Female. Lives in United States/Illinois/Chicago, speaks English. My interests are Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking/Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.
This is my blogchalk:
United States, Illinois, Chicago, English, Female, Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking, Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

New Favorite Finds

We are going to have a steady stream of guests in town for the next few weeks, so At Our Table will be on a little hiatus. I’ll be spending time entertaining our visiting friends and family and time at the computer to post entries will be limited. I’ll be back with a few new recipes and I have restaurant reviews of Mon Ami Gabi, Jane’s, Hillary’s Urban Eatery, and other Chicago spots to share. If you’d like to be alerted when the next post is added to At Our Table, look to the left-hand side of the screen to the Notify List box and join my e-mail updates list.

And now for something completely different...

Here are a couple of my new favorite finds. The first is York Dark Chocolate Dipped Cookies with Peppermint Crème. I bumped into these at the grocery store recently and they are amazing. They are so minty and fresh. Just like a York Peppermint Patty but with the crispy crunch of a cookie. So, so good that we plowed through one box dangerously quickly.

My other obsession of the week is Trader Zen Grapefruit Chamomile Sea Salt Scrub from Trader Joe’s. I rarely look at the beauty products at Trader Joe’s but recently I stopped to peruse them. I love this grapefruit scrub. It smells wonderful and leaves your skin exfoliated, soft and smooth thanks to its blend of sea salt and oils. My aesthetician friend recently saw my elbows and pronounced them “in excellent condition.” I had used the scrub that morning and I’m sure my gleaming elbows where the result of the scrub. While my elbows aren’t exactly high on my body priority list, I’m not going to turn down the chance to have excellent ones. The bright grapefruit scent leaves you and your bathroom smelling great. This scrub is reasonably priced, so effective and a real treat for the senses.

So those are two fun things to check out next time you hit the grocery store. Back in a couple weeks with more food news, recipes, and restaurant reviews. Until then, happy summer!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Food and Fun in Chinatown: Dinner at Phoenix

We recently realized that we hadn’t had Chinese food in a while and the time seemed right for a trip to Chicago’s Chinatown. Win, my outstanding restaurant researcher, had a few potential places in mind for us that night and we decided that we’d check them all out and decide which to choose when we got there and saw more.

Phoenix ended up the winner. Phoenix is known for its dim sum and its lobby is covered in awards and accolades for its food and its dim sum specifically. It is housed in an unassuming storefront with a basic sign, but when you climb the stairs to the restaurant you see it’s actually quite large, elegantly appointed with white tablecloths and depending on where you sit you might get a magnificent view of downtown Chicago and the Sears Tower. The night we went it was bustling with activity; tourists and locals, young and old, big groups and quiet tables for two, all enjoying the excellent food.

Phoenix’s menu is extensive and since Chinese food makes such great leftovers we decided we’d order more than we could probably eat at the time and then just take the rest home. Our goal was to try and experience several dishes, since so many looked great.

For an appetizer, Win selected Barbeque Pork. It was really tender, flavorful and delicious.

I chose one of Phoenix’s appetizer specials for the evening, Fried Soft Shell Crab served with salt and pepper. As promised by our waiter, this soft shell crab was out of this world. Perfectly fried, fresh as can be, and just so good. I am a sucker for soft shell crab and often order it when it’s in season. I’m so glad I tried this one at Phoenix.

Next we each had a bowl of Hot and Sour Soup. This soup was good, but not transcendent. Nothing wrong with it, but I have preferred the flavor of the hot and sour at other places.

For my entrée, I ordered Salt-Crusted Shrimp. I have been obsessed with the concept of Salt-Crusted Shrimp since I read Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser. In that book (one of my favorites that I just love to pick up and skim here and there for a recipe or a good story), Hesser talks about the heavenly experience of dining on Salt-Crusted Shrimp at Pearl Oyster Bar in New York City. You know how sometimes you read a recipe and it just sounds so good that the idea of it sticks with you? Well this is how I was with this shrimp. So when I saw Salt-Crusted Shrimp on the menu at Phoenix, I knew I had to try it…even though it was going to be a completely different interpretation from what Hesser describes in her book. Well the dish might have been different, but it was outstanding. Large, fresh shrimp coated in a thick, salty crust. Really great and worthy of a second Tsingtao.

Win enjoyed Orange Chicken and thought it was everything that dish should be. Right flavors, great taste. Phoenix offers two cooking styles for the chicken, crispy or not crispy (meaning not fried). As you can tell from the photo above, Win opted for the non-crispy variety this time.

We also ordered some Pan-Fried Noodles to accompany the meal. I ordered them plain, but they mysteriously showed up with beef on them. That was ok by Win though, who happily enjoyed the meat. These weren’t exactly what I was expecting (I’m used to Pan-Fried Noodles being crispier and less Lo Mein-like) but they were terrific.

Service at Phoenix was very efficient, almost brisk at times, and friendly. The food was excellent and the large menu will allow you to sample a wide variety of dishes. It’s a good spot to stop for a meal in Chinatown.

2131 S. Archer Avenue
Suite 2
Chicago, IL 60616-1809
Telephone: 312-328-0848

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Potato Chip Crusted Salmon with Dill and Lime

Here’s a delicious and easy salmon recipe that I know I’ll be making often. The recipe for Potato Chip Crusted Salmon with Dill and Lime comes from Dave Lieberman, star of the new Food Network show Good Deal with Dave Lieberman, and was featured in the June 2005 issue of Glamour magazine.

This salmon has a nice twist to it, as the fish itself stays moist, tender and flaky while the potato chip crust is crunchy and a bit salty. The dill and lime zest add great flavor. Dill is always so nice with salmon.

In addition to being mouthwatering, the recipe is quick and easy with minimal kitchen clean-up required. Give this one a try next time you are in the mood for salmon.

Potato Chip Crusted Salmon with Dill and Lime
Based on the recipe featured in the June 2005 issue of Glamour, page 252

1 side of salmon (about 3 pounds)
freshly ground black pepper
1 5.5 ounce bag of kettle-cooked potato chips (this type is crunchiest)
zest of half a lime
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lay the side of salmon, skin side down, in the center of the baking sheet. Season lightly with salt and pepper. NOTE: My salmon did stick a bit to the aluminum foil, so you may want to use a dash of oil or non-stick spray on the aluminum before putting fish down.
3. Crush potato chips, lime zest and dill in a bowl until the chips resemble coarse crumbs. Mix in olive oil.
4. Coat the salmon with a thin, even layer of potato chip crumbs and pat gently to help them stay in place. Here is how my salmon looked at this stage:

5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the chip coating is nicely browned.
6. When cooked, use two spatulas to transfer salmon onto a platter. Serve.

Here is how my salmon looked when it was cooked. Notice how the potato chip crust is lightly browned.

Lieberman notes that this recipe will feed 8-12 people. If you’re not someone who buys fresh fish frequently be warned that three pounds of salmon is quite a lot. If you’re feeding a smaller group definitely downsize this recipe before going to the fish market. The photos here show about 1.75 pounds of salmon and this probably would serve four very generously.

Easy, fresh, fragrant and tasty...just what I like for a warm weather dinner after a busy day.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A Slight Misunderstanding

A few days ago, the Lima Bean was helping me bake brownies. She just turned 2 and this was the first time she really was able to be of actual assistance (as opposed to destruction) in the process. She cracked eggs, poured oil and did some good stirring for me.

Lima enjoyed this process very much and I told her that as a special treat she could lick out the bowl after I was done with it. You know every kid loves doing that. Despite the massive quantities of brownies I have been known to consume (and then try and pin the blame for the missing brownies on the cats, to no avail), Lima had never had brownies before. So this would not only be her first brownie baking event, but her first brownie eating event. She was very excited about my offer to let her lick out the bowl when I was done with it. She stood there patiently waiting while I spooned the thick, rich brownie batter into the pan. After most of it was in the pan, I did a final scrape of the mixing bowl and then said, “OK, we’re all set. You can scrape out the bowl now.”

Lima looked really upset and disillusioned and said “No. No! This bowl, this bowl! I lick this bowl please Mommy.” As she said this, she pointed to the pan full of brownie batter that was about to go into the oven. She assumed that the pan of brownie batter was for her, of course, because who would make such a big deal out of licking out a dirty old mixing bowl? Makes sense, actually.

So we had some explaining to do and after just a minute of convincing (and a lick off the spatula), she was hooked and happily sat on the floor with her nearly empty mixing bowl. I put the pan of brownies in the oven and 50 minutes later we had delicious, rich, chocolate magic. Now that Lima’s had a taste of brownies, I think she’ll be more than happy to help me whip up a batch any time.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

May St. Cafe: Eclectic Latino Food at its Best

Every so often, I ask you to just trust me on something. Remember the Mock Deep-Fried Chickpeas and the Bacon Sandwich I recommended so highly? They sounded weird at first, but they are in fact fabulous and many of you wrote in to tell me you tried them and agreed. This time I’m asking you to trust me on a restaurant. Why do you need to trust me? Well, this restaurant is totally off the beaten path in a neighborhood that’s known to be somewhat dicey. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the dishes being prepared inside its walls are pure heaven. So trust me on this one…you will want to pay a visit to the May St. Café. It is one of my new favorites.

May St. Café specializes in what they call “gourmet eclectic Latino food.” It’s food from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico and other Latin lands, with some eclectic American thrown in.

May St. Café is bright on the outside and boasts a sophisticated, yet minimalist, feel on the inside. Tables are adorned with wooden bead placemats and simple votives. A flower arrangement in the corner consists of a few dried stems in a clear glass vase. The real focal point in the dining room is the open kitchen where you can see Executive Chef Mario Santiago and his small staff whip up all their dazzling creations.

There were so many great dishes on the menu that choosing was a challenge. For my first course, I selected one of the daily specials, Crème de Chayote y Maiz with Grilled Shrimp. This was a somewhat creamy soup made from a sweet, fruit-like potato native to Mexico. This soup was outrageous. Creamy, yet not too rich. Sweet, but subtle. Full of flavor and completely unique.

Win chose a mango salad for his first course. This salad had an interesting sweet dressing, goat cheese, and delicious dried mango. It was really fresh with flavors that popped. Win loved every bite.

Next we decided to share the Double Cream Brie and Pear Quesadillas. These were so delicious. As you can see from the photo above, they were served with sour cream and what I believe was adobo sauce. The Brie and pears were perfect together and the quesadilla was outstanding on its own. Dip it in the spicy sauce and the dish went to another whole level though. Great flavor complements and contrasts.

For my main course, I selected another daily special. The Corbia with a White Wine and Fig Shallot Sauce was excellent. According to our server, corbia is a white fish similar to sea bass. The presentation of this dish was gorgeous and the fish moist, flavorful and accompanied by so many tasty side dishes, including beans, rice, grilled pineapple, tomatoes and other assorted vegetables.

For his entrée, Win selected Pork with Spices from Puerto Rico. He also ordered a side of Chipotle Potatoes, pictured above with the pork. The pork won him over immediately with its unique flavor and he loved the spice of the potatoes.

May St. Café is BYOB and there is a $3.00 corkage fee. We enjoyed our dinner with one of our favorite reds, a 1998 Borgo Scopeto Chianti. Two waitresses managed the small dining room themselves the entire night, tag teaming quite well. Service was efficient, friendly and down to Earth.

Too full for dessert, we walked around the neighborhood after dinner. Everything you read about Pilsen, the neighborhood May St. is in, makes it sound somewhat dangerous at night. We found the neighborhood to be fine when we were there. Lots of friendly families were out socializing on their front steps and the few stores that were open late seemed to be doing a good business. There isn’t much to see around May St., but the food alone is worth a visit to this true gem off the beaten path.

May St. Café
1146 W. Cermak
Chicago, IL 60608
Telephone: 312-421-4442
Web Site: http://www.maystcafe.com

Next time At Our Table: A small misunderstanding about some brownies