Monday, October 31, 2011

Bread making class at Cook Au Vin

As I had previously mentioned, I am greatly fond of the baguettes from Cook Au Vin. I was delighted to see that they had a bread making class via Groupon. I convinced my good friend to come along, and so we signed up for a Friday night class. We were both pretty tired after a long week at work, but we were greatly looking forward to tasting the fruits of our labor with the gorgeous cheese platter that was put together by the staff. 
Chef Vincent charmed us with his French accent, turtle shaped bread, and gracious cooking tips.

We made French baguettes, sour dough, and multi-grain. We took home so much bread at the end of class. I had to freeze most of the bread. Chef advised us to freeze the bread in a paper bag and reheat them in the oven.The bread revived very nicely.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Moroccan Spiced Spaghetti Squash

A couple of weeks ago, we received a small spaghetti squash in our produce share. As I had mentioned before, A is not a big fan of squash. I was in search of an interesting recipe for preparing it, which is actually my first time. I have found that epicurious has been a good source for using seasonal produce, which is where I came across their recipe for preparing the squash with Moroccan Spices. I then googled it to see if any bloggers had posted about this recipe. Why was I not surprised that Smitten Kitchen had made it?! Knowing that it had Deb's seal of approval, I set forth to put it on the weeknight dinner menu. In order to beef it up to be a meal, I put the warm, spiced squash on a bed of spinach, which helped wilt the greens a bit. I then topped it off with chickpeas (drained and rinsed) for some added protein. Chopped cilantro was the perfect garnish.

I love cumin, which lends a smokey flavor. Coriander created a flavor profile reminiscent of curry. Fresh chopped garlic warmed by melted butter was key to tie together the spices. I really like the texture that the chickpeas added, and I think this really made it a cohesive dish for dinner. 

Moroccan Spiced Spaghetti Squash
Adapted from Epicurious
 Serves 2

1 (1.25 lb ) spaghetti squash
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

3/8 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
baby spinach

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Halve the squash, remove the guts and seeds. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the cut halves, and roast for 45 minutes or until tender.

2. Scrape the squash with a fork to separate the strands. Add to a bowl.
3. Microwave the butter for 1 minute at 50% power. Add garlic and spices. 
4. Drizzle melted butter spice mixture over squash and mix well.
5. Create a bed of spinach on dinner plate; top with spaghetti squash, chickpeas, and chopped cilantro.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ninth Fall Produce Share

Throughout the summer, I felt like the variety that came in each week's share would be unmatched. However, I was wrong. I have loved the contents of our fall produce shares so much more than I had anticipated. I find the produce to be even easier to incorporate into our weeknight meals. Maybe I just suffered from heat fatigue in the summer and lost interest in cooking through the warm weather. Regardless, I am very happy with the rainbow of vegetables and fruit each week. 

Candy Onions (Nichols Farm, Illinois)
Sweet Potatoes (Nichols)
Carnival Squash (Genesis Growers, IL)

Romaine Lettuce (Genesis Growers)
Pears (Seedling, Michigan)

Apples (Seedling, Michigan)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pasta with beets, beet greens (and Italian sausage)

I like beets, preferably fresh (golden) beets, not canned. However, I can only enjoy them in moderation. Meanwhile, A is not much of a fan. Having received two golden beets in this week's produce share I searched out a recipe that did not merely use beets in a salad. My results in Epicurious yielded a pasta recipe with several dozen positive reviews. I skimmed through most of them and decided to incorporate a few revisions to tailor it toward our tastes.

Golden beets are definitely more mild in taste, and thankfully, do not stain to the extent of red beets. My preferred method of preparing beets is to roast them whole, skin intact, wrapped in foil at 425 degrees for 60-90 minutes. They will be fork tender, and the skin will slip right off.

My other two modifications were to use goat cheese instead of parmesan and add two Italian sausages that I had leftover from a previous meal. I wanted the goat cheese to melt into the hot pasta and create a tangy and creamy sauce. I've always been a fan of pairing beets with goat cheese. Italian sausage was also included because I wanted to take this healthful recipe to another level. The written cast of ingredients seemed to be lacking depth.

I had never prepared the beet greens when we had them on hand previously. I was a little disappointed by how plain they seemed since I anticipated them to be bitter. In the end, I had pretty low expectations of this meal. I feared that we'd both dislike it, but we were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed it enough to have seconds. Roasting the golden beets created a flavor and texture reminiscent of carrots. 

Pasta with Golden beets, beet greens, and Italian Sausage
Adapted from Epicurious

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 large onions, halved lengthwise through root end, sliced crosswise (about 4 cups)

2 Italian sausages, casings removed
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 golden beets separated from fresh healthy greens

12 ounces short shaped pasta
2-4 oz goat cheese


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap beets in foil and roast for 60-90 minutes until tender. 
2. Add 2 tablespoons oil and sliced onions to a skillet. Saute until tender and browned, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Move onions to the side, and make room for Italian sausages in the center.Cook until the sausages brown.Add the minced garlic. Add the remaining 2 tbsp oil and beet greens. Cook until wilted.
3. While the onions are cooking, prepare boiling water for pasta. Follow package instructions for preparing pasta. Reserve 1 cup pasta water.
4. Peel the roasted beets and slice into thin wedges.
5. Add beets, pasta, goat cheese and reserved pasta water to the skillet. Mix ingredients thoroughly and season with fresh ground black pepper. 







Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cai, Chinatown Square

We joined my parents for dim sum this morning at the recently opened, Cai, in Chinatown Square. Walking in, the space reminded me of the large, Chinese restaurants in suburban Toronto or Vancouver. I was being cautiously optimistic that this might live up to my high expectations for good dim sum.

There's a menu card for ordering, but there are still 1-2 carts that make their way around the dining room. Service was very attentive, well informed, and friendly. 

The standouts included vegetarian dumplings, bbq pork rice crepe, congee, and sticky rice. The sticky rice was the best rendition in Chicago - packed with flavor from ground pork, dried scallops, and preserved egg yolk. The greens used in the vegetarian dumplings and bbq pork rice crepe (very lovely crepe) were clearly very fresh based on their vibrant green hue and taste. The congee was delicate (you may want to request pepper to season it to your liking), and the handmade fishballs were made with care. I am quite happy about having this new addition in Chicago's Chinatown scene, especially for dim sum.

Now, onto some iPhone pictures:  
Pictured above: BBQ pork turnovers, vegetarian dumplings (shiitake, bamboo shoot, and peapod greens), bbq pork and greens rice crepe, and pork potstickers.

Pictured above: Congee with handmade fishballs, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf, curry chicken pot pie, and taro dumpling

Fried cruller wrapped in a rice crepe (I'm happy that they serve the sauce on the side. While the cruller was fresh and crisp when it arrived, it's best to consume as quickly as possible before the cruller gets soggy. This is a good version, but still not as good as Congee Wong in Toronto.)

Cai
2100 S Archer Av Ste 2F
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 326-6888

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ginger soy salmon

This recipe for salmon has been made several times over throughout my entire family. It's very flavorful for being a quick and easy weeknight meal. It conveniently calls for common ingredients already on hand. We recently received a bag of baby bok choy, so this was the first dish that came to mind. You can easily make this without bok choy. I didn't have scallions on hand, so I used leeks instead.

Ginger Salmon Filets
Prep time: 20 min
Cooking time: 22 min
Yield: 4 servings
4 salmon fillets, skin on
baby bok choy 
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 piece (1 1/2 inches long) ginger root, peeled, minced
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sliced green onion

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Layer the baby bok choy on the bottom of an 8-inch-square or other small baking dish. Then lay the salmon over it; set aside. Mix together garlic, ginger and soy; pour mixture over the salmon.Cover with foil. 
2. Bake until almost cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and broil for about 3 minutes. Serve over brown rice and garnish with green onion.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Squash and kale risotto

When I attended the annual cookie exchange with LTHers several years ago, the topic of homemade chicken stock had come up. It never dawned on me to make my own chicken stock. Living on my own at the time, I never had leftover chicken bones or carcasses. As I listened to the conversation I never would have thought that I would bother with such a task when store bought was so assessible.

Fast forward to the last couple of years, I realized that making my own chicken stock was incredibly easy, affordable and natural. I like knowing all the ingredients used instead of hard to pronounce scary additives that make it shelf stable for years. I find that the easiest and quickest source for the chicken carcass is none other than Costco's rotisserie chicken. After making a few meals, sneaking a few snacks for Bailey, the leftover carcass is perfect for making stock. I put it in the crockpot with chopped and unpeeled carrot, onion and celery. For seasoning, I add a bay leaf, whole peppercorns, and thyme or leeks, depending on what I have.

Homemade chicken stock is important for amazing risotto. With the delicata squash and kale from our two more recent produce shares, I went with the Green Grocer's suggestion to make the Moosewood recipe for squash and kale risotto.

For some strange reason that I cannot understand, A is not a fan of squash or sweet potato since he likes pumpkin. Despite this, he really liked this risotto, and so did I.  I am looking forward to enjoying the leftovers for lunch.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Eighth Fall Produce Share

Pictures from our fall produce share have been lacking around here but I hope to resume them once again. This week is definitely one of my favorites this year with the rainbow of produce. As fall starts to settle in around here, I'm starting to worry about what kinds of veggies we'll have to choose from come winter. 

Broccoli (Nichols Farm, Illinois)
Sweet Potatoes (Nichols)
Golden Beets (Genesis Growers, IL)
Colored Peppers (Genesis Growers)
Pears (Seedling, Michigan)  
Apples (Seedling, Michigan) 


Monday, October 17, 2011

Stuffed pumpkin

For a few years in recent history, the pumpkin crop was pretty weak. As a result, there were canned pumpkin shortages everywhere. During that time, I developed an unusual obsession with having to get pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins each fall: not for decorating around the house, but for making my own pumpkin puree and hoarding it in the freezer. Last year, Dorie Greenspan published a recipe for a baked pumpkin stuffed with everything good. I followed the recipe exactly last year, and we were in love with this savory use of pumpkin. This year instead of using bread, I used brown rice. The pumpkin bakes up into a tender, edible serving vessel. The gruyere and heavy cream become a warm and oozy sauce for the rice, which is enhanced by the bacon and herbs.

I love that this recipe is so adaptable. You can use a variety of different substitutions based on what you have on hand, and measurements don't have to be exact. With the small pie pumpkin size and a leafy green salad, this makes the perfect dinner for two. I could easily see this being served as a Thanksgiving alternative for a vegetarian. Try it because pumpkin doesn't have to be reserved for just sweets.



Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ann Arbor

I started the new job last week, and on my second day I was already on my way to Ann Arbor for training. I love A2, so I certainly wasn't going to complain. My flight was delayed because the pilot's chair needed to be replaced! I finally got around to having dinner around 9PM EST.

I remembered that Top Chef contestant Eve Aronoff had a restaurant in Ann Arbor. I was sad to learn that her original restaurant, Eve, had closed, but she had a opened a newer restaurant, Frita Batidos. I had a bad case of first week jitters earlier in the afternoon, so I was a little worried about being able to stomach a burger and a shake. Thankfully enough time had passed for me to indulge. Everything on the menu sounded so good. I wish A was with me so I could have had more ordering power and try more menu items. 

I went with the chorizo frita and a fresh lime batido. A frita is a Cuban styled burger. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the chorizo frita was a lot lighter than the heavy, greasy burger that I had expected. The chorizo patty was topped with hand cut fries and sandwiched between a light and fluffy brioche bun. It totally hit the spot after the trip. I really enjoyed the fresh lime batido. I almost ordered the coconut creme, but in the end, I figured that lime might be a little harder to come by. It did not disappoint. Key lime and cream would be an accurate description - like a lime flavored creamsicle. The lime batido was cool, refreshing, and light.
Before heading out to the airport to return home, I stopped by Zingerman's Bakehouse. I didn't get a chance to hit the deli on this visit, so I figured stopping by the Bakehouse would be the next best thing. Zingerman's owns several buildings in an industrial park, where they use that space to produce their coffee, cheese, gelato, and baked goods for their deli, roadhouse, and wholesale business. Given that it was very late in their day, my selection was limited. I finally decided on two cosmic cakes in our favorite flavors: peanut butter for me and mint for A. Cosmic cakes are made by sandwiching flavored buttercream in between two pieces of chocolate cake and covered in chocolate. The buttercream was light, and the cake was airy and moist. The chocolate layer was just right. Before tasting a bite, I would've described it as a chocolate covered whoppie pie, but it's most similar to a Hostess ding dong, but made with much better ingredients and care. Unfortunately, they did get a little smashed in my carry-on bag.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bacon and apple cheese muffins

If the title of this post might sound a little unusual, it's because I made these muffins for Bailey. After baking the apple pies for ourselves, I felt like he deserved a baked treat himself. I loved spending my time off at home with him: we enjoyed lots of walks on some gorgeous Indian summer days and some restful afternoon naps. Last Friday, A took the day off from work too, and we took a five-mile hike around Starved Rock.

Bailey gets very excited by food, so I usually help him by breaking up the muffin into smaller bites to prevent him from choking on it. I know he would try to swallow them whole if he could.

Bacon and apple cheese muffins
Inspired by Brown Eyed Baker

1½ cups white whole wheat flour
¼ cup traditional rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup applesauce
½ cup water
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 eggs
1 apple, peeled, cored and minced
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 slices of bacon, cooked and cut into 1 inch pieces
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease muffin tins.
2. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder and baking soda. In a medium bowl, whisk together the applesauce, water, oil, honey and eggs, then stir in the apple and cheese. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until just blended.
3. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins and top with a bacon piece. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the tins for a few minutes and then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely. Leftover muffins should be refrigerated, and extra muffins may be frozen and thawed for later use.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Spicy Tofu Scramble

Two years ago, the doors to Vella Cafe closed. It was a great brunch spot located under the Western Avenue Blue line stop. One of my favorite dishes to order was the Spicy Tofu Scramble, of which I sadly never captured a picture. Since I enjoyed it so much, I can vividly picture it anytime. This led me to recreate it at home.
I gathered the cast of ingredients: firm tofu, soyrizo, poblano pepper, leftover brown rice, zucchini, carrots, and corn (not pictured). 
The end result is not especially beautiful, but I assure you it is a healthful surprise. The soyrizo provides a lot of flavor and a slight kick. The tofu acts as scrambled eggs. The salsa, avocado, lime juice and cilantro pulls everything together.


Spicy Tofu Scramble

adapted from Vella Cafe (RIP)

8 oz firm tofu, patted dry and cubed
6 oz soyrizo
1 small zucchini, chopped
2 small carrots or 1 large carrot, chopped
Kernels from 1 ear of corn (or 1/2 cup frozen corn)
1 cup leftover brown rice
1 poblano pepper

Roast the poblano pepper according to your favorite method (I like to use the toaster oven). Remove the skin, core, and seeds. Slice the poblano into short strips.

Heat 1 tablespoon of cooking oil in large pan. Cook carrots for 2 minutes, then add zucchini. After cooking for a couple of minutes, push vegetables to the edge of the pan, and add tofu in the middle of the pan. Allow the tofu to fry 2 minutes before flipping and frying other sides. Move the tofu to the side and add soyrizo in the middle of the pan. Add rice to warm through and finally the poblano. Gently toss all the ingredients together.

Serve immediately with a tortilla and top with fresh lime slices, avocado, scallions, cilantro, salsa and sour cream.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Kale Flower

On Sunday, Chef Rick Bayless tweeted about kale flowers at the Wicker Park Farmers Market. I guessed that the flowers were from Garden Offerings, which also participates in the Green City Market. I was so pleased to see that they had a few bunches left for me to choose from.



Thursday, October 6, 2011

Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream

Making caramel can seem a little intimidating at first because it usually involves dry cooking the sugar until it reaches the desired amber hue. It might seem like an eternity for anything to happen, but once it starts to brown, you have to watch it like a hawk. It can go from being a white island of sugar to burnt in the blink of an eye if you're not careful. To serve my apple pie a la mode, I used David Lebovitz's recipes for caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.


Creamy Caramel Sauce
The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
Makes 1 1/2 cups

1 cup (200 g) sugar

1 1/4 c heavy cream
1/2 heaping tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Warm up the heavy cream in a small saucepan.
 

In a separate, deep saucepan, spread the sugar in an even layer. Carefully watch the sugar as it cooks over low to medium heat. As the sugar begins to liquefy and darken at the edges, gently stir it with a heatproof spatula. Tilt the pan and stir gently to melt all the sugar until it becomes a deep amber color. Quickly remove from heat, and whisk in half of the warm cream (will steam & intensely bubble up). Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Gradually whisk in the remainder of the warm cream, salt, and vanilla. Return to low heat and whisk until smooth. Serve warm. May be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Rewarm in the microwave before serving.


Vanilla Ice Cream, Philadephia-Style
The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
Makes about 1 quart
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Pour 1 cup of heavy cream, sugar, and salt into a medium sauce pan. Scrape the seeds from vanilla bean into the mixture and add the pod to the pan. Warm over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Remove from heat and add remaining heavy cream, milk and vanilla extract. Chill mixture in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

When ready to use, remove the vanilla bean and freeze the mixture per ice cream maker instructions.

Caramel Apple Pie

So you may have noticed that it's been a little quiet in the second half of September. The slower activity is due to my recent decision to change jobs. I had been with employer for five years, and one reason why I started this blog was a result of needing something intellectually stimulating on the side. I felt like my writing skills had greatly declined since entering the real world, and I had hoped that writing a blog would help me sharpen my writing skills. Once I made the decision to give my notice and accepted a new opportunity, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I now have a few days in between jobs, and so I am looking forward to eating out and cooking some exciting things.

On my first day of being in between jobs, I decided to enjoy the gorgeous weather outside and went to Green City Market. I hit Nichols Farm to pick up some heirloom apples to make apple pie. Based on other area pie experts, I learned that the preferred varieties for apple pie were Northern Spy, Winesap, and Mutsu/Crispin. These specific apples hold up their shape very well during baking because they have crisp/crunchy interior and mildly sweet but tart taste. I like that Nichols always has several bins of apple varieties for you to pick and choose as you please.

I'd never been much of a pie fan, but I know it's one of my aunt's favorite desserts. I invited her to come over and bake a pie with me. I printed out the apple pie recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum and the pie crust recipe from Smitten Kitchen. 

I made a second pie adding 2/3 cup caramel in alternating layers with the apples. Since the addition of caramel would already have sugar in it, I halved the amount of granulated sugar in Rose's recipe. Using less sugar also yielded less fruit juice, but since I was adding caramel, I wasn't too worried about the apples getting dried out while baking. I used two teaspoons of apple pie spice from the Spice House, and it created a mouth watering scent throughout the house as the apples macerated.

Apple Pie
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum

2 1/2 pounds apples (about 6 medium or 8 cups ), peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4-inch thick (a combination of Winesap, Northern Spy, Mutsu)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp apple pie spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch

Prepare your favorite pie crust recipe, and refrigerate disks of pie dough.

Gently toss the apples with the lemon juice, sugars, spice and salt. Allow the mixture to rest for 30 minutes, up to 3 hours.

Roll out the bottom crust and place onto pie dish. Rest in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425. Position a baking stone or baking sheet lined with foil on the lowest rack.

Transfer the mixture to a colander suspended over a non-stick saucepan to collect about 1/2 cup liquid. Return the apples to the bowl and toss with the cornstarch. Reduce the liquid over medium heat until syrupy and yielding 1/3 cup liquid. Pour the reduced liquid over the apples and gently mix.

If using caramel, layer 1/3 of the apple filling on the bottom of the shell and top with 1/3 cup caramel. Repeat ending with the last of the apple filling. Roll out the top crust and cover the pie. Crimp and seal the crust. Create a few vent holes to allow steam to escape while baking. Brush the crust with an eggwash (1 egg + 1 tbsp water, whisked). Bake for 45-55 minutes. Check on the crust after 30 minutes of baking to ensure that the edges do not overbrown. Cover with foil ring. Bake until apples are fork tender. Allow to cool at least 1-2 hours. Serve with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chicken, arugula and roasted red pepper sandwich

We received another bunch of arugula in our produce share recently, and I didn't want to make a salad. I stumbled across an interesting sandwich on epicurious. Using sliced rotisserie chicken breast and 8 grain bread, this was a quick and easy meal that packed a lot of flavor in each bite.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Next Restaurant: Taste of Thailand 2032

Dinner at Grant Achatz's new restaurant, Next, is the hottest ticket in town. Making reservations is unlike any other restaurant. Reservations are made in the form of prepaid tickets, which are only released by the restaurant. They have to be purchased via their website or via email when same night tickets become available via Facebook. The prices for dinner vary between $65 to $110 depending on the time of the day, day of the week, or $165, if you elect the kitchen table for 6. Beverage pairing options range from $0 to $70. Due to my lack of alcohol tolerance, I opted for the non-alcoholic beverage pairing, and of course, I ordered the alcoholic pairing for A.

Last Wednesday, I was finally able to secure a table for four last night. We invited our food loving friends to complete our table. I watched what I ate all day long to ensure that I could eat all the courses AND zip up my  new form fitting, Black Halo dress!


When we pulled up to Next, it was very inconspicuous the way it was hidden behind its landscaping on the sidewalk. We were promptly seated a little before our reservation time, which was really nice. At our table were beautifully printed brochures with literature about the inspiration for our dinner. They were tucked inside a "randomly" folded Thai newspaper. Our server, unfolded the newspaper to open it up for a "tablecloth," and proceeded to set our table with pink napkins and black plastic forks to mimic the "street food" atmosphere one would expect in Thailand 2032. I learned that in Thailand, the napkins are dyed pink because they are made with recycled paper, and the dye hides the impurities.

Street Food Course Starting from the bamboo steamer are steamed bao (not to be mistaken for xiao long bao or soup dumplings), which were recommended to be eaten first since they were freshly steamed and temperature sensitive. When it comes to bao, I usually prefer the baked kind over the steamed kind because the dough can be tricky. Of course, the dough here was perfectly fluffy and delicate without being too heavy. The buns were filled with green curry and beech mushrooms. Clockwise, the next item was Issan sausage (fermented Northern Thai) topped with galangal, chile and peanut relish. This little bit was packed with flavor. Below them are the crispy, salty prawn fritters garnished with lime zest. The flavor of the dried prawn (hai mai) was definitely muted by the lime zest and probably to be a little on the conservative side. In the middle of the bottom row, are roasted little bananas that were delicate, soft, and sweet while nicely contrasted by their fried garlic and pickled shallot topping. Finally, a small raw shrimp topped with garlic and chile to be eaten in one quick bite with the mint leaf. The mint leaf served as both a vessel and an agent to mellow the heat of the chile. The sausage and roasted banana bites were our favorite of this course. The beverage pairing for this course was served in a plastic cup. We enjoyed a juice made with guava, mango and papaya, while A's drink included the addition of Batavia Aarack and Szigeti Sekt.

For the rest of our meal, our table was set with a red colored runner to honor the Thai god of the sun, who is honored each Sunday. Her color is red.

Salad and Soup course
I failed to have my camera ready when our next course
arrived in the form of a salad bowl with button mushrooms, an heirloom tomato, shallots and pork belly. As the server described this course, he poured the hot and sour broth over the salad, which was now a tom yam gai soup. Only instead of the typical shrimp, this soup had pork belly! The broth was rich, deep, and nicely spiced. We had a very interesting drink made with chrysanthemum, lemongrass and lychee (and gin).

Rice course
This next course was an opportunity for us to familiarize ourselves with the available condiments. Hot jasmine rice was delivered in bamboo canisters. We were given nam prik pao, which is a Thai Chili Jam commonly used as a condiment. Below that is a duck egg salad with green mango and white relish. I loved this relish - it is unlike any other egg salad that we know. To the far left is pickled mango and watermelon rind to soothe any lingering heat in our mouths. Placed in the middle of our table were two more relishes: a green chile with garlic and shallot dubbed as "Ricky Martin" because it was described as being "hot all the way" and a fermented, tamarind fish sauce, the "James Brown," which arrived with a cover to control its funkiness. When we added a small spoonful of these last two sauces to whatever we were eating, it really brought out the tastes to another level.


Fish course
Beautifully prepared catfish that was tender and fresh; served in a caramel sauce with shaved celery and coriander root. A very delicate dish that was further enhanced with the addition of various relishes. I had a carrot, orange and ginger juice while A had a glass of Bizkaiko Txakolina.


Beef course
: Braised beef cheeks were served in a curry of peanut, nutmeg, coconut and lemongrass that requires a 2.5 day process from start to end. This dish was phenomenal in every way. A butter knife was brought to our table to help us separate the dining portions, but our server jokingly recommended that we use the handle instead. It was so tender, I used my spoon. The meat just fell apart, and the curry sauce was so amazing with all the spices and heat element. I loved spooning it over my beef and rice. I enjoyed a sparkling punch of hibiscus, mangosteen and Thai pepper, while A enjoyed the Horizon Ale from Half Acre, which was a custom made brew made for Next.

Before our desserts arrived, we are given an elixir made of watermelon consomme and lemongrass. It's to be drank as a shot, and it is a cool and refreshing treat after the savory courses.
Dessert A tray of whole coconuts arrives at our table on a bed of 800 degree lava rocks that heats up the coconut shavings on the tray such that the aroma permeates the air around us. It is a delicious smell. We each grab a coconut and split it open to reveal our dessert on one half. The empty half is soon filled with coconut sorbet. The dessert had something like 13 components: corn pudding, coconut ice, candied lime, licorice tapioca pearls, sugared egg strands cooked in saffron and star anise syrup. It was the most interesting dessert we had ever enjoyed. I loved my corn and pineapple juice, while my dining companions loved the sweet Moscato from Planeta.
Fruit course A single rose sprayed with rose water is brought to our table, where we are each asked to take a whiff of it and allow memories come to mind. We are then given dragon fruit halves which have been drizzled with a citrusy rose water. Based on the looks of the interior, I was expecting it be pudding like, but it was very much like its kiwi relative. To round out our beverage pairing, I had a cucumber, vichy catalan while the others had a smooth blended island rum by Banks.
Tea To complete the street food experience, our meal ended with bags of Thai iced tea.
 
As we neared the end of our meal, I asked one of our servers if we could get a tour of the kitchen. The general manager graciously obliged. I sipped on our bags of ice tea as he explained that each course had its own station. The back wall was lined with glass jars of the various ingredients used to create our meal. My friend asked about the licorice used in our coconut dessert. One of the chefs broke off a piece of licorice root, which was black, very hard, and beautifully fragrant. They use very high quality licorice to avoid overwhelming the dish. The sous chef graciously spoke about the creative process. It was such a lovely way to end an amazingly memorable meal. Thank you to the wonderfully, talented and professional staff at Next.

Some detailed course descriptions taken from Chicago Reader