fat on a grilled ribeye) after harvesting the meatballs way back when, and finally pulled it out yesterday. Straight up spaghetti with meat sauce red checker tablecloth style. All that was missing was a basket of chianti.
To think, so much flavor could be extended for so long to so many people from a collection of beef scraps, pork shoulder, pork fat and salami. It all went through my grinder and was tossed with soffrito I made by slow, slow cooking onions, carrot, celery and garlic in a ton of olive oil and a bunch of parsley, fresh garlic and lemon zest. The meatballs were formed and seared in the trusty cast iron, then piled up in dutch ovens and covered with a slow-simmered tomato sauce and, for good measure, a dousing of that good ham stock. Perfect to throw in the oven as people are arriving and bottles are popping open--the meatballs will be ready when you are.

Now, as the first big, fat flakes start to fall snow globe style, I'm a bit anxious knowing that we're in for it for a few long months now. I'm looking at the snow accumulating on the empty branches outside, and find myself wishing I made more meatballs. Time to thaw that extra bit and get back at it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Whew!, or, Welcome 2012!

After a full 2-day recovery, I'm back on my feet and fully rebounded from the festivities of New Year's Eve! It was the kind of night when all of the usual happened: old friends mingling with new, tons of great food, booze and music, porch cigar smoking; and a few new traditions were born--melty raclette, a midnight Hall and Oates dance party, and this most delightful little trick.

After putting on a fancy parade of food last year (including my personal favorite--braised goat short rib tortellini in curry cream w/ mint harrissa), we returned to the simplicity of the year before that (Hoppin' John and fried Chicken) by rolling out spinach, carrot and egg pasta for a bunch of hearty lasagna to be accompanied by piles upon piles of meatballs made of beef, pork and a few salamis, braised in tomato sauce and ham broth. To offer some sense of lightness (because the cheeses, linguica, ham, pepperoni, homemade ricotta and unbelievably tasty raclette Old Crazy Hair brought surely weren't doing it), we cut up some chicory, red leaf lettuce, red dandelion greens and parsley and tossed them with pomegranate seeds, shaved fennel and blood orange segments, all doused in a sharp vinaigrette made from said blood oranges. We ate...and ate...and drank plenty. Several bottles of champagne (including a magnum for the big moment itself), wine and beer later, we found ourselves looking at 4:30am, munching lazily on lavendar sugar cookies, a bevy of delicious nuts and brittle, the occasional hunk of ham or meatball, nursing bravely poured glasses of wine or whiskey or whatever we fancied as the night came to an end. The next day would find most of us loafing around our respective little Hobbit holes, watching terrible movies and eating egg casseroles and bagel bombs so wisely made on the other side of the big night, as the year's first snow decided to flutter around us.

Now, to the year ahead! Here's to great food and drink for everyone, but more importantly, here's to the friendships that are bonded around said food and drink--whether it be gilded goat tortellini, or the simple, humble meatball. Happy 2012!