A Last Minute Venture: Perennial Virant

Oh no. We made this reservation two months ago and passed up Bulls playoff tickets for our much awaited dinner at Schwa with our good friend who was in town for the weekend.  Four hours before our dinner time, our friend’s plane landed only to find out that the kitchen was out of order at Schwa and all reservations were canceled for the evening.  What to do?  Fortunately, Kate thought of Perennial and its exciting makeover involving the Michelin starred chef from Vie, Paul Virant, and quickly snagged a late reservation to save the night… well not totally… the Bulls still managed to get eliminated from the playoffs during our dinner.

The Atmosphere:

Perennial Virant is located across from The Lincoln Park on Clark Street.   The dining room had a very comfortable and casual feel with two long communal wood tables surrounded by more intimate booths.  While we are not the biggest fans of communal dining, these tables were spaced out well enough to make our dining experience very comfortable.  The modern yet rustic look made us feel like we were in a nice spacious neighborhood lounge rather than a fine dining establishment.

The Food:

There are two basic options:  the 37 dollar 3 course price fixe with 2 options each course or the small plates option similar to the menu at the Girl and the Goat, another restaurant owned by the Boka Restaurant Group.  The small plates get progressively larger but never large enough to constitute an individual portion.  Since there were four of us, we chose a few small plates to share.  Our first plate was the Carnaroli Rice with local Brunkow Cheese Curds.  The dish looked beautiful and had a nice texture to it but could have used a little more salt or pepper for my taste.  This was followed by the Slagel Family Farm Pork Shoulder which was quite tasty but didn’t carry the falling off bone texture you typically expect with pork shoulder as it was compressed into a pork patty of sorts.  The Wisconsin Morrels in Milk Jam were the highlight of the meal.  They were extremely fresh and delicious!

Carnaroli Rice Cake

We also enjoyed the perfectly seared scallops and the flavorful Rabbit Ballotine, although Kate opted out on the bunny.  We tried the Chicken Fried Steak(beef provided by Wisconsin based Dietzler Farms), but we just couldn’t get into it like we had hoped as the crust wasn’t quite sufficient for the amount of meat it covered.

Sea Scallops

Our Thoughts:

Considering that this restaurant had only opened four days before our meal, the kitchen and service did an outstanding job!  The dishes were all very seasonal and composed of  fresh local items, many of which were supplied by the farmers that regularly attend the Green City Market across the street in the park. Paul Virant certainly lives up to his reputation of using fresh, local ingredients.  However, the portions of the shared plates were not much more that tapas size despite carrying a price tag of 8-27 dollars.  Overall, we enjoyed our time a Perennial Virant, but will most likely try the prix-fixe menu on our next visit.

Perennial Virant | 1800 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago IL 60614  | 312.981.7070

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A Quick Bite Review: Kaufman’s Bagel and Delicatessen

Sometimes you find places by chance.  And on a random trip to the veterinarian a few months back, while two lovebirds shrieked in my ears, I spotted a large sign on Dempster that directed my attention to a retro brick building with large glass windows and a tiny parking lot.  Now a tiny lot is one of the tell-tale signs of a great joint.  If a patron is willing to maneuver their shiny new Mercedes into a precarious position next to a beat up chevy and my aging Honda Civic with nothing more than inches to spare, you know the stuff here has got to be good.

Kaufman’s Jewish Deli

The Atmosphere:

It’s a local spot right off Dempster, if you miss the entrance, you’ll have to circle around and make another go at it.  Upon entering you are greeted with day old bake goods at ridiculously low prices.  As you near the register you can eye-up their bagel selection and then check out the bakery display cases, that are  filled with everything from ruggalach to coffee cake.  And as if that wasn’t enough, head left into the deli where you grab a number and peruse the specialty items while you wait to be called by the friendly staff.  Kaufman’s serves a diverse population, some patrons are from the community and have been going to Kaufman’s since they were children.  Others like me randomly stopped by and now find themselves returning from the city to satisfy their hunger.  If you’re lucky you can grab one of the four seats overlooking the parking lot.  If not, be prepared to take your food to go.

Kaufman's Bagel Selection

Bagels!

The Food:

You know, I don’t even know where to begin. They have a variety of breads, bagels, cakes, cookies, sweets and rolls. There is such a variety of goods from the bakery, I like to try something new each time. A few of my favorites are the: cinnamon twist… sweet and doughy,  the cream cheese danish… rich and so fresh, and the Irish Soda Bread… its seasonal, and quite possibly the best I have ever had.  If you want their amazing chive cream cheese with your bagel, you’ll have to head to the deli.  If you’re not into sweets or bread, the deli has pretty much anything else you might need.  I nearly died when I found out I could have all the fat trimmed off my corned beef.  They have 4 different cuts of corned beef and you can request it hot or cold!  They have a variety of specialty sandwiches to choose from, but my favorite is a take on the reuben, super-trim corned beef, swiss cheese and fresh cabbage slaw on rye.  If you’re concerned that your heaping sandwich won’t be enough to conquer your hunger… add a knish,  Matzah Ball Soup, or some potato pancakes.

Kaufman's Deli, Skokie

Meat!

Our Thoughts:

I may not be a New-Yorker, but I am a fan of this Chicago Jewish Deli and its incredible bakery.  It’s refreshing to see a responsible family run establishment from the 1950’s that still prides themselves on quality products and producing items in house.

Kaufman’s Bagel and Delicatessen | 4905 W Dempster | Skokie IL 60077 | 847.677.6190 |

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Wine From the Barrel

I lived and worked at a real Chateau in the French Bordeaux region during a four month internship at the end of my studies. The Bordeaux wine region produces world famous red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes. Their best wines are always aged in barrels. However, using oak barrels is expensive, time-consuming and hard work. There are machines nowadays to add a helping a hand, however the winery where I worked was too small for such equipment. Some weeks I did nothing more than empty, clean and fill barrels. Between each step I had to role the barrel from the one end of the cellar to the other, a very heavy job I may say, when an empty oak barrel weighs 50-60kg (110-132lbs).

Why do we age wine in barrels?

Wine Ages in Oak Barrels Underground in a Rioja Bodega

We have used wooden barrels for aging and storing of wine for ages. Before glass bottles, barrels were used to transport and store all wine. Nowadays, we use barrels for different reasons. Barrels are used for aging wines and to give it specific ‘oaky’ flavors. Wine, which has been aged in a barrel, can be easily recognized, by the smell of vanilla or a hint of coffee. Not all wines are fit to put in a barrel, only the wine with sufficient quality and concentration will improve by barrel aging. Besides the ‘oaky’ flavors, the wine gets more structure, or body.  The big disadvantage of barrel aging is that you will lose some of the fruitiness of the wine. Very fruity wines like Beaujolais primeur or any other young and fruity wine have never been aged in a barrel.

People have tried to make barrels out of many different woods, however it never gives as good results as with oak. I’ve heard of reasonably good results with cherry and chestnut wood, however I have yet to taste one of these wines. Oak is a very strong wood, and the aromas it gives to the wine are still regarded well. The flavors given by the oak are very important. Flavors like: vanilla and sweet spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon, chocolate and coffee, and a well-practiced nose can even smell caramel and freshly cut wood. However oak does not release its aroma’s before the wood has been “toasted”. This process is like the process of roasting coffee. In the case of a barrel, it is toasted by making a fire within the lidless barrel. The flames don’t touch the wood but just gently toast it. The oak will turn darker, and during this process sugars in the wood are transformed into aroma components.

As with coffee there are big differences in toast. In general three different varieties are distinguished: light, medium and high; however professional coopers (barrel makers) distinguish over a twenty. The most common toast is medium, giving sweet aromas of vanilla, chocolate and hints of fresh ground coffee. The light-toast gives less aromas but gives more structure to the wine. When I say structure I mean components who tend to give the wine more body. A highly-toasted barrel gives smoky-aromas similar to burned-toast and a match after lighting it. A wine barrel can be used for a many years, however it will lose most of its delicious aromas within three years. Therefore many wineries sell their barrels after 3-5 years of use to the brandy industry.

There are different species within the genus Quercus (oak), all with their own characteristics. The most commonly used are French and American oak. French oak is often preferred and happens to be the most expensive one. A barrel of 59 gallons (equivalent to 300 bottles of 750 ml) will cost 700-800 USD. Barrels made of American oak cost about half. American oak has the problem that its aromas quickly overpower a wine. These wines will smell only like vanilla and coffee. However it’s all about good management. American oak can make a wine as good or as bad as French oak.

Oaky Wine

Checking Oak Barrels

The second reason for aging wine in a barrel is to make the wine develop. Wine is a product that will change taste with aging, just like cheese changes taste with age. Microscopic pores within the oak let small amounts of oxygen through. This oxygen is needed to make the wine develop and soften. Furthermore, the oak barrels provide tannins which give the wine more body and increases its aging potential.

The final function of barrel aging is to clean the wine from its sediment. Wine always contains particles of the skin, the seeds or bits of sand. These particles float in the wine, and with time slowly sink to the bottom. To remove the sediment from the wine a wine is racked.  This means siphoning the sediment off of the wine and putting it into a new clean barrel. The sediment has a bitter taste, and is therefore unwanted. One can filter the wine to get impurities out, however natural sedimentation is much softer, and according to me, is better than forcing the wine through a filter.

In the wine world, barrel-aged wines are marked as high quality. This is true in most cases however, it is all about your taste.  If a cheap supermarket wine fits best with your taste, don’t let yourself be convinced that changing to a more expensive barrel-aged wine is necessary. Taste is something very personal, and only you can decide what tastes best to you. I will give you some widely available barrel-aged wines that are very good in my opinion.

American Zinfandel can be very good when aged in a barrel. I lately tasted some Ridge Vineyards Zinfandels and they were all superb. A cheaper alternative is the range produced by Rancho Zabaco (try there Dry Creek Valley and Monte Rosso Vineyards range) from Sonoma.

I started story with my experiences in the wine region of Bordeaux. Almost all medium to upper range Bordeaux reds are aged in barrels. Most of you will know the famous Bordeaux sub-regions of Medoc region and St-Emilion, however I challenge you to try something new. Try to find a wine from Fronsac or Côtes de Castillon, it may be difficult to get hold of a bottle however it’s all worth it in the end.

I am very fond of the grape variety Shiraz, it’s such a powerful and aromatic red. A bit ordinary, however an excellent barrel aged shiraz is the Yellow Tail Reserve Shiraz. This is a full bodied wine full with blackberries and cherries, a nice spice note of freshly ground pepper and a hint of vanilla, I love it!

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Mattar Paneer

A white girl usually can’t throw down in an Indian kitchen, and I’m no exception.  But on occasion, I still like to try… So on our mission to find an awesome paneer recipe we found Manjula’s Kitchen, and decided to mix two recipes to create the perfect dish to satisfy our taste and ended up with a Mattar PaneerMasala of sorts.

We gathered the ingredients and the wide array of spices commonly used in Indian cuisine, but less so here in the US.  Fortunately, G is obsessed with collecting spices so we had most of them on hand.  But for anyone out there looking for asfoetida , whole cumin seed, or garam masala you can find them at Whole Foods or our favorite shop, The Spice House.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time the trek to Devon to find the one ingredient that eluded us,  tejpat “bay leaf”, which doesn’t match my western perception of a bay leaf at all!

Home Made Mattar Paneer

To simplify our after work cooking extravaganza, we purchased paneer from Whole Foods and picked up some naan from our local Indian restaurant, but we hope to try Manjula’s recipes for these soon. We opted for low fat yogurt instead of heavy cream and avoided using butter altogether, creating a much healthier version of the one typically found in Indian restaurants.  After laboring in the kitchen for an hour, we were overwelmingly surprised with the results!  The only downside, was that our clothes and condo smelled like an Indian restaurant for a week, which might explain the strange looks I received when passing our neighbors in the hall.

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A Quick Bite Review: Fish Bar

There are few things I enjoy more than the thought of publicly humiliating myself as a wobbly stool slowly collapses beneath me.  That thought becomes even more enjoyable when I visualize myself slowly falling to the floor with a cod sandwich in my hand and a smile on my face.  My visualization almost became a reality at Fish Bar the newly opened sustainable, wild caught and responsibly farmed fish shack in the Lakeview neighborhood.

The Atmosphere

Fish Bar is a small teal-colored spot right next to DMK Burger, you know the grass fed beef place, in Lakeview.  Its super chill fish shack vibe is refreshing and reminiscent of some of the joints on the coast I’ve visited.  It’s bustling with people, loud and has limited space for parties of four.  We waited 5 minutes for a couple of stools to open up at the fish bar, but I have heard the wait can be much, much longer.

The Food

We stopped in for a snack and opted for an eclectic mix of items that we normally find appealing hoping that we would be amazed at the sustainable, wild caught and responsibly farmed seafood that would now grace our plate.  We started with the fish of the day pineapple ceviche(spanish mackerel), a gumbo for g, and the clam chowder for me.  The ceviche came to the table in a cute little mason glass and we grabbed some silverware and napkins from the counter in front of us.  It was just a little too sweet for my taste… which is rare.  The gumbo was fine, but we would have liked a few larger pieces of crab or andouille and the clam chowder could have been a little thicker with more flavor for the likes of me. We ordered the fried calamari, which was described to us as “a little different”, as it is served with spicy peppers and parmesan cheese.  I so very much wanted to enjoy this, but it was too limp and greasy.  The peppers were a good addition, though.  At this point our snacks didn’t seem to fulfill us so we selected… the cod sandwich, and oh man was that good!  No seriously, it was soo good, perfectly executed and so moist in the middle. Yum!

Clam Chowder

Our Thoughts

I really wanted to love this place and its sustainable options, but on this day we found that the awesome restaurant concept outweighed the execution of our meal.  But don’t get me wrong.  I will come back, maybe after they have had a chance to work out the quirks of a new restaurant and find that missing screw from my wobbly bar stool.   I’m hoping on my next visit the clam chowder will be heartier, the fried calmari will be super crispy, and the cod sandwich will be exactly the same!

Fish Bar | 2956 N Sheffield Ave | Chicago, IL 60657 | (773) 687-8177

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An Interesting Evening @ Schwa

Oh no.  Oh no no no!  They hung up… Ah man… Hello? I was just about to give them my name… when suddenly…  silence!  Now, I wouldn’t have been so concerned about this, but I had been calling randomly for a reservation for oh say… the past six months.  Yes,  I had been calling since November and had not been able to get a hold of anyone, until today.  So for the next 20 minutes straight, I called Schwa until someone picked up, again.  I frantically started to explain my situation when the man on the other end said, “Sorry dude, somebody kicked out the phone jack”  He took my name, and with that, my reservation was complete.  Three weeks later we made our way to Schwa, for a 9 course tasting menu.

schwa

The Atmosphere:

From the outside its difficult to imagine a restaurant exists behind the dark facade and grafitied black door.  Any passerby may think it’s just another restaurant that didn’t make it, until you pull open the door and walk inside.  The small space is dimly lit which paired well with the blaring rap music that played throughout the night.  The place and the people are chill, so wear what you want, bring your own booze and chat it up with your server, who just so happens to be a Michelin starred chef.

The Food:

The food is a reflection of the atmosphere: intriguing and unpretentious but presented in a sophisticated and upscale manner.  Chef Michael Carlson’s diverse culinary influences are on display on the menu with elements of Italian and modern molecular techniques scattered throughout.  A few of our favorites included a baked potato soup, which was a great deconstruction on the classic with all the toppings, a sweet passionfruit gelee with salty steelhead fish roe, and his amazing, signature quail egg raviolo in truffle butter.  The most surprising dish of the evening was a dish called smores, which instead of marshmallows and chocolate happened to be a beef mole served with a side of campfire smoke.

Our Thoughts:

We were in a serious funk when we walked into Schwa… but at some point during the night we went from crabby to carefree.  The relaxed lounge like atmosphere put us at ease while the chefs served the food and found the time to tell us about their creations.  It was a true interactive experience, but not for those looking for a subdued environment. We’d go back in a second… if only they’d pick up the phone!

Schwa | 1466 North Ashland Avenue | Chicago, IL 60622 | (773) 252-1466

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A Quick Bite Review: Nhu Lan

It was 2:00 pm and we were starving after an hour visit at the Chicago Botanical Gardens.  After all, we had only had salad for breakfast… yes, salad.  It was the only thing in the house!  So we did a quick search of the best sandwich shop on our ride back to the city.  Our Results:  Nhu Lan Bakery, an excellent spot to grab the French/Vietnamese-hybrid sandwich, the bánh mì.

The Atmosphere:

Nhu Lan Bakery is located in Lincoln Square, right on Lawrence, between Rockwell and Talman.  The building is unassuming and could easily be overlooked, if you couldn’t smell the fresh bread and other goodies from your parking spot on the street.  We knew we had made a good decision when we walked in to see just a basic store front, a good selection of vietnamese pastries, two tables, and a crowd of people waiting.  Most people were taking their meals to go, so we had a chance to grab a spot at one of the tables.

The Menu:

They offer 12 different type of sandwiches with a few vegetarian options and fruit smoothies with tapioca, if you so desire.  Since they are a bakery, they also have baguettes available and a variety of vietnamese pastries and steamed buns.  I opted for the lemongrass chicken($3.50), G ordered the Nhu Lan Special, ham, headcheese, pâté, and pork rolls($3.25) and we grabbed a 2 Coconut Cassava sticky buns for dessert($1.95).  The sandwiches come with the usual trimmings of pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, hot peppers, and cucumber.  The lemongrass chicken was my favorite of the two, but I’m not a big fan of a bunch of cold cuts on my sandwiches.  However, my husband loved his meaty “special”, which is more like the classic bánh mì.  The coconut cassava dessert was freshly made and still warm.  I was going to save it for later, but it smelled so good we ended up eating it on the drive home.

Yum… Coconut Cassave Pastry

Our Thoughts:

Our sandwiches were fresh, inexpensive and quite tasty.  They also have a special, buy 4 sandwiches and get the 5th for free!  If we’re in the neighborhood I’d go back for the lemongrass chicken, and maybe to try their veggie options or grilled pork.

Nhu Lan’s Bakery | 2612 W Lawrence Avenue | Chicago, IL 60625 | (773) 878-9988

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Spicy Food and Wine Pairing

Fermented Bean Curd

What can I pair with fermented bean curd, star of anise and fresno chilis?

French, Spanish and Italian food are easily matched with wine. But wine has been a part of their culture and cuisine for centuries. On the contrary, pairing wine with the Chinese, Mexican and Indian kitchens proves to be a little more difficult. In this post I will give you some tips on pairings for Peking duck, tacos or an Indian curry.

Many wines just don’t pair well with spicy dishes from Asia, the Middle East or Central America. Spiciness and high alcohol content found in wine don’t seem to go well together, especially when the high alcohol content leads to an increased burning sensation! Beer or cider usually pair much better; however I doubt if there is a dish we cannot combine with wine.

1. The best combination is made with wines which are fresh and crisp. The German and Alsatian varieties pair nicely with spicy food. Good choices include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Silvaner. Other whites you can try are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Albariño or Verdejo from the region Rueda in northern Spain.

Sparkling and fizzy wine like champagne, cava or prosecco from Italy are also able to match the spiciness. I have a friend who reasons that you can drink champagne with everything. It’s the high acidity and the bubbles that are able to pair bubbly with almost all dishes.

Fresh and crisp wine are not merely the domain of the whites; there are some reds who can match the acidity of a good white. For example: Spanish Riojas, Italian Chiantis and old world style of Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, New Zealand or Oregon.

2. Another group of wine includes full wines with a lot of fruity flavours, but little tannins. American Zinfandels or Australian Shiraz, with a level of fruitiness match highly seasoned dishes. If you’re not so fond of this bold, powerful wine, try a Beaujolais Nouveaux or, if you can find it, a Joven wine from Rioja. They are refreshing and served best chilled like a rosé.

3. Avoid oaky Chardonnays, and tannic wines. Most chardonnays from the states are,  in my opinion, overly oaked: they taste oaky and are very fat and bold. These toasty flavours match poorly with the spiciness of a dish and the pairing will make the wine seem coarse and bitter. Cabernet Sauvignon and American Merlots aren’t any better. Their tannins set your mouth on fire when you combine it with chili-spiced dishes!

4. The spicier the food, the sweeter the wine.Here is my favorite companion for a spicy dish: a sweet wine, light in alcohol. The residual sugar in the wine will help to tame the burning sensation. Keep in mind: the spicier the food the sweeter the wine must be. However, Ice wine and noble late harvest wines are often so sweet that you can’t drink more than a glass or so; therefore I would save them for dessert.

As spicy asks for sweet, dry wine drinkers may feel a bit lost. There are, however, many wines to chose from. Try a medium-sweet Chardonnay with Peking duck, and a (medium) sweet Riesling from Washington or Oregon is delicious with Chinese or Thai food. My personal favorite however is a medium-sweet gewürztraminer with Indian lamb curry. And when I really have something to celebrate, I choose a sweet sparkling wine (demi-sec or doux/sweet). Give it a try, you will love it!

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The Perfect Cup of Coffee

When Kate graciously accepted my proposal to get married, my mind immediately jumped to the next obvious place… the gift registry… more specifically a gift registry at William Sonoma that would allow me to request those odd kitchen gadgets that I had long coveted but never had the reason to actually purchase.  While we had a perfectly reasonable Cuisinart Coffee Maker already, I had been suspiciously eyeing our machine each morning as to whether it was actually heating our coffee enough.  I grew up in a household where coffee was not quite done until it could actually cause a third degree burn.  With this in mind, our first request on our registry was a new, sexier, 100% stainless steel Cuisinart with a large steel thermal carafe.  I figured how you go wrong with all that shiny steel…

Single Origin Coffee Beans

Little did I know that the average coffee machine only heats water to about 160 degrees, 40 degree below the proper extraction temperature for coffee of 200 degrees.  When our new upgraded Cuisinart Coffee Machine arrived, I found that my coffee was even colder than the previous machine.  How could this be??? And thus began my search for the perfect cup of coffee.

In my extensive research of home coffee brewing, I found that I am not the only coffee obsessed person out there, as my wife had claimed, and that there were a number of websites dedicated to this very topic.  The majority of home machines while convenient and loaded with interesting buttons and features simply are incapable to achieving the ideal brew temperature of 195-205 degrees.  These machines utilize an aluminum heating element that does not achieve this level of heat in the 6 minutes it takes to properly brew a cup of coffee.  According to the tests conducted by America’s Test Kitchen, the only machine on the market to successfully achieve this brew temperature is the Technivorm Moccamaster which utilizes a copper heating element.  So off we went to William Sonoma, with our week old upgraded Cuisinart in hand fully prepared to trade it in for the $300 Technivorm.  Needless to say, my wife, who is not really a coffee enthusiast, was not too pleased with yet another trip to William Sonoma for yet another coffee machine.  Once in the store, we were impressed with temperature of coffee that the Technivorm produced but startled by the amount of plastic used to construct the machine.  Suddenly, thoughts of BPA and other dangerous chemicals leaching into our coffee as hot water rested in its plastic reservoir started racing through our minds.  Unfortunately, we left the store without any coffee machine in hand.

So what to do…  Should I spend money at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts every morning?  Or could there be another option?  Fortunately for me, I shared my story with a barrista at Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago who understood my concerns and had the perfect solution… The Pourover Method.

The Pour Over Method: Hario Ceramic Dripper

It’s really quite simple.  First you buy a $30 Hario ceramic funnel, a few paper coffee filters, and a temperature controlled electric kettle.  You prepare your mis-en-place of sorts…  the coffee filter is placed inside the ceramic funnel which is then placed atop your favorite mug or travel mug in our case and our freshly ground coffee sits nearby.  Next you heat your water to 200 degress and pour 2-3 ounces of water over the paper lined funnel to prewash the filter and provide some heat to the ceramic filter and your mug.  The next integral step, which I have been known to forget at times, is to remove the water from your prewash from your mug.  You then load your funnel with coffee grounds (the general rule is 3 tablespoons per 9 ounces of water), place it over your mug of choice and slowly pour the remainder of the water over your coffee.  The whole process takes about 5-6 minutes. (Intelligentsia actually has an iPhone app to take you through the process.)   The result:  The perfect cup of coffee that is both hot and delicious!

 

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A Cooking Class in Turks and Caicos

Every fall I turn into a bear… I find I have an insatiable hunger that leads me to all the wonderful restaurants of Chicago and then culminates with huge Thanksgiving dinner that prepares me for hibernation.  Unfortunately, its impossible to hibernate in Chicago, believe me I’ve tried… But at some point you have to venture out of your condo bear cave and face the cold.  This year we decided to thwart off my hibernating animal instincts and make a trip to Turks and Caicos, in the British West Indies.

Mudjin Harbor

Mudjin Harbor- Middle Caicos

We arrived on a sunny, but cool and blustery day and as always promptly hopped in a cab and asked… where can we eat good local food?  And, of course, we were given a handful of different results that pointed us in the direction of many resort restaurants… however that wasn’t exactly what we were looking for and by day three we found ourselves wandering to yet another recommended spot, Somewhere on the Beach, where we met a die-hard New England Patriot’s fan named Michael and had some fantastic fish tacos… but our story doesn’t end here.  Sure… we ate fish tacos three days in a row and each day they were amazing, but what made this experience even better is that we finally found what we were looking for… a cooking class from someone who knew a few things about island cooking.

Curried Conch, Pork Chop, Chili and Rice

We met Robert Nathaniel Stubbs at Franco’s Restaurant in the Central Plaza on the island of Providenciales where this cooking veteran gave us some aprons and put my husband to work tenderizing conch. Shortly thereafter we watched him prepare a curried conch stew with the hottest pepper I have ever tasted.  My husband claims it is a Scotch Bonnet pepper, although they call it something different here.  While the conch simmered on the stove, we grilled some pork chops and Chef Stubbs plated our dish beautifully with some yellow rice.   We sat down at the bar with our aprons still on to finally get a taste of what the locals are eating.

Spicy Conch Fritters

Spicy Conch Fritters and Fried Chicken

The food was delicious and the curried conch was tender and oh so spicy.  As we were finishing our plates he surprised us with his specialty, spicy fried chicken and conch fritters, that he is well known for across the island.  These were equally delicious and had their own unique island flare.  While we chatted with Chef Stubbs, I couldn’t help but think we had found what we were looking for.  When we travel to another country we want to eat like the locals, and learn how to prepare their recipes.  The experience at Franco’s Restaurant allowed us to see beyond the beautiful beaches of Turks and Caicos and into the heart of island cuisine.

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