Friday, November 12, 2010

Award Winning Pumpkin Chai Blondies

That's right folks, these pumpkin treats won me first prize and the title "Best Baker" in my company's annual Chili Cook-off/Bake-off. Here I am with my trophy:

I saw this on Kelsey's blog about a month ago and her description sold me that these would be a winner. The one part of the recipe that I was nervous about was the crystallized ginger - I've never had it before and was worried it may be too strong a taste on top of the blondies. When Joe tried one though and said that he liked it (he never likes anything strange) I knew that it was fine!

The only change I made from Kelsey's recipe was to add pecans on top of mine along with the ginger. These would be a great contribution to a Thanksgiving dinner!

Pumpkin Chai Blondies
Source: Apple A Day

For the blondies:
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/4 c. pumpkin puree
1 TBSP pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. freshly-grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. toasted chopped pecans
1/4 c. crystallized ginger, finely chopped

For the frosting:
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 TBSP unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13x9-inch baking pan (preferably with square corners) with foil or parchment so you have an overhang on all four sides. Spray with baking spray.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about three minutes.

3. Decrease speed to medium and add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add pumpkin and vanilla, beating until combined.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.

5. Add dry mixture to butter mixture, mixing only until combined. (Batter will be quite thick.) Stir in pecans.

6. Spoon batter into prepared baking pan and smooth with a spatula. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean. (The bars should be fulled cooked on the bottom and have a slightly undercooked texture near the top.) Place on top of a wire rack and allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then lift out of pan and allow to cool completely.

7. To make the frosting, combine all ingredients in a bowl and beat on high speed until fluffy, about two minutes.

8. Frost blondies when they are completely cooled and top with crystallized ginger. Cut into 20-30 bars, depending on desired portion size. Store in a airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Jean jackets, sweaters, crockpotting, football, foilage, haunted houses, anything pumpkin (see previous post). You can now add these little devils to my long list of reasons why fall is my favorite season.

Ever since I made the Snicker's cupcakes, I had been wanting to make the caramel buttercream frosting again. This frosting is so addicting, both times I've made it I've ended up eating WAY to much frosting straight out of the bowl. It is that good.

I got the idea to make a caramel apple cupcake and went on the hunt for an apple cake recipe. I didn't have to look to far, as Every Day with Rachael Ray had one this month (theirs called for the caramel drizzled straight on top, which I'm sure would have been amazing as well).

I had so much fun making these and especially decorating them - I think they turned out so cute! I coated the apple slices in lemon juice and they actually held up and didn't brown or shrivel for about 24 hours, so this would work well if you were making them for a party ahead of time.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

makes 24 cupcakes


adapted from Every Day with Rachael Ray
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 apples (about 1 pound), peeled and shredded- I used Golden Delicious, you can really use whatever your preference is + 1 extra apple if you are going to garnish (with slices coated in lemon juice)

Preheat to 350° and line 2 cupcake pans with baking liners. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth. Whisk in the oil and vanilla. Stir into the flour mixture until just combined; stir in the apples. Spoon the batter into the pans until almost full. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Caramel Sauce & Frosting

adapted from Annie's Eat's

Caramel Sauce:

8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

To make the caramel sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar begins to foam a bit. It will look and smell like it’s on the verge of burning. Remove from the heat and add the heavy cream. Stir until the sauce is smooth (you may need to return it to the heat to smooth it out), then mix in the vanilla and salt. Let cool.

Caramel Buttercream Frosting:

16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup caramel sauce
Pinch of coarse salt
2 tbsp. heavy cream

To make the frosting, add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed 1 minute until smooth. Blend in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla, caramel sauce and salt until incorporated. (Note: the caramel sauce should be just warm enough that it is workable, but not warm enough to melt the butter in the frosting.) Add the heavy cream and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.

Decorate the cupcakes as you'd like, I piped the caramel butter cream, added the apple slices and drizzled the rest of the caramel sauce over.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pumpkin Risotto - Take 2

Hello readers! I'm back from another blogging drought, sorry about that! Had another trip to London for work, and then a mini-vacation with Joe to go visit my sister in Houston, and a couple of nights at a golf/spa resort in San Antonio to celebrate our 2 year anniversary!

As much fun as I had in Texas, I was SO EXCITED to come home today. Besides a 5 hour stop in Chicago on Friday between London and TX, it feels like I haven't been home in forever. I can't wait to stay put for the next two weekends (besides a quick drive up to Milwaukee this Saturday for our friends' 30th bday party - but after all that Milwaukee is nothing!).

One of the reasons I'm looking forward to staying at home is to do some fall baking with the cans of pumpkin I've been stockpiling in fear of another shortage! Now, while I haven't done any baking yet - I did recreate the pumpkin risotto I made this time last year. I'm sharing it with you again because 1) I have more followers than I did this time last year 2) I've gotten better at taking photos, and this dish deserves a better picture - and - 3) It's just that good!

I did mix up the format a bit from when I made it previously, mainly by omitting the shrimp (just didn't feel like it) and switching from pancetta to bacon (just because that's what I had on hand). I also started the dish with the bacon and left it in while cooking, rather than adding it crispy at the end. I think this really added to the depth of the flavor and helped balance the sweetness from the pumpkin and the spices.

This is a fabulous, rich and hearty fall recipe!

Pumpkin Risotto

1 cup arrabrio rice
olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock
15 oz. can pumpkin puree
4 strips bacon (chopped)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in heavy bottomed pan and saute the onion and garlic about 5 - 10 minutes over medium heat with salt and pepper to season. Add the bacon and allow to cook until slightly browned.
Add the rice, cinnamon and cloves and allow rice to brown slightly. Reduce the heat to low and add the wine and let simmer until all the liquid is gone. Then add one cup of the chicken stock, one cup at a time, cooking until the liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup (about 30 - 40 minutes total). Once the last cup of stock is almost absorbed, add the pumpkin and cheese and mix to combine.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Snicker's cupcakes - a tasty two-fer

I think the photos and the title can speak for itself. These cupcakes are insanely delicious. But why are they a two-fer? Well I was making cupcakes for co-worker's birthday, and when I asked her what she wanted, she said red velvet. Since I made her red velvet last year and I've already blogged about them, I told her to pick something else so I could blog about it too - you know, so it could be a two-fer (I'm so selfless, I know : ) - but hey I'm a busy girl and I have to be efficient!). Then she said how about a Snicker's cupcake?

I was all set to come up with my own method of making these, when I saw this recipe pop up on Annie's blog last week! I knew Annie's recipe would be great so it took all the guesswork out of it for me.

I brought these cupcakes into work yesterday, and let me tell you - these were met with some RAVE reviews. One co-worker even told me they were probably the best cupcakes he's ever had.

The caramel buttercream frosting on this is AMAZING. I can't wait to try this frosting on another cupcake and I'm already brainstorming ideas of different cupcakes to try this on.

I followed Annie's recipe to the tee, except I used a food processor to chop my snickers bars. I also skipped the caramel drizzle on top (for no other reason than I was just tired by the time these were coming together!).

Also, next time I make these I will probably use a different chocolate cake recipe. The cake recipe she has is great, however the step of dirtying up a sauce pan to melt the butter for the cake batter is probably not worth the effort for an already complex recipe.

Snicker's Cupcakes

Source: Annie's Eats

Yield: 20 cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ cup hot water
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. coarse salt
16 tbsp. unsalted butter
1½ cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1¾ tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature

For the caramel sauce:
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

For the filling:
24 fun-size Snickers bars, chopped

For the frosting:
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup caramel sauce
Pinch of coarse salt
2 tbsp. heavy cream

For garnish:
8 fun-size Snickers bars, chopped

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line standard cupcake pans with paper liners. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter and the sugar over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally to combine, until the butter is melted. Remove the mixture from the heat and transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-low speed, 4-5 minutes, until the mixture is cooled. Mix in the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture and beat until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed add in the dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, beating just until combined.

Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling them about ¾ of the way full. Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the caramel sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar begins to foam a bit. It will look and smell like it’s on the verge of burning. Remove from the heat and add the heavy cream. Stir until the sauce is smooth (you may need to return it to the heat to smooth it out), then mix in the vanilla and salt. Let cool. (This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)

To fill the cupcakes, cut a cone out of the center of each cupcake with a paring knife.

To make the filling, combine the chopped Snickers bars in a bowl with 1/3-½ cup of the caramel sauce, and mix to coat.

Drop a spoonful of the filling mixture into each cupcake.

To make the frosting, add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed 1 minute until smooth. Blend in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla, caramel sauce and salt until incorporated. (Note: the caramel sauce should be just warm enough that it is workable, but not warm enough to melt the butter in the frosting.) Add the heavy cream and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.

Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip. Drizzle the frosted cupcakes with additional caramel sauce and garnish with chopped Snickers bars.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cranberry orange & walnut whole wheat muffins

I actually dreamt these muffins into existence. The other night, I had a dream about making these muffins in great detail, from the orange zest to the cranberries and walnuts. Funny thing is though - I have no idea what prompted my dream. I started looking for a recipe and was having a hard time finding one that had all the criteria I wanted - mainly the whole wheat flour component.

Finally, I hopped on Katie's blog, and of course the very first muffin recipe that comes up under her tag is for the exact muffin I've been searching for! Now she posted this back in January, so maybe its been hiding out in the recesses of my mind just waiting to surface in a dream so that I would make it! Either way, I'm glad I did, this is an extremely healthy and very tasty recipe.

I made a few variations/substitutions to Katie's recipe:
* Used walnuts instead of pecans
* Omitted the flax seed (I couldn't find it and didn't feel like searching too hard)
* Since cranberries aren't in season I used dried cranberries and plumped them up in water prior to mixing into the batter

Cranberry Orange Walnut Whole Wheat Muffins
Adapted from Good Things Catered

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup oat flour - Just throw some oats into your food processor to make this yourself!
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
zest of 1 large orange
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup apple sauce
1/2 cup skim milk
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp honey
1 large egg white
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries (or frozen, or dried plumped up in water)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin tins
-In a large bowl, add sugars and applesauce and mix until very well combined.
-Mixing while incorporating, add milk, juice, honey, egg, and vanilla.
-Mix to combine well.
-Sift flours into large bowl.
-Add baking powder, cinnamon, salt and orange zest.
-Fold dry ingredients into wet.
-Fold dry ingredients in until half way combined, about 6 full strokes.
-Add cranberries and walnuts and fold in. (Batter should be just barely combined)
-Spoon batter into muffin tins
-Place into oven and bake until toothpick inserted into center of muffins comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.

My version of an Aarti Paarti (Indian inspired shrimp, naan pizza, fig martinis and a lesson in Geography)

Whew! Now that you've gotten through the longest post title ever - let me explain!

If you've followed my blog for awhile, you know that I love to have "theme" parties, as evidenced, here, here and here. Well, I couldn't have been more thrilled when Aarti Sequeira won The Next Foodnetwork Star this year. I've watched it for the last 3 or 4 seasons, and knew from the first episode that they haven't had talent like hers competing on that show for a long time. Thankfully they chose the right person (I feel like viewers were owed this after sitting through an entire season and having Aaron McCargo Jr. win a couples seasons ago).

I've really been wanting to expand my cooking horizons into different types of cuisines, and Aarti makes Indian food more approachable. Even more important - she embraces entertaining and an Aarti Paarti is such a fun way to entertain. To clarify, I suppose the definition would be having your girlfriends over and making some Aarti recipes, but I guess its a flexible definition - this is just what I did.

My friends (well, some of them) can be somewhat skeptical of my theme parties from time to time (my first Mamma Mia party confused people when they saw what it was all about) - so I just invited some friends over for a girls night, and didn't tell anyone what it was about. I also didn't want people to be skeptical of trying Indian food. The night was a success, the food was delicious, and I will definitely be throwing more Aarti Paartis!

First up, my only non-Aarti recipe, was a fig martini. I've been wanting to try this since I had one in London. But figs are used a lot in Indian cooking (right?) - so I figured - close enough....

I don't have the exact measurements so here is how I made them (this should give you 2 martinis):
  • 2 spoonfuls fig puree
  • Shot of vanilla vodka
  • Ice
  • Cranberry juice (top off the rest of your cocktail mixer with this)
These were delicious and pretty close to the ones I had in London. A great way to kick off our party.

Next up was Aarti's "Friday night shrimp" which won oodles of praise during the Iron Chef challenge. These did not disappoint and were incredibly delicious and flavorful. This was really my first time cooking with Indian flavors so I was nervous I wouldn't like the tumeric and coriander - no need to worry - this will be one of my go-to party appetizers for some time!

Recipe -

A word of warning - wear gloves when you are working with tumeric - at least if you have white nail polish on like I did - it will turn your nails yellow : )

Next up was the Naan Pizza Aarti made in her pilot episode. This was equally as delicious - the mango chutney used in the sauce really gives this pizza an interesting flavor. It was so easy to make, I used Trader Joe's frozen naan as the recipe suggested, and substituted queso fresco for paneer, as a lot of the FN reviewers suggested if you can't find it.

Recipe -

All in all, my friends and I had a blast and enjoyed Aarti's recipes, I can't wait to try more of hers - I'm already planning on making the chicken and bread budding recipe from her lastest episode!

Oh yeah, and the geography lesson I mentioned - as we were discussing Indian cuisine, turns out some of my friends (and myself) were a little unclear on where India really is located. Thus ensued a ridiculous conversation about world geography that involved me pulling out a globe.

Even worse? I had invited a new friend over who is a colleague over from my company's London office. She grew up in Australia and is quite the world traveler so helpfully educated us on world geography. We wonder why Americans get the stereotype we do! How embarrassing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chicken roll-ups with Asparagus, prosciutto, basil and mozzarella

I got the inspiration for this dish when I found super-skinny asparagus in the store, and remembered that I fresh mozzarella leftover from another recipe. I had made a version of this before following a Rachael Ray recipe, but don't think I blogged about it (which probably had way more to do with the photo I took than how good the recipe was!).

This is an extremely easy, quick and tasty week night meal. My favorite part is that your veggies and protein are combined into one dish!

Chicken roll-ups with Asparagus, prosciutto, basil and mozzarella
Source: Adapted from Racheal Ray


2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
12 skinny asparagus spears (about half if your spears are normal size - also if they are normal size I'd recommend blanching them first)
2 slices prosciutto
1/3 cup fresh mozzarella, shredded
6 fresh basil leaves
olive oil
Italian seasoning

* Pound out the chicken breasts extremely thinly using a ziploc bag and mallet

* Heat up some olive oil (just enough to coat the pan) in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.

* Lay out your two chicken breasts on a clean surface. On top of each one, layer one slice of prosciutto on each, followed by basil leaves, followed by the mozzarella, then finally place the asparagus spears in the middle.

* Roll up the chicken breasts around the asparagus

* Season the outside of the breasts with salt (go very lightly on this since the prosciutto is salty), pepper, and Italian seasonings.

* Place the roll-ups into the pan, seam side down. Let cook on each side (turning 4 times each) cooking about 5 minutes on each side. This should cook your breasts through, but depending on how thin you were able to get them - check for doneness. If not done, stick a lid on your pan and cook until done.

Fabulous Fruit Tart (free of fruit glue!)

I've been dying to make a beautiful fruit tart ever since we got a new two-story Whole Foods in Chicago this past fall. For those who don't live in Chicago, let me tell you - you haven't lived until you've spent some quality time in this Whole Foods. From the minute you glide down the escalator into what is the most beautiful, bountiful produce section you've ever seen - having a glass of wine in the wine bar - to spending over 30 minutes sampling soups and cheeses - its easy to forget you're even in a grocery store.

My favorite thing about this Whole Foods though is the amazingly beautiful pastry cases where the fruit tarts usually steal the show. Before I ventured out and tried making my own - I wanted to try one of these guys that I've been eying from Whole Foods.

Well my friends, I have to say when I finally did - I was disappointed. It wasn't that the crust wasn't perfect, that the cream wasn't rich and that the fruit wasn't fresh - no it was the mysteriously clear, gel-like substance holding the fruit on top of this beautiful tart together that put me off. I have no idea what this stuff was, I assume its some type of common adhesive used in the pastry world, but really Whole Foods? Doesn't your name alone imply the absence of mysteriously clear gel-like substances on your food? Even if it helps your tarts look more beautiful?

Shortly after this gag-inducing experience, I saw Kelsey post a Fresh Fruit Tart recipe from her engagement dinner (Congratulations Kelsey!). Its an Ina Garten recipe and contained no mysterious gels so I ran right out and bought myself a tart pan!

The timing worked out perfectly because my Dad was in Chicago for a few days for work. I was so excited to have a Sunday dinner with him, Joe and my brother. That's one of the things I miss most about living away from my parents so I really wanted to make it a special dinner. We had flank steak, spinach salad and orzo pasta for dinner, followed by this for dessert.

The tart came out perfectly from the crust to the cream, to the fruit that was just placed on rather than held together. I was quite proud of myself, this being my first tart experience and plan on making many more!

And I can't close the post without mentioning that I had nothing to do with the fruit placement, that was all my brother (well, I may have a rearranged a few berries at the end, but for the most part he did it all by himself).

Fresh Fruit Tart
(Source: Apple A Day, from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)

For the tart shell:
3/4 c. unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 c. granulated sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
pinch of salt

For the pastry cream (makes enough for two nine or ten-inch tarts):
6 extra-large egg yolks at room temperature
3/4 c. granulated sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
3 TBSP cornstarch
2 c. whole milk
2 TBSP unsalted butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 TBSP heavy cream (I used half and half)
1 TBSP Cognac or brandy

For the topping, you may use any fresh fruit you like.


To make the tart shell, mixer the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until they are just combined. Add the vanilla extract.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add to the butter mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together.

Generously dust your working surface with flour and turn the dough out onto the surface. Using a rolling pin also dusted with flour, shape your dough into a circle large enough to cover a 10-inch round tart pan. Press the dough into the tart pan and trim the edges so they are even. Chill the dough in the pan until firm.

When ready to bake the shell, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Butter or spray one side of a piece of foil and place it, buttered side down, on the tart shell. Fill with dry beans, rice, and pie weights and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and prick the tart shell several times with a fork. Bake again for 18-25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool to room temperature.

To make the pastry cream, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for about three minutes in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. The mixture should become light yellow and fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. On low speed, beat in the cornstarch.

Bring the milk to a bowl in a large saucepan and, with the mixer on low, slowly pour it into the egg mixture. Once all of the milk is incorporated, return the mixture to the saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick, about ten minutes. (Don't worry if the mixture looks clumpy for a couple of minutes. If you're whisking or stirring consistently, it will relax.) Bring to a boil and cook on low heat two to three minutes more. Taste to be sure the cornstarch is cooked.

Remove from the heat, mix in the vanilla, butter, cream, and Cognac or brandy, and strain into a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the custard and refrigerate until cold.

To assemble the tart, spread the chilled pastry cream even over the interior surface of the cooled tart shell. Arrange the fruit to your liking. Ina recommends assembling the tart no more than a few hours before serving, as a baked shell or finished tart should not be refrigerated.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mado - Bday Dinnner II

This is the last of my "I've been too busy to cook or bake let along blog about it updates". I've actually been cooking and baking quite a bit over the last couple of weeks, so let's get this out of the way so I can share it with you - mmmkay?

So for my other birthday dinner with my girlfriends, we went to Mado, another Mediterranean inspired restaurant that uses local ingredients (sound familiar!?). I have to say that I enjoyed dinner at Mado as much as our dinner at the Girl and the Goat - without all the hype!

My friend sent me a list of restaurants to choose from a few weeks back and I chose Mado based on the description, without doing a lot of research on yelp reviews, etc. I was shocked when I went on Yelp afterward to find that Mado only has 3.5 stars. Maybe we went on a good night, but I found little to complain about with this restaurant.

The atmosphere in the restaurant is great for such a small place, low lights and candles in a brick, lofty space. We also had no complaints about the service, however that seemed to be a big contribution to negative reviews on yelp, so maybe we just got lucky.

So actually the only negative thing I have to say about the place was our starter course - we ordered the citrus cured lake perch, while it was beautiful and the flavors were there - the texture of the fish was very tough and rubbery - not at all appetizing.

We were concerned that the rest of the dinner would be a disappointment, but our fears quickly went away when we saw our entrees!

We actually decided to share entrees since we couldn't decide on what we wanted. We got:

Spit roasted chicken with marinara and chick peas

Penne with arugula and pistachio pesto

Roasted Rainbow trout

All three of these dishes were unbelievably delicious! Our favorites were split between the pesto pasta and the chicken (not to diminish the trout which so very tasty as well).

The pesto was so creamy and rich, unlike any other pesto I've had before. I have made arugula pesto and love how arugula gives it a peppery bite - but I think it must have been the pistachios that put this over the top for me. I am definitely trying this one at home soon!

The chicken - oh my god, the marinara sauce was sooo delicious, we couldn't get enough. While the chicken was very juicy and tasty, we loved the beans with the sauce on them just as much.

So all in all, this dinner was a great start to our night out and I am shocked by any less than stellar reviews I saw on this place. Maybe they just went through a pretentious stage and they're over it now!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Girl and the Goat - Restauarant Review

So for my birthday dinner last week, my wonderful husband managed to snag us a reservation at (Top Chef Season 4 winner) Stephanie Izard's new restaurant, The Girl and the Goat. It's been open for less than a month and next to Lady Gaga crowd surfing practically naked at Semi-Precious Weapons during Lollapalooza - its all Chicagoans are talking about.

For such a highly hyped restaurant, you really wouldn't guess it from the ambiance or the service. The decor is very open and welcoming - which as a matter of fact, pretty much describes the service as well. I think I would even venture to say that this was probably the best service I've ever experienced in Chicago, from the valets to the hostesses to the waitress to the sommelier, to the bus boy. Everyone came off as genuine, eager to please and overly excited to talk to you about their favorite dishes (although they were all quick to point out that everything on the menu was delicious).

So the focus of the restaurant is small plates with Mediterranean flavors and organic, locally sourced ingredients. Right up my alley. Not really up Joe's, but that's okay because it was my birthday. Again, along with the service, I really didn't find the food to pretentious at all, just good food, prepared skillfully and packed with flavor.

I should preface before going on that just because Joe didn't like a dish, doesn't mean it wasn't delicious. As you know, he's just a meat and potatoes kind of guy and can be a bit resistant towards anything that is even a little bit "out there".

We started off with fried okra stuffed with homemade sausage.

As you can see I snapped the pic after we started eating it, (00ps!), but rest assured - it was delicious. In fact, a lot of the dishes were not what I would call beautiful but I think that's part of the charm of her food.

Next we had the hiramasa crudo, with pork belly and caper berries. This was probably the prettiest of the dishes, but my 2nd least favorite (but I liked this about 100 times more than what my least favorite dish was).

While it was a very tasty dish, my only complaint was it did seem a bit salty between the fish, the sauce and the caper berries. By the way I had never seen a caper berry before - they look like fruit but taste like capers (as the name suggests!).

Next, we had the soft shell crab, over sweet corn with lime and chili aioli. OH. MY. GOD. This was DELICIOUS. Between the texture of the fried crab with the crunchy corn and the amount of flavor she managed to pack into the corn - this was definitely my favorite of the night, and probably up there with Top 10 things I've ever tasted.

Next they brought out the green beans we had ordered, which were delicious, probably the tastiest green beans I've ever had (they were served with a fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews) - but my only complaint was they were the second to last dish we received. I would have liked to have had them earlier in the meal so we could have snacked on them throughout. That didn't stop me from eating close to all of them (Joe of course didn't like them).

Okay, so this next dish is very difficult for me to talk about. And its been almost two weeks.

So - I'll just come out with it. It was pig face. Yes, dear readers, pig face. I'm not sure what to say about this, other than - I really don't know what we were thinking. All I know is Joe seemed intrigued by it, the server recommended it, and I can be somewhat of an adventurous eater. Since Joe rarely is, I seized the opportunity.

I wish I hadn't.

They pull all the fat off the face and roll it up into some type of a sausage, served with shoestring fries and an egg.

I'm sure there are more adventurous eaters out there than me who liked this - but the whole thing just came off as overly greasy to me and just unappetizing. My stomach also did not feel right the next morning, which could have more to do with the fact that I was probably more mentally grossed out by this - but let's just say I won't be trying pig face again anytime soon.

And I've been steering clear of pork since then. I'm sure I'll get over at some point.

So at least we didn't completely end the night on that note - we ordered a delicious dessert, called the fudgesicle, which was essentially frozen fudge covered in coarse salt, topped with an olive oil gelato. This was a delicious and much more pleasant way to end our night!

One thing to add is that for such an outstanding and hyped up restaurant, the prices are very reasonable for Chicago. We had plenty to eat, along with a bottle of prosecco, and I think our bill was around $125.

So all in all, I really very much enjoyed the Girl and the Goat and will definitely be returning, next time though probably with girl friends - and I will not be ordering the pig face.