A Closer Look: Warm Tomato Appetizer

The month of September marks the first official day of fall, and even though the cooler months ahead bring a variety of things to be excited about (pumpkin spice lattes?), it can also be a sad time for farm-to-table restaurants, as we bid adieu to some of our favorite summer produce … like tomatoes.

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So before it’s too late — and grocery stores will be stocking up on rock-hard, flavorless objects referred to as “tomatoes” — be sure to stop by and order our new Warm Tomato appetizer. JV started the dish by making his own fruit leather, or “fruit roll-up” as he likes to call it. While it was a bit of an experiment, he combined tomato peel and apple puree with some sugar, and then cooked down the mixture until it was super thick. After that, he spread it out on a piece of plastic wrap to set – and voilà! It worked.

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To build the dish, JV sliced and layered a perfectly ripe tomato (that was first warmed on a hot plate), and then followed up with a drizzle of sunflower seed yogurt sauce and a few thinly sliced strips of the fruit leather.

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He finished it off with fresh dill, lots of rich olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and a warm baguette for dipping. All of this can be yours for just $13.

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Remember that scary story about the tomatoes at the grocery store? Come eat this while there’s still time.

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To the City of Brotherly Love (and back)

Nothing’s better than a good, old-fashioned road trip — especially the kind that’s centered around food. So when our executive sous chef, Ben, and JV hit the road last month to partake in the EPIC Cochon event in Philadelphia (remember that huge, saddle-cut of pork?), they made sure to leave enough time to check out some of the city’s best places to dine. From the classic Philly Cheese Steak to modern Israeli cuisine, Ben and JV didn’t seem to miss a beat … and now, you’ll know exactly where to make reservations the next time you’re headed to the East Coast.

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“Philly is awesome. I mean, the whole city is just great,” said JV. “And because they’re so close to New York, they have really high standards and know they gotta put out good food, but it’s also pretty cheap, so it’s accessible to anyone.”

First stop: Zahav. Modern Israeli cuisine that left JV wanting more: “Of all the places we ate, Zahav was just incredible.” Some dishes include: Turkish Hummus with butter and grilled garlic, served warm; Crispy Lamb’s Tongue with snap peas, smoked grapes, pistachio tehina and peaches; Moroccan Chicken with charmoula, freekah and pickled cabbage, and Spiced Peanut Basboosa – a dessert of semolina cake, Turkish coffee ice cream and peanut praline.

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Next up: Pat’s King of Steaks. If you’re looking for that classic Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich, this is the place to go. It’s been family-owned and operated since 1930, they’re the “originators and inventors” of the Philly Cheese Steak, and there’s just one location (that’s open 24/7 to boot) — so, you know it’s gotta be good.

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A new take on chicken and waffles, perhaps? Go to Federal Donuts. Gourmet fried chicken. Donuts. Coffee. Two locations. Enough said. Well, wait … you also get to pick your own seasoning and glaze for the chicken (like chili-garlic), every order is served with Japanese cucumber pickles and a honey donut, and if you don’t want chicken, they have lots of “fancy” flavored donuts like strawberry-ginger and banana cream pie. Okay, now — enough said.

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Also, don’t miss while in Philly:

Osteria - Homemade Italian pastas, thin crust pizzas, wood grilled meats and fish. Standout dish: Swordfish speck with grilled figs, pine nuts and basil. “The swordfish was sliced so thin, it almost looked like Lardo … and the way they overlapped the fish created this stunning contrast in color, almost like stripes.”

Brauhaus Schmitz - Philadelphia’s only authentic German Bierhall & Restaurant.

Serpico - Ingredient-driven, seasonal menu that features global cuisine with a playful touch. “There’s definitely an Asian twist to the menu … super well-refined, light and beautiful.”

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Fante’s Kitchen Shop – Every kitchen gizmo and gadget imaginable can be found here. “This is the store where we get our Chitarra from … we were only there about an hour, but we could’ve stayed all day. It was like being a kid in a candy store. The only reason we left is because I had to go to the bathroom.” – JV

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Visiting Pittsburgh, too?

Spoon – Local, farm-to-table, modern American cuisine.

Meat & Potatoes – Gastropub. Open 7 days a week.

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On their way back to Chicago, they paid a visit to JV’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, for a baseball game and some more good eats.

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While there, they were blown away by the Duck Mortadella at The Greenhouse Tavern, a dish soon to be featured on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods. They also stopped by Slyman’s Restaurant, home of the biggest and “best” corned beef, and according to JV, it was. “Seriously, the best corned beef on Earth. Hands down.”

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We know how overwhelming it can be when traveling to new cities, trying to find the “best” spots to dine; so hopefully, our list here will help you make some good choices the next time you’re headed to Philly … or Cleveland.


In the Pipeline: Fall Desserts

Whether or not we’d like to believe it — fall is creeping up on us.  Juicy, ripe tomatoes and summer squash will soon be a thing of the past, but not to worry, as the change in season undoubtedly brings some of our favorite fall ingredients into play … and our pastry chef, Sarah, can’t wait to get her hands on them.

“I’ve been thinking of what to do for fall desserts for a while now. I typically come up with the flavor combinations and garnishes first, and then build the rest of the dessert around that. My brain works backward a lot of the time, but it works for me.”

Sarah’s been impressing diners all summer long with her selection of confections, particularly the cherry pie with coffee ice cream and this standout sweet corn dish:

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“It’s a sweet corn-vanilla cake with sweet corn ice cream, plum pudding, semolina shortbread crumble, yellow plums and nectarines held in rosemary simple syrup, and then it’s garnished with fresh blackberries to offset some of the sweetness. Again, this dish started with the ice cream and then everything else just fell into place, which is how I’m approaching my fall menu, too.”

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Right now, Sarah plans to create dishes with flavor combinations like watermelon and basil, Mexican chocolate and dulce de leche, apple-cranberry with (most likely) rosemary ice cream, and even mini pears poached in spiced red wine. Yes, please.

“I’ve always loved incorporating herbs into my dishes, like the rosemary and basil. They definitely have their place in desserts, and even though it might freak some people out at first, I try to do it in a way that everyone will like … I have to remind myself that I can’t always make just what I want!”

She hopes to slowly introduce her new dishes to the menu in the next few weeks, so be sure to visit us soon — and don’t forget to leave some room for dessert.


Honey Chili Glaze

If you’ve dined with us in recent weeks, you may have ordered the trout entrée – Wisconsin trout with sweet corn, bacon, green beans, onion and fava bean aioli — which features our house-made, honey chili glaze. The glaze is so simple to make at home and instantly brings life to any white-fleshed fish, like trout, tilapia, halibut or cod. While our recipe only requires four ingredients, you may have to search a bit for the granulated sweet bell pepper. Most specialty food stores/spice shops will carry it, but you could also consider dehydrating your own sweet bell peppers and grinding them finely in a mortar and pestle. If you’re local, dehydrated sweet bell pepper can be found here.

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:: INGREDIENTS ::

  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sweet bell pepper

:: METHOD ::

Combine the honey and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then add the spices. Stir and cook down until thick; then brush onto fish (including skin) if using a sauté pan. If you choose to roast the fish, put the glaze on first.

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We love this glaze because it adds some intense, unexpected flavor … and clears your sinuses, too ;) Chili lovers, rejoice.


JV does STL

On July 15, JV was invited to take part in the Share Our Strength – No Kid Hungry charity dinner in St. Louis, MO. The event was hosted by Chef Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe, and JV was among six guest chefs (including Stephanie Izard, Gerard Craft, Kevin Willmann, Michael Paley and Bob Zugmaier) who contributed to the meal, all with the common goal to help end childhood hunger.

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(L-R) Gerard Craft, JV, Stephanie Izard, Kevin Willmann, Kevin Nashan and Michael Paley. *Photography by: Jennifer Silverberg / Feast Magazine*

JV prepared the first course — a dish of Dungeness crab, cucumber, preserved habanero, green coriander and lime, which was paired with Sterling Organic Sauvignon Blanc, Medocino 2009.

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*Photography by: Jennifer Silverberg*

The event was a total success — raising $60K — which was two times the goal amount.

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*Photography by: Jennifer Silverberg*

Aside from the evening’s fantastic turnout, JV couldn’t get over how impressed he was with the overall vibe and culinary scene in St. Louis. “It’s a charming city with serious food,” he said. “Plus, Nashan was an ideal host; they put us up in the Four Seasons, took our keys so we wouldn’t have to drive anywhere, and showed us the best food the city had to offer, including our welcome meal catered by Pappy’s Smokehouse … awesome St. Louis style ribs, kinda sweet and tangy.”

In JV’s words, St. Louis is the type of place that could be home. “It’s kind of like Northern mentality meets Southern hospitality; everyone’s an extremely hard worker but they’re also super gracious, always smiling, look you in the eye and say ‘nice to meet you’ … they have this totally kill-you-with-kindness kind of attitude. Not to mention, there is some insane cooking talent there, including the kids on the line. “

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*Photography by: Jennifer Silverberg*

All in all, while it’s easy to get caught up eating at the same restaurants over and over again (especially when living in a huge food city like Chicago), consider making the drive to St. Louis the next time you need a weekend getaway. If JV’s first-hand experience can tell us anything, both the food and dining experience will be unforgettable.

WHERE TO EAT:

Want to see more from the Share Our Strength dinner? Check out additional photos here!


Go Pig or Go Home

This weekend, JV and our sous chef, Ben, are headed to Philadelphia to partake in COCHON EPIC No.2 —  an ‘expression’ of Cochon 555 that showcases a one-time-only event, never to be replicated. Last year’s EPIC was held at the James Beard House in NYC and featured a pork-centric dinner paired with vintage Champagnes for 80 guests. This year, the event will be held on Sunday, July 28, at the Ritz-Carlton in Philly, where 20 local chefs will team up to prepare six whole heritage breed pigs (that’s more than 1500 pounds of pork!) from local farms to create a mouth-watering feast.

And unlike Cochon 555, EPIC is not a competition, but rather “a celebration of all the chefs, farmers and pork-enthusiasts Philly has to offer,” — per their website. Sounds pretty awesome, right? The good news is, if you’re lucky enough to be in the Philly area and are interested in stuffing your face with delicious pork for an evening, tickets are still available here.

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Credit: Cochon555

JV was invited to participate as a National Chef, along with Matt Jennings of Farmstead in Providence, and Todd Mussman of Muss & Turners and Local Three in Atlanta. They will be preparing a collaborative menu to build enthusiasm for Cochon Heritage BBQ, a new Cochon event designed to feature the utilization of whole heritage breed pigs in BBQ communities across the nation. In preparation for the event, JV decided to spit-roast what’s called a “saddle-cut” of pork, meaning the loin, rib and belly are completely connected. Whoa.

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Though cooking time was a bit of a guessing game, JV’s two main concerns were as follows: don’t burn the place down, and second, don’t break the spit; keep in mind — that’s nearly 100 pounds of pork hanging on for dear life!

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He smothered the pork in a delicious rub of spices, brown sugar and garlic (see recipe below), and let it go for a good three hours, all while feeding and maintaining the fire with a combination of apple and cherry wood (for flavor/smoke) and white oak wood (for heat). The end result? You’ll have to watch the video to find out ;)

EPIC Pork Rub Recipe:

::INGREDIENTS:: 

For every pound of pork use …

  • 1 T. coriander seed
  • 1 T. dill seed
  • 1 T. fennel seed
  • 1 T. whole juniper
  • 1 T. whole allspice
  • 1 T. whole clove
  • 1 T. mustard seed
  • 2 T. black pepper corn
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced

::METHOD::

Crush spices together using a mortar and pestle, and then combine them with the salt, sugar and garlic. Rub this mixture on the pork and let sit for 2 days. Try using this rub on a pork loin that’s roasted in a hot oven, about 450 degrees F.


2013 Green City Market Chef BBQ

Last week we were serving up some classic childhood snacks (with a twist, of course) at the Green City Market Chef BBQ Benefit in Lincoln Park. JV was handing out mini, brown paper bags filled with “Cracker-Jacks” and crispy pig ears, while our pastry chef, Sarah, was cooling guests down with her grownup cucumber-gin and black raspberry push-pops.

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“As you can see, this is a very technical dish (:: insert sarcasm ::)  … ” — JV

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Technical or not — guests couldn’t resist the sweet ‘n salty combination of caramel popcorn and pig ears tossed with peanuts, green coriander and maple habanero sauce.

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And just in case you missed us, try making your own at home — just follow our recipe below for the caramel corn, and then add some salted peanuts and crispy bacon for the full effect :)

Caramel Corn Recipe – Yields ~8 servings

:: INGREDIENTS ::

  • 1 c. butter
  • 2 c. brown sugar; packed
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 8 cups popcorn; popped

:: METHOD ::

First, preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Then, combine butter, brown sugar, salt and corn syrup in a saucepan over medium heat. Boil for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda. Then, pour this mixture over the popcorn and stir until evenly coated. Bake on a large pan for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. When finished, spread popcorn on waxed paper to dry. Be sure to store in an airtight container to retain its freshness!

See you at next year’s BBQ!


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