Mieux Vaut en Paix un Oeuf qu’en Guerre un Boeuf

Better an Egg in peace than an ox in war

Cows
Silly Cows

– I found this French proverb and find it particularly suiting for my first cooking class. Today I attended a cooking class at Vie located in Western Springs, Illinois with my friend Mrs. Branda. This class featured gnocchi, which I have never tasted (as far as I can remember) and have certainly never made. It is quite possibly one of the best cooking experiences I have ever had.

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Me, Paul Virant, Mrs. Branda, Cenard
Me, Paul Virant, Mrs. Branda, Cenard

Firstly, let me introduce you to this restaurant and of course its chef: Paul Virant

Paul Virant currently has numerous awards for his outstanding menus. Below is a list of a few from Vie’s site now:

Iron Chef
Iron Chef
  • Best New Chef 2007, Food & Wine Magazine, July 2007

  • Awarded Three Stars by Phil Vettel, Chicago Tribune, March 2005
  • Named Best New Chef by Chicago Magazine, May 2005
  • Named 2005 Rising Star Chef by Restaurant Hospitality Magazine
  • Named 2005 Rising Star Chef by StarChefs.com
  • Named 2006 Jean Banchet Rising Star Chef
  • He also appeared on Iron Chef America

When I spent these few hours at Vie today, I found him genuinely amiable and very knowledgeable on locavore-ism, wine, and of course tips and tricks of his trade. His menus are designed to combine interesting pairings with locally acquired food – while also minimizing waste. All food waste is preserved and donated to local farms for composting, most vegetables are acquired through City Farm (see here: http://www.southsideclt.org/city), and most conserve-able food products are utilized in other menu items. It was truly a pleasure getting to experience this.

THE MENU

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Ricotta gnocchi, braised t & d willey artichokes,

grilled meyer lemons, radishes, tarragon

accompanied with 08 Alois Lageder, Pinoit Grigio, Dolomitit, Alto Adige, Italy

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Wood-grilled dietzler farm top sirloin steak, arugula salad,

potato gnocchi, city farm san marzano tomatoes, parmigiano reggiano

accompanied with 06 Maestro Sanguineti, Nessum Dorma, Super Tuscan Italy

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Crispy semolina gnocchi, werp farm greens,

mushroom conserva, aged balsamic

– accompanied with 08 La Quercia, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, Italy

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Biscotti di prato, blood oranges, organic creme fraiche

– accompanied with 07 Domaine De La Pigeade, Muscat De Beumes De Venise, France

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No GLANDS?
No GLANDS?

If you’re mouth isn’t watering yet then I don’t know what’s wrong with you (perhaps you lack salivary glands?).  If you’re tempted to go to this restaurant (I’ll post more info. further along in this entry) or if you’re just curious to know my favorites, I’ll be happy to tell you:  First and foremost, the semolina gnocchi is amazing. It’s practically a dessert it’s so creamy. Secondly the complete dessert pairing of almond biscotti, blood oranges, creme fraiche, and that lovely dessert wine. You can smell the citrus in the wine! They are perfectly suited for each other. The next runner up would be the ricotta gnocchi. Mrs. Branda had noticed a meaty flavor that she was not particularly fond of, but i found it more than appetizing – I might forgo the bacon next time. Of course we can’t forget the beef! I have always – and will most likely never stop – loving steak. I like it medium to rare – well, in fact the bloodier the better if it’s a nice cut. The salad included only a few small cuttings of meat which was perfectly fine by me, because the salad and gnocchi alone were more than filling.

Thumbs up!A marvelous meal!

All right so have I talked you into it yet? Deliciousness all around. The next class coming up is all about pasta. Learn to make it from scratch on April 19th. I would enjoy taking another class; however, they do cost a pretty penny (not exactly a penny – but well worth it!). Actually while I’m at it, I will list the other classes (taught by the Sous Chef Nathan Sears) available in the future as well.

Ready?

April 28th Quick MealsEasy meals that can be cooked fast for when no one has time

May 19th Pizza and FlatbreadsOne of my favorites, pizza, along with other similar breads

June 9th BarbequeThe essential backyard foods, sausages, cornbread and salad

June 30th Vegetarian Cooking Complete dishes focused around vegetables to ease any mind that we need meat

Here is the link in case you would like to read further about either Vie or Paul:

http://www.vierestaurant.com/index.html

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Ad Hoc
Ad Hoc

I will undoubtedly post more as I try these recipes out on my own. Also, I wanted to inform you kids about a book recommended to me called Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller – writer of The French Laundry Cookbook and Bouchon. To buy this book or view other listings of a similar category just click the pic and you will be routed to Amazon.com. Apparently Paul Virant has adapted a few of the recipes in these books into restaurant-grade goodness. Two such recipes that I am glad to have acquired are for a mushroom conserva and a lemon pickle. The mushroom conserva involves cooking up a huge batch of mushrooms in a large quantity of olive oil which can then be preserved for months – and the remaining olive oil is infused making yummy salad dressing. The pickle is produced by grilling lemons and yes, essentially pickling them. From what I understand it is best to purchase meyer lemons as these are entirely edible.

So there you have it: Gnocchi and then some. I have learned something new – hopefully you’ve learned something new.

Alice
Alice

Did I spark your interest? I have completed yet another of my adventure-a-week items. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about this restaurant and that you’ll consider visiting.

Merry cooking my bloggy friends!

Oh wait!

I also wanted to comment on Alice in Wonderland – since my blog title is based on Jabberwocky (by Lewis Carroll, of course). So I have seen the movie and well, it’s not amazing. The costumes of course are pretty fun. J.D. had a role that was considerably above and beyond the old hatter’s call, but that’s to be expected since Tim Burton and J.D. are besties. Okay, I am getting to a point here – yes. I read just recently that Tim Burton based his White Queen on a Nigella Lawson – a TV cook. Burton was quoted saying, “She’s really beautiful and she does all this cooking, but then there’s this glint in her eye and when you see it you go, ‘Oh, whoa, she’s like really … nuts.’ I mean in a good way. Well, maybe. I don’t know.”

Care to compare the resemblance? Check out the videos in the link below.

White Queen and Nigella Lawson
White Queen and Nigella Lawson

Click here: http://www.thefoodsection.com/foodsection/2010/02/alice-wonderland-white-queen-based-on-nigella-lawson.html

All right, that’s all folks.

Now who here can tell me why a raven is like a writing desk?

Cheesy Chop – A Curdling Experience

So last night was my first attempt at making homemade mac and cheese (This was in December of ’09).  I am sad to admit that Kraft has bested me and France doesn’t sell Velveeta (lol). No, I can’t make mac and cheese on my own… wah wah. FAIL!

Someone Else's Mac & Cheese
Someone Else’s Mac & Cheese

I did a very rudimentary search online for the proper fixin’s for homemade mac and cheese.  From what I understand… homemade mac and cheese is made with:

  • Lots of butter
  • Milk
  • Flour
  • Pasta
  • Cheddar Cheese

Also from what I read you can just make up your pasta and then melt the butter and throw in some flour and milk. Let that thicken a little and eventually you can add the cheese in – preferably after it has been taken off the heat. If you add a little white wine it will prevent the cheese from curdling.

This is how my catastrophe occurred: I had the pasta right. Butter – yes, flour – no.  I assumed it would probably work just about the same.  I melted some butter and added milk.  It obviously didn’t really thicken.  I also didn’t have white wine but I figured red would work just as well. Everything was going fine until I threw the first half of the cheese in (shaved). I turned the heat down super low (as low as our bad induction stove would go) and within minutes the sauce just snapped into something sad.  Little ugly chunks appeared and i continued stirring vigorously and removed it from the heat before i threw the rest of the cheese in. It separated. The sad bits sank to the bottom and all I had left was a watery sauce on top.

We then attempted to bake it like as if we intended it to be a casserole. This ended up being an improvement but still pretty sad. The noodles tasted better and some of the cheese stuck. I basically just ate the noodles. By the end of this wonderful experiment we had a “cheese chop” sitting all lonely in a little dish on the counter.

I youtube’d after to try to figure out what the heck went wrong. I watched woman after woman cook cheese sauce like it was nothing! They didn’t take it off the heat or add wine or anything. I need to try this again and probably with flour.  Failure is one of the best ways to learn!

I did like that one woman -rather than adding typical cheddar – threw in gruyere, goat cheese, and a few other tasty ones.  It sounds delicious! When I discover how to do this properly I will let you know. I’m sure most of you who are taking the time to read this can probably make a cheese sauce already – if you can please share!

P.S.  I have yet to post the picture of my wonderful obomination but once I get it you will be sure to see it!

Paindemonium

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
Hello all!
I’m now back in Chicago.  My vacation has ended and unfortunately I am still suffering from a sinus infection.  At least now that I am home I can begin my job hunt.  In the meantime, I have begun making my own bread.  My sister-in-law showed me this great book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day that I have started producing bread with.
This is the easiest recipe that I tried out so far.  If you get the book it shows you how to make all of these great varieties of bread.  Definitely pick it up if you think bread-making is your hobby!
So the recipe is fairly simple. You just grab a 5-quart container, 1 1/2 packs of yeast or 1 1/2 tablespoons of active yeast, 3 cups of water, 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt, and 6 1/2 cups of plain ol’ flour.  According to their rules you don’t even need to knead it! You just mix everything together until it’s wet, and let it rise in a covered – non-airtight – container for 2 hours or more and then after that you can start baking.  I grabbed a grapefruit sized ball of dough, threw some flour on it, and then stretched it into a ball shape to rest.  After it rests for about a half hour you need to slice a few cuts in the top and scoot it onto a baking stone that has been preheating in an oven to 450° – along with this you also want to put a dish to steam 1 cup of water near a boiler.  Steaming the bread will apparently make the outside nice and crusty.  After another half hour your bread should be done!  My first one had some trouble – It looks like a volcano. The second one turned out much better!

 

Attempt #1

Once you make this batch of dough you can keep it for at least two weeks and the yeast will continue to work.  If you’re a dork like me you can give your dough a name (I read professional bakers often name their sourdough yeast).  I named mine Louis I in tribute to all those French leaders I have read about in the past month.  As you can imagine there are a few more to come soon.   So far it looks like my batch makes about 3 loaves, but I think it depends on how warm your house is while cooking because my dough didn’t rise as much as Amy’s.

Attempt #2
Attempt #2

So here’s my first food entry.  I have another that’s pending.  I attempted to make homemade mac and cheese with some epic failure.  Once I get that picture I will post for all of you mac and cheesers.  Good luck with your bread dearies!!!

Also, if you’re interested in going further with your bread making I discovered a wonderful article written at a site I like called Chocolate & Zucchini.  Here they go through how to create your own natural starter.  Check it out if you would like: http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/2009/07/natural_starter_bread.php