Monday, March 26, 2012

Olive Crostini

Perfect Pairing:  Party Music

I can’t count how many times I have made this olive crostini recipe.  It is my “go to” appetizer whenever I am having a get together.  I love the combination of salty olives, spicy pepper jack cheese, and nutty parmesan.  It is so easy to throw together and is always a hit.  You can even make the olive mixture ahead of time and broil the crostini right before serving.
The Perfect Pairing for olive crostini is the perfect party music!  When I entertain I spend a lot of time thinking about the atmosphere in addition to the food that I am going to serve.  Music is key!  I am a big fan of Pandora.  If you have not used Pandora, you should start.  I love that I don’t have to buy/download new music or have to make a playlist of songs before a party.  I like to have an eclectic mix of tunes.  My party mix is a combination of the following Pandora stations:  Frank Sinatra, Joshua Radin, Madeleine Peyroux, Spanish Guitar, Salsa, Mumford and Sons, Blue Six, UB40, Van Morrison, Jason Mraz, and Contemporary Reggae.  Of course, maybe not all of those at once.  You have to know your audience!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

L2O Restaurant Experience

Oh where do I begin??  Last weekend I had the most extraordinary dining experience of my life at L2O restaurant in Lincoln Park.  I had heard that this restaurant was amazing and it totally lived up to its reputation. 
L2O says they are a modern seafood restaurant.  Modern indeed.  Each course was fascinating, but still delicious.  The décor was minimal and elegant, and the staff was lovely.  So much thought was put into every tiny detail. 
Last year my parents purchased a silent auction item at a charity event that included a “VIP Night” at L2O.  Included was champagne on arrival, extra courses, and a tour of the kitchen.  I was thrilled to be included in the special night and to be able to bring my handsome date.  Granted…. I may have STRONGLY encouraged the purchase at the auction!
Now for the fun stuff….
The chef at L2O started the night with a selection of canapés that were a play on Fruits de Mar (or fruits of the sea).  Three variations of perfectly formed hollow balls filled with goodness.  The orange one was cantaloupe filled with foie gras with a sprig of orange zest, the back one was cucumber filled with a fish mousse (I think), and up close was honeydew filled with….well, I can’t remember, but how cute??

I can’t even imagine how long it takes to create three of these for each diner every single night.

Next up was the amuse bouche, a mussel tart on a pastry shell with a hint of bacon.  To be eaten in one bite.  Crazy good.  You can read about how chef Matthew Kirkley came up with this on his blog. 
I love the details.

The bread was ridiculous. This one was filled with bacon and whole grain mustard.  How could that be bad?  The butter in the background was formed into a perfect dome on the lid of the dish.  They would bring it to the table flipped upside down.   How do they do that?? I am easily amused.

My first course was scallop, foie gras, hon-shimeji (AKA the cutest little mushrooms I have ever seen), and Argan oil.  I googled Argan oil and apparently it has cosmetic benefits.  Who knew?  I think this was my favorite course.

Mom had ahi tuna tartare with avocado and tomato water, all dotted with caviar.  The presentation was just stunning in person.  Again, you can read about it on the chef’s blog.

Dad had hamachi and uni in a shiso lime vinaigrette. 

Rob had a beautiful sashimi platter with citrus salmon, fluke-hojicha, and ahi with avocado.

Can we discuss this adorable crab cut out of daikon radish? 

We were happy diners!!!!

For the second course Rob and I had black and white fettucine with a lobster-uni emulsion, topped with Osetra caviar. 

Notice how the pasta is double sided.  I can’t even wrap my mind around how that is accomplished.  My dad and I have a tradition of making pasta on Christmas and it is quite the event.  I don’t think we will be attempting double sided noodles anytime soon. 

Mom had a ridiculously good lobster bisque with apple pearls and calvados (apple brandy).

Monday, March 19, 2012

Roasted Tandoori Spiced Fish in Tomato Sauce

Perfect Pairing:  Tandoori Rice

I hope everyone had a wonderful St. Patrick's Day weekend!  Mine was fantastic.  I was able to spend the weekend with my favorite people and we had an amazing time together.  The weather in Chicago was absolutely gorgeous, so that didn't hurt! 

Last night I had the most extraordinary dinner at L2O restaurant.  I will be writing about that soon.  It was unlike anything I have ever had, almost surreal, but still delicious.  Now it is back to reality!

On a previous post I wrote about my favorite homemade tandoori seasoning.  I used the same seasoning in this recipe to marinate the fish and to season the tomato sauce.  The sauce has a rich flavor from the light coconut milk and has a bit of a kick from the jalapeno.  I would highly recommend using the fire-roasted crushed tomatoes instead of plain crushed tomatoes.  The fire-roasted flavor is great in this dish.  It is a really simple weeknight dinner that is healthy and full of flavor.
The Perfect Pairing for this simple fish dish is Tandoori Rice.  Both dishes use the tandoori seasoning blend, so they complement each other nicely.  The rice is a great base for the yummy tomato sauce.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Edamame Hummus

Perfect Pairing:  St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago is a pretty big deal.  Everyone in the city is Irish on March 17.  The entire metropolis turns into a party starting around 10 AM when the river is dyed green.  It is shocking how green it gets!  I always assumed that the city bank rolled the color job but apparently it is privately funded.  The photo below is from 2010 which was a cold and dreary day.  They are predicting 70+ degrees for Saturday so I can only assume that will add to the mayhem around here!
I get to spend this St. Patrick’s Day with some of my favorite people.  I can’t wait!  My mom has even hinted that she might try a green beer…. I don’t think she has had a beer in her life.  That should be interesting.
I wanted to provide some Irish themed food to snack on, but did not want to use green food coloring.  I turned my focus to naturally green ingredients like vegetables, pesto, and well, I guess that is it.  I remembered reading about edamame hummus and thought that would be the perfect party food.  Not only would it be naturally green it would be healthy! 
This edamame hummus is flavored with tahini, lemon juice, and roasted garlic.  Roasted garlic is a very good thing.  Roasting the garlic completely transforms the flavor so it is almost sweet.  You can even spread it directly on crostini.  Yum.   To roast an entire head of garlic you just chop off the top and remove most of the outer papery layer, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in foil, and roast until it is golden and soft.
Before going into the oven….

The edamame hummus was slightly sweet from the roasted garlic and had an earthy taste from the tahini.  It was a lovely shade of green, which makes it the Perfect Pairing for St. Patty’s Day!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Customizable Bread Bowl Breakfast

Perfect Pairing:  Refrigerator leftovers

Recently I had a wonderful winter retreat with some of my very best girlfriends at my family’s lake house.  There was a lot of chatting, sipping wine, and relaxing.  We each took charge of a couple of meals and ate really well over the weekend. 
I wanted to do something fun and different for one of the breakfasts and came across an idea for eggs in a bread bowl.  Not only were these guys delicious, they were completely customizable.  I laid out all of the components and let everyone go to town with their creations.
I recommend using a crusty French bread roll for this recipe. You just cut off the top, scoop out the inside, fill it with your favorite ingredients, add an egg or egg white, and bake in the oven until the egg is set.
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is whatever you have leftover in your refrigerator!  Below is a summary photo of what I used. 
I will definitely be making these again!  They are perfect for a big group breakfast.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thai Chicken Pasta

Perfect Pairing: Joshua Radin

I have been making variations of this Thai Chicken Pasta for years.  It is one of my all-time favorite recipes.  It was the first meal I made in my tiny studio apartment when I moved to Chicago seven years ago.  I don’t know how it is possible that I have been here for seven years.  Yikes!
This recipe is really versatile and can be adjusted to suit your tastes.  If you like spicy go with hot salsa, or increase the amount of peanut butter if you want more of a peanut sauce.  The sauce is also fantastic on pizza.  I still use the chicken, red peppers, and green onions but I top off everything with mozzarella.
This is a great go-to recipe when you have company coming over because it does not need any babysitting.  Just throw everything together and enjoy your company and a glass of wine.
The Perfect Pairing for this great recipe is some really great music.  Joshua Radin is perfect for a low-key party or dinner.  He has a silky voice and his songs are catchy.  I first heard him when the photographer from my brother’s wedding used his song, I’d Rather Be With You, on their wedding slideshow.  I loved the song the first time I heard it.  Some other favorites are You Got Growin’ Up to Do, Brand New Day, and They Bring Me to You. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tandoori Rice

Perfect Pairing – Empty spice jar

If you hang around this blog long enough you probably notice that I don’t focus on a certain cuisine or type of dish. People always ask me what kind of things I like to make and I never really know what to say because I really enjoy a wide variety of dishes, cuisines, etc. 
I love going out for Indian food but it kind of overwhelms me when I think about cooking it myself.  I have a few simple recipes that are hard to beat.  One of those is tandoori chicken, a classic Indian dish.  It is basically roasted chicken that has been marinated in yogurt and seasoned with tandoori masala, or tandoori spice.  You can buy ready-made tandoori spice or you can make you own.  I found a great recipe from Bobby Flay.  The tandoori spice mixture is great on chicken, fish, or rice. 
I came up with this rice recipe when I needed a simple side dish for an Indian dinner.  It is very easy, healthy, and delicious.  I chose to use brown rice to keep it on the healthier side but I am sure you could use white rice.
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is an empty spice jar.  The spice mixture makes quite a bit, more than you would need for this rice recipe.  You will probably empty at least one spice jar after making the mixture, don’t throw it away.  It is perfect to store the leftover spices until your next Indian cooking adventure!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Roasted Pepper and Tomato Salad

Perfect Pairing:  Fresh mozzarella pearls

Recently I wanted to make a salad for a get together that was different than your typical green salad.  I settled on a base of roasted peppers, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese.  It turned out great!  It was fresh and light but still very satisfying.
I know you can buy jarred peppers that are already roasted and peeled but I think they have a bitter taste so I like to roast my own.  I rest the peppers on a cookie sheet lined with foil and place the cookie sheet under the broiler.  Be sure to watch them closely!  I turn the peppers until all sides are blackened.  Remove the peppers from the oven and place in a bowl.  Cover the bowl with a plate so that the peppers can steam.  Once they have cooled you can easily peel off the blackened skin and remove the stem and seeds.
The Perfect Pairing for this salad is fresh mozzarella pearls.  The fresh mozzarella pearls are great because they are the perfect size for the salad.  You can definitely use regular fresh mozzarella and cut it to size, but why not go the easy route?
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