Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Things I learned at the Chicago Gourmet fest

Two wild n' crazy boxes o'wine.

This Saturday, I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer at the Chicago Gourmet festival (representing the wonderful Green City Market). This was a rather high-end (read "pricey") event with lots of top-notch Chicago restaurants dishing out fabulous bites. And of course, every alcohol distributor under the sun was represented, so attendees could sample wine, liquor, cocktails, sake, Champagne and beer in one lap around Millenium Park. There were also culinary demos and seminars with some well-known chefs, so there was a lot of action to take in.

In the middle of Chicago Gourmet this weekend at Millenium Park.

Here's what I learned:

1) Millenium Park gets more beautiful every time I go.

2) Roast suckling pig is not overrated (and neither is the restaurant that served it, Mercat a la Planxa, one of my faves!).

3) Trekking to Urban Belly for their fresh, flavorful wonton soup would be totally worth it.

4) Chicago should really get on the sake train.

5) To make a mint-infused martini, put a few sprigs in the shaker along with ice and other ingredients (try gin, simple syrup and lemon juice); shake with a gentle, rolling motion; strain and serve.

5) Eden Valley, Australia is the place for bone-dry Riesling.

6) Duck confit grilled cheese on baguette—try it, you’ll like it.

7) There is always waaaaay more alcohol than food at these types of events, so pace yourself!

Sake: A whole new world of booze to explore.

Any Chicagoans reading this who attended the event? What did you think? Do you have anything to add to my pearls of wisdom above? More importantly, would you go again next year?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grilled Whole Trout

Grilling whole fish is so easy. In fact, I think it's even easier than grilling fillets, because getting great results takes so little effort. With protective skin on both sides for sealing in flavor and a handy center pocket for holding in herbs and seasonings, whole fillets make your job really simple.

The ones in the pictures, both raw and in fully grilled glory, are trout. If you buy them already cleaned (meaning guts and most of the bones removed) like we did, all you have to do is open each fish like a book and sprinkle the flesh with salt and pepper. We also stuffed them with lemons and parsley for a bit more flavor...and because it looks awfully fancy and delicious.

That's our new favorite fish recipe in a nutshell. You'll want to lightly rub the outside of the fish with oil so it doesn't stick to your grill. Then cook them for about 4 to 5 minutes per side over hot coals. This would definitely be pretty enough to serve to friends, AND you can have the fish prepped and seasoned in advance.

Do you ever grill whole fish? I liked the thin, quick-cooking trout, but what other types are good whole on the grill? Tell me what your favorite is and how you season it in the comments.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

All About Grilled Pizza

I've thought about doing it for years when we didn't have a grill, and I talked about it just recently when me made this fantastic pie. Now, I'm happy to report that I've finally tried grilled pizza!

No doubt, I was apprehensive. It's not difficult, but I knew it had to be one of those things you just need to get the hang of, like folding an omelet or parallel parking. Fortunately, this is probably easier than either of those two examples. All you have to do is be prepared and pay attention to what you're doing. With that in mind, I also put together a few tips that will hopefully help, should you want to try grilled pizza for the first time too!

1) First up, the dough: Any dough is great! Buy it at a supermarket or make your own. I've relied on this whole wheat style for years now, and this time around, I wanted a more traditional white dough, so I used Cindy Mushet's recipe in The Art & Soul of Baking. However. Regardless of the dough you choose, results on the grill may be different than what you get with a pizza stone in the oven. The grill creates a flatbread-style result, rather than big, bubbly blisters from a very hot oven. Both delish, just slightly different.

2) Now we have visual aids! As seen in the image above, it is crucial to prep all your toppings ahead of time and have them ready to toss on the pizza. You should also cook anything in advance that needs cooking because it won't get direct heat from the grill. I caramelized the onions on the stove and broiled the figs. You'd want to cook things like sausage in advance, as well as firm veggies, like eggplant or zucchini.

3) You'll also want to prep the grill so you have a hot and cool side. Instead of piling the coals in the center, scoot them to one side. You'll see why in tip #7.

4) In the kitchen, roll out your dough on an oiled piece of parchment paper. Then brush the rolled out dough with oil too. When you take it outside, flip the parchment so the dough hits the grill, then peel off the paper. Heat proof mitts are essential here, as well as for the rest of the process.

5) Don't make huge pies. Ya know, it's possible, but smaller ones are easier to handle. For a recipe that makes enough dough for 2 thin, 12-inch pies, you should get 4 pies for the grill. In the image above, the dough has started to cook since you can see bubbles forming. As soon as the edges begin to set, started lifting the dough to check the bottom for browning and rotating it for even cooking. That way, you can prevent...

6) a burnt crust! Pizza will blacken FAST when it's over direct flame. Just check it obsessively, and you'll be fine.

7) When the first side is done, flip it and move the pizza to the cool side of the grill. That way nothing gets scorched while you arrange your toppings. When you're done, scoot it back over to the hot side and cover the grill. This is where experience comes in, as well as a sense of how hot and fast your grill is. Leave it covered for as long as you think you can, then start checking obsessively again. If the bottom is browned and you want to continue heating the toppings (perhaps to melt your cheese more), just move it back to cool side and cover the grill till you're satisfied.

And that's it! Easy, right? I was thrilled that we only flubbed that first crust by leaving it over the hot coals a bit too long. One casualty on our maiden voyage isn't too bad at all! The pizza we made, by the way is one of my absolute favorites: fresh figs, caramelized onions, prosciutto, Feta and basil. Read more here.

So, what do you think of these tips? Anything new that you've never tried before? Do you think I'm doing this completely wrong? Air your opinions in the comments!