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Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Midnight In Paris – A Class at the Chopping Block

 I must tell you, I love the Chopping Block.  I’ve taken countless classes there (everything from hands-on Sushi, Chicken 101 and Afrodiac Appetizers to demonstration Fondue and Cupcake classes).  Tonight we took “Midnight in Paris” and had a wonderful time.

We made the following recipes — I plan on writing up each of these recipes separately for your review/use.

Good god, everything was so wonderful.  We partnered with a couple from Evanston — who use Thursday night as their “date night”. She has wanted to take a cooking class for quite a while, but he wasn’t too keen on it.  After a bit of time he really got into it.  They were fun to hang out with too — especially since they enjoyed several glasses of wine with us.
We started off by making the Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme – since it took the most time to bake then chill. I’m not a big dessert guy, but this was truly wonderful and BEYOND easy to make. I will definitely make this again — very soon.
The next thing we started on was the Coq au Vin — although we didn’t use the traditional Coq, we used a quartered chicken. Since this wasn’t an old tough Coq, we didn’t need to braise it for hours.  The bacon, onions, mushrooms and shallots smelled divine.
We then started working on the celery root, and finally the mussels.  Since the mussels take the least amount of time we started them last — even though those were the first things we ate.  I don’t usually dig mussels and I really don’t dig fennel (with the anise flavor) I must admit, I loved this appetizer.
I never used celery root before — and after tonight I will totally be making this again. This is a great substitute for a potato — possibly a healthier option…possibly not.
The Pot de Creme was a perfect way to end this meal. I love dark chocolate so much and this was a great  portion and so easy to make.  The best part, our instructor indicated the batter (is that the right term??) would last 2-3 days in the refrigerator and once you cook it, the Pot will last for 2-3 more days in the the refrigerator too. That means, you can make a big batch of this on Sunday and eat it every day throughout the week — score.
When was the last cooking class you took? Do you take these classes frequently?  Once you make a handful of recipes in class do you ever make them again? Once you partner up with people in class, do you ever see these people again?

What I’m Cooking…Lemon Parmesan Chicken and Penne

Last weekend, while were in Palm Springs, we picked up a big bag of fresh lemons. We picked these from the tree in the front yard of our friends home.  We love fresh lemons. MS decided to make dessert with these and I was going to make dinner.  I initially thought of making a Lemon Chicken Piccata, but I couldn’t find just the right recipe at first.  Then I decided to go a bit more unhealthy and make a cream based pasta sauce with lemon as a base flavor.

I’ve never made a cream sauce before. I traditionally I like to cook things that are a bit more healthy — this obviously means I’m not a cream sauce guy. I’ve made homemade pasta sauces many times before — I love my Bolognese sauce and my pesto (made with basil I’ve grown on my lanai) is pretty damn tasty too.

The full recipe is at the bottom of this post.  I found the original online and realized, just by looking at it, it needed some tweaks. I started by cutting it in half, increased the herb mixture and reduced the cream cheese and some of the cream.

Honestly, this recipe was good, but really not all that flavorful.  Maybe I salt my food too much, but this recipe really needed some more salt and pepper.  Both dinner guests did add more salt and pepper (and extra parmigiana too) to their portions as well.  Everyone also had second helpings (and thirds for one guest).

I also loathe leftovers, but this recipe made so much food, I decided to keep it in the fridge for a bit. I heated this pasta up with a quick turn in the microwave the next day and it was just a bit better than it was originally.  I still had to add more salt and pepper though.

Lemon Parmesan Chicken and Penne

2 pounds chicken breast – pounded flat to flattened to 1/2″
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 tablespoon dried basil
4.5 teaspoons kosher salt
1.5 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
1.5 cloves garlic, minced.
2 tablespoons flour
4 ounces cream cheese (room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1.5 eggs whisked
1.5 cups heavy cream
Zest of 2 lemons
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1.5 pound of penne pasta cooked
Olive oil
1. Season the chicken with the garlic powder, dried basil and a 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt. Drizzle a bit of olive oil into a deep, wide pan over medium high. Once hot, brown both sides of all the chicken breasts, approximately 30 seconds per side, and lay the meat on a baking sheet. Add more olive oil to the pan if necessary to prevent sticking. Slide into a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
2. In the same pan used to cook the chicken, add the butter and melt completely until it begins to sizzles. Drop in the shallot and garlic, tossing to coat. Cook the shallot and garlic for 1-2 minutes before stirring in the flour. Stir constantly to form a buttery paste, cooking for another 2-3 minutes until a toasty brown roux forms.
3. Mix the cream cheese into the buttery flour, then stir in the sour cream until smooth. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Scoop about 1/4 cup of this mixture into the whisked eggs and combine them very well, then pour the egg liquid back into the large pan of sauce. Continue to stir.
4. Next, add the heavy cream and reduce the heat to medium low, continuously stirring all the while. Cook the sauce for another 3-4 minutes without allowing it to come to a boil. If it begins to bubble, reduce the heat slightly.

5. Finally, sprinkle the lemon zest and parmesan into the sauce. Cook another 6-8 minutes, reducing the heat again if necessary.
6. While the sauce continues to thicken, slice the chicken breasts into thin strips and drop them into the sauce. Once all of the chicken is in the pan, remove from heat. Pour everything over the cooked penne and toss well to coat. Serve immediately.
Do you make full on cream sauce regularly, or do you “cheat”, but just adding cream and cooking it down? Do my recipes seem to be bland to you or do they seem to be over salted?  Do you love left over pasta or loath reheated meals as much as I do?
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Where to Eat…Hanoi

Next month, I will be heading to Vietnam for a couple weeks.  We will be staying in Hanoi and Saigon (HCMC) mostly.  While we have most of our activities planned (bike ride, self guided walking tours, historical site visits, river cruises, etc), all of our hotels and transportation options are booked.  As we make a list of things to do outside of these organized activities we are also making a list of restaurants we want to visit.

Beyond the standard street phở, which I am sure we’ll eat almost every day, I am quite sure we will find some amazing French food.  I guess there are some benefits to colonialism.  I’ve done some research on TripAdvisor to find great restaurants in Hanoi:

Have you been to any of these restaurants in Hanoi?  Where would you recommend we go?  My real focus would be traditional Vietnamese food and of course French food.  Any of these restaurants we should stay away from?  All advice is greatly appreciated  — we want to know what the locals and the regular tourists do.

Where I’m Eating…Kiki’s Bistro (Chicago)

My birthday was Friday. After a minor last minute change of plans (thanks to a concert cancellation), we went to a French Restaurant in the Gold Coast neighborhood.  As you all know, I’ve been taking French classes at Alliance Francaise and spent a long weekend in the fall in Paris — having French food was a great option for my birthday.

I got to the restaurant a little early and ordered a Kir Royale and sat at the bar while reading a French newspaper (my French skills didn’t allow me to fully understand the article, but I got the idea).  While sitting at the bar, Kiki (the owner) and a woman (his wife? the manager? someone) came up and chatted with me for a while. They knew it was my birthday, but when they saw me reading the French news paper Kiki began speaking French to me. I explained (in French) that I am only studying at Alliance and I am a recent convert to French food.  The woman told Kiki that my group must be seated in Abdel’s section. Abdel is from Morocco and speaks French fluently.  She suggested I only deal with Abdel in French — that’s a tough order.

Everyone else arrives and we are seated.  The restaurant is so much bigger than you’d expect. Over each table are tea lights hang in small glass globes. The bistro has open beam ceilings and reminded me of a couple of the restaurants we visited in Paris.

Abdel took our cocktail order – yes, I did order in French, but did not order for the rest of the table.  I ordered a bottle of wine for the table, which was quite tasty 2003 Bordeaux.  The menu selections for each guest is listed below:

Salade Lyonnaise
Braised Short Ribs
Warm Berry Bread Pudding

RK: I don’t really remember everything RK got, so his list is not 100% correct.
Endive Salad
Steak Pommes Frites
Traditional Lemon Tart

Sopa a l’Onion Gratinee
Rack of Lamb
Crepes Suzette

Sopa a l’Onion Gratinee
Veau Provencale
Profiteroles au Chocolat

Every appetizer was completely devoured by each guest. This wasn’t the best  Sopa a l’Onion I’ve ever had. It was so much better than the version I made, of course.  I would order it again though.

Each of the entrees were top notch. Everyone tasted each other’s choice. Every item was better than the previous I had tasted.  I think my least favorite was RK’s steak. It was really tasty, just my least favorite – it was served with a bearnaise sauce, which evidently was amazing, I didn’t try it.

The short ribs were my favorite, but I think they were too rich for a full meal – but for a quick taste it was amazing. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to finish them if they were my entree.

While I’m not a big dessert person, the Profiteroles were quite lovely. I really don’t like Profiteroles with cream fillings (are those still called Profiteroles?), I think the addition of ice cream really makes it perfect. The Crepes Suzette was perfectly prepared (in my mind). I didn’t sample the other desserts.

I had a great evening with friends and a great meal. Would I return to Kiki’s? Absolutely. I thought the restaurant was great, the food was wonderful and the service was excellent.  You get amazing French food in a restaurant that looks like it was pulled out of the Marais in Paris without dealing with a language issue.  If you are studying French and want to practice you must go to Kiki’s: speak with Kiki and Abdel. You cannot go wrong. I apologize for not taking photos of the food or the interior – my photos wouldn’t have done Kiki’s justice – make a reservation. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Have you been to Kiki’s? What did you think?  When you are learning a new language do you try to use it as much as possible, even while not traveling abroad? Ou se trouvent les toilettes?  What is your favorite French food? Where is your go to place for French food in Chicago?

Hotel Porn

One thing I enjoy doing while traveling relates to hotel porn. No, I don’t sit around the room and watch porn. I do enjoy reading the names of the porn that the hotels make available to guests. Some of these are just so funny and anti-erotic.  My recent stay at the Doubletree Suites by Hilton Hotel Anaheim Resort – Convention Center allowed me to review the options at a hotel that was new to me.

I didn’t watch any of these, obviously, but they still make me laugh. Doubletree even included a nice category to help you decide on what to purchase.

  • Charlie Sheen’s House of Whores – Parody
  • America’s Next Top Tranny – Tranny (I don’t think that’s the proper term to use)
  • Legend of the Magic Taco – Wall-to-Wall (I don’t know what this category means — do you?)
  • Beggin’ for a Peggin’ – Fem Dom
How fun are those titles, eh?  There were several other titles available, but they just weren’t as funny.  I remember seeing the name of a video at a Marriott once and it was something like “Middle Aged Housewives – They Aren’t Much to Look At” — or something to that effect.
Am I the only one who checks out these titles?  Do you think I am crazy for doing this? Don’t you just love the titles of these “films”.  What is your favorite hotel porn title?