Thurk Underground

The broth was this good!

Always on the mission for flavor combinations that I’ve never tasted, plating I’ve never seen, and ingredients I’ve never experienced, I typically don’t seek out simple food unless it’s a perfect baguette, good butter, or something of the like. However, I’m beginning to understand that I totally missed the point of what simple can be.

I met Chef Justin Behlke of Thurk through my friend, Melissa. They met on LTH forum where she offered to host one of his Underground meals at her place. He previously staged at Noma and wanted to bring simple, focused food to Chicago without all the drama of kitchen hierarchy. And so Thurk was born. After speaking to Justin, his passion and drive captured me.

Below are images from my most recent dinner a few weeks ago. Still amazed how complex everything tasted, yet how simple the ingredients were. Flakes of Alaskan maldon salt popping through the soft texture of freshly made cheese make my tastebuds squeal. Light pops of vinegar carrots cutting through the pan-fried pig face and warm pork broth caused me to close my eyes and wish the moment would never end. These pops of surprise tell me that simple can be complex with the right chef behind the plate

And let’s be honest — this is as close to Noma I am going to get for a while.

Letherbee gin and Q tonic with thyme

Letherbee gin and Q tonic with thyme

Fresh cheese, honey, and thyme

Fresh cheese, honey, and thyme

Smoked trout pie

Smoked trout pie

Cured pork belly with lacto-fermented carrot

Cured pork belly with lacto-fermented carrot

Homemade sourdough bread and homemade butter

Homemade sourdough bread and homemade butter

Young kraut, egg yolk, basil (before the mushroom tea)

Young kraut, egg yolk, basil (before the mushroom tea)

Mushroom tea pouring over the kraut and egg yolk

Mushroom tea pouring over the kraut and egg yolk

Roasted beets, smoked sour cream, and leek ash

Roasted beets, smoked sour cream, and leek ash

Cheese dumplings with root vegetables

Cheese dumplings with root vegetables

Pig's head, grated carrot (before pork broth)

Pig’s head, grated carrot (before pork broth)

Chef Justin Behlke pouring pork broth

Chef Justin Behlke pouring pork broth

Pork broth

Pork broth


Pork chop with brown butter, kale chips, and beer shallots

Pork chop with brown butter, kale chips, and beer shallots

Squash butter and milk sorbet

Squash butter and milk sorbet

Beer marshmallows, burnt honey candy, and biscuit cookie with tomato jam

Beer marshmallows, burnt honey candy, and biscuit cookie with tomato jam

Cured Egg Yolk

I recently learned of another fun trick with eggs!  At a recent Thurk dinner, Chef Justin Behlke strolled past each diner shaving what he referred to as cured egg yolk while he explained the dish.  This definitely piqued my interest and I cached it away as something that would require further research!

The proof of concept seemed easy enough so I grabbed the last egg in the fridge and buried it in the curing mixture to see what would happen.  I decided to start with a basic 50/50 mix of sugar and salt and added a bit of Herbs de Provence to see if it would pick up much flavor.  The “biggest” challenge is making sure the yolk doesn’t break!

After a 1 day cure and a two-week aging, the flavor seemed comparable to parmesan cheese, adding a salty richness.  My first pairing was with bone marrow, daikon, and leek which didn’t look quite as pretty as I envisioned, but it added an extra depth of flavor to the already rich marrow.

I’m curious now how different aging times will impact the flavor.  Hmmmm, I think I have a fresh dozen in the refrigerator… stay tuned…


Place whole raw egg yolk into a 50/50 mixture of salt and sugar. I added herbs de provence for extra flavor.


Cure the egg yolk for 24 hours in this mixture


Remove salt from cured egg yolk, place in cheesecloth and hang in the back of your fridge for 1 week.


Use a microplane to shave the cured egg yolk onto your dish


One egg yolk produces a lot of shavings!


We shaved ours onto bone marrow with roasted daikon and leeks. Not the prettiest, but delicious!

Sous Rising Guesterant

I started exploring Underground dinners a year ago and haven’t looked back. Creative and exciting food, fascinating dinner participants, and the warm welcoming into these chef’s homes really make it a unique experience every time.

My favorite Underground, One Sister, became Elizabeth restaurant so I sought out to get my fix elsewhere. I recently ate at Thurk Underground (post coming soon) and last night dined at Sous Rising Guesterant with Chef Jake Bickelhaupt (veteran of Alinea, Schwa, and Charlie Trotter’s). He and his wife, Alexa, host the dinners in their place in Uptown. An open kitchen leading into the dining area allowed us to see Jake plate as well as converse with him and give feedback throughout the night. Alexa did an amazing job making us feel right at home, pouring our wine and helping serve.

We booked out the entire table of 8 with our Supper Club so we didn’t have the pleasure of meeting anyone new, but Jake and Alexa genuinely seemed excited to have us. Jake’s take on American cuisine combined molecular techniques — where needed — for surprise. The flavors were inventive and bright. Execution was perfect and the presentation — stunning. I’m looking forward to seeing Jake obtain his goal of opening a small BYO restaurant and dining with him again!

**I forgot my camera at home so these photos are all taken with my camera phone. For better pictures, visit: taken by Huge Galdones.

Trout Roe: coconut cream, white chocolate, pink peppercorn, pineapple

Trout Roe: coconut cream, white chocolate, pink peppercorn, pineapple

Kiwano: gin, horned melon, rosewater, hibiscus

Kiwano: gin, horned melon, rosewater, hibiscus

Soup: fingerling potato chips, pea, milk, tomato, tendril

Soup: fingerling potato chips, pea, milk, tomato, tendril

Salad: Spanish octopus, avocado, finger lime, coconut, coast of Maine kelp

Salad: Spanish octopus, avocado, finger lime, coconut, coast of Maine kelp

Winter corn: yolk, fermented black bean, Murray River salt

Winter corn: yolk, fermented black bean, Murray River salt


Kampachi: Sake cure, pomelo, carob, banana, tapioca pearls

Gnocchi: hedgehog mushroom, black truffle, broccolini, pecorino

Gnocchi: hedgehog mushroom, black truffle, broccolini, pecorino

Palate cleanser

Palate cleanser

Black Pig: Kurobuta, Okinawan, chestnut, tamarind

Black Pig: Kurobuta, Okinawan, chestnut, tamarind

Uni: maitake, Asian crouton, black garlic, burdock root, kumquat

Uni: maitake, Asian crouton, black garlic, burdock root, kumquat

Beef: mango, aged soy, nori, yuzu kosho

Beef: mango, aged soy, nori, yuzu kosho

Tart: Calamansi

Tart: Calamansi

Sweet: Shortbread, root beer, prune, orange, vanilla, honey

Sweet: Shortbread, root beer, prune, orange, vanilla, honey

Caffeine: espuma, coffeeweed, cardamom

Caffeine: espuma, coffeeweed, cardamom

Spring Menu at One Sister Underground, Hello Elizabeth Restaurant


“I came up with this dish because I thought this is what a gnome would serve me if I was invited over to his house” is how Chef Iliana Regan of One Sister Inc. described the first of 25 courses served at her home.

And so the progression of whimsical genius and curiosity begins to show through each of Iliana’s dishes.  Rarely has a tasting menu felt so cohesive.  25 courses, each seamlessly blending avant-garde/modernist techniques with mostly midwest/seasonal ingredients, many of which were foraged or grown by Iliana herself. Each ingredient on the plate serves a purpose while pops of flavor come through when you least expect it.  Even the crowd pleaser course (whipped bacon fat, anyone?!!!) was so well rounded I was left craving a second beet marshmallow.

It is amazing how many of the dishes have been stuck in my head like a great song.  Many of the flavor combinations were unusual — combinations that proved impossible to “taste” in my mind.  Iliana’s skill in flavor pairing and creativity shine through each dish, such as pairing chicken liver with chocolate or creating a capsule of chamomile and cocoa nib that dissolves in mushroom tea. The vessels are also part of the fun — hanging glass orbs, owl mugs, licking the bottom of shot glasses and sucking the smoke out from underneath, and using your hand to impart the salt of a dish.

I am humbled and honored to have had the opportunity to join One Sister in its penultimate service, and I wait with bated breath for the opening of Iliana’s new restaurant, Elizabeth, slated to open end of this summer. I’m excited to say that Elizabeth restaurant is going to be a new extension of her home, described as a “dreamy log cabin”. I know she is currently growing, foraging, pickling, and prepping for her guests and I can’t wait to see what she serves us at her new “home”.

Spring Menu at One Sister

Parsnip Bubble Tea: Parsnip tea, Swiss chard beads, licorice gel

Hanging Course: “Ramps From Where They Came”

Marshmallow and Biscuit: Buttermilk biscuit with whipped bacon fat, black sea salt, ramp powder, beet marshmallow

Homegrown Salad: Arugula sponge, goat milk sorbet, sunflower seed sorbet, lavender honey, sunflower honey, pansies, pea shoots, sunflower sprouts

Ramps From Where They Came: Pickled ramps, pickled elderberries, wakame seaweed, soil (malt flour)

Enjoy: Potato “chip” cannoli with fava bean, lemon & truffle mousse, homemade mascarpone cheese and chive pudding

Asparagus and Quail Egg: Asparagus ribbon, chilled asparagus, soft poached quail egg, pickled strawberry

Zucchini Tree Nest: Zucchini squash, black pepper and tomato water “eggs”, perched in wheat grass

Carrots and Cashews: Blanched, dehydrated & shaved carrots,
cashew milk, roasted cashews, carrot top pesto

Chef Iliana Regan

1 Pill Makes You Larger: Cocoa nib and chamomile in a dissolving capsule

1 Pill Makes You Larger in Mushroom Tea: Cocoa nib and chamomile in a capsule that dissolves in mushroom tea

Herbed Ebelskiver: Buttermilk ebelskiver filled with house made parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme goat cheese, topped with apple cider vinegar powder & powdered sugar

Radish: Shaved and lightly sauteed radish, marinated daikon radish, home grown radish sprouts, dandelion stalks, fried radish tops

Rice Crispy and Bear: Puffed wild rice, cured black bear, Wisconsin cheddar, pink peppercorn

Chocolate Dashi: Dark chocolate dashi with chia seeds

Scallop and Peas: Seared sea scallop, ham, snap peas, yogurt, candied meyer lemon rind, freeze dried peas, pea shoots

Shrimp Noodles: Shrimp Noodles with toasted kale, garlic, parmesan, butter

Facebooking the Progression

Can’t help but lick the spoon…


Your Hand: Bay smoked mussel, spinach, garlic, lemon zest, Iowa La Quercia prosciutto

Oyster and Mushrooms on Stone: Steamed Oysters, trumpet mushrooms, chick weed, dried ramp top, dried parsley, ramp top cubes

Roe, Salty, Sweet, Smoke: Cherry wood infused white chocolate ganache, marble rye crisp, BLiS trout roe

Beef Pho broth

Owl Mug

Chicken liver mousse: Chicken liver mousse encapsulated in dark cocoa, fennel pollen, madiera gel

Rabbit Ravioli: Rabbit rillette ravioli in red wine butter sauce & sauteed mustard greens

Adoration and amazement

Good to the last drop

Homemade Cheese course: Pork loin, grits, homemade sherry vinegar ricotta, puffed barley, shallot, foraged & pickled fiddle heads, pork blood reduction

Strawberries and Beets: Strawberry custard, graham crackers, dehydrated strawberries, beet petals, beet pudding, meringues, soft rind wisconsin cheese ice cream

Oatmeal: Oatmeal ice cream, oatmeal stout caramel, cherry and hazelnut crumble, cocoa cookies

Bite: Warm chocolate and almond donut


El Bulli at Next restaurant

The El Bulli meal at Next was part museum, part history, and part homage. Many of the inventive items on the menu were created over 10 years ago which shows the genius and innovation behind Ferran Adria and what he did for the culinary world. He played with foam, spherification, and liquid nitrogen. He pushed captivating flavors and unusual textures. These influences are seen all over menus today. After trying to get into El Bulli in Spain for 5 years, I feel humbled and honored to have been part of Chef Dave Beran and Chef Grant Achatz’s interpretation.

Sometimes words can’t begin to capture experience or emotion, so hopefully our photos say a thousand words. The meal was exceptional — the food, the service, the techniques, and the consistent flow of surprises. In one word: inspirational.

Nitro Caipirinha with tarragon concentrate -- 2004

Nitro Caipirinha with tarragon concentrate — 2004

Sous chef making the nitro caipirinha in the middle of the dining room

Sous chef making the nitro caipirinha in the middle of the dining room

Hot/cold trout roe tempura -- 2000

Hot/cold trout roe tempura — 2000

Spherical olives -- 2005

Spherical olives — 2005

Coca of avocado, pear, anchovies, and green onion -- 1991

Coca of avocado, pear, anchovies, and green onion — 1991

Iberico sandwich -- 2003

Iberico sandwich — 2003

Golden egg -- 2001

Golden egg — 2001

Black sesame spongecake and miso -- 2007

Black sesame spongecake and miso — 2007

Chicken liquid croquettes -- 1998

Chicken liquid croquettes — 1998

Vials of Orange and Cardamom bitters to add to our Cava

Vials of Orange and Cardamom bitters to add to our Cava

Smoke foam -- 1997
Smoke foam — 1997

Carrot air with coconut milk -- 2003

Carrot air with coconut milk — 2003

Cuttlefish and coconut ravioli with soy, ginger and mint -- 1997

Cuttlefish and coconut ravioli with soy, ginger and mint — 1997

Savory tomato ice with oregano and almond milk pudding -- 1992

Savory tomato ice with oregano and almond milk pudding — 1992

Hot crab aspic with mini corn cous-cous -- 2001

Hot crab aspic with mini corn cous-cous — 2001



Cauliflower cous-cous with solid aromatic herb sauce -- 2000

Cauliflower cous-cous with solid aromatic herb sauce — 2000

Suquet of prawns --1988

Suquet of prawns –1988

Potato tortilla -- 1998

Potato tortilla — 1998

Trumpet carpaccio -- 1989

Trumpet carpaccio — 1989

Red mullet gaudi -- 1987

Red mullet gaudi — 1987

Half Acre Sanguis -- beer brewed with oranges and beets specially for the elBulli menu

Half Acre Sanguis — beer brewed with oranges and beets specially for the elBulli menu

Nasturtium with eel, bone marrow, and cucumber -- 2007

Nasturtium with eel, bone marrow, and cucumber — 2007

Civet of rabbit with hot apply jelly -- 2000

Civet of rabbit with hot apply jelly — 2000

Gorgonzola globe -- 2009

Gorgonzola globe — 2009

Foie gras caramel custard -- 1999

Foie gras caramel custard — 1999

Spice plate -- 1996

Spice plate — 1996

Spice plate match up game

Spice plate match up game

Mint pond -- 2009

Mint pond — 2009

Chocolate in textures -- 1997

Chocolate in textures — 1997

Chocolate donuts -- 2010

Chocolate donuts — 2010

Puff pasty web -- 1989 and Creme flute -- 1993

Puff pasty web — 1989 and Creme flute — 1993



"The Farewell" with passionfruit marshmallows -- 2004

“The Farewell” with passionfruit marshmallows — 2004

el bulli menu at Next

el bulli menu at Next

More on Ferran Adria:

Roasted pasta

Always looking for new inspiration and techniques to further our cooking, we usually take our search to the Ideas in Food book or blog. This simple, yet extremely affective roasting technique brings the pasta flavor to a nutty, toasty level that is surprisingly not on grocery shelves yet.

Pasta roasting in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes

Aerial glamour shot of the roasted pasta.

Roasted pasta soaking for 2.5 hours in water to re-hydrate. This cuts down cooking time. You can also further infuse flavor by using flavored liquid.

Finished dish: Roasted pasta with roasted pasta water reduction (Finished with some acidulated butter and thyme)

Close up

Sous Vide Cooking at Home

We recently purchased a Polyscience Sous Vide Professional immersion circulator and are super excited to bring our food to the next level! Sous-vide so far has made our meat super succulent and tender without overcooking. It’s easy, hands-off cooking and the results are well worth it. So far we have only made two proteins but more experiments to come!

Pork ribs:

Sous Vide Professional heating up to temperature (140 degrees for pork ribs)

Pork ribs in airtight, vacuum sealed bags with marinade

Pork ribs consistently heating at 140 degrees for 48 hours

Finished results after added sauce and light torching

Lamb Chops:

Lamb chops from Pioneer Wholesale Meats in vacuum sealed bags with marinade

Immersion circulator at work — 140 degrees for 1 hour

Voila! Lamb chops after a slight sear in the caste iron pan

Childhood Dinner Party

After hearing about Next restaurant’s Childhood Menu, Nick had the brilliant idea of hosting a childhood dinner party at our house. Each guest brought a dish that represented a food memory from their childhood. The night brought about tasty, inventive food and discussions of past memories!

The Menu:

First Course by Nick: Ode to Wax Sticks — Red Cabbage Gazpacho w/Mustard Ice Cream, Green Pea Soup w/Ham + mint oil, Orange Pumpkin Soup w/ Hazelnuts + Rosemary + Pumpkin Seeds. Served in tubes from Wax Candy:

2nd Course by Christine Case Labno: Peanut butter and Figs wrapped in bacon — her twisted take on Peanut butter and Jelly. Everything is better with bacon!
3rd Course by Blair Hannah: Lobster Mac n’ cheese. Seriously the best mac n’ cheese I’ve had to date:
4th Course by Jordan Bartle: Homemade goldfish with juice boxes. His Dad made the cookie cutter molds for the goldfish!
5th Course by Josh Hoen: “Fish Stick” Pizza. Josh’s family grew up Catholic and his brother wouldn’t eat fish so his Dad made up a concoction of fish sticks on pizza to get him to eat it. On this pizza was cod, chorizo, tomato, mushrooms, arugula, and garlic. It was outstanding!
6th Course by Keith Trice: Chinese style pork loin with blue cheese mashed potatoes on dinner rolls. A compilation of a few favorites from his childhood. The dinner rolls were his mom’s recipe. Delicious!
7th Course by Nick: Mac n’ Cheese pasta with Kraft Cheese sauce sphere, brandy poached pear, and pecans. Nick still likes Kraft Mac n’ Cheese above all other mac n’ cheeses.
8th Course by Nick: Grapefruit slices topped with Nerds Candy. A bit of tart, tangy, and sweetness. For the “nerd” in all of us…
9th Course by Chris Labno: Pot Roast with Homemade Dumplings. Inspired by his mom’s cooking when he was a kid!
10th Course by Jeff Meador: French Toast BLT open face sandwich with Maple Bacon shake and maple mayo on the side.
11th Course by Me: Homemade vanilla bean ice cream on top of homemade potato chips. My mom would take my sister and I through the McDonald’s drive through and order a vanilla cone with french fries. We would dip the fries in the ice cream and the salty versus sweet combination was a memory that remains.
12th Course by Joline and Kevin Hegi: Giant Peanut butter and Jelly sandwich cake!
13th Course by Me: Apple juice gelatin with buttered popcorn water gelatin. I love the combination of popcorn with a swig of apple
juice. Yum:
14th Course by Kevin and Joline Hegi: Homemade Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal Ice Cream. Combining Kevin’s love for Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal, Joline’s obsession with cereal, and Kevin and Joline’s love of ice cream.
Nothing says a party like Dixie cups, beer bottles, juice boxes, and Twizzlers in a vase.

Flavor Tripping at iNG

Nick and I are loyal supporters of anything Homaro Cantu and his people come up with at Moto and iNG restaurants in Chicago. For years we have watched them continually push the envelope with the format of dining, gastronomy and introducing new types of food, like the Miracle Berry, to change the world. They are constantly thinking about the bigger picture such as world hunger and health issues. From age six to nine, chef Cantu lived homeless with his mother and sister. This experience led him to want to fight world hunger and poverty  and to become a social entrepreneur.

Previously, Chef Cantu proposed using his invention of edible paper as a new form of advertising — “edible advertising”. Can you imagine opening a magazine and eating the advertisement! It was also meant to cut down on paper waste and put a dent in ending world hunger by having a single sheet contain much needed vitamins for an entire day.

I do think they are onto something big. Wanting to end world hunger with the Miracle Berry by making things that are bitter (like grass) palatable would automatically allow the abundance of some of our resources to become food for the masses. Another wonderful proposed method of use for the Miracle Berry is helping people with diabetes by using it to help their craving of sugar rather than eating actual sugar. I hope they succeed!

A few weeks ago, we tried their newest venture: flavor tripping with the miracle berry. It was a 6-course meal complete with pairings where the miracle berry was used to enhance or detract from certain flavor profiles. For instance, once you take the miracle berry, it tricks your taste buds into thinking you are tasting sweet instead of sour, or sweet instead of bitter. It also brings out umami flavors and rounds out dishes.

First course pairing: Honey nut cereal infused rum, honey, lemon, and frangelico cocktail served in a hollowed out lemon. Tasted like a white russian after the miracle berry!

Miracle berry pills:

First course: Mille-fuille: Puff pastry layered with lemon ricotta, apples, goat cheese ice cream and cider gastrique. Before the miracle berry, the lemon was more pronounced but after, the lemon ricotta mixture tasted like cheesecake.

2nd Course: Sweet Potato: Sweet potato “chain” with vanilla parsnip, puree of brussel sprouts, goat cheese, and balsamic, truffle marshmallows, and hazelnuts. Upon complimenting them on how delicious the burssel sprout puree was, we were let in on the secret that sans miracle berry  it was too bitter and kind of gross!

3rd Course: Baozi: Pork sausage with caramelized onions and homemade mustard (take on brats and beer). Served with a winter ale. The winter ale instead of being hoppy tasted like cream soda.

4th course: Turducken* bacon — Housemade turducken topped with bacon, a vegetable pave “bone”, horseradish puree topped with mushrooms, roasted brussel sprout leaves.  The folks at iNG and Moto do love a good “Road Kill”/”Massacre” themed plating.

*The Turducken was a slice of “deli meat” with Turkey/Duck/Chicken “Meat Glued” together.  Note the dark line down the middle is the duck.

5th course: Cheese course — Triple creme cheese ball with chives, fruit cake cracker, mulled wine reduction.

6th course: Figge rice pudding — Roasted and seasoned puffed rice, ornaments with apricot puree and cream — mixed together to make an instant figgie rice pudding.

Overall, everything tasted fantastic. They are still in the beginning stages of introducing the miracle berry so they had a few kinks to work out like explaining what the dish would have tasted like without the miracle berry. Right now the Miracle Berry pills are costly (about a dollar a pill), but I see a future dinner party in my future where we experiment with what it can do.

I always say food becomes boring once you stop experimenting and thinking of new combinations, forms, solutions, etc. Happy experimenting!

Root Beer Sausage

For awhile now, my husband and I have had a bit of a closet obsession with root beer.  With a great root beer, you get an amazing blend of spices that compliments the sassafras and gives the beverage its character.  All this flavor is rounded out by the creaminess of the vanilla.  In balancing out these two characteristics, you get a wide variety of products ranging from spicy to creamy, that fit different palates.

The “ah ha” moment for us was realizing most of the spices are pretty normal, everyday cooking spices (anise, clove, cinnamon, mint, ginger) and that you can get root beer flavor in a savory dish without dumping in a bottle of sugary soda.  Of course our first stab at root beer cooking, we had no idea if it would work, so we were lucky the flavor actually came through!  Now we have a litany of dishes we hope to “root beerify” at some point.

Once our annual “Encased Meat Fest” came around, we aspired to take a stab at something more interesting and decided to attempt another root beerification.  As a starting point, we looked to one of our favorite root beers: Virgil’s (These guys agree). They were kind enough to post some highlights of their ingredient list on the website.  By cross referencing this list with our spice rack, we basically came up with the main ingredient list.  I wish I could say it was more scientific, but you have to start somewhere.

The next question was how much of each spice to use.  To get some ideas, we consulted ‘Home Sausage Making’ by Susan Mahnke Peery.  Using a few spice heavy recipes, we settled on our ratios and were surprised by how little of each ingredient was actually needed.

The final decision was how much vanilla to add. This we reasoned would round out the flavor and tie the spice characteristics back to being from root beer.   If the spices were off, we figured it would just taste like a spiced Christmas sausage, but too much creaminess could take it to a weird place that pork just doesn’t belong. Below is the recipe we executed with great first attempt success! Up next — making actual root beer without using a root beer extract — natural and raw ingredients only!


4 feet Medium hog casing

2 1/2 pounds of pork butt

1/3 pound pork fat

2 tbs molasses

2 tbs Virgil’s root beer

2 tsp Madagascar vanilla extract

1 tbs anise seed

1 tbs star anise

2 tbs clove

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ginger

1 tbs salt

To make:

1. Prepare the casing. See below.*

2. Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. (We ground everything fine with a mortar and pestle.)

3. Combine the wet ingredients in another bowl.  This step placed us at a crossroad.  One of our goals was to not use any actual root beer — just the raw components.  The molasses and vanilla extract alone felt too thick in consistency, so to thin it out the most natural solution was to toss in a bit a Virgil’s into the mix.

4. Cut the meat and fat into 1 inch cubes and freeze for about 30 minutes. This helps to firm the meat up before grinding.

5. Grind the meat and fat together through the coarse disk of your meat grinder.

6.  In a large bowl, add the dry ingredients to the ground meat and mix well with your hands. Once thoroughly mixed, add the wet ingredients.  The wet ingredients should form a light coating throughout the mixture.  It is good practice to keep placing the mixing bowl into another bowl filled with ice.  This will keep the meat cold and lessens the risk of bacteria growth.

Practice Safe Sausage making! (

5. Stuff the mixture into the casings, prick the air pockets, and twist off into 4-5 inch links. Cut the links apart with a sharp knife.

6. Freeze any sausages you don’t want to cook. Grill the others until cooked through (160 degrees fahrenheit). For indoor grilling, place the sausages on a grill pan over medium heat and cook for approximately 10 minutes, turning frequently, until browned. For outdoor grilling, do not prick the sausages before grilling, or you will lose a lot of flavor and moisture along with the fat and juices in the sausage. Grill over medium heat for around 10 minutes.

*Snip off 4 feet of casing and rinse it under cool water. Place into a bowl of cool water to cover and let it soak for about a half hour. Rinse the casing again under cool running water. Hold one end of the casing open under the faucet nozzle. Holding the casing in place, turn on the cold water gently, then more forcefully, to flush out any salt in the casing and pinpoint any tears or breaks. Cut out the section that has any tears or holes. Soak the casing again but this time, add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar for each cup of cool water in the bowl. This softens the casing and makes it more transparent. Leave in the solution until you are ready to stuff it, then rinse well and drain.

Simple Never Tasted So Good

A recipe rarely makes an appearance twice in our kitchen, but this recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook uses incredibly simple ingredients with mind blowing results so we made it again. Roasted asparagus pairs perfectly with the richness of poached eggs and saltiness of prosciutto. Toasted garlic croutons add nice texture and soak up the runny yolks. It does not disappoint! Plus, it teaches an approachable way to poach eggs that works marvelously.
Grilled Asparagus with Prosciutto, Fried Bread, Poached Egg, and Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Adapted from: Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller; Page 156-157
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
6 large eggs
2 bunches pencil-thin asparagus
Canola Oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto
2 cups Torn Croutons (recipe below)
Extra virgin olive oil
Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Fleur de sel
To poach the eggs, bring 6 to 8 inches of water to a boil in a large deep saucepan. Prepare an ice bath. Add the vinegar to the boiling water and reduce the heat to a simmer. Crack 1 egg into a small cup or ramekin. Using a wooden spoon, stir the water at the edges of the pan twice in a circular motion to get the water moving, then add the egg to the center of the pan and simmer gently for 1-1/2 minutes, or until the white is set but the yolk is still runny.
With a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the egg to the ice bath. Skim and discard any foam that has risen to the top of the water, and cook the remaining eggs one at a time. (The eggs can be poached several hours ahead and stored in ice water in the refrigerator.)

Heat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Hold an asparagus spear and bend it to break off the less tender bottom end. Trim all of the asparagus to the same length. If using medium or large asparagus, peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler. Spread the asparagus out on the aluminum-lined pan, coat with canola oil, and season with salt and pepper. Put the pan in the oven for 15 minutes.
To serve:
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a simmer. With a small pair of scissors, trim any uneven edges from the poached eggs. Lower the eggs into the simmering water for about 30 seconds, just to reheat. Remove the eggs with a skimmer or slotted spoon and blot the bottoms with paper towels. Season the eggs with salt and pepper and arrange around the asparagus.
Arrange the prosciutto and croutons* (recipe below) on the platter. Drizzle the salad with olive oil and balsamic, and sprinkle with fleur de sel and pepper.
*Torn Croutons
Adapted from: Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller; Page 274
1 loaf country bread
1 Head of Roasted Garlic
Canola Oil
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
Cut the crusts off the loaf of bread. Tear the bread into irregular pieces no larger than 2 inches. You need about 3 cups of croutons; reserve any remaining bread for another use.
We happened to have a head of roasted garlic in the refrigerator, so to make the garlic oil for the bread, squeeze the head of roasted garlic into oil and incorporate until melted.
Pour 1/8 inch of the garlic oil into a large saute pan and heat over medium heat until hot. Spread the bread in a single layer in the pan (if your pan is not large enough, these can be cooked in two smaller pans). Add the butter. The oil and butter should be bubbling, but if you hear sizzling, the heat is too high. Adjust the heat as necessary, and stir the croutons often as they cook. Cook until the croutons are crisp and a beatuiful rich golden brown on all sides, 15 to 20 minutes. Move the croutons to one side of the pan and keep warm until ready to serve. (Do not drain on paper towels; you want the flavors of the oil intermingled with the other ingredients as you eat the croutons in a salad.) Torn croutons should be used the day they are made; you can reheat them in a low oven before serving if necessary.

Best Things We Consumed in 2011

Oysters and Pearls at The French Laundry

2011 proved to be a great year for eating and drinking around the city of Chicago. Below are some of our top picks for the best food and drink we consumed (with a few thrown in from our San Francisco and Vegas trips). These are in no particular order and I’m sure I forgot a few!

Revolution Brewing— House-Cured Jowl Bacon Ragout, Barrel Aged Black Power Beer

iNG — Tuna poke; Short rib

Leopold — Smoked rabbit spaetzle

Kith & Kin (R.I.P.) — Fried chicken thighs, Smoked oysters
Chizakaya — Hamachi with bone marrow and garlic
Pastoral — Millenium Park bean sandwich
Sable Kitchen & Bar — Corn brulee
Saigon Sisters — Classic Bahn Mi
Spacca Napoli — Funghi wood oven pizza
Baconfest — Bacon rillette lollipop with maple bacon cotton candy lollipop (From Longman & Eagle); Bacon and foie gras moon pie topped with cayenne peanuts (From Big Jones); Cherrywood smoked bacon and black currant fruit roll up with bacon “cannoli” filled with maple bacon mascarpone (From Atwood Cafe)
Nightwood Restaurant — Wood oven smoked duck, Fried meyer lemon slices with caper aioli
Brown Trout — Wagyu with ramps and morels
City Provisions Deli — Ham sandwich on pretzel bread; Red pepper and humboldt fog quiche
Avenues (R.I.P.) — Alaskan king crab, Wagyu beef ribeye with ramps
Bouchon Bakery (Vegas) — Vanilla macaron; Pistachio macaron
Amy’s Candy Bar — Concord grape gummy bears
Next — Fillet de Sole Daumont, Supremes de Poussin (Escoffier Menu)
The Aviary — Blueberry
North Pond — Rabbit 3-ways (Spring menu)
Black Sheep (R.I.P.) — Mushroom Explosion
Sprout — Lamb medallions with pea puree (brunch menu)
El Ideas — Agnolotti: chicken/cornichon/brioche; Eggs: uni/char/scrambled/shrimp; Spanner crab: gnocchi/eggplant; Broccoli: Cauliflower/curry/cheese curd; Bourbon: pecan/coffee/tobacco — inspired by aunts drinking coffee and bourbon while smoking
Meaty Balls Mobile (R.I.P.) — Original Meatball sandwich
Wisconsin State Fair — Cream Puffs
Comstock Saloon (San Francisco) — Cheddar crackers with pepper jelly and cream cheese
Atelier Crenn (San Francisco) — Butter poached oysters with St. Germaine
Humphry Slocombe — Bourbon Coke Float: Bourbon caramel sauce/Secret Breakfast ice cream/coke
Slanted Door — Corn with chanterelle mushrooms
French Laundry — Oysters and Pearls; Poulard
The Butcher & Larder — Italian Sausage
GT Fish and Oyster — Shrimp and foie gras terrine
Koval Distillery — Spelt whiskey
Moto — Summer Breeze; Kentucky fried pasta/red wine puree; Cigars (Cuban, Philly Blunt, Monte Cristo)
Franks ‘N’ Dawgs — Seared swine pork sausage topped with white wine pickled pumpkin, grape & smoked onion relish, candied ginger & sage aioli & dijon mustard (Creation by Nathan Sears of Vie)
Fumare Meats — Montreal smoked pastrami sandwich
Festival of Wood and Barrel aged beer fest — Goose Island Manhattan Bourbon County Stout
Pleasant House Bakery — Mushroom and kale pie
One Sister Underground Dinner — Bubble Tea: Apple Pie/Bourbon; Pierogi: White Truffle/Cheese, Grilled Cheese Soup; 1 Pill makes you Larger and 1 pill makes you smaller (Chamomile and Mushroom); Ice Cream Cone: Bacon/Koval whiskey
Barrelhouse Flat — Old Fashioned
The Bristol
— Crispy pig tail with peanuts and coconut broth
2 Sparrows
 — Mushroom, leek, and kale quiche

Inspiration Bacon: Baconfest 2011

People are crazy for their bacon. So much so, 3 guys decided it was a good idea to create an entire event with bacon as the theme. Chicago’s first Baconfest was held last year at the Stan Mansion in Logan Square. Tickets sold out in 10 minutes. This year, they upped the amount of tickets by over double (1500) and held the event in the UIC Forum. Still, 100% sold out.

This is the video they showed on a huge screen when we walked into the event.  I got chills!

Below are images and descriptions of some of the dishes we tried (You can either click on the image for the description or hover over the picture). With over 50 restaurants, we unfortunately were full an hour in after eating 20 dishes. Most were really well done. The dish I loved best was Big Jones’ Bacon and Foie Gras Moon Pie with Cayenne Peanuts. Salty, sweet, spicy, and rich!

Feel free to sign up on the Baconfest Chicago site to keep up to date until next year and join their mailing list to find out when tickets go on sale for Baconfest 2012!

FOODILY: “Food I love you”

Since we got our iPad, we have been finding new food related apps and websites that are useful. So far, my favorite recipe website has been FOODILY. After typing in an ingredient into the search bar, it pulls recipes from the bazillion food sites on the web and includes a picture and the source it came from. Then you can quickly scroll through the recipes and save them while you search. Another useful feature is customizing your search by including or excluding recipes with a specific ingredient. Sharing via Facebook and email is super easy as well. It’s smart, concise, colorful, and my new one and only recipe search tool!

Here’s a bonus tip: For a new way to quickly read a lot of information within a short amount of time, download the Pulse app to your phone or iPad. It changed the way I read my news every morning. Pulse takes your favorite websites and transforms them into a colorful mosaic. The app also makes it easy to share stories via email as well as Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Happy reading!

Own a Farm (without all the work)

I can’t remember how I heard about Community Supported Agriculture, but I’m glad I did. My husband and I selected Harvest Moons in Wisconsin who has a pick up weekly on Fridays at the LUSH Wine & Spirits store near us on Roscoe. We have had fun for the past few weeks picking up our box and utilizing the fresh produce inside. Last week it was spinach, lettuce, rhubarb, asparagus, cilantro, radishes, chard, and garlic scapes. This week brought us asparagus, strawberries, lettuce, beet greens, spinach, oviation mix, and swiss chard. I’d never even heard of garlic scape before and had never cooked with rhubarb! We chose to do the half share because they said the full share is more for 4 people in a household. I have to agree — the half share is forcing us to incorporate a good amount of veggies into every meal! Please read below for more information on why I think CSAs are worth it and how they typically work.

Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. This arrangement creates several rewards for both the farmer and the consumer:

Advantages for farmers:

  • Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin
  • Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm’s cash flow
  • Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow

Advantages for consumers:

  • Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
  • Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
  • Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season
  • Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown

CSAs aren’t confined to produce. Some farmers include the option for shareholders to buy shares of eggs, homemade bread, meat, cheese, fruit, flowers or other farm products along with their veggies.

I think it’s better than Whole Foods and more convenient than going to a Farmer’s Market. For more information, here is the Harvest Moons website:

A Real Food Revolution


I’ve always liked Jamie Oliver a.k.a. “The Naked Chef”. If you’ve had the chance to see him on TV, his passion is apparent in his animated cooking with fresh ingredients.

Recently, Jamie has been focusing on getting better nutrition into schools. I grew up bringing my lunch to school and never really succumbed to the lunches served, but looking back they consisted of a changing menu of various unhealthy foods and daily staples of Connie’s pizza, french fries, and soda.

Jamie showed young, grade school kids being served pizza for breakfast and the same for lunch the following day. Chicken nuggets with ingredient lists a paragraph long with terms no one has ever heard of were common as well. The kids also consistently chose strawberry and chocolate flavored milk over white milk. These colored milks have more sugar in them than pop. Real food nowhere to be found. What’s worse is all of this is following guidelines approved by the schools!

How many times have you heard people saying “McDonald’s made my child fat”. My response to that is “stop taking him or her to McDonald’s”. Kids learn from their parents and if parents aren’t teaching their kids what real food is, how will they know? Instead, Lunchables, potato chips, jello and juice boxes compose their brown bag lunches — providing the children with nothing but sodium and sugar to get them through the day.

Parents aren’t feeding their children fresh ingredients at home either. Jamie went to a classroom and showed the kids fresh produce such as tomatoes and potatoes. The kids had no idea what they were! Convenience has become commonplace and the kids are suffering. The microwave and processed foods are taking priority.

So please help Jamie out by signing his petition. This guy is onto something.


City Olive — Olive You


Andersonville is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots to frequent in Chicago. Many of the shops carry an array of uncommon items for the home but there is one boutique store in particular that never fails to wow me with their unique gourmet food selection: City Olive.

I’ve purchased everything here from a wooden salt cellar  to smoked salt to bacon lollipops. The staff is always welcoming and very generous with their tastings of the various vinegars, oils, mustards, salts and sauces they carry. Their knowledge of how to use a product impresses me, too. What does one do with the smoked salt you are about to purchase? — fish of course (one lady said it’s great on anything and she’s actually right). I recently saw pate in a jar and noticed powdered tomato to use in dishes when tomatoes are not in season.

Truffle salt? No problem. Preserved whole lemons? Check. Funky pasta shapes and flavors? Yep. Flavored salt galore? The most selection I’ve seen.

Go in with an open mind and walk out with some treasures…

Best of all — it’s right next to my favorite Italian bakery: Pasticceria Natalina.


Discussion: Should a chef be allowed to copyright his/her recipes?

I came across this article years ago in my Food & Wine Magazine and thought it was extremely thought-provoking

I want to get a discussion rolling:

Thoughts? Reactions?