Sunday, March 27, 2011

Some People Don't Get It. Some People Do!

Some people just don’t get it. OK, so this is going to be a bit of a rant.  I was at dinner the other night and a young, well dressed, good looking couple was seated at the table next to us. From the minute they were escorted over to the table they didn’t say a word. Not to the host, not to one another, or to anyone else.  They had their faces buried in their respective iPhones and were furiously texting away.  When the waiter came to greet them, drop off menus, and take drink orders, they both muttered their drink preference without even looking up from their beloved iPhones. They remained sitting there in silence tapping away at their keyboards. This went on for a full 10 minutes when they simultaneously set their phone on the table, text messaging apps still running, and only then did they start speaking to one another. Their dinner was continuously interrupted by ever so urgent breaks to return a text.
Seriously? This is how adults dine these days? I mean, this wasn’t at some diner or fast food joint, we were in a nice restaurant. Where did these people grow up? My parents would never have allowed for that kind of behavior when I was a child. Let alone as an adult. If I had pulled a stunt like that as a kid I’d have been told, in no uncertain terms, to put whatever it was that was taking my attention away from the meal with my family away. If I had not complied whatever it was would have been taken away until at least the end of the meal and likely a whole lot longer. With these two however, they continued their respective text conversations on and off throughout their meal. This is how you enjoy dinner out? Where are your manners people? Put the phone away for an hour or so, enjoy each other’s company, damnit is it that hard to be civil for Christ’s sake? If your text conversation is so pressing take it away from the table, finish it, and come back to have dinner when you’re done. I swear to god I really do hate people sometimes.
Conversely, the people who own and work at the restaurant I was having dinner at that night do get it. The place serves really great food, in a comfortable dining room that’s neither too formal nor too casual. They have a great wine and beer list, attentive and friendly service and for the most part use local, sustainable, and organic ingredients. They bring in a lot of whole animals and do a lot of “snout to tail” cooking. It’s not rare to see rabbit kidney or chicken gizzards on the menu, and they do a lot of their own charcuterie. In case you don’t know what that means, well, it’s using the bits and scraps left over from an animal to create amazing things like sausages and pates.  These guys care about the ingredients, how they're prepared and how they take care of their customers.
Where is this little gem? It's on Damen Avenue in Chicago and it's called The Bristol. If you live in Chicago and you haven't eaten there you have to check it out. If you're not from Chicago, the next time you come you have to eat there. It's one of my favorite restaurants in the world. Seriously, these guys rock.
When you go, don't be afraid of something that might sound like it's outside of your culinary comfort zone. Trust me, you won't be sorry you expanded your food horizons.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Tasty But Cheap Dinner

A lot of people say “I can't afford to eat organic meat.” You know what? Just about anyone can, you just have to select the right cuts.

I picked up some gorgeous Dietzler Farms beef cheeks for The Butcher and The Larder last week.

The cheek is the facial muscle of a cow. It's typically lean and quite tough. It's loaded with connective tissue and is super dark in color due to the amount of work the muscles get throughout the cow's life. Because of this it's the perfect cut for braising. Cooking this cut slowly, over low heat,allows the connective tissue to break down and release its collagen which produces a very tender, rich and dense, almost falling apart result. And the real beauty is, they're cheap, like really cheap. The 2 pounds cost me just about $6. And because of the rich result these could easily feed 4 people or more depending on how you prepare them

Now, you usually can't just roll into your butcher and pick up beef cheeks, and you certainly won't find them at your local megamart. Typically, you'll have to order them in advance from your butcher. But When I was in The Butcher and The Larder the other day Rob just happened to have some. Obviously I jumped at the chance to buy them. The two cheeks weighed in at about 2 pounds. That's a lot of cheek.

I decided I'd make them into ravioli. That way I could freeze any uneaten ones in individual servings.

2 pounds of beef cheeks makes enough ravioli to easily feed 8 people. At $6 for the protein,and just a few bucks for the other ingredients, you can easily feed 8 hungry adults for under $3 each. You can't eat at a fast food joint for that!

I started out by getting my mis en place together. If you don't know what that is, it's a French term meaning “everything in place.” Before they start cooking chefs begin by doing all of their chopping and measuring, this way, once the cooking begins, every ingredient is ready to go. They don't have to stop to get something else or run across the kitchen to grab another ingredient. All of that additional running around would throw a professional kitchen into chaos. I once read a quote from a chef “If you want to hike, go to the outdoors, when you want to cook, mis en place.” If you don't typically cook like this, try it. You'll be amazed at how easy it makes cooking.

My mis en place looked like this.

2 pounds of beef cheeks

One onion diced, one carrot diced, tow stalks of celery, diced, once cup of chopped tomatoes, two cups of red wine and 1 teaspoon of fresh chopped rosemary.

I started by searing off the beef cheeks in a touch of oil in a hot pan.

Searing gives meat that is about to be braised a nice texture. You're not really cooking at this point you're just caramelizing the exterior of the meat.

After about 2 minutes on each side I took the cheeks out of the pan, lowered the heat, and added mirepoix (That's just fancy chef speak for onion, carrot, and celery.)
I sauteed the mirepoix for about 10 minutes then added the tomato, wine and rosemary.

Once this all come to a boil the cheeks went back in and I covered the pan and popped it into a 350 degree oven for about 2 and a half hours.

Now, you could serve these cheeks on top of some mashed potatoes or polenta along with some of the reduced braising liquid and have a great dinner.

But, as I said earlier I wanted to do ravioli. So, after everything cooled down I poured it into my food processor.
A few quick pulses reduced it into something that didn't look too appetizing but tasted great. I adjusted the seasoning with a bit of salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Then I made some fresh pasta and rolled it out

and made my raviolis.
Now, it wouldn't be a Lesser Cuts and Guts dinner with just some ordinary sauce. I made a chicken liver and brandy sauce and garnished it with some fresh parsley and Romano cheese.

Sure it was a bit of a project and took some time, but none of it was really difficult and it was a cheap dinner that suckers downtown are paying $25 a plate for.