Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chocolate Mousse

My birthday was in January and my husband gave me such a great present - Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. However, after looking through much of the two volumes, I was too overwhelmed and intimidated to even try a recipe. The books are not organized like a typical cookbook, but it just takes a little getting used to. A few weeks ago, he mentioned that I still haven't made anything from it, even though I've conquered many other complicated recipes. So, I asked him to find something that we could try together. You guessed it, chocolate mousse!!! Quite honestly, he did most of it, but I did help a lot! Especially with the whipping of the egg whites by hand!

This stuff is incredible! It calls for orange liquor, but I actually used raspberry instead, since I like that fruit combination with chocolate a little better than orange.

Mousseline Au Chocolat
from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

1st step:
Ingredients: 4 egg yolks, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup fruit flavored liquor, pan of not-quite-simmering water, a basin of cold water
Directions: Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until mixture is thick, pale yellow, and falls back upon itself forming a slowly dissolving ribbon. Beat in the liquor. Then set mixing bowl over the not-quite-simmering water and continue beating for 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture is foamy and too hot for your finger. Then beat over cold water for 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture is cool and again forms the ribbon. It will have the consistency of mayonnaise.

2nd step:
Ingredients: 6 ounces or squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate, 4 tbsp strong coffee, 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) softened unsalted butter
Directions: Melt chocolate in a small saucepan with coffee over a larger pan of hot water. Remove from heat and beat in the butter a bit at a time, to make a smooth cream. Beat the chocolate into the egg yolks and sugar.

3rd step:
Ingredients: 4 egg whites, pinch of salt, 1 tbsp sugar
Directions: Beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Stir one fourth of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the rest.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Serve in dessert cups or ramekins topped with whipped cream.

French Dip Sandwiches

This recipe is amazing. It takes a good 10 hours in the crock pot, so it's perfect for a busy fall day when you want to come home to something savory. I threw everything into the crock pot early in the morning and left for a good amount of the day. When I got back, I stepped off the elevator in our condo building and turned the corner to walk down the long hallway, and I smelled something awesome. I thought maybe the wonderful smell was coming from the 1st door and kept walking. The smell kept getting better and better. I thought maybe it was one of the doorways in the middle of the hallway. But, it continued to get stronger and better! Could this aroma be the wonderfulness that was stewing in the crock pot in MY condo?? I rushed up to our door, at the very end of the long hallway, and was knocked off my feet by a wall of intense flavors in the air. It smelled SO good! But we still had to wait a good 4 hours to eat. But our place smelled so good, I didn't mind. The wait was totally worth it!

French Dip Sandwiches
from Big Flavors From A Tiny Kitchen

Crock pot ingredients:
1 3 pound chuck roast, all visible fat trimmed
½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
½ cup water
¼ cup low-sodium beef broth
1 bay leaf
3-4 whole peppercorns
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Extra ingredients for sandwiches:
Provolone, sliced
sandwich rolls
garlic powder

Put first 8 ingredients into a crock pot. Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours. Once roast is done, shred with a fork. Mix garlic powder and butter and spread on toasted rolls. Top with shredded beef and provolone, and bake or toast in toaster oven until the cheese melts. Put the leftover au jus into small bowls for dunking.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Free Chicago Symphony Orchestra Concert

All summer, there are free concerts in Millenium Park by the Grant Park Orchestra. We've been to a few in the past, but this year we were not able to make it to any. We were totally stoked to find out that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was giving a free concert at the outdoor pavilion. Of course, I knew that there would be soooo many people going, but there was no way we'd give up this opportunity. Plus, we were excited to meet up with some great friends!

We got our food and wine packed in our picnic backpack and walked the 0.75 miles over to Grant Park.

It was packed!! There were so many people that they weren't letting anyone else under the main grassy area in front of the pavilion! So, we found a spot way way way out in the crowd. We were lucky to land a little nook on the very edge of the park under some trees.

We couldn't even see the orchestra. At least we could hear!

It didn't matter though, we had a great spread of food and wine accompanied with great [quiet] conversation. Regrettably, I didn't take photos of the food. But I snapped these photos before we left of the cookies we brought along. They really do melt in your mouth!

Melt-in-your-mouth Buttermilk Cookies

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

Once again, my eye caught an amazing looking pancake recipe on a friend's blog. I don't think I need to explain again how much I love breakfast, but when I saw these pancakes, I knew that I just had to make them. The recipe even gives you instructions for the frosting syrup! However, the pancakes are very sweet, even for my strong sweet tooth. Of course, I served them with a side of bacon. (Always need a side of salt to go with the sweet, right?!). Maybe my super healthy fruit and yogurt smoothie evened out the score card a little. I'd suggest eating healthy foods the rest of the day so that you feel better about yourself. But these suckers are wonderful for when you need to fix a sweet craving!

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes Recipe

Thursday, September 16, 2010

African Chicken Peanut Soup

I love fall and today was a great fall day. The air was crisp and chilly, but not too cold. With the exception of a short torrential downpour, the weather was great. And, since it was my day off, it turned out to be a perfect day for me to spend the afternoon making soup. It's been a while since I cooked! (But really, let's be honest, I needed to occupy myself by being a busy-body so as not to worry about our little Dimitri who was at the vet getting neutered today). So, last night, my husband requested I make one of his favorite soups: African Chicken Peanut Soup.

This soup is a great dish for the fall. It has all the essentials of comforting soup like chicken, rice, and vegetables like celery and carrots. But, it also has some oomph to it as well. Salsa, black beans, red pepper and cumin make it interesting. It also has sweet potatoes and, of course, peanut butter. All of these ingredients combine to make a wonderfully interesting bowl of goodness after stewing in the crock-pot for hours.

The recipe says to prepare some ingredients in a dutch oven. I really just chop everything up and toss it all into the crock-pot for a few hours. I usually add some other spices (garlic and red chili flakes) if I want to kick it up a notch. Today, I used hot salsa, so no other spices were needed. It was perfect on it's own. And it was so good! Sometimes, I switch the type of salsa I use which keeps the recipe always evolving! I also served it with some wheat pita bread for dipping.

Oh, and Dimitri is home safe and recovering very well :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Date DAY in Chicago

We have been so busy lately that it has taken me two weeks to post about this wonderful day that my husband and I had together. Since my husband now has more of a realistic schedule, it has been easier to go on dates and hang out more regularly!

It was a wonderful summer morning and we got up and went for a run together along the river to the lake, one of our favorite routes because it's along the water the whole way. After working up an appetite, we made a big pancake breakfast with bacon and smoothies. A favorite around here!

We had some time to kill before heading to his cousin's going away party, so we decided to just walk around the area. It was quite hot out, so we stopped at the French Market across the street to get some gelato. YUM!! (This market is so cool, I'm sure one day I'll write an entire post about it!) It was relaxing to just wander around our city neighborhood and nibble the creamy and fruity goodness.

As we were wandering, we remembered that the wine shop nearby has free tastings every Saturday afternoon. Just Grapes is a very modern wine shop with many rows of wine! The people working were super nice and very helpful. It was also fun to see people come in who were clearly regulars. All I could think was, we buy a lot of wine, so wouldn't it be nice to have a regular place to go where people know what kind of wine we like and can recommend new ones or promote awesome deals? Yes! However, we have to watch the budget, so I think we'll try to make it a semi-regular thing to stop by for the free tasting and maybe get a bottle of wine every now and then :)

Later, after the going-away party, we got to our dinner plans. I had a Living Social (similar to Groupon) deal at a restaurant called One. Six One. I was interested in going to this restaurant because their philosophy is all about balance and sustainability, their menu looked great, and they got pretty good reviews on Yelp. This restaurant just opened in late July, so I wasn't expecting too much, but I was pretty impressed! The owner even came out and welcomed us! We sat outside on the patio among the tiki torches and candles. And the food was excellent! I think this restaurant is going to become very popular in just a short time. It was a great dinner and it was fun to check out a new area of the city, Little Italy.

I love exploring this city! There are so many adventures around every corner! It was a day of great dates!