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Restaurant Michael – Winnetka

I’m BACK! Or, at least, I am trying. It’s hard to get back in the groove when you’ve taken three months (seriously? yeah…) off from blogging anything. I make no promises, because honestly I kinda feel obligated to blog more than yay! I feel like blogging! a lot of the time, but I also remember that when I do it with some semblance of regularity I become excited to post, so. Newton’s First Law of Motion. It’s for real, man. Anyway, I’m gonna ease us back in gently by talking about (what else?) food!

A couple weeks ago, we went to see a fantastic production of A Little Night Music at Writers’ Theatre. (It was stellar, but it’s over, so I can’t tell you to go see it. It’s already too late.) We decided to make it a date night and go out for dinner. I was looking for something inexpensive, because we’re trying to buy a house and we’re going to need money for fixing it up (I should totally write a post about that, shouldn’t I?) and also we have a food budget to stick to, but being that Writers’ is in Glencoe, we were limited by The Suburbs. Having ruled out chain restaurants and places that sounded very mediocre, we decided to go all out and took the theatre’s suggestion (and 10% discount) to Restaurant Michael. In summary – amazing food, top-notch service, way lower prices than comparable dining experiences we’ve had before.

Since we were pre-show diners, our reservation was for 5:30pm. When we arrived, we were pretty much the only people there. Now I know it’s not really “cool” to eat dinner so early, but I have to tell you – there is no cheaper way to get private dining. Give it a chance sometime. We were pleasantly surprised to find a prix fixe menu, and while we pondered the options, we were served the most delicious cheese puff ever. I think the rest of this post is best told in photos. Enjoy!

Home (in the Kitchen) for the Holidays

Baking has been a part of my holiday season for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I’d spend that magical week off of school the week before Christmas in the kitchen with my siblings and my mom. We baked lots of cookies and molded chocolates. It was awesome, and left me with a number of recipes that are essential for my holiday to feel just right. Changing our diets to be more healthy has resulted in less baking the past few years. Last year, I made just one thing – a new recipe I stumbled upon while looking for something to change it up. By request from a few fine people on twitter, I bring you:

Fleur de Sel Dark Chocolate Caramels

photo by Romulo Yanes for Epicurious.com

What You Need:
2 cups heavy cream
10 1/2 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate (go for 72% cacao)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
vegetable oil for greasing

How to Make It:
1. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch straight-sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment.

2. Bring cream just to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then reduce heat to low and add chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat.

3. Bring sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt to a boil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, uncovered, without stirring but gently swirling pan occasionally, until sugar is deep golden, about 10 minutes.

4. Tilt pan and carefully pour in chocolate mixture (mixture will bubble and steam vigorously). Continue to boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 255°F on thermometer, about 15 minutes.

5. Add butter, stirring until completely melted, then immediately pour into lined baking pan (do not scrape any caramel clinging to bottom or side of saucepan).

6. Let caramel stand 10 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours.

7. Carefully invert caramel onto a clean, dry cutting board, then peel off parchment. Turn caramel salt side up. Lightly oil blade of a large heavy knife and cut into 1-inch squares.

(If you make a double batch, and wrap them individually, and split them amongst a bunch of tiny boxes, presto – Christmas gifts for EVERYONE. And they fit in your carry-on. You’re welcome.)

A Real (If Short) Vacation

You may not be able to tell, but that’s us on the beach.

[Editor’s Note: Every time I think I’m just going to write a super short post and throw up some pictures, it turns out to be… well… the opposite of short. Sorry. Remember you can always skip the words and just look at the pretty stuff.]
 
We just got back from the first non-visiting-relatives vacation we’ve been on in years. True, we were visiting a friend, but… it is so not the same. We went to Portland, Oregon, which is an excellent place to be, and is the current home of my best friend in the world ever, Lindsay. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it. Funky city plus lots of amazing nature and only 90 minutes from The Ocean. (Which, we decided while there, should be the goal of ALL vacations.)

Aside from the Incident* with my drivers’ license, it was an awesome trip. We had some adventures in and around the city with a plethora of gorgeous views, some of which you’ll see below, we ate really well. Possibly the best ever on a trip away from home. So let me recap for you. 

Saturday.
We arrived, famished, a little after noon. 2pm our time. Lindsay had leftover roasted root vegetables (delicious) which we ate with some black bean burgers and cheese (also tasty.)

Our plan was to celebrate her birthday as well as mine (they’re about 2 weeks apart) during our visit, so she invited a handful of friends over for a dinner party. We discussed some options and hit the farmstand and the grocery store, where we snagged some tasty local wines in addition to the other ingredients. We ended up with an appetizer of some wonderfully creamy cheese (not Brie, but something like it, sorry I forgot what), caramelized shallots, and fresh figs cooked in wine on some very crusty bread. We followed it with fennel-roasted (FRESH ALASKAN!) salmon over mixed greens. For dessert, we made this Mocha Marjolaine cake, which was fantastic. While devouring it, Lindsay and I discussed the handful of little changes we would make to the recipe to take it from a 10 to an 11+ the next time. (In case you’re thinking of giving it a try – and you should – we agreed that you should ditch the almonds and use only extra-toasty hazelnuts; make the coffee whipped cream stronger and use it between all the layers; coat the whole thing with the dark chocolate ganache; and skip the ‘light’ chocolate ganache altogether.) We also grilled some peaches and served them with vanilla ice cream. Amazing.

And then? Board games and WhiskeyTime™and even more desserts because a few more people showed up with brownies. Somewhere in the midst of all this, it became way late in our time, and moderately late on Portland time, and we totally crashed into bed and slept forever.

Apparently, we took no pictures on Saturday. 

Sunday.
Until we woke up at what felt like noon but was actually 9am or so. We cooked up some eggs on toast before driving out to the coast. Once there, we had lunch at a pub/brewery, which had totally decent beer. We all ordered some kind of fish because, you know, we were on the oceanfront, so why would we eat anything else? I had some excellent crab cakes; Julia had a seared tuna wrap which was good, but would have been improved by more tuna and less wrap and a menu description that actually implied it was in a wrap (as opposed to on a bed of spinach as we imagined.)

Wave Jumpers.

Then we EXPLORED. We ran in the ocean and jumped over the waves. And maybe, just maybe, while I was trying to film one coming into shore, it might have come faster than anticipated. And I might have a video of us squealing and running away, taken on my phone-in-hand, à la Blair Witch. It is hilarious. At least to us.

We climbed up a sand dune…
Beach, with view of the sand dune we hiked up
Victory. And pretty rocks. And my finger.
…and sat on the edge of an amazing cliff…
Awesome rocks and a big cave

We ate dinner at another seafood joint near the water. Clams, Bouillabaisse, Fish & Chips, Shrimp, Clam Chowder. And then three of us fell asleep in the car on the way back to the city…

Sunset at the Ocean

Monday.
On our last full day, we decided to run amok in the city proper. We visited Powell’s bookstore, which was as huge and awesome as I remembered it. We went to a little tea shop with over a hundred varieties of tea (in bulk!) and re-stocked our supply. We wandered up and down the street around it, window shopping, trying things on that we’d never buy, trying things on with no intention of buying them and then buying them anyway…

When we tired of that, we sat on Lindsay’s front porch with glasses of wine. And then we finished the day with a bountiful, yet unbelievably reasonably priced, sushi dinner. And by reasonably priced, I mean we spent less for the four of us than we ordinarily do for the two of us in Chicago and we got more food. 

Tuesday.
We had just enough time for a quick stop at the infamous Voodoo Doughnut followed by a tour through the Columbia River gorge. Which is lovely and breathtaking and very rainforest-y.

Washington state to the left of the river; Oregon to the right
Waterfalls are pretty.

And then we went to the airport and came home to Chicago.

*The Incident: So when we got to the airport in Chicago to get on the plane to Portland, we found out the hard way (yes, that means during the TSA screening process) that my driver’s license had expired on my birthday. Which was the week before. The lady was nice enough to let us through, and I breathed a sigh of relief. But after about 24 hours in Portland, I realized I could have the same problem on the way home and they might not be so nice and ohmygod panic. Which was followed by another, smaller incident in which I was not allowed to purchase a really wonderful-sounding glass of wine because I couldn’t prove my age. So. I called Illinois, who told me they couldn’t do anything and I needed to come in person to renew it. Which, of course, I cannot do from Portland. So. I went to the airport hoping they’d be nice and let me through, and somehow, magically, they didn’t notice my license was expired and they let me through. And then Julia tried to go through but her license lists 2009 as its expiration date. But. Illinois does this stupid thing where you can renew online if you haven’t been in any accidents lately and then they mail you a sticker to put on the back which says it’s good for 4 more years. Which she’d done, and it was, so they let her through too. And then we went home. On Wednesday I renewed my expired license in about 7 minutes and hopefully that is that.

I Made Another Cake

It was TWELVE LAYERS. I’ll spare you knowledge of exactly how many pounds of butter, cups of sugar, and dozens (yes) of eggs I went through to make this sucker. (Hint: more than any other cake I can recall making, except maybe my wedding cake. Which was for many more people.)

Yellow Sponge Cake Chocolate Soufflé

Yellow Sponge Cake.
Mocha Buttercream.
Hazelnut Meringue.
Coffee Buttercream.
Chocolate Soufflé Cake.
Mocha Buttercream.
Repeat.
Shave Good Dark Chocolate on top.
Serve.

What can I say? It was my birthday. I went overboard.*

Close up.
Finished Cake

I made a whole bunch of other food too. I know you’re interested, because you love food as much as I do (don’t you? Isn’t that why you’re here?) so here’s a round up of the party menu. I decided to keep it classy with fancy, bite-sized apps and none of the usual chip-and-dip business. Also, I attempted to maintain a balance of hot and cold things and to make sure my vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free/kosher friends all had options. Here’s what I made, in no particular order:

  • Bacon-Wrapped Dates (hot) – a time-tested standby, it is hard to go wrong with these. Plus, Julia and I had them on our first date, and so they are special. Plus, you know, really freakin’ tasty.
  • Caprese Skewers (cold, vegetarian) – my play on the classic Italian salad. I put a cherry tomato, a small basil leaf, and one of those tiny (3/4″ diameter or so) mozzarella balls from the deli onto each stick, arranged them on a plate, and then drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • Brie with Apricot Preserves & Almonds (hot, vegetarian) –  I make this a lot at parties because it is quick and easy but also fancy and delicious. All you do is top a wedge of brie with a few spoonfuls of preserves, warm it for about a minute in the microwave, sprinkle it with nuts, and serve with crackers. The amount of effort involved is nearly zero, and compared to the usual grabbing of chips & dip on the way to the potluck… WIN. Seriously, do this instead.
  • Chilled Cucumber & Dill Soup (cold, vegetarian, gluten-free) – This was a new recipe I tried. I tasted it while I was cooking it, and truthfully, I liked it better warm. Still, it was pretty good. I served it in 1oz shot glasses. FYI, I subbed vegetable stock for the chicken called for in the recipe to keep it as a meat-free option.
  • Red Wine Poached Figs (hot, vegan, gluten-free) – Holy crap, these were good. Unfortunately, they came out of the oven right after we decided to bust out the cake, so they were largely overlooked by the guests. Too bad for them. If you like figs, you should make these sometime. Soon, because as I mentioned, they are almost out of season.
  • Cucumber Chickpea Bruschetta (cold, vegan, gluten-free) – We made these once before, at our vegan/gluten-free dinner party, and they were as good as we remembered. Yum.
  • Shrimp Cocktail (cold) – Let’s just say we started with two pounds of shrimp and leave it at that.
  • Lemon-Parsley Gougeres – I’ve been wanting to make these for a while. Glad I finally got around to it – they were heavenly little flaky pastry puffs with a zesty lemon bite. They did not last long.

Of course, there was also wine a plenty along with champagne and some non-alcoholic punch, which turned out to be so good that I ended up drinking quite a bit of it.

In summary: delicious food + wine + the most excellent people = one awesome 30th birthday!

*I spent the better part of my actual birthday on Saturday prepping for this party. There were spreadsheets involved. Because, you know, I needed a schedule and a list of prep times and to make sure I had enough vegetarian, gluten-free, & kid-friendly things as well as a balance of hot & cold; sweet & savory. And also I just like spreadsheets. Yeah, I’m a major geek. But you knew that.

Cake, Cake, and More Cake

Boy do I feel sorry for people who don’t (or can’t) eat cake. Because I love it. And it’s come to pass that the tail end of summer and the better part of fall seems to be cake-making season for me. There are so many occasions to celebrate, and as I’m sure you know, I hardly need an excuse to bake. Let’s take a look back at last year’s sweets:

July
Our Wedding Cake
Vanilla-Almond with Berries & Pastry Cream; Devil’s Food with Mocha Whipped Cream; Pumpkin with Ginger Buttercream

August
Devil’s Food with Mocha Whipped Cream, for Julia’s brother Joel’s birthday

September
My birthday. Can’t remember exactly what I made, but I do remember it was the ugliest cake ever to emerge from my kitchen. Pretty sure chocolate and strawberries were involved, but it was a sloppy mess.

October
Ellen mentioned cake on facebook, so Julia told her she should come over and I’d make her one, and a few days later I did. Sadly, I no longer have any recollection of what kind of cake it was…
Green Tea Cake with Red Bean Paste filling for Alice’s birthday (which was light and delicious and really needs to be made again soon). And yes, I know her birthday is in July, but this is when we all had the same free spot in our schedules to actually get together and celebrate it.

November
Would ordinarily be a month for making Julia’s birthday cake, but last year I made pie. Apple pie with FRESH FIGS. It was the BEST. PIE. EVER. Almost made me convert to a pie-as-dessert-of-choice girl. Almost.

The cake schedule is a little lighter this year, thankfully. But Joel’s birthday came around again, as birthdays do, and so there was a Heavenly Chocolate Cake Roll (gluten-free!) with strawberries added to the whipped cream filling.

I should have probably made a cake to celebrate the arrival of our new niece, Sophia, on August 16th, but I don’t think she’s picked a favorite flavor yet…

And last night we threw a party to celebrate marriage equality in New York. [Yeah, I know we live in Chicago, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, or whatever, so eventually it’s gonna walk this way, right? Plus, we were raising money for LAMBDA LEGAL, and you can never go wrong with that. And, you know, we’re still not equal enough. And further more, we were celebrating in solidarity with a bunch of other people at other parties all around the country. So. A party was had. Cake was eaten. Champagne was consumed in copious amounts. Drunken neighbors crashed. But I digress, as always.] Ahem.

So. Naturally, I made some Marriage Equality Cake. The purple side is Devil’s Food with Mocha Whipped Cream (are you sensing a pattern here?) and the green side is Vanilla-Almond with Apricot-Almond filling. Both were quite tasty, and I’ll be eating the leftovers all week.

Which brings us back to my birthday. I’m just gonna let you drool over what I have planned:

Twelve Layer Mocha Cake

I’ll wait while you pencil in the date on your calendar. That’s September 18th, my place, 3ish. See you there.

Pumpkin and Mocha and Berries, Oh My!

[Photos without a credit in this post were taken by Lindsay Pour, otherwise known as the most awesome best friend a person could have. Credited photos, as noted, are by Timmy Samuels/Starbelly Studios, who shot our wedding fantastically and for a ridiculously reasonable price.]

First up in our crafty wedding DIY madness posts is something we can all appreciate:* CAKE.

You may think I am crazy for having made my own wedding cake, but I promise you I’m not. Well, I guess it’s debatable, but given how much I like to bake and my history of making really yummy cakes and the price of cake when you buy them from a bakery (starting at $6/slice, really?!) compared to the price of me making it ($100ish, including the pans) it just made sense. And, as you know, we are practical people. (Also? Theatre people, and therefore, pretty much perpetually broke.)

Now, lest you think we dove into this baking adventure mere days before our wedding, I should remind you, we are stage managers. So we’re good at planning and rehearsal. It so happened that about six months before our wedding I was putting together an opening night party for a production of Brecht’s The Wedding. What’s that? You think that sounds like a perfect event for a wedding cake test drive? Exactly. It worked out well, and even made us change our minds about which flavor deserved to be the largest tier.

The whole cake project took place the day before the wedding. With the help of my best friend Lindsay and my younger sister Jeanne, I baked a total of 8 layers for 3 tiers and I went through about a half a dozen eggs and I’m really not exaggerating when I say at least 4 pounds of butter. Seriously, Jeanne had to run to the store to buy more. It was in the name of perfecting the frosting, which was delicious.

While this was happening, Julia was finishing up some details on our dresses, Lindsay was stitching binding on my corset when she wasn’t helping with the cake, and our friend Jay was sitting on our couch composing the little notes that he then attached to the white knots we asked our guests to wear. Busy day, that.

At times, I baked so fast the camera could not catch me.
At other times, my baking frenzy was interrupted for dress fittings. And dancing.
{How to attack a wedding cake.}

Midway through the baking and stacking process, I noticed that the layers for the top tier had risen significantly more than the bottom two tiers, and were going to make it at least an inch taller. I had a near-breakdown about the possibility of uneven tiers (because you CANNOT have uneven layers. It simply will not do.) After leaving the kitchen to go try not to cry about it, I ultimately decided to bake a third layer of the pumpkin and chocolate so that once it was all stacked up it would be uniform.

Smooch Break!

I know you want to drool over all the yumminess, so please allow me to describe the actual cake. (Possibly I am just really proud of myself and I want you to want to eat my cake.) The bottom tier was Pumpkin cake with Ginger Buttercream.

The middle tier was Devil’s Food cake with Mocha Whipped Cream filling.

The top tier was vanilla-almond cake with berries and pastry cream inside.

The frosting covering the outside of the whole cake was my trial-and-error love child of French, Italian, and Swiss style buttercreams with some extra whipped cream added. I decorated it with what is known in the world of Wilton cake decorating magazines from the seventies as Cornelli lace. It’s the little squiggles all over. It takes a LONG. TIME. to do. Then we put some fresh strawberries on top for a splash of color.

The first few squiggles.
Two hours later, I am still making tiny squiggles, while Lindsay adds strawberries on top.

Nearly ten hours after starting, we packed up the cake in a box for the five block car trip to the restaurant where our reception would be.

Accoutrements of our wedding: cake, our rings, and a pile of white knots

I should note that when you make a layered cake like this, you’re supposed to put a couple dowels through all the layers so that they don’t go sliding about. I knew this, and had purchased said dowels. But once it was all stacked up, it seemed really sturdy… so I decided that I didn’t really need to put them in. You know where this is going, right?

Yes, you do. We drove over, carried it into the restaurant’s walk-in fridge, and as I turned to go, the manager asked if I was aware that my cake had fallen over.

I was not.

When I looked inside, I saw that the top two tiers had shifted and the entire cake was now squished up against one side of the box. Now at this point, we were already an hour late to go watch fireworks from a hotel rooftop with our families and the restaurant was about to close. So there was absolutely nothing I could do about it at that point.

Now you might think, given the fiasco of the uneven layers, that I was freaking out. But for reasons I do not understand – maybe because I’d been making cake all day, maybe because my wedding zen magically appeared, I don’t know – I found this to be utterly hysterical. I laughed. Guffawed, even. And then I reached into the box, pushed those top tiers back where they belonged, and walked out the door with a plan to bring icing and tools to fix it in the morning.

It was a plan that totally would have worked. In fact, as the hours went by, I even made it better. How cool would it be, I thought, if instead of fixing it first thing in the morning, we waited until our walk over to the wedding, and stopped in on the way. Then, we could get awesome pictures of me fixing it while wearing my wedding dress!

But. When we got there, icing and apron in hand, I took one look at the cake and said, “Fuck it.” I did not care one bit that the whole side was smashed. In fact, I still thought it was funny and I loved it. We discussed it very briefly and decided that, really, who would care anyway, as long as it still tasted amazing?

Our beautiful, delicious, fabulously smooshed wedding cake!
And I couldn’t resist adding this picture because I love it so much!

*Unless you’re gluten-free, vegan, or lactose intolerant. Sorry. And for what it’s worth, we had vegan, gluten-free cupcakes from The Bleeding Heart Bakery as an alternative for those folks.

Tru

Hi friends! Today we have a special treat. Perhaps you remember the other day, when I was babysitting so Keely and her husband P.J. could go out for a fancy birthday dinner? Maybe you recall that they went to Tru? Which I have heard nothing but lovely things about and desperately want to check out? (As soon as I win the lottery…?)

Well. Keely is taking a break from her lollygagging today to tell us about all the lovely things they ate. Please go get a napkin or something to catch the impending drool, and then read on.

The other night, I had the completely overwhelming thrill of dining at Tru. (For the second time, mind you. The whelm has not yet ceased.)
We do not often indulge in four hundred dollar meals – not on a Sunday, at least. However we were in the possession of – as we also were when we last dined there – a few American Express gift cards racked up from copious overspending at places like Cermak Produce and Target. (My husband P.J. and I have decided that this is the best use of our AmEx points, as airline travel remains too pricey and I already own more Hammacher Schlemmer than anyone really needs.)
Plus, it was my birthday. And nothing says the big 3-1 like dining at one of the nation’s top restaurants. 
We were seated at 8pm and, for the parents of a toddler, felt very grown up indeed. We were immediately presented with our choice of napkin. (That’s right, a color choice. From a tray.) Even though this wasn’t my first rodeo, I choked and chose a white napkin. Even though my dress was black. Thankfully, no fibers embarrassed me.
I treated myself to a glass of absolutely stellar Riesling (did I mention that I’m five months and change pregnant? Judge not. For it really was a good glass of wine). P.J. had the same. At this point we were simply stoked to be sitting at a quiet table and not dicing anyone’s food.
And then they brought us each a fluffy little puff of baked cheese. Just ‘cause. And it was good.
Moments later we were presented with an amuse-bouche (literally translated to: say that with a straight face) of cucumber lemongrass gelee with a decadent soup surrounding it. [Cindy’s Note: actually it literally means “amuse the mouth” and is intended to be a pre-meal palate tease of the snooty French variety.] I love to start my supper with a shot glass- always have. Also, “cucumber” was the word of the day at Tru. (When I informed my sister of this, she asked if I had to yell every time something was brought over, a la Pee Wee’s Playhouse. No.)
Then the bread course! We had our choice between pumpernickel, challah, something really puffy (I’m such a stickler for details) and asiago flatbreads. So we took one of each. Here’s an example of how good the bread was: when we had finished our various carbs, P.J. began picking up crumbs from the tablecloth, one by one. I reminded him that the servers carried table scrapers for that express purpose. He held up a breadcrumb and told me that he wanted to put them in his pocket. 
We decided on the three course prix fixe option (and my menu even had ‘Happy Birthday, Keely’ artfully faded behind that evening’s selections). [Cindy’s Note: True story. I saw it. It was lovely. And I said hey should have asked the chef to autograph it.] Here is what I chose: duck confit and foie gras ravioli in some sort of awesomesauce reduction, Maine lobster with madras curry and roasted cauliflower, and a passion fruit mousse with lime, coconut, and dark chocolate. And here is what P.J. ordered: bay scallops on organic polenta with truffles and bacon, the prime beef ribeye with foie gras and wild mushrooms, and an apple beignet with vanilla ice cream.
I realize we had more than our fair share of foie gras. I have guilt over this. I do. Not a lot, but enough.
The appetizers were really, really good. We didn’t speak a word until they were finished, other than, “Oh, did you want a bite?”
My lobster came on a plate with built-in waves. (I really dig that kind of synchronicity.) The roasted cauliflower came on a bed of pureed cauliflower- and while I’m not usually a huge puree kinda gal (again, we have a little kid and she’s the captain of that ship), I wanted to suck it down with a straw. P.J.’s prime rib and foie gras were incredibly tender, but the surprise standout of that meal was the whipped pudding-like potato with curls of saffron. He said it was the ultimate comfort food times a thousand. I said it felt like my mouth was getting a hug. 
At the end of the first two courses, we were given a teensy cup of cucumber (ah!!!) foam with vanilla and most likely eight other pivotal ingredients that enhanced the cuke. But all I could remember to type is cucumber and vanilla. (I am not their target demographic.) 
Then the mousse came. And it was…exactly as awesome as you’d expect something with those ingredients to be. P.J.’s beignet was light as air, covered a slice of tart green apple, and accompanied by a dish of churned vanilla bean ice cream. We were happy campers.
Then they surprised me with the cutest and bitsiest individual confetti cake I’d ever seen, with a birthday frosting greeting swirled on the plate. (And I never know what to do with the dessert-y words. It seems wrong to mash it up, but it’s downright sinful to leave anything on a dessert plate. So I licked it. Kidding. Kind of.)
And of course, once we had finished our individual bites of heaven, a cart appeared at our table. We were offered little plates of truffles, bon bons and tiny pastel pastries – as many as we wanted. (They SAID.) I chose a rose petal macaroon, a blackberry jam truffle, and a dollop of light lemon meringue custard in a dark chocolate shell. P.J. chose the same, minus the rose, plus a small rum cake. (I called him an old man. But to be fair, it was really good. Obviously.) I think our favorite were the lemon ones, but we certainly weren’t going to kick the other ones off the table anytime soon.
We enjoyed these with a fruity sunset tea and a cappuccino, respectively, and marveled at how much we were able to put away. Also how long we were able to sit nicely at a table without running around the kitchen for various things. 
Our meal ended with a last truffle apiece – dark chocolate with gold leaf, filled with a chilled bitter almond cream. [Cindy’s Note: It’s entirely unfair that I have to read about this concoction without having one available to me for the eating. Someone please remedy this, STAT.] We were advised to take it in one bite, or it would explode into a puddle of uselessness. (My words, not his.) However, despite how gently I [thought I] picked it up, mine cracked and threatened to spill all over the table, my teacup, and my pregnant belly. So I did what any rational diner would do: I shoved it into my mouth and immediately drank the filling from the saucer. And stole P.J.’s spoon to slurp up the rest from the truffle plate. Graceful.
As we exited Tru, we were each handed a small cherry sponge cake wrapped in foil for a take home treat.
I love this place.
I also love the two married ladies who pinch hit babysat for our kiddo that evening and facilitated one of the best meals I’ll ever consume. What say we meet up there for the next big decadent event? [Cindy’s Note: YES!]
Just lemme score some more AmEx points, first. [Cindy’s Note: See above, re: lottery winning.]
 
Thanks Keely! People, if you enjoyed this post, you will LOVE hearing from Keely three(ish) times a week over at the Lollygag Blog. So please go visit and then come back here. Preferably bearing truffles.

We ate AND we crafted. Seriously.

Happy Birthday, Greta!

It was Greta’s birthday this week, and birthdays equal cake. Really, I’ll use just about anything as an excuse to make cake. [See next week, where I make cake because someone’s facebook status was a wish for cupcakes, and Julia said “Cindy will make you cake, come over.” And I said, “How’s Sunday?” I kid you not.]

But, in what seems to be a first, we managed to actually eat and craft on craft night. I attribute this to the fact that we crafted first, and THEN had cake. And – amazingly – went back to crafting after we ate. Certainly, the fact that we all had projects we really wanted to work on might have contributed as well.

Triple Chocolate Cake with Pumpkin Ice Cream

Greta requested chocolate, so I whipped up a Devil’s Food cake, layered with Dark Chocolate Mousse and Mocha Whipped Cream. The cake recipe came from my baking bible – Baking Illustrated from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. If you’ve never watched the show or visited their website, you should. Especially if you like science. When I got this book (because the idiot lawyer I used to work for didn’t want it and was giving it away!) I literally read it cover to cover. Because in the page or two before each recipe, it details all the variations they tried (different amounts of butter, chilled vs. room temperature ingredients, baking powder vs. soda, etc.) and what results they produced. So… you get a scientific paper with methods and results, followed by a seriously kickass recipe. What could be better? I love it. And if you’ve been following this blog – it’s where my pizza crust came from too. Also – my wedding cake. Yep. And I will stop extolling the virtues of this book now, and get on with the post.

The mousse is the dark chocolate variation in this Martha Stewart recipe, and it is really good – with or without the cake.

We had also been wanting to try out some more interesting ice cream flavors, so we went with pumpkin. I glanced at a recipe for sweet potato ice cream in The Perfect Scoop (another great cookbook), and modified it for pumpkin. Here’s what I ended up with:

1 cup whole milk
1 15oz can pumpkin
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon or so freshly grated ginger
Healthy sprinkles of cinnamon and nutmeg
Splash of cream (not necessary, but I had a smidge left from the mousse that needed to be used up)

Whisk ingredients together and chill in the refrigerator for several hours, then process in your ice cream maker according to directions.

When you eat it, it tastes just like pumpkin pie. Delicious!

And now for the inside joke portion of this post:

“Tastes like geology!”
“Mmm, geology.”

Dinner Party: Cornish Hens & Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

We decided to throw a dinner party this weekend and it went splendidly. The food was fantastic, and the company even better. I may have gone a little bit overboard in making it fancy, but we had a great time. Honestly, the only thing stopping us from doing this on, say, a weekly basis is the cost of the food. Apologies in advance for the blurriness of some of these photos… the amount of wine I consumed may have contributed to a slightly shaky camera, and the inability to notice at the time. Without further ado, here’s what we served:


Amuse Bouche
Warm Brie with Sun Gold Tomato preserves, served on water crackers.
wine Paul Masson Medeira (California)


First Course
Greek Salad with Orzo and Black-Eyed Peas
wine Winking Owl Chardonnay (California)


Second Course
Cornish Game Hens with Blackberry sauce; Sweet Potato Souffle
wine Tilia Malbec (Argentina) and Fat Bastard Shiraz (France)


Third Course
Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake
[that’s chocolate cake, dark chocolate mousse, and mocha whipped cream]
wine Winking Owl Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

Tuesday night is craft night.

Generally, this means that a handful of us get together and work on whatever sewing and/or crafty projects we are currently working on. Of late, this has been largely focused on wedding-dress-making, and with the wedding and honeymoon actually happening this month, we have had the past couple weeks off. So, despite this being the final Tuesday of July, it was our first craft night of the month.

Here’s what we accomplished:

Fine Art Trifecta: Eating, Drinking, and Discussing.

That’s right – pretty much nothing. At least in terms of crafting. As it turned out, I (Cindy) was not the only one interested in socializing but completely unmotivated to actually craft last night. So, when Greta showed up toting two bottles of three buck Chuck and dark-chocolate-covered-almonds-with-sea-salt just as I pulled the slightly-too-melty brie with farmers’ market sun gold tomato preserves out of the oven… the mentality went from “Maybe we’ll start making shit when Greta gets here” to “Fuck it, let’s eat, drink, and talk.” Which makes this post totally allowed on the food blog. Except, of course, that we failed to get any pictures of the actual food. But trust me when I say Brie + Sun Gold Tomato Preserves + Crushed Almonds = Delicious. [In case you’re wondering about those Sun Gold tomatoes, they’re orange, they look a lot like apricot, and don’t really taste much like what your brain says is tomato. But they’re delish nonetheless. And really, really good on baked brie.]

Tonight, we experimented with Red Snapper, which neither of us had tried before. It was a tasty piece of fish, accompanied by rice, and topped with tomatoes, shallots, kalamata olives, and thyme. We did take pictures, but they didn’t turn out very well – funky lighting or something, but here’s a shot anyway:


Red Snapper with Thyme, Tomato, and Olives (Click for recipe)

Guess I’ll have to do some learning about photographing food. Tasted good though. Up tomorrow is a Zucchini “Tagliatelle” with mint, cucumber, and lemon which sounds pretty good. Hopefully I’ll do better with the camera so we can share.