February 17, 2010

Restaurant Review: Tac Quick

Another new feature at Spoonfoolery--restaurant reviews! Tac Quick in Wrigleyville is officially the word on Thai, in my book. My husband and I have been there several times since discovering it with my book club in the fall, and we just can't get enough. It is simply not your average Thai. There's presentation and flavor beyond any corner take-out joint you'll ever go to, and unique dishes such as the pork neck appetizer and basil beef brisket special keep you coming back for more. It's BYOB, so all told, you can get a couple of entrees and a few appetizers for under $30. The music is of the martini-lounge variety, and the service is genuine and efficient. Must-haves include the panang curry (talk about special noodles!) and the tod mun fish cake. I think what we enjoy most about the place is how unique and alternative it is to the average neighborhood joint. It comes to you looking different, tasting divine, and filling you up. As we've discovered this place in the cold season in Chicago, we can't wait to try out their patio come summer! Oh, and you can bring your own dessert. They are one of those rare places around town that charge no corkage fee or plate service for homemade desserts. Reservations recommended for large groups. Go Tac Quick!

February 12, 2010

Salted Caramel EVERYTHING!

It seems to be all the rage these days: sweet + salty. Caramels sprinkled with fleur de sel, chocolate truffles topped with pink Himalayan salt, and now cupcakes! I made these for an order last week--a brown sugar-based cake with a Swiss meringue buttercream and caramel swirl frosting. I topped them with traditional Kraft caramels and a sprinkle of fleur de sel. Although I cannot give up this treasured Pomegranate recipe, you can order them here for delivery in Chicago and the greater metropolitan area. But because I don't want to be a stingy blogger, I came up with the following libation to accompany your total salted caramel experience. In a perfect world, you'd end your Valentine's Day dinner with one of each (cupcake and martini), but I won't be offended if I don't get that immediate phone call for an order of the cupcakes. ;-) If you do try the martini, let me know what you think. My foray into the food arts began with bartending school several years ago, followed by weekend work bartending with a big catering company in Boston. I'd like to think that's what started it all, and to this day, I still like pausing to concoct a good fun drink. Hopefully, some day, you can indulge in both the cupcake and drink at Pomegranate Sweets & Savories!

Salted Caramel Martini

1.5 oz vanilla vodka
1.5 oz Cask & Cream Caramel Sensations liqueur (or Bailey's with a Hint of Caramel)
1 oz milk or half-n-half
Turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
Coarse sea salt

Combine equal parts of the salt and sugar in a shallow bowl or plate. Coat the rim of a martini glass with the salt-sugar mixture. In a martini shaker with ice, combine vodka, caramel liqueur, and milk or half-n-half and shake well. Strain into martini glass and drink up! Serves 1.

February 9, 2010

Banana Chocolate Caramel Wontons

You probably just read that title and thought, "What is she smoking?" Well, hopefully, just hot oil to fry these guys in! This is a take-off of a dessert my husband and I had in San Francisco in July 2007--a banana chocolate chimichanga. I made them as simpler, smaller portions the other night, and it brought back fond memories of our first big vacation together in one of the best food cities in the nation.

My only suggestion is to forgo the caramel bits we included in our version. They end up cooling cold and hard. Not sure what Kraft meant those for, but they haven't actually worked for me in anything I've tried them in--cupcakes, cookies, quick breads. I've included our recipe here, sans the caramel bits, and suggested you just use your favorite caramel sundae topping (Smucker's makes a good one) and drizzle it over your whole shebang in the end.

Banana Chocolate Caramel Wontons

vegetable or grapeseed oil for frying
12 wonton wrappers (not eggroll wrappers)
1 ripe banana, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1 Hershey's milk chocolate bar, broken as scored
Caramel topping (such as Smucker's Sundae Topping)
Vanilla or butter pecan ice cream

Heat oil in a deep pot until hot but not smoking. Test temperature by dropping a tidbit of wonton wrapper dough in oil and checking if it fries and floats directly to the top. Remove wrappers from packaging and keep in wet paper towel and you use each one. Place one wrapper on a smooth, dry surface, place 1-2 slices banana and 1 square chocolate in center. Bunch up like a sack and press to seal. Keep banana chocolate sacks covered until frying. Line a shallow bowl with double paper towels. Using a slotted spoon, fry banana chocolate sacks two to three at a time until golden brown. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream and drizzle of caramel. Serves 6.

February 4, 2010

Book Review: Confections of a Closet Master Baker

Yes, you read that title right. Many, many double meanings in that one, my friends. But the book is really about having a dream and making it happen. I'm starting a new feature here at Spoonfoolery--book reviews! I am a cookbook junkie, as you learned when I met Thomas Keller and again when I met Gale Gand, and admitted to owning multiples of her baking bibles as well. So since I read cookbooks as if they're bedside novels, I thought I'd review one that more or less is a bedside novel.

Gesine Bullock-Prado is the younger sister of Hollywood A-lister Sandra Bullock. After years as a studio executive mired in Hollywood shenanigans, Gesine chucked it all to purchase, build out, and run a vintage-style bakery in the middle of Vermont. I felt she was a kindred spirit when I read that she took up baking as an outlet to the insanity that is the most plastic place on the planet (Hollywood). That was pretty much my trajectory from editor to pastry chef. Baking was definitely a release from hoeing the cubicle farm all day for me. Gesine and Sandra's late mother, a true German baker, was another inspiration, and the homage Gesine pays to her mom in the book is very moving. Set up more as a testament to her tenacity to turn a completely different corner and make a homestyle bakery work in the middle of nowhere, Confections of a Closet Master Baker is part biography, part cookbook, part stand-up comedienne routine. Each chapter starts with a sharp, witty look at how exactly something came to be at the bakery or in her life in general, and ends with a famous recipe from her menu, making it hard to decide if this book belongs on the living room shelves or in the kitchen. I loved her laugh-out-loud takes on kitchen disasters (including her sister's wedding cake), and her cynical-yet-dead-on assessments of just the way people are sometimes, especially her customers. She is a distinctly different personality than Sandra, and that's something she's been gunning for her whole life. She just never found that in Hollywood, but I think she's on her way now, by making Montpelier, Vt., the French macaron capital this side of the Atlantic!

February 2, 2010

Colorful Chicken Chili

One of my all-time favorite winter specials is Lewis & Clark's white chicken chili. L&C is a St. Louis-area pub-fare institution. The recipe for it's famous white version of the red-brown favorite appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch nearly 15 years ago, when I was living and working in the area. I've never stopped making it since....until now! I wanted to improve on it a bit by adding more veggies and making it a little more "south of the border." Try this version this wintry weekend and let me know what you think. Cooking the chicken only part of the way before adding all the liquids helps keep it tender. I served it with crumbled tortilla chips and shredded nacho cheese on the side. If you can't find Great Northern beans, cannellini beans work fine.

Colorful Chicken Chili

1 medium onion, chopped (preferably Sweet Vidalia)
2 tbsp corn oil
1/2 cup mild banana pepper rings, chopped
1 jalapeno, cored and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced 2 stalks celery, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
salt to taste
2 cans Greath Northern Beans, undrained
1 can cream-style corn (or regular sweet corn, undrained, if you prefer non-dairy)
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup chopped cilantro for garnish

Heat corn oil in large stockpot until hot. Toss in onions and saute five minutes. Add banana peppers, jalapeno, and garlic and continue stirring and sauteing until fragrant. Add celery, carrot, and chicken. Do not brown chicken all the way. When still partly pink, add spices (cumin through salt), and combine throroughly. Add beans with its water, corn, and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, slightly covered for 30 minutes on low heat. Uncover and increase heat to medium and boil off some of the liquid before serving. Garnish with cilantro. Serves 8.