For Your Next Party: The Black Course

black course, short rib in grape leaf, mole

the black course:
negra modelo beer braised beef short rib with chile de arbol
wrapped in a grape leaf with oaxacan black mole sauce
black mission figs, shiitake mushrooms

crispy grape leaf chip, sesame ash, black sesame seed, cacao nibs

Of the seven courses we served at our fundraiser dinner, the black course is my creative favorite. I looked to Mexican cuisine experts – Chefs Rick Bayless, Patricia Quintana, and Javier Plascencia for inspiration. I learned about making sesame ash while Guest-Chef-for-the-Day at Moto Restaurant in Chicago last January and had been wanting to try Chef Homaro Cantu’s modernist technique in a dish ever since.  What appears to be ash is black sesame seed oil converted into a powder. It serves visual interest as well as a flavor complement to the sesame seed in the mole.

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Entertain with Panache

fish in parchment, saffron cream sauce

Black Cod en Papillote
Red Lentils & Leek, Carrot, Yellow Squash, Zucchini
Saffron Cream Sauce

Recently we gave a local upscale restaurant another chance. The place has a spectacular view of the Pacific and a bold imaginative menu. Unfortunately, though pleasant enough, the service misses the mark lacking attention to detail. And while there is nothing wrong with the food per se, the kitchen cannot seem to execute the dishes that sound so wonderful. They arrive at the table lacking finesse and vibrancy. One of the items that sounded promising was a seabass en papillote. The concept was terrific but the dish sadly, was just average, which then prompted me to recreate it at home.

This Black Cod en Papillote turns out to be a fabulous dish for entertaining with panache. All the components can be prepped ahead of time, just let everything come to room temperature, assemble on the parchment paper, crimp, and bake. Simply lift the packets from the baking sheet to the dinner plate. Serve warm saffron cream sauce on the side. The uniqueness of serving the entire main course in parchment plus the addition of a fresh green salad makes this a delightful meal to serve to company.

I like to use a fish with high fat content for baking in parchment. Since the wrapped fish cannot be checked for doneness without opening the package, the fat offers a buffer against overcooking. Black cod is a certified sustainable seafood and also excellent for this preparation. Its silky rich meat with a distinctive sweet flavor and flaky texture is perfect cooked “en papillote.”

Cooking fish and vegetables en papillote is traditional, but it’s the red lentils that provide a surprising layer of flavor and texture, perfect for soaking up the juices. In the sealed package the flavors and perfume of the four vegetables – carrots, leeks, yellow squash and zucchini – mingle with the cod. Finally, the saffron cream sauce is an adaptation from vegan Chef Tal Ronnen. It is dairy-free and has no cholesterol. Just a couple tablespoons add a bright exotic note. It can be made ahead, and gently reheated.

Black Cod en Papillote Recipe

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Where to Eat Next in Chicago: Balsan


Enjoy the luxurious two-star Michelin restaurant RIA in the fabulously chic Waldorf Astoria Chicago with one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs 2012 Danny Grant. Then go try Balsan – RIA’s hip casual-yet-sophisticated little sister, sharing the same kitchen.

Balsan’s rustic artisanal menu, crisp easy-going service, and a gregarious atmosphere for which Chicago is known make for a winning combination. Looking for a place to hang out when you attend the National Restaurant Association SHOW next month?
This is the place.

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Spring Bliss: Sugar Snap Pea, Avocado, Tomato, Mint

spring bliss soup, sugar snap pea soup, chilled pea and mint soup

Chilled Sugar Snap Pea & Mint Soup
Mashed Avocado with Lime, Tomato Concassé with Shallot
Fresh Mint, Chili Oil & Creme Fraiche Garnish

A vendor at the Farmers’ Market was handing out samples of fresh-from-the-vine sugar snap peas. Telling people just to eat them as is, no cooking necessary. They were sweet & exploding with flavor, crunchy, the color of spring. Few of us could pass up buying a basket or two. Once home, I turned to my favorite vegetable cookbook Charlie Trotter’s Vegetables for inspiration: Sugar Snap Pea Soup. A simple and refreshing chilled soup. With avocado for richness, tomato for sweet acidity, mint for brightness. Spring. Bliss.

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When to “Doggie Bag?” Your Thoughts?

peking duck, steamed buns, wolfgang puck duck, wp24

Leftovers of Peking Duck with Steamed Buns
Accompaniments: Scallion, Pickled Daikon, Cucumber, Sugar, Hoisin

The concept of a “doggie bag” or taking home leftovers from a restaurant meal is not an American invention. It’s been around since the sixth century B.C. when Romans would wrap up goodies from a banquet meal and take home the leftovers in a cloth. It showed respect and honored the host, implying the food was good and was worthy of taking home. Food preparation way back then could not have been easy, so, seriously, whose ancestors wouldn’t take the bountiful offerings from the big buffet back to their humble abode?

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Brunch. Manhattan. Beach.

post bangin' brunch, mb post
Manhattan Beach Post
POST BANGIN’ BRUNCH

She called it one of the most surprising openings of the year. As one of the Best Meals of 2011Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic S. Irene Virbila lists her experience at M.B. Post as one of 2011’s most memorable. The upscale Water Grill in Downtown LA with Chef David LeFevre at the helm for years has been our favorite seafood restaurant, and that hasn’t changed. But now this Michelin-starred chef is in the South Bay, our neck of the woods, down at the beach, and we’re thrilled.

manhattan beach post restaurant

M.B Post serves imaginative, artisan global-style dishes in a casually sophisticated atmosphere that purposefully lends itself to a “social house” setting. It’s a fresh brilliant concept where sliding doors open onto the street, with beach-town ambiance, but in a non-stereotypical fashion.

The Chef began offering his Post Bangin’ Brunch in January. Hooray.

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