Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hot Doug's - Chicago, IL (finally!!)

Ever since I moved to Chicago, Hot Doug's has been on my to eat list. It's also on Anthony Bourdain's list of 13 places to eat before you die.

Bourdain says the following about Hot Doug's:

"This place convinced me the Chicago red hot is, in fact, superior to the New York hot dog. And it's home to two great innovations in American gastronomy: the "foie gras dog" and the weekends-only practice of cooking French fries in duck fat. It's proof that food doesn't have to be expensive to be great."

Here's a link to the article if you're interested in his other 12 recommendations.

Hot Doug's is notorious for its crazy long lines. Everyone says you end up waiting an hour and a half anytime you go. Given that he's only open Monday through Saturday 10:30 am to 4 pm, Saturdays are the only times I am able to go to Hot Doug's.

My friends and I all happened to be free one Saturday morning so we all decided to check it out.

We intended on getting there right when it opened, but by the time we picked up everyone we were late. By the time we got there around 11 am, there was a line around the building. One of my friends got there around 10:15 am and just when we arrived she had made it inside the front door, which was quite a feat in it of itself. We felt bad cutting in front of all these people that were ahead of us, so our group decided to go to the back of the line and just wait like all the other civilized people waiting for hot dogs on a Saturday morning. My friend had been waiting quite a bit for us and had another engagement she had to go to, so I kept her company and shared some hot dogs with her, then stood in line with the other group of friends to eat again. These are the sacrifices I make for my friends. :) It's a tough job but someone's gotta do it. haha.

Once you make it inside, an hour plus later, you will see this menu of all of their different types of sausages. In the center you will see their daily special hot dogs.

Here's a shot of Doug himself taking all of the orders. He's super friendly.

Now this hot dog gets lots of rave reviews so we had to try the Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel ($9.00). You would think putting foie gras mousse on sausages is overkill, but oddly enough it works. The first few bites were great, but I have to admit, it was too rich for me. Caroline and I split this and thank goodness we did, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to finish it.

We also got the Keira Knightley (formerly the Jennifer Garner and the Britney Spears), a spicy hot dog ($2.50) with all the fixings. It included mustard, caramelized onions, relish, tomatoes, pickle and celery salt. I'm a big fan of pickles on anything.

This was a simple hot dog that was a nice balance to the rich, creamy hot dog that we previously tried.

We also got an order of the duck fat fries ($3.50), which are only available on Fridays and Saturdays. I wanted to love these but I didn't. They weren't served very hot, it felt like it was sitting out for awhile, which is surprisingly since the hot dog orders come out so fast. Had they been hot and fresh from the fryer, it might have been different.

Now for the battle of the duck fat fries vs. regular fries. I could barely taste the duck in the duck fat fries and couldn't figure out what the hype was about. I told my friends about our disappointment with the duck fat fries, so my friends got an order of plain french fries with cheese ($2.75). Only when I tried the regular fries could I taste the difference. It's so subtle and had they been fresh from the frier, they might have been spectacular. Don't expect to be blown away, but they are unique and a bargain at $3.50 for a huge basket full of fries.

My friends and I got a whole slew of different hot dogs to try. Here's a Bacon and Jalapeno Duck Sausage with Bacon-Garlic Mayonnaise and Smoked Gouda Cheese ($7.50). Hot Doug's speciality hot dogs stand out for their combination of savory sauces and rich creamy cheese toppings. This was no exception. Who knew Gouda cheese could be so good in a hot dog.

Here's another. The Black and Blue: Dark Beer and Blue Cheese Pork Sausage with Dark Beer Mustard and Raw Milk Garlic-Cheddar Spread ($7.50). This one on the left didn't have a textural element, which wasn't as satisfying to me. On the right was a regular hot dog with the standard fixings.

Now for my two favorite hot dogs. I was debating between this one and the Hot Sauce Chicken Sausage with "Buffalo" Mustard and Moody Blue Cheese. I asked Doug for his advice and he wisely led me toward the Smoked and Spicy Alligator Sausage with Shrimp Remoulade and Fontina Cheese ($8.50). When in doubt, ask Doug for suggestions. Now, I could not fathom eating an alligator anything, but in sausage form, with tons of toppings, I am game. The sausage was spicy and a bit salty, but the creaminess of the shrimp remoulade and the chunks of fontina cheese was a perfect complement. Doug sure knows how to match up sausages, sauce and cheese. It's a gift I tell you.

Another surprisingly favorite was the Antelope Sausage with Sweet Chili-Garlic Mustard and Chevre du Poitou Cheese ($8.00). Again the sweet and saltiness of the sauce was the perfect combo for this nutty, creamy goat cheese.

All in all, Hot Doug's lived up to the hype and I will definitely be back. He changes his daily specials from time to time so be sure to check his website before you stop by. Although you really can't go wrong with any of his regular hot dogs too.

Hot Doug's
3324 N California Ave
(between Henderson St & Roscoe St)
Chicago, IL 60618

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ja'Grill - Chicago, IL

I did a really stupid thing a few weeks ago and I needed a picker upper, so my friends were nice enough to take me to a Jamaican restaurant in Chicago. While most people want to go to a bar and drink away their sorrows, Soomeenshee wants jerk chicken.

Ja'Grill is tucked away in a cute little neighborhood in Lincoln Park.

I couldn't resist a dark and stormy which consisted of gosling's black seal rum and barritts ginger beer. So tasty! If you ever have a hunkering to make your own ginger beer, check this out.  Soup Cook got a rum and kahlua drink that was equally as tasty too. Aleen had the usual diet coke. =)

To start, we ordered some chicken and beef patties, which were basically turnovers filled with Jamaican seasoned ground chicken and beef. We determined that every culture must have their own version of dumplings and this apparently is the Jamaican version. I highly recommend it.

These may have been baked because they didn't seem greasy to me. The filling had a wonderful mixture of spices in it.

We didn't realize that plantains came with out dish, so we ordered some fried plantains, which were also quite delicious.

Coco bread sounded interesting so we ordered it, but it didn't have any coconut in it and it was not all that tasty. It had the texture of Hawaiian bread but none of the taste.

For our entrees, while I originally came for the jerk chicken, our waitress kept raving about the tilapia, so I got the jerk tilapia. All of the entrees came with rice and braised cabbages and carrots and some plantains on the side. I keep forgetting how good braised cabbages are. It's so simple to make, yet so tasty.

Aleen got the jerk chicken. Between the jerk tilapia and jerk chicken, I'd go for the chicken. I think you get more flavor from the chicken than from tilapia.

Soup Cook got the curry goat, which is goat meat seasoned, marinated and stewed in spicy Jamaican curry. Also very tasty, if you like goat that is.

All of the dishes were really tasty and full of flavor. The portions were huge so we ended up taking them home and it tasted great the next day as well. I can't wait to go back. Let's hope next time I have some jerk chicken, it'll be on some tropical island somewhere. =)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chocolate Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

My friend Winston makes the cutest cupcakes ever so I asked her for some cupcake recipes. She sent me this recipe for her chocolate cupcakes.

Winston's Chocolate Cupcakes

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
2/3 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs

Heat oven to 350 F. Place paper baking cups in each of 24 regular size muffin cups. In large bowl, beat sugar and butter with an electric mixer on low speed. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the eggs vanilla and water to the butter and sugar mixture and beat on low speed, scraping the bowl. Add in the dry ingredients and beat for 3 minutes, scraping bowl constantly. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

This resulted in a lot of cupcakes, which I decided to freeze. I covered each one in sara wrap, then foil and then put it in a zip lock bag. Whenever you need a couple cupcakes, just unwrap the cupcakes and defrost at room temperature and they are as good as new.

For the frosting, I opted for a Swiss Meringue Buttercream frosting. I got the recipe from Martha Stewart.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 T sugar
pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine egg whites, sugar and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips). Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.

Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form.

Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.

With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all of the butter has been added, whisk in vanilla. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes.

Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth.

Here are the frosted cupcakes. What I love about this cupcake is that it's not too sweet. It feels like you are eating a chocolate whoopie pie or a ho-ho's.

If you want to save some of the buttercream for future use, transfer it to an airtight container and freeze it for up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes. Trust me it will look like a hot mess when it defrosts and the liquid and solids separate, but beat it enough and it will look like frosting again. =)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Honey Cornbread Muffins

Instead of making a second batch of the Chino Farms Buttermilk Muffins, I decided I'd try out another one. I've earmarked four other recipes that look intriguing and this was one of them.

I asked my friends to take a vote of their favorite between the two and the majority of them preferred these muffins. Whereas the other muffins were moist from the sour cream and buttermilk, this muffin was more dense and had a grittier texture, more what you expect from a typical cornbread. The addition of honey added a nice touch of sweetness as well that they liked.

I liked the addition of fresh corn kernels in the other muffins, so I added a half of cup fresh corn to this recipe as well.

Honey Cornbread Muffins
adapted from the Food Network (The Neelys)

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels (cut from 1 ear of corn)
2 large eggs
1/2 stick butter, melted
1/4 cup honey

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Into a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the whole milk, eggs, butter, and honey.

Add the wet to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. Add in the fresh corn kernels.

Place muffin paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin. Evenly divide the cornbread mixture into the papers.

Bake for 15 minutes, until golden. Voila, honey cornbread muffins!

These definitely have the look of cornbread, with the flatter tops. I think the Chino Farms Buttermilk Corn Muffins would be great for breakfast whereas these are basically individual sized cornbread, which are perfect for an outdoor BBQ. These two recipes are definitely keepers!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Chino Farms Buttermilk Corn Muffins

Chino Farms is a famous farmstand in Rancho Santa Fe, CA, which is a little north of San Diego, my former haunting grounds. I had no clue but they apparently sell mini buttermilk corn muffins there that are pretty good. The recipe was in my Bon Appetit issue this month so I had to try it for myself.

The recipe was for those mini muffins but I just made them regular muffin size. I had to bake them for a slightly longer period. This recipe makes 16 mini muffins or in my case, 6 regular size muffins.

Buttermilk Corn Muffins
Bon Appetit adapted from Chino Farms

1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup fresh corn kernels (cut from 1/2 ear of corn)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill (I omitted the dill b/c I didn't have any on hand)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Coat muffin cups with nonstick spray. Whisk sour cream, buttermilk, and egg in a medium bowl.

Whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.

Whisk in melted butter. Stir in dry ingredients.

Add corn kernels and dill (if you are using it); fold just to incorporate.

Divide among prepared muffin cups.

Bake muffins until puffed and brown around edges, 13 to 15 minutes (tops will not brown).

Cool slightly. Remove muffins from pan. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

These only resulted in 6 muffins, one of which I ate, so I had to make another batch to bring to my friend's BBQ. These are definitely what the name implies, a corn muffin. They are not as dense as corn bread, but I liked these. They were light and fluffy and delicious with a hint of butter. It's like eating a corn on the cob in a muffin form.

I asked my friends to choose between this one and the Honey Cornbread, which I also brought to the BBQ, and the majority seemed to prefer the other one better. That recipe is coming up.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spicy Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread

I made this recently for a community group dinner. My friend Jenny was preparing rice and beans so I thought cornbread might be a good side dish to bring. I was looking for a foolproof recipe so I turned to the experts at America's Test Kitchens.

My friends were all very complimentary about the corn bread but I really couldn't tell if they are being really nice or whether they really liked it. I personally thought it was a bit lacking in flavor. I wish there was more spice or saltiness to this. This spurred a renewed interest in cornbread for me and I tried a couple more recipes which I will share in the next posts. My apologies in advance for the cornbread overload.

This recipe resulted in a denser, more crumbly cornbread, which would be a good side to something hearty like chili or rice and beans. Next time I make this, I'd like to try to add some more jalapenos and more cheese and see if that helps.

Spicy Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread
America's Test Kitchens

1 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 ⅓ sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
¾ cup frozen kernels thawed
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 medium jalapeno chili, chopped fine (cored and seeded)

Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 8-inch square baking dish with non stick spray (or unsalted butter). Whisk flour, ¾ cup cheddar cheese, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, chopped jalapeno, cayenne pepper and salt in medium bowl until combined. Set aside.

In a food processor or blender, process brown sugar, thawed corn kernels, and buttermilk until combined about 5 seconds. Add eggs and process until well combined (corn lumps will remain) about 5 seconds longer.

Using a spatula, make well in center of dry ingredients; pour wet ingredients into well.

Begin folding dry ingredients into wet, giving mixture only a few turns to barely combine; add melted butter and continue folding until dry ingredients are just moistened.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish; smooth surface with spatula.

Top with the remaining shredded cheese.

Bake until deep golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25-35 minutes.

Cool on wire rack for ten minutes; invert cornbread onto wire rack, then turn right side up and continue to cool until just warm. Cut into pieces and serve.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Epic Burger - Chicago, IL

I've been hearing quite a bit about Epic Burger and I was so giddy when I stumbled upon it on my way to the gym. I don't know how I never noticed it before. And of course, I was left with no choice but to make a detour and try their burger.

They have a cool concept and emphasize being eco-friendly and use locally grown produce, fresh, not frozen natural meats, real butter, real cheese crafted by Wisconsin cheese makers, pure sea salt, cage-free organic eggs, trans-fat free oil, and nitrate free bacon. Their buns are baked fresh from local bakeries. I loved that they offer whole wheat buns too.

Their burgers come with lettuce, tomato, pickles, grilled or raw onions and epic sauce (a tangy mayonnaise based sauce). Their burger selections are beef, turkey, chicken breast and portabella mushroom.

You also have the option of adding on extras like cage-free organic fried eggs, nitrate free bacon and three choices of Wisconsin cheeses (cheddar, buttermilk blue and horseradish havarti). I opted for turkey burger on wheat with all the fixings and a fried egg.

Here's what mine looked like. The turkey patty was thin but pretty wide. It was definitely bigger than the bun so it was pouring over to the sides. It made for a messy burger, but it was mighty tasty. Burgers range from $4.99 to $7.99 (for a double burger) and french fries are $1.99. Cheese, bacon and egg are all extra. They also had a bunch of smoothies and shakes, but I resisted, since after all, I was on my way to the gym. =) I felt like the freshness of the ingredients really shined through at Epic.

Their fries are cooked in transfat free oil and seasoned with pure sea salt. These fries had their skin on and were awesome. They tasted fresh and like a potato should taste. I actually enjoyed these without ketchup, which is very rare for me.

So far there are two locations, one in Lincoln Park and one in the South Loop. I'm in trouble now that I know it's so close to my gym. Needless to say, I was so full afterwards that I couldn't work out, so I went back home instead. haha. My stomach got a good workout though, it was quite happy.

It's not an In-N-Out burger, but it definitely hit the spot. Now it's time for a visit to Kuma's.

Epic Burger
1000 W. North Ave
Chicago, IL 60642

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Greasewood Flat - Scottsdale, AZ

We didn't have many meals in Phoenix/Scottsdale since we would be on the road all day on Sunday going up to Sedona, so for Saturday night I wanted us to get a taste of what Arizona and the Southwest is all about, so I suggested we check out Greasewood Flat.

Greasewood Flat is the name of the bar and the restaurant is called Reata Pass. Here's what it says on their website:

"During the Arizona Territory days, Reata Pass was on an old stagecoach stop along a dust-filled, rocky trail that wandered often steeply uphill northeast from Phoenix and on to connect Fort McDowell on the Verde River and Prescott. Crossing the McDowell Mountains in those days was no easy task as the climb took its toll on the passengers and horses. Travelers were treated to a hearty meal and cool drink while the horses were being watered, A knee-high foundation of boulders and mortar supported a wooden one-room stage station built in 1882. Portions of the adobe walls and old stone foundation still exist, making Reata Pass the most authentic "cowboy" restaurant in the Valley. The old jailhouse across the road is original and was used elsewhere in the 1880's to hold Indian prisoners."

It sounds like my kind of place, right? Here's the entrance to the dinning room.

There's a couple buildings along the sides and in the center are a bunch of picnic tables and a stage where some folks were dancing and a stage where a guy was playing country music on his guitar. I seriously felt like I was listening to Jeff Bridges playing his guitar in Crazy Heart. As you can see, it was a pretty mellow night.

There's a bar and restaurant inside of this makeshift building. It looked old and there was pretty much writing all over the place.

Now inside was a different story. I should have asked why they had all these dollar bills pinned up everywhere, but I guess people were commemorating their visit.

Another shot of the green carpeted walls and ceilings.

Now for the food. I was excited for our cowboy meal. Susan and I ordered the green chili cheeseburger. I was debating between the pulled pork sandwich and this and the guy at the counter told me to go with this one. It came with a huge beef patty. I had forgotten what green chili's taste like, they are not spicy at all. Tasted like roasted red peppers but without any taste.

We ordered nachos, which came with cups of nacho cheese, salsa and jalapenos. Not gourmet dinning by any means, but the scenery more than made up for the amusement park/ballpark food fare.

After we finished our meal, we decided to explore the grounds.

Here's an old tractor that was in the middle of the field.

They had a couple cows or donkeys as well. We could not for the life of us figure out what this was? I don't know if donkeys typically have this much fur.

An old truck.

Here's a picture of Susan playing a game of horseshoe with a bunch of locals we befriended. We all got to try and it's harder than it looks folks.

This was such a random place to come but it was definitely felt like we were in the wild wild west.

Greasewood Flat
27500 N Alma School Pkwy
Scottsdale, AZ 85250

Here are some pics from Sedona the next day. Here's the view from the bottom of Cathedral Rock.

The view from halfway.

The view from the top. It was totally worth the hike up in 100 degree weather.