Friday, January 29, 2010

Now when it comes to gettin bread, I got the keys to the Bakery

Ok. It's been a while. I know. But I have a list of excuses. Travelling, two jobs, and really, cooking at home quite a bit have all but depleted my time. Among the many things I've been cooking (which I will save for later entries), one of the more interesting things I've been dabbling in is bread.
The first thing to note, when making yeast rising bread, is that there is a lot of downtime. The dough must proof, often times more than once, which results in about 3 hours total to make a loaf of any kind of bread. So here's what I've made from scratch.

Shabbat Shalom!

1. Challah. Yep, that eggy, fluffy, braided wunderbread that has really become a popular french toast option in many breakfast/brunch spots in town. I made it. And it came out dry and pretty flavorless. I attribute most of my mistakes to my mixing/kneading skills. Being a novice without a stand mixer really leads one to having to hone their dough skills. I'm getting better, but often times bread texture is a result of the kneading and mixing of ingredients. This is the recipe I used. Yup, I did the braiding myself.

2. Focaccia. This recipe leads to the best and easiest of the bunch. The end result kind of tastes like a Pizza Hut regular crust, but much better. The best part about Focaccia is that you can cover it with whatever you like. On the loaf pictured I divided it into three sections of toppings including salt, salt/pepper and Parmesan, and S/P, Parm, and shallots. Another major plus to this recipe is that it only take about one hour, start to finish.
3. French Bread. Earlier in the week, I had bought some quality salami from Pine Street Market (buy their bacon). Plain salami is tasty, but I really wanted a nice crusty loaf of French to round out my experience. Using this recipe, I came out with some very tasty, very crusty, but a little dry bread. Also, it's easy to ascertain in the photos that I used too much flower when rolling it.

4. Biscuits (sorry, I forgot to take photos). These are just too easy and too good not to make again. They were the perfect compliment to the fried chicken I made that evening and the recipe works very well. Probably too much flour in the initial batch if I had to tweak anything. Make sure you use your food processor to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.
5. Cinnamon Rolls. From scratch. Lots of work went into Alton Brown's recipe. I skipped the cream cheese icing, and regret it now. The dough didn't rise enough (my fault) but these were very tasty but ever so tough. Also the cinnamon-sugar really became too gooey on the bottom of the pan and soaked into the bottom of the rolls. I haven't quite figured out how to prevent this in the future.
Really, bread making isn't that hard and the finished product can be particularly enjoyable. Just get your kneading/mixing techniques down and you should be set.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gone Fishin' - Calumet Fisheries

Truth be told, I didn't stumble upon this place. I saw it, like many others, on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. On the show, it seemed like an intriguingly hidden spot with spectacular smoked fish. However, in the months since viewing the episode, I had completely forgotten about this place altogether. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I was scouring Yelp for places to dine in Chicago, I noticed rave reviews for Calumet and images of Bourdain passing a half-eaten salmon steak to his Chicago guide came flooding back to me. And that's how we ended up at Calumet Fisheries.
Well, I make it sound much easier than it actually was - this was truly destination dining. Through a very long bus ride, a seemingly endless transfer, another bus-ride weaving in and out of a southern Chicago neighborhood, and a half mile walk in the snow, we finally ended up at this bridge-side shack to feast upon smoked fish (over 2 hours later).
The storefront of Calumet is kind of like a deli, except with fish being the product, not cold cuts. A large case proudly displays salmon steaks, smoked chub, and buckets of shrimp. To the right of the store they had their frying station. I had my mind set on the Salmon before we even got there but the friendly cook, Carlos, advised me to go with their garlic and peppercorn crusted salmon steaks rather than the plain variety. Kins went the route of smoked shrimp.
I was a little caught off guard by the fact that the Salmon was served cold. Seeing as how it's completely cooked, unlike lox, I expected it to be warm like barbecue after being smoked. The other surprise (although it shouldn't have been) was that the bones of the salmon were still in tact. Once I got over these two issues, I menacingly tore into the steak (avoiding the actual string used to hang the steak in the smoker) with my fingers popping the pulled morsels in my mouth. Carlos hooked me up with some hot sauce for the Salmon, but I found that it only took away from all the smokey flavor. My experience with smoked fish is severely limited, but I will be doing a comparison very soon between Rolling Bones' Salmon steaks and Calumet's.
The shrimp were darned good. As a non shrimp fan, I was happy that the smoking erased the real shrimp-like flavor that I normally have to avoid (even when fried). If anything, the shrimp tasted a bit like ham, but I would describe the flavor as solely unique to smoked shrimp. The fries were standard frozen issue, but freshly fried for each order which makes a huge difference.
I wish I could have tried some of their fried options, but alas there was only so much we could eat and take with us. Funnily enough, our cab driver for the ride back (yes, we weren't going to spend another 2 hours getting back) picked up some fried catfish for the road. After asking us why we travelled all the way out there and explaining to him all the blow-by-blow details of our adventure, he turned to us and said in his slavic accent, "Eh, it's not that special." Take that for what it's worth, but the catfish did look very, very good to me.
Pricing was fair, considering the size of the Salmon steak I ordered (enough for two), but it certainly seemed a little more pricey than it should be considering it was served cold in a non sit-down environment. While I really enjoyed the food, the travel time made our journey seem like a quest for the Holy Arc. For visitors of Chicago, I'd recommend skipping this hot spot because of the travel time involved. There are just too many other great options to spend so much time getting out there and back - at least without a car rental. However, I highly recommend locals and smoked fish fans alike make at least one trip to Calumet for an unusual and tasty treat.
Calumet Fisheries on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Panozzo's! Me say Panozzo's! - Panozzo's Italian Market

Situated in a pretty tourist-heavy area, Panozzo's is anything but a tourist trap. This is the real deal - an Italian market with not only all the canned, bottled, and frozen goods you could possibly want, but also a full on deli/restaurant in the back. Shelves are stocked with polenta, pasta, sauces and even a pretty vast selection of gelato and Italian beverages.
The service was extremely friendly and we were greated out of the blistering cold with warm smiles and hospitatliy. When deciding what to order, the man behind the counter told us about each specific item in great detail and also offered us some rosemary ham to try. The ham was the best I've ever had. The rosemary flavor was so concentrated and evenly infused that the ham was simply sublime.

After some careful consideration, we settled on two items- the meatball sub and the Pane Ripiene. The meatball hero was just that - a HERO. With four massive meatballs, homemade sauce, fresh melted cheese, and pickled jalapenos all arranged on fresh crusty/soft bread, this sandwich was a force to be reckoned with. Each meatball is approximately the size of a cue ball. Fortunately, I brought my appetite and polished it off pretty handily (and messily). I marvelled in the fact that this sandwich was a mere $6.50. It could easily make two meals for most healthy or sane folks. The quality and flavors far exceeds any other meatball sandwich I've had, and the pickled jalapenos (menu says bell peppers) really were a unique and wonderfully complimentary touch.
The Pane Ripiene was another singular menu item that was unlike anything I'd had before. I would call it a sandwich, but they referred to it as a "stuffed-bread." Essentially, it was very crunchy but slightly sweet bread, hollowed out and stuffed with spicy sausage, cheese, and bell peppers. While I didn't find the sausage to be any spicier than mild renditions of tubed-meat, the stuffed-bread was melded perfection in both the flavor and texture department.

The stuffed-bread

The meal was from Panozzo's was so enjoyable that we hardly felt the frigid cold while feasting on our sandwiches in adjacent Grant Park. This is your Chicago stop for great, cheap sandwiches. Every box is a different variety of gelato.

Panozzo's Italian Market. on Urbanspoon

You say goodbye and I say hello! - Please keep reading!

Well, it's been a long while. But I actually have a legitimate excuse. There's been the holidays, lots of cooking at home, and a short trip to Chicago over New Years. Not to worry however, everything is well documented and I'm going to get back into the swing of things right this instant. I will be reviewing a few Chicago eateries coming up and then move back to life in Atlanta - new restaurants and cooking at home. So look for many updates in the coming days!