Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sugar Spiced Almonds

I think there's something wrong with my appetite. I've been discussing this problem with several of my friends until Wonster was telling me about her visit to one of our friend's house recently who just had a beautiful baby girl. She was telling me about how Michelle had to wake up in the middle of the night to feed the baby every hour. Then I realized my problem, I am a full grown woman with an appetite of a newborn baby. Uh oh.

If only I could blame it on having a tiny stomach or going through a growth spurt. My constant snacking has become pretty ridiculous so one day I made a mental note of all the times I ate something and I noticed that I was drinking or eating something every hour. My friends have tried to appease me by telling me it's OK to eat small snacks frequently throughout the day, but I don't know if every hour is normal.

Part of the problem is that in an effort not to resort to the alluring food court downstairs or vending machine snacks, I've been bringing loads of snacks from home, which I end up eating all of.

Almonds are one of these snacks and they are supposed to be good for you in moderation. I get sick of eating raw ones though so I am trying to spice things up. I tried Alton Brown's Ginger Almonds, which were great, but I wanted to try to make cinnamon almonds this time.

I found this recipe on, tweaked it a bit and came up with this. I saw some recipes for salty almonds and others for sweet ones. I couldn't decide between the two so I went with both.

Sugar Spiced Almonds
adapted from

3 cups almonds
¼ crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup sugar
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon cold water

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients.

Mix the dry ingredients together.

In a bowl, whip the egg white until frothy. Add water and beat until frothy, but not stiff.

Add the nuts and toss to coat.

Mix the dry ingredients until combined and sprinkle over the nuts. Toss to coat, and spread evenly on the prepared pan.

Bake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, stirring every 15 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool, then store nuts in airtight containers. Cool the nuts and store in an airtight container.

The combo of sweet, salty and spicy are really good with the crunchy almonds. It's hard to stop eating them, but the spicy part definitely keeps me at bay from eating the whole container. Thank goodness.

Monday, May 17, 2010

BIG and little's - Chicago, IL

When Susan asked me what other place I've been wanting to try on my growing list of places to check out in Chicago, somehow BIG and little's came to mind. I couldn't remember for the life of me where I read about them or what was special about them, but I just knew we should try it.

We went after work one day and walked into this small restaurant. Half of the space was devoted to an open kitchen and there was a counter on the other side with bar stools where some people were eating their food. It was very bare bones, it literally felt like they just decided to set up shop one day and started doing business. There's a little chalkboard menu posted up on their wall.

Truffle fries were also listed on the menu so we got an order of that. Susan says she hasn't seen the soomeenshee facial expression of euphoria in awhile, but these fries brought it out of me. They cook all the food to order and you can see the chef literally toss these fresh from the fryer. These fries were perfectly seasoned and had just the right amount of truffle oil on them.

For our other side, we got the beet and pineapple salad. I love beets, but this was a big let down. This was basically canned beets and pineapples sprinkled with some black and cayenne pepper. Maybe it was a bit naive of me to expect to get roasted beets and fresh chunks of pineapple in a side salad that costs only $2.50, but what can I say, I've been spoiled. =) Susan, on the other hand, commented on how sweet the pineapples were. I had to gently break it to her and explain that it's because they are canned. Her response was that she needed to go buy some at the store next time. lol. Susan is so easy to please.

Although we were intrigued by the fried egg hamburger, the tacos and tostadas were calling out to us so we tried those instead. Here is a shrimp and fish taco. They were grilled and came with a tasty sauce and tons of cabbages or lettuce. I appreciated that there were different toppings for the different tacos.

Here is a picture of the squid tacos, also very good. It looks like I will be able to get my taco and truffle fry fix in Chicago after all.

This was the crab tostada. It was a fried tortilla piled high with fresh crab meat, some lemon juice, black pepper, cabbages and green onions. It was very mild in taste and a bit too bland for Susan, but I couldn't get over the fact that it was practically all fresh crab meat. I thought it was great. Yes, you might lose interest in eating it if this was the only thing you were eating, but steal a couple bites of tacos and fries here and there and it works.

So while we were eating, we saw some of the press that the place has garnered and it's because one of the chefs, Tony D'Alessandro, was a contestant on the sixth season of Hell's Kitchen. Duh! So that's why he looked so familiar! I actually chatted with him for a bit and he was super nice and really laid back. He said that they plan to put out some picnic tables outside during the summer. I told him I'd definitely be back to try some of their other offerings and that I loved the fries. The prices are reasonable and the food is tasty. If only this place was slightly closer, I'd be stopping by all the time.

BIG and little's
939 N Orleans
(between Walton St & Oak St)
Chicago, IL 60610

Friday, May 14, 2010

Grandma's Cabbage Kimchi

I feel like I am giving away my family secret by divulging my grandmother's kimchi recipe, but I feel like even with all this knowledge, no one in the family can quite make it as good as my grandma. It's a gift I tell you. She was telling us about how one time, she had to make kimchi in the dead of winter after she came back home after giving birth to one of our aunts. Can you imagine? The last thing I'd want to do after giving birth is wash mounds of cabbage and makekimchi. No wonder she's so good at it, she's had to do this for years and years. I guess we reap the benefits of all her hard work. So just to give you a glimpse of the final product, here is the seasoned kimchi filling.

My favorite part of making kimchi is being the taste tester for my grandma. I pick up some of the kimchi filling, roll it up with the salted cabbage and stuff it in my mouth. Then if the seasonings are all set, I give my grandma the OK to start stuffing the cabbage halves. It's a tough job but someone needs to do it. =) Eating fresh kimchi this way, like a wrap, is such a rare treat. You can only get it when you are making kimchi from scratch.

Napa cabbage (lots of it - My grandma is of the belief that kimchi tastes better when you are making large quantities of it)
Korean radish
coarse sea salt
sweet rice powder
Korean chives
raw shrimp
salted shrimp
Korean red pepper flake
fish or anchovy sauce
green onions
Asian pear

First, you need to prepare the cabbage. Take off any blemished leaves from the cabbage and cut the cabbage in half. Wash and rinse the cabbages and very lightly sprinkle coarse sea salt in between the layers. My grandma is adamant about not salting the cabbages too much. She says it should still taste bland. She says that the thing she doesn't like about store bought kimchi is how salty they are. So she says be very conservative with the salt. Leave the cabbages overnight.

When you wake up the cabbages, they should look like this, slightly wilted.

It is important to taste the cabbage. If it's too salty, you can wash off some of the salt before you start stuffing and mitigate some of the saltiness.

The next steps involve a lot of prep work of cleaning and chopping up all the vegetables. Julienne the radishes and cut the asian pears into thicker slices since they will disintegrate over time. Cut up the green onions, onions and chives into long slices. Add in red pepper flakes, garlic and sugar. Instead of adding additional salt, my grandmother mashed up the salted shrimp into pieces with her hands. Add in some fish sauce as well.

Grab a glove and mix together.

Heat the mixture of sweet rice powder with water until you make a thin paste. Let it cool and add to the mixture.

Here's what it should look like.

If you are going to eat it fresh, it is at this point that you put some filing aside and eat with some salted cabbage leaves. I highly recommend you do this.

Now for the rest of the kimchi, which you will store, you bring out the secret ingredient. Raw shrimp ... who knew??? My grandmother claims that slices of raw fish are delicious in this as well.

Rinse the raw shrimp in water and blend with some water until smooth.

Add to the kimchi mixture. You can see how the filling becomes thicker and has a glossy sheen to it.

Now it's time to stuff the cabbage.

The trick is to fan out the outer layers of the cabbage as follows.

Lightly smear the mixture across the cabbage leaves. Don't worry about getting too much filing into each layer.

Here's my grandmother in action. She does this so fast!

You do this to every layer until you get to the top. Be sure to get some seasoning on the outside of the cabbage too.

Put the cabbages into a container. The other trick is that you have to squish the cabbages together and push it down. Not sure why but my grandma said to do it so I followed orders.

Cut up some flat pieces of radishes and add it to the container. You will get a lot of kimchi juice as it ferments and the radishes will absorb some of the saltiness. It's nice to bite into the radishes as you eat the kimchi as well.

Here's what it looks like when the container is full.

Cover with saran wrap and push down the saran wrap unto the surface of the cabbage. Close the container tightly and place in the fridge.

My grandmother insisted I take some home to Chicago with me. I was sure it was going to get confiscated during security check but it made it safe and sound and I have been enjoying it since. Thank you grandma!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cucumber Kimchi

I went home to LA last weekend and not only was my weekend jammed pack running around the city running errands, my grandma and mom woke me up on Sunday morning telling me that they were going to make kimchi and that I better wake up if I wanted to watch. So random I tell you. My grandmother doesn't get a chance to make kimchi from scratch all that much so this was a special treat. Oh course she doesn't measure anything, so I don't have the exact measurements. It's all by taste and feel, but I hope the simplified tutorial will help.

Here is a simple recipe for cucumber kimchi.

Persian cucumbers
Coarse salt
Korean chives
Sugar (you can use brown sugar instead too)
Green onions
Korean red pepper flake

I've been seeing Persian cucumbers everywhere, at TJ's and even at Korean markets. Koreans typically make cucumber kimchi with Kirby cucumbers, but Persian cucumbers have thinner skins, less seeds and a sweet taste to them, which makes them great substitutes for Kirby cucumbers.

Chop off the ends and cut the Persian cucumbers into halves or thirds (depending on how long they are). Cut into quarters length wise until they look like the picture below and place in a big bowl.

Salt them with coarse or kosher salt.

Meanwhile cut up some Korean chives in approximately the same length of the cucumbers. My grandmother says cucumbers and chives go really well together. I would have to agree.

Cut the green onions into pieces as well. You can cut the white parts into smaller pieces since they tend to be spicier than the green parts of the onion and add to the bowl.

Add in the red pepper flakes, garlic and sugar to taste and mix together. There you have it, a wonderful kimchi side dish made in literally minutes. There's no excuse not to make kimchi anymore. You can do it!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Tru - Chicago, IL

In a recent Top Chef Masters episode, Gail Simmons said, "if you're in Chicago and not eating in a Rick Tramonto restaurant, you're probably eating at the wrong place."

So naturally, when our friend Will was in town, we decided that we should eat at the right place for once and for all, so we went to Tru, which is described as "upscale Mediterranean-influenced French food set in a whimsical setting for the serious diner." I think the last part of that description is incorrect, I think Tru is set in a serious setting for the whimsical diner. It's very formal, men are required to wear jackets, but fear not, they will lend you one if you weren't prepared. As formal as it is, it didn't feel stuffy and all of the waitstaff are so friendly and helpful that you feel completely at ease. You will see what I mean about the whimsical part as you see what our meal was like.

Tru offers two styles of dining:

Prix-Fixe: A three-course menu offering a choice of appetizer, main course and dessert.
Collections: Our pre-set tasting menus ranging from six to nine courses.

We opted for the Grand Collection, which consisted of six dishes.
  1. white sturgeon “caviar”, avocado, hazelnut
  2. english pea soup, olive oil,brioche
  3. wagyu beef ravioli, foie gras, chive
  4. alaskan halibut, young carrot with ginger
  5. glazed veal ribeye, spring garlic, asparagus, wild mushroom
  6. tahitian vanilla cremeux, hazelnuts, manjari chocolate ice cream
Are you salivating yet?

Up first was an amuse bouche of comte cheese gougere. I've never met a gougere I didn't like.

Next we had fennel panna cotta with bonito. I'm used to seeing panna cotta as dessert, but this was delicious. Susan said it tasted like fishy jello. hahaha.

Tramonto is often described as "a blend of mad scientist and magician in the kitchen." The next dish was definitely representative of his creativity and playfulness. It may look like caviar and taste like caviar, but wasn't caviar. It's actually white sturgeon cooked with cream and gelatin. I have no clue how he made it look like little eggs, but you could have fooled me. There was creamy avocado on the bottom, topped with faux caviar. It even came in a little caviar tin. It was served with a mother of pearl spoon and three hazelnut crackers. As you can see from the picture, those crackers aren't going to be enough for all that faux caviar. So Susan requested more crackers to eat with her caviar and he came back with this huge plate with yet again three little crackers. Susan stared at the huge plate of three crackers, then at the waiter and at the plate again. It was the funniest thing ever. I was dying from laughter.

Next, we were served English pea soup finished with some cream and prosciutto in a beautiful tea cup. I couldn't help but think it looked like a green tea latte. This was kind of hard to eat since the cup was so narrow, but I think we all wanted to just pick it up, sip it like a cup of tea and lick the cup clean if we could. I wasn't sure what to do with the olive oil brioche sticks, so I just ate it. When in doubt just eat it. Well, except for the crystals at the bottom of the caviar tin in the picture above, which who shall go nameless accidentally ate. =)

This was my favorite dish of the night: Wagyu beef ravioli with the foie gras, chives and edible flowers. It looked too pretty to eat, but of course, someone had to do it.

They brought out a little clear teapot filled with beef consomme and poured it into the bowl. The beef ravioli was out of this world, full of flavor yet so delicate. Look at how paper thin that ravioli is. At first I thought that the foie gras was a scallop, until you cut into it and ate it with a spoon full of the beef consumme, did you realize you were dealing with a completely different animal here.

Next we had alaskan halibut, cooked sous vide, which is a French way of cooking that cooks sealed food in water at low temperatures, locking in natural juices and flavors that are often times lost with other methods of cooking. It retains the flavors of the ingredients and locks in the natural juices. So it's no wonder the halibut was moist and flavorful and was the perfect canvas for the young carrot and some carrot and ginger foam. The flavors of the halibut were so delicate and the sweetness of the carrots was a nice contrast. I think the carrots might have been slightly overpowering, but the ginger helped to cut the sweetness a bit. This dish was almost a palate cleanser from the richness of the foie gras in the prior dish to the veal ribeye that was coming up.

This was glazed veal ribeye with spring garlic, which didn't taste like garlic at all. I've never had spring garlic before but it was very creamy and mild. It also had edible flowers, asparagus and wild mushrooms.

Next we had the option to add a cheese plate to our meal. She described each cheese and described at length the taste for us and we couldn't resist but to share a plate before our desserts arrived. Each row had a selection of cow, goat and sheep's milk cheeses.

I can't even remember what these were, but oh my lord, they were delicious. I've never seen honey that pale before but, that mango chutney was quite good too. The goat cheese with that grayish rind could pass for an oyster, no?

Now for the desserts. Up first was an amuse bouche of mango bavarian. A bavarian is a stirred custard that is mixed with gelatin and then lightened with whipped cream, poured into mold, and allowed to set until firm. On top of this was a thin layer of pineapple gelee.

For dessert, we had tahitian vanilla cremeux with manjari chocolate ice cream with toasted hazelnuts. There was a cake of some kind on the bottom with a vanilla mousse on top, with a tulle on one side of the plate and chocolate ice cream with toasted hazelnuts on the other side. Sometimes you can't decide between getting ice cream or cake and this was like having the best of both worlds. I've seen a lot of ice creams served with toasted nuts recently and they are really good. I must try them at home.

Just when you think you are done, there comes more. A cart of mignardises or little desserts pulled up to us and we were thrilled to hear that we could have as much as we wanted.

I was so full at this point, but I managed to squeeze in a pineapple marshmallow, macaroon, raspberry gelee and nougat, all of which were fantastic.

Here's a lollipop that Susan got.

And just when you think you can't possibly eat anymore, they bring out a plate of exploding truffles. He explained that we should put the whole thing in our mouths because it's all liquid inside. I thought, how can this square looking truffle have liquid inside, as if I haven't learned by now what these chefs are capable of. All you have to do is gently squeeze down on it and the truffle floods you mouth with this lusciously, light liquor of some sort and the cocoa dusted exterior lands at the surface of your tongue and just melts. Gale Gand, you are a genius.

The service here was impeccable. It's definitely the little touches that make it so memorable. From the little cushions next to each seat so you can rest your bag, to the individualized menu that they give you at the end of the meal listing every dish and wine that you've had, to the little muffin that they pack for you to have for breakfast the next day, you feel very well taken care of. It will cost you a pretty penny, but I feel lucky to have finally tried Chef Tramonto and Chef Gand's restaurant. It was Tru-ly an unforgettable experience.

676 N St Clair St
(between Erie St & Huron St)
Chicago, IL 60611