Archive for September, 2011

So, say you come home on a Friday night and you’re like, “I just want a glass of red and something good to eat while I watch ‘Project Runway’ and maybe talk to my sister on the phone for a catch-up?” And you look in your fridge and freezer for a little food survey and you come up with a frozen hamburger, a head of baby leaf lettuce from Harvest Moon (my CSA) and eggs (also from Harvest Moon).  Well, you defrost the burger (which you infused with shallotts and Worcestershire sauce when you made ’em), make a little green salad, dressed with your French vinaigrette (which I always have some of in a jar) and throw that hamburger on top and top that with a fried egg!  And it’s delicious!

But than,  what if you dug deep in your cupboard and found that little jar of truffle salt to sprinkle on top? Uh huh. That takes it up a notch to “Friday night special” level.

Because the Crazy Cook is here to tell you: never underestimate the crazy amount of deliciousness you have in your own fridge and pantry with things like a humble hamburger, some lively lettuce and an excellent egg (sorry, I have a penchant for alliteration).

I love being inspired with what I have on hand to make a crazy good meal – for one, or a ton.  Bon appetite and happy weekend to you all!

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Hi Everyone!  Today I went to Chicago Gourmet to sample the sips, savories and sweets of more than 100 chefs and countless wineries.  It would be an understatement to say I am full!  But a stomach ache (and maybe a little hangover!)  is the price I happily pay for being an obsessive foodie in one of the greatest food cities on the planet!  The event is a two-day affair, running from noon to 5 p.m., and if you didn’t get to go this year, put it on your radar for next September.  It’s a festival of food, wine and spirits in the shadow of the gorgeous Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.   A ticket (this year is was $150), gets you a tasting plate with a handy notch for your wine glass (brilliant addition this year!)  and access to food and wine tastings, cooking demos and chef book signings.   Look at me with Chef Jonathon Waxman of New York City’s Barbuto and a “Top Chef Masters” star after his gnocchi demo on the Pritzker Pavilion stage!


As for the food.  I was out to find one savory and one sweet that absolutely blew me away and I found them both at Tasting Pavilion #4. 

This would be chef Thomas Heinrich’s work, from Stetson’s Chop House & Bar at the Chicago Hyatt Regency.  Yep, a hotel restaurant!  It was DIVINE!  Foie gras mousse (he had me at “foie gras”) on the bottom, a layer of port wine jelly, and then spicy Marcona almonds, dried strawberries and microgreens on top.  Silky, rich, salty, creamy, sweet, tangy, crunchy, crisp.  OMG. I ate the entire thing and savored it with a glass of Zinfandel, but you’ll have to forgive me, as a I tried, um, maybe 32 wines? (Shut up, no judging!)  So I cannot remember which one I tasted with this dish! 

And my favorite sweet?  This little beauty from Bittersweet Bakery – which is right at the end of my street (dangerous)!

Oh, yes. A gorgeous cream puff filled with salted caramel cream/mousse and then the whole thing covered in chocolate and sporting some glistening sparkles of tangy sea salt. Phenomenal!

So, want to see what else I ate and drank? 

Yes, I at 20 things today (making dinner completely unnecessary). From green leaf shrimp dumplings at the Peninsula Hotel to coconut curry truffles at Vosges Haut Chocolate to a divine crab and truffle canape from Prosecco to John DeRosier’s cold spiced heirloom tomato soup with goat cheese ice cream, everything was really, really delicious! 

And then there were the wines!  It was cool, cloudy (and rainy at times), so reds ruled my day.  I took a photo of every single bottle that I tasted.   (Again – no judging!)

And two beers (the Stella Artois / Leffe Blonde booth is always popular because they serve their beers in their special glasses and you get to take them home – fun!)  My favorite wine?  The Armand de Brignac Champagne.  They’ve been making Champagne (in France, of course) since 1763, but these new wines came onto the market in 2007 and they are all hand-made in very small quantities (so very expensive: like $299 for the Brut I tasted, and $499 for the Blanc de Blanc and the Rose). What a treat. Absolutely delightful.

And that is the story about my eating day at Chicago Gourmet.  Thank you, Bon Appetit magazine and other sponsors and organizers!  It was a delicious day.  Oh, I’m so full….. 🙂

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Hi, Everybody!   So last week, a friend at work helped me out and I promised him some homemade chocolate chip cookies to repay the favor.  I must say – these are no toll-free, tollhouse, whatever cookies (actually those are perfectly fine, but…).  No, these are adapted from a recipe from Mr. Chocolate himself, Monsieur Jacques Torres.  The recipe was in The New York Times in July 2008, and it’s been my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe ever since.  There is a catch however — as there sometimes is in the Crazy Cook’s life: you have to let the dough take a long  nap in the fridge before baking it – at least 24, and up to 36 hours.  So ya gotta plan ahead.  But it’s worth it, I promise!  These cookies are so flavorful, crisp on the outside, a little chewy in the middle (but not mushy; I’m not a fan of “soft” cookies). 

Letting the dough rest allows it to fully absorb all the liquid (eggs, in this case, and some vanilla), which results in a crisper, somehow better cookie!  And with some apologies to Monsieur Torres, I did take a few creative liberties, based on personal preference.  Mainly, I don’t use the giant chocolate disks that are called for; I like smaller chocolate chips, for a better balance of cookie to chocolate.  I also use a mix of chips – white chocolate, milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate.  You could also use butterscotch or whatever you like – it’s fun to mix it up a little.  Ready to bake?  Come on!

Ingredients (makes 60 cookies, about 2 inches each in diameter)

2 C minus 2 Tbl  (8.5 ounces) of cake flour (I actually do weigh my ingredients because measuring cups differ so much in size)

1 2/3 C (8.5 ounces) bread flour (whoopsies, I used all-purpose flour; no biggie if you ask me)

1 1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp coarse salt

2.5 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 C (10 ounces) light brown sugar

1 C plus 2 Tbl (8 ounces) regular white sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 to 1 1/8 pounds chocolate chips of your choosing!

What You Do

1) Mix both flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl with a whisk; set aside

2) In the bowl of a stand mixer (such as my cobalt blue KitchenAid mixer, Chuck – he’s the strongest helper in my kitchen), put the soft, room-temperature butter and both sugars.  Using the paddle mixer attachment, let ‘er rip on one step above low for a good 5 minutes, so the butter and sugars get really creamy and light (in color and in texture).

3) Add one egg, turn on mixer, just until it’s mixed in.  Turn it off, add the other egg and mix til that one gets all mixed in. Turn it off, add the vanilla and mix that in. 

4) Now add all your dry ingredients, and carefully turn the mixer on, to low (I cup my hands around the edges to prevent a flour hurricane).  IMPORTANT: Mix only until the dry stuff is mixed in.   As I like to say: do not manhandle the dough!  It takes only about 10 seconds.

5) Add your chips, and stir manually, with a study spoon, folding them in gently until they’re incorporated through-out.  Now, transfer the dough to the bowl you used for the flour, and cover the entire surface with plastic wrap.  (I don’t like to refrigerate it in the KitchenAid bowl, only because after refrigeration, that bowl stays cold for a long time – plus it’s so big.)  Into the fridge!  For at least 24 hours, up to 36 hours.


Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit.  Wake up your dough (that is, set it on your counter for 15 or 30 minutes so it’s not rock-hard) and form into little cookie dough balls about an inch in diameter.   To make them extra-fancy, you can sprinkle a few grains of sea salt on top.  I love that sweet-salty zing.   I bake on a silicone mat, set on top of a regular sheet pan and love it – no greasing, no cleaning the pan.  Love these things.  Bake each batch for 20 minutes.  Cool, and enjoy!

My other great tip: I keep a zip-top bag of dough balls in the freezer, so I can bake a few at a time for me or friends.  Having homemade cookie dough in your freezer is like some sort of sweet insurance!

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That Tomato Mustard Tart!

Hi Fellow Crazy Cooks!  So I wanted to share my experience making the tomato mustard tart that I toted to Chicago’s Diner en Blanc last weekend, in case you want to make it this weekend.  I got the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, so I’ll share that recipe, along with a few pointers.  I’d never made pate brisee, the classic French tart dough, before and it was really easy (easier than pie dough) and absolutely delish! And the filling is a snap.  

 A few pointers:

1) Use frozen butter. Yes! Straight from the freezer – it sounds crazy, but as any baker will learn, the colder the butter, the better the dough.  Just get a really good knife and hack it up into cubes.  This crazy cook made two batches of dough: one with frozen butter and one with refrigerated butter, and the one with frozen butter came out crisper and more tender.

2) Use a Cuisinart or other food processor if you’ve got one – makes it much easier.

3) If you plan on taking this delicacy to a friend’s house, for, say, Ladies Wine Night, as I did with Tart #1, make it in a pie pan, not a tart pan with the removable bottom / sides, because you will have a hell of a time transporting a tart in a pan which you cannot lift from the bottom!  Trust me on this. 🙂

4) You can make this in stages if you’re a busy person such as myself.  I made the dough on a Monday night, refrigerated it tightly wrapped in Saran wrap.  On Tuesday night, I rolled it out and put it in the tart pan, and then wrapped that in Saran and put it to bed in the freezer overnight.  On Wednesday morning, I par-baked it in the oven (straight from the freezer), and cooled it, and covered it with Saran wrap and put it in the fridge.  On Wednesday night, I made the filling and baked the whole thing, cooled it and then refrigerated it.  This is how I roll, as a busy gal.  I took it, chilled, to Ladies Wine Night and just warmed it up a bit before serving it.  It was a hit with our Fume Blanc!

Ready?  Let’s ROLL!

Tart Dough Ingredients

1 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

6 Tbl frozen butter (unsalted), cut into bits

1 large egg

1 tsp ice water

What You Do

1) Put flour, sugar and salt into Cuisinart and whiz it up with a couple of pulses

2) Scatter the butter bits in and pulse a few times until the butter is coarsely mixed in. Resist the urge to over-mix!

3) Lightly beat the egg with the ice water (I do it in a measuring cup with a little whisk).  Turn the Cuisinart on, and pour that in a little at a time – 3 little pours will do it.  The dough will be kind of coarse and mealy-looking; not a smooth blob of dough that sticks to the side of the bowl or lumps onto the blade, like bread or pie dough.  Have faith.  Pinch a little blob with your fingers, and if it holds together, you’re good to go.  But it’s going to look crumbly and you’re going to think, “this isn’t dough yet – it’s all crumbly; I screwed up.”  But it is dough and you didn’t screw up; keep going!

4) Dump the stuff onto a board or your counter and gather it up with both hands – but don’t manhandle it!  Just gather it up and form it into a ball or disk.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours (or up to 5 days – I used my second batch on the 5th day and it was fine.)

5) When it’s chilled, butter your tart or pie pan well.  Take your dough onto a sheet of waxed paper, and have a little flour nearby for your rolling pin.  Now, your dough’s going to be quite firm, from the fridge, so just press down with your hands and the rolling pin until it starts getting pliable – just takes a couple of minutes.   Roll evenly in all directions (rotate your rolling pin as you go), so you start getting a circle.  If it starts going all catty-whompus shaped, just pinch off pieces to form your circle.  It really does roll out easier than pie dough because of the egg (gives the dough more body, somehow; I’m not a food scientist, but I know this.)  You can even pick up the whole thing and flop if over
(carefully) to get your circle just right.

6) Pick up your dough (carefully) and lay it into your pie or tart pan and press it into the sides, trimming the rag-a-muffin edges.  (Use the scraps to fill in any thin-looking spots).

7) Back into the fridge or freezer – for at least an hour.  Remember, the colder the dough, the better the tart. 

8) Ready to bake?  Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Take your pan out of the fridge or freezer and lay a buttered piece of foil over it, pressing it into the sides just a bit.  Par-bake (partially-bake) for 20 minutes, take it out, remove the foil and pop it back into the oven for another 5 minutes until it is very lightly brown (very lightly).  Let it cool.  On to the filling!

Tomato Mustard Filling Ingredients

3 large eggs

2 Tbl Dijon mustard

2 Tbl grainy mustard

6 Tbl heavy cream / whipping cream

1 very large or 2 medium size ripe tomatoes, sliced thickly (like 1/2-inch slices)

salt and pepper, to taste

1) This is so easy: Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Whisk the eggs and cream together in a bowl.

2) Add all the mustard and a little pepper and a very little salt (mustard is salty, so you don’t need much – but a little) and whisk until blended.

3) Pour the filling into your par-baked tart shell.

4) Lay the tomato slices in (I put four slices in a circle and one in the center.)

5) Bake the tart for 30 minutes or until it is uniformly puffed and lightly browned in spots.  Transfer to a rack and cool.  Serve at warm or at room temperature – with a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a green salad, this is a delightful supper, or a first course.  Bon appetit, and thank you, Dorie, for a fabulous recipe!

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