Peach-Thyme Sorbet

It’s peach season, and I just received some Red Havens from my uncle’s orchard. Needing something sweet to enjoy, I played around with a peach sorbet the other day. The result was an English thyme-infused peach sorbet, served with Stilton toasts (h/t Sheridan for that flavor combo.) It’s really easy and delicious!

"Peach-Thyme Sorbet with Stilton Toasts"

Thyme-Infused Peach Sorbet with Stilton Toasts

3 lbs fresh peaches, partially peeled
1 cup English thyme-infused simple syrup
3 T lemon juice

Pit the peaches and place in a blender. I typically leave half of the skins on to give color and texture. Add lemon juice and cooled syrup. Blend well and place in yogurt maker until desired solidity is reached. Serve with toasts.

For the syrup:

Combine 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and 12 sprigs of thyme in a sauce pan. Warm slowly to simmer until sugar melts and the syrup becomes aromatic. Strain and cool.

For the toasts:

Slice a baguette and place on a cookie sheet. Broil briefly until golden, on both sides. Top with Stilton cheese and return to oven, baking at 400F until cheese bubbles. Remove and allow to cool slightly.

Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Apples and Cumin

I’ve been playing around with butternut squash this winter, and last night’s batch of soup was particularly tasty, so I thought I would share it with everyone. Buon Appetito!

Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Apple and Cumin
by Michael Miles

1 large butternut squash (yield about 4 cups)
2 apples (I prefer Honey Crisp or Gala)
1 sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Olive oil
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
6 whole cloves
1 tsp fresh thyme (about 6 sprigs)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 carrots, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. Slice the squash lengthwise and remove seeds. Place pulp down on baking sheet. Place whole apples on baking sheet and roast in oven until done (about an hour.) Separate squash pulp from skin and remove apple cores.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a stock pot and sauté onion and garlic until fragrant and slightly brown. Lower heat and add vegetable stock. Bring to simmer, then add cloves, thyme, cumin, carrots and celery. Cook for 45 minutes.

Add the squash and apple. Simmer another 15 minutes. If necessary (and it probably will be) add water to reduce the thickness.

"Butternut Squash"Remove cloves and thyme stems. If you want to save yourself the hassle of finding six cloves, place them in a tea ball or cooking bag beforehand. Transfer the soup to a blender in small batches and purée until smooth. Return to stock pot and season with salt and pepper before serving.

Red Beans and Rice

It’s Monday, and that means a tasty dish of red beans and rice for lunch or dinner. I thought I would share my recipe for those who want to enjoy a bit of Cajun deliciousness.

The trick to cooking a good pot of beans is to be patient – cook ’em low and slow. I start the process on Sunday morning, then all I have to do is reheat them on Monday. Besides, they just get better over time.

"Red Beans and Rice"

Red Beans and Rice
by Michael Miles

Serves 12

3 qts. water
2 lbs. dried small red beans
1 lbs. smoked andouille sausage
1 lbs. tasso, diced
2 medium green bell peppers, chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T worchestershire sauce

Seasoning:

3 bay leaves
3 T salt
2 t dried thyme
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t white pepper
1/2 t black pepper

Place the beans in an 8-quart stock pot and cover with water. Let soak overnight.

Rinse the beans and sort, if necessary. Add the water and place over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper, onion, celery, garlic, worchestershire sauce and seasoning mix. Cover, bring to a boil and reduce heat until simmering. Let cook one hour, stirring regularly.

Cut the andouille into serving-sized pieces. Add the meat to the pot and increase the temperature to return the pot to a simmer. Reduce the heat to maintain the simmer.

Stir regularly until at the desired consistency. I usually give my pot about 12 hours. You can remove the lid for the last few hours to help reduce the moisture.

Serve over white rice.

Notes:

  1. Tasso is a spicy ham sausage. It can be found at most good butcher shops, or you can order it online from Poche’s Market in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.
  2. If you get desperate and can’t find tasso, a second choice would be smoked ham hocks. Not as good, but still tasty.
  3. Make sure you get smoked andouille. Some grocery stores sell brat-style andouille make for the grill. That won’t cook up as well.
  4. I’m not a fan of using kidney beans. You might see them in the store and be tempted; to me they give the wrong texture.

Last Night’s Martini

I had dinner at Kith & Kin last night, a favorite restaurant of mine in Lincoln Park. And while the food and service are excellent, their mixologists more than keep up. You should definitely put this place on your radar.

In the mood for a martini, I ordered Death’s Door vodka, and told Jackie to “just have the vermouth blow a kiss to the vodka” (h/t Mel Miller, A Face in the Crowd.) She told me that they didn’t keep vermouth at the bar, but used Lillet (a fortified white wine from France) instead. A few shakes and a lemon twist later, perfection.

What I’m Drinking

For those who know me, it’s an appropriate question. And now that winter is just around the corner, I’ve received a shipment of tasty port wines from my favorite source, Prager Winery in St. Helena, California. If you enjoy the fortified grape, you can’t go wrong with any of their selections, and they have quite a few. "Prager Petite Sirah Port"Yes, the Tawny is spectacular, and I purchased a couple of bottles to enjoy by the fire, or while smoking a Hemingway with friends. But today I’m opening something different: a Petite Sirah port from their Lodi vineyard. As you might imagine, using the Petite Sirah grape creates a port that is full of dark fruits, with just a hint of vanilla. It lacks the complexity and caramelization of a Tawny, but I think that makes it all the more accessible, and flexible. It is aged for two years, and has a beautiful ruby color in the glass.

I’m not on commission, but you definitely want to check out their website. In addition to the Tawny and Petite Sirah ports, they have a traditional Tomas port as well as a couple of white wine ports (great for starting the evening.) Or, if good fortune lands you in the Napa Valley area, drive up to St. Helena and visit: the winery sports this magnificent Daddy Long Legs spider web that has been nurtured over the years. It’s a great winery in a beautiful location.

I Actually Like Turkey

There’s always someone in the crowd that remarks each Thanksgiving about how we only eat turkey once a year because nobody really likes it. Make fun of me if you wish, but I eat the stuff all the time. And since I didn’t cook this year, I’m seriously jonesing for time in the kitchen and lots of leftovers.

"Salvadoran Panes con Pavo"A couple of years ago, Saveur magazine (a favorite of mine) published an article with ways to use your leftover turkey. Happily, they tweeted a link to their website last Friday, with lots of incredible turkey recipes. In addition to comfy-food items like Turkey Tetrazzini and the southern Hot Brown, you must check out the Salvadoran Panes con Pavo.

So, check out the website, buy the magazine whenever you get the chance (every issue is awesome), and next time you buy a bird, make sure it’s a little bigger than you need!

Hot Doug’s

I went to Hot Doug’s today. It’s a place where they celebrate encased meats. That pretty much says it all: when you chase excellence at that level, you get some amazing results.

"Bison Sausage"I could talk on about the experience, but the description of my food says it all: Wild Rice and Asiago Cheese Bison Sausage with Roasted Yellow Pepper Mayonnaise and Irish Porter Cheese, served with a side of hand-cut fries (the duck fat fries are only available on the weekend.) Oh yeah, I had a delicious bottle of Birch Beer to drink.

Nate Silver was right when he said Michelin made a mistake not giving them a star.

q: A Different Kind Of Joint

This is going to be a strange review. First, I usually don’t write about a restaurant after visiting only one time. So much can be overlooked, so keep that in mind. Second, q is an enigmatic concept. It’s just… well, different.

Let’s start with the location. q is on the Gold Coast, at Dearborn and Division – a quiet, upscale neighborhood you wouldn’t expect to host a barbeque joint. And the buildout is really nice. And they have an Executive Chef.

"Chips and Bread & Butter Pickles"Okay, enough with the italics. After being seated in a spacious booth and opening my laptop, a server came by with what we in the South call lagniappe – a bit of something for free. House-made chips and bread & butter pickles made my mouth water. Bread & butters are my favorite pickle, and these were exceptional for having all the flavor without being as sweet as the store-bought variety. The chips had an excellent texture but were lacking just a bit of kick (especially for this genre); I would have enjoyed a dash of paprika or something similar to light up my tongue. However, they steadily disappeared as the meal went forward.

Oh yeah, another important benefit to eating barbeque in a more formal environment: there is a full bar. And they carry Chopin vodka.

"Bacon Cheddar Hush Puppies"A server named Ya-Ya (hope the spelling is correct) came by and chatted. She was friendly, laid-back, and answered all my questions. We talked about favorites and what I might eat. It was decided that the bacon-cheddar hush puppies were a must-try. They rocked. Crispy outside, flaky inside, with flecks of jalapeño and wonderful bacon-cheddar flavor. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! The tasties were served with a chipotle aioli that was the perfect complement. It had just a hint of sweetness to it. Use the sauce and life will be good.

Being a native of St. Louis, the St. Louis-style ribs were a no-brainer. These are spare ribs and contain a bit more fat than back ribs, but are all the more flavorful for it. "St. Louis Ribs"I highly recommend them, but some people may be put off by the small layer of fat along the edge, if you’re not expecting that. My half-slab contained about seven bones, which were smoked to the most beautiful pink. They were so tender the meat fell from them while I inhaled their intoxicating aroma. They were served with three sauces: a Carolina-style vinegar sauce, a sweet & smoky sauce, and a sweet & smokey sauce with some heat in it. While all good, do what any self-respecting barbeque eater does, and push them to the side. The meat doesn’t deserve to have sauce put on it.

And yes, those are tasty pickled onions. And the cole slaw is excellent: red and green cabbage with a mix of savory herbs in a creamy dressing. My pet peeve with barbeque joints is the crappy sides they set alongside their food. Why spend so much effort getting the meat right and then slap cole slaw from a bucket on the plate? From what I experienced, you won’t have that problem at q.

It’s only been open a couple of months, but q has its shit together. My service was attentive. Ya-Ya was friendly but didn’t hover over me. The restaurant manager found a good time to ask how everything was going. I was able to talk, eat, and work on my laptop without ever feeling like I was being interrupted. The environment is beautiful. And, as I’ve shared my experience with others over the past week, I’ve discovered there is quite a bit of buzz in the city. This restaurant is not undiscovered.

I’ll be going back, just as soon as I nap off the last meal. I noticed a macaroni & cheese brulée that has my name on it.

Chef For A Day

Friday was my day to be the guest chef at Charlie Trotter’s in Lincoln Park. I bought the privilege at a recent Make-A-Wish Foundation gala, which in itself was worthwhile. But being quite passionate about food and cooking, the combination of the two was overwhelming. So, camera in hand, I arrived at 2:00p.m. and donned my chef’s jacket to experience one of the most amazing kitchens in the United States.

"Charlie Trotter's Kitchen"The guest spot is all about getting your hands dirty (at least until dinner service starts), so I began immediately by cleaning mussels. Afterwards, Chef Bill asked me to pull some pig tails for shredding, so we spent quite a bit of time stripping the fat and pulling the meat off the tail. There isn’t much there, but the result is tender and very flavorful. The fruit of our labor was destined for a delicious ravioli cooked in pork broth.

The staff breaks for lunch about 3:30. Since the haunches of the rabbit are not served to customers, we got to enjoy them in a fabulous curry. Rabbit is becoming popular again, and I’m very happy about it. It’s a lovely, tender flesh that doesn’t taste remotely like chicken. One benefit of having “guest” in your title is the addition of wine with lunch. I learned that the Australians have adopted a practice from the northern Rhone region, in which they blend Syrah (red) and Viognier (white) grapes. They are macerated together, and surprisingly, the chemical reaction produces a darker wine with a mellow, rich flavor.

After lunch and the staff meeting, I helped Chef Shaun prep the amuse bouche. "Chef Shaun"The restaurant had a bag of fennel tops, harvested after the plant had bloomed, but before it went to seed. I spent some time picking the fragrant blooms from the stems, which had a lovely anise flavor and would be paired with a whitefish sashimi and grapefruit tasting. He was really nice to explain the tasting wheel to me, and how he was balancing all the different sensations in a single dish (no part of the grapefruit was spared; he even candied the rind.)

There’s a lot of creativity in the kitchen. Everyone is encouraged to work up their own recipes, and the pride really shows. I had the good fortune to taste a number of the dishes, thanks to restaurant’s great generosity, and it made me want to go back as a diner. Trotter’s is not a cheap evening, and everyone who works there knows that they have to hit it out of the park with every dish. Even the bread is singular. Chef Meredith oozed passion when describing the black Tahini bread she made – scented with ginger – and the vintage baskets she used to proof the dough. And one of the vegetarian desserts combined fig sorbet with eggplant in a truly memorable taste experience.

"Chef Anna Star"Friday was a genuinely enjoyable experience, and it’s clear that the staff at Charlie Trotter’s thrives on achieving excellence. As diners, we rarely understand the complexity of our experience, especially at an establishment like this one. Working in the kitchen of Trotter’s, preparing food at the many different stations, talking with the diverse collection of minds that create the food and the service experience, and witnessing the professionalism of each team member helps one appreciate what is required to deliver the pinnacle of dining. Enjoying such a meal may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for some people, but if you love food like I do, it’s an experience you cannot do without.

Kohlrabi-Apple Slaw

I found a tasty little recipe this weekend after picking up some kohlrabi at the farmer’s market. If you’ve never tried kohlrabi, put it on your list. It’s a relative of the turnip and radish, and quite delicious raw or cooked.

The provenance of this recipe apparently begins with the October 1992 issue of Gourmet magazine. It was then modified by Alanna Kellogg, who posted it to the website A Veggie Venture. I have further modified it.

"Kohlrabi-Apple Slaw with Mint"

3 bulbs kohlrabi
2 Granny Smith apples
6 oz. plain yogurt
1 lemon
3 T chopped mint
1 t stone-ground mustard
1 t sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze lemon and reserve 1 tablespoon of juice. Trim and chop kohlrabi and apple into batons. Place in bowl, and toss with lemon juice to prevent oxidation. Set aside.

Mix yogurt, reserved lemon juice, chopped mint, mustard, and sugar. Whisk until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with slaw and serve immediately with mint leaf garnish.