Friday, December 31, 2010

From the Kitchens of Bunny and Brandy

Our Ladies feel it is only right to do a little bit of cooking for one self and one’s family every once in a while, but especially around the winter holidays. Keeping that in mind, we here present to you, our cherished readers, Bunny and Brandy’s favorite Brunch recipes.  Let us know how they turn out for you and have a wonderful New Year!

Bunny’s Pick:  Traditional English Pancakes

1 and 3/4  cups flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup water
Oil for frying
Juice of 1 lemon
Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Sift the flour with a good pinch of salt and the granulated sugar. Put in a bowl with the eggs, milk and water. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Let batter rest about half an hour so bubbles can dissipate. Heat a little oil in a medium-sized pan until very hot. Pour in a small amount of batter, rotating the pan so the thin batter covers the bottom like a crepe. Flip the pancake until browned on both sides. Remove it from the pan, put on a plate, sprinkle with the powdered sugar and squeeze lemon juice on it. Roll it up and more powdered sugar and lemon can be put on top. Sliced strawberries or other fruit could also be used!

Brandy’s Pick: Pasta and Eggs Florentine

2 cups cooked fettuccini
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small, sweet onion, sliced thin
3 cloves of garlic, diced
2 cups uncooked spinach
6 eggs, scrambled
1 cup shredded cheese of choice (melting cheeses like mozzarella or gruyere are best)
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a medium skillet, then put in the onions and garlic and cook over low heat until nicely caramelized.  Toss the cooked noodles with the onions and garlic.  Turn the heat up to medium and slowly pour in the eggs, making sure the noodles are evenly coated.  Scrape down the sides of the skillet as needed.  After the liquid egg has just started to solidify, add the cheese and continue to toss.  Quickly wilt the spinach in while mixing into the noodles.  Plate and serve with some extra cheese on top.  Serves four.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Socca or Do you know what I know

The Slow and Savory Review:

Yet again, Our Ladies tried their hand at that particular Bucktown haunt with the bread-based moniker, and yet again they were told to expect an extraordinarily long wait.  “I didn’t wait for the Prince of Wales to call for a second date and I’m not waiting an hour and a half for brunch!” said Bunny.  Bunny’s unusual show of moxie was due to her wanting to impress her brother, who was joining them that morn in addition to Biscuit Brown (“Birdie isn’t allowed to come to brunch until he apologizes for calling my mother a Yankee scoundrel,” Biscuit explained about the absence of her husband, “He insists that anyone born North of Tallahassee is a Yankee!”).  Bunny’s brother, here to be known as Mr. Bacon, is a former (or possibly current) agent of MI5, and therefore has to be carful not to reveal too much about his true identity.

After a short drive, Our Ladies and guests noticed a banner on the corner of Aldine and Clark proclaiming “Brunch!” and decided it was worth investigating.  After Mr. Bacon had secured the perimeter, Our Party entered Socca, a Mediterranean inspired bistro, that has only very recently begun serving brunch.  The unassuming entrance leads one past a rustic, dark wood bar, the open kitchen, around the corner to the hostess stand, and finally into a wide open sunny room.  Our Ladies were frankly shocked to see such an elegant room with almost no one in it, especially considering the improbable wait time that was given at their previous stop.

Their waitress presented a plate of fresh baked scones and orange slices along with their water.  The scones were warm and citrusy, almost more cookie like in texture.  A round of mimosas were ordered (expect for Mr. Bacon, who ordered a Grey Hound, shaken, not stirred) while Our Ladies perused the menus.  For Brandy, vanilla croissant French toast and a side of polenta “cheese grits.”  For Biscuit, some pork belly potato hash and eggs.  For Mr. Bacon, a simple omelet made with tomato and spinach.  And Bunny, as always the adventurous soul, ordered the crab cake Benedict.

Mr. Bacon’s omelet tasted of fresh, well cooked spinach, and was doused in a light, creamy cheese sauce.  To the side were some standard diced potatoes.  It was hard to gauge his expression from under his dark sunglasses, but Bunny thought she caught a flicker of a smile on the corner of his lips as he munched.

Biscuit, who downed three mimosas all by her lonesome, devoured her pork belly hash with relish.  She had never had pork belly until that day, but at Brandy’s urging (“It’s essentially thick cut bacon,” Brandy explained, to which Biscuit’s eyes grew as big as saucers) she happily received her rustic plate of hash and over easy eggs.  Hearty and not overly greasy, the dish helped to combat the effects of the mimosas on delicate little Biscuit.

Bunny’s crab Benedict was a vast improvement over Ann Sather’s.  Real crab meat mixed with wonderful spices and served traditional style over Canadian bacon and an English muffin, Bunny was very happy indeed.  The Hollandaise, she reported, was vaguely sweet, but very light and not overpowering to the rest of the dish.

Brandy was glad she has ordered the side when her French toast arrived, as the portion size seemed a bit small, especially considering it was one of the more expensive meals on offer.  But upon slicing into the confection, its densness revealed the reason for its small appearance on the plate.  Thick and rich, as it was covered in a sabayon and vanilla gelato, the dish would have been just as at home on a dessert menu.  The “Cheese Grits” were light and fluffy and bursting with parmesaney goodness, and actually made a nice contrast to the richness of the French toast.

The moral of the story is a long wait does not a delicious brunch make.  All told, about $25 was spent per person, and that included drinks.  Our Ladies suggest you run to Socca for a lovely holiday brunch before word gets out and the wait starts to form.  Mr. Bacon mentioned something about recommending Socca to his good friend, the President of… but stopped short of revealing any more information, least one of Our Ladies be put into mortal peril.

The Short and Sweet Review:

Socca on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 17, 2010

Nana or Mama’s Boys

The Slow and Savory Review:

There are times in all of our lives when we all need warmth, comfort, good food, and company, and there is no better time for any of those fine things then on a blustery, blizzardy, bitterey day, such as this particular Sunday happened to be.  This is precisely why Our Ladies chose to deviate from their original plan of visiting one particular restaurant in Bucktown with a bread-based moniker in favor of somewhere that had less than a two hour wait for a table.  “Two hours indeed!” Brandy huffed as they trudged back through the snow to Bunny’s ’27 Model T, “I could die at any second, and they want me to wait two bloody hours for brunch?”  “It does seem a tad excessive,” said Biscuit Brown, who had joined Bunny and Brandy for a Girl’s Morning/Early Afternoon Out.    “Calm now, ladies,” Bunny said as she cranked the engine into life, “I have an idea.” 

Half an hour later, they arrived, travel weary, at Nana in the Bridgeport neighborhood, an all organic family owned restaurant that’s still in it’s infancy, having opened a little over a year ago.  Three blue faces presented themselves to the smiling hostess at the door and they were whisked away to a spacious table near a window (“This is more like it!” Brandy was heard to mumble).

Nana achieves the remarkable goal of feeling homey and sophisticated at the same time.  Original art works, some of which are for sale, hang on the exposed brick walls just above white wainscoting, and at the back of the house is an open kitchen, where all of the action can be glimpsed.  A set of brothers, Omar and Christian Solis (“If their food is as delicious as they are, we’re in for a treat,” said Bunny), run the place along with the restaurant’s name sake, their mother, who is an accomplished pastry chef in her own right.

Our Ladies and guest had been hoping to sample that days’ special of roasted sweet potato beignets, but sadly, they were informed the kitchen had run out of them.  Instead, they were encouraged to split a plate of Gingerbread pancakes with roasted apples, which they agreed to.  Drinks were also ordered: for Bunny, a mocha for Biscuit a cappuccino, and for Brandy, a house made hot apple cider.  For entrees, Bunny, a sucker for a certain egg dish as always, ordered the Nanadict (a Latin twist on the original), Brandy got a bowl of the soup de jour as well as Pear and Raspberry stuffed French Toast, and Biscuit decided on the Fried Chicken and Waffles.

The gingerbread pancakes were utterly deliriously delicious.  They came served with a cinnamon sugar whipped cream, which only enhanced the taste the fire had licked onto the apples.  Brandy’s soup too was warm and filling, though she had mistakenly thought it to be a mushroom based soup.  “It says Northern white and wild mushroom soup, does it not?” she asked the table.  “Northern Whites are beans, dear,” said Bunny, which explained the abundance of legumes in the bowl.  Brandy devoured it none the less, savoring the still crisp veggies and the warming herbaceous broth.

Biscuit’s Chicken and Waffles was thoroughly scrumptious; doused in a spiced and flavorful gravy, the dish left Biscuit with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face.  “This chicken makes me want to go home and slap my mama,” she said.  Seeing that her hostess’ faces had registered a touch of confusion and shock, she simply said, “It’s just an expression.  I’ve never slapped my mama, mostly because I would have been slapped back, 3 times harder.”  Blank stares met her laughter, so Biscuit shoved a waffle bite into her mouth.

Brandy’s French toast was beautifully presented with whipped cream and a sliced, poached pear.  The thick cut brioche was packed with a pink, cheesy filling that was sweet and creamy, but not overpowering to the dish.  The pear on the side, while a splendid garnish, also served the purpose of a side dish to help break up the richness of the plate.

 Bunny’s Nanadict was more closely related to Huevos Rancheros than a traditional Benedict, but she found it refreshing.  Covered in chimichuri sauce, the brilliantly poached eggs rested on a zesty corn cake and were accompanied by some equally peppery potatoes.  Rich, well portioned, and unique, the Nanadict gets the stamp of approval from Bunny, Pros. Emeritus of Eggs Benedict.

A little on the pricey side, but worth it for a place that is all organic and local, Nana gives one the feeling of being well looked after.  All they need to do is make warm, fuzzy blankets and slippers a mandatory part of the dress code.

The Short and Sweet Review:

Nana on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bleeding Heart Bakery or Responsible Punks

The Slow and Savory Review:

Bunny insisted on somewhere “fast and cheap” this week as she had urgent Christmas shopping to attend to, so Brandy suggested a bakery for a few nibbles, some coffee or perhaps tea, and provisions to go. Bleeding Heart Bakery was chosen because Brandy vaguely remembered they had been featured on the Food Network at some point. “If they even remotely know that delicious Jamie Oliver, then I want to make their acquaintance,” said Brandy.

Bleeding Heart Bakery, located just on the border of Roscoe Village and Lakeview, presents itself to the viewer with bright colored windows and a patchwork sign, declaring exactly what one is in for: punk rock pastries, all made from local and organic ingredients. The interior is just as colorful and eccentric; the walls are lime green and hot pink, the tables are shaped and painted like day-glow cupcakes, and every corner holds a surprise, like murals of brain eating zombies and peculiar sample cakes. Admittedly, Our Ladies did not know what to think of such a place at first, but then they laid eyes on the display cases, which were crammed full of all sorts of goodies, and their anxieties dissolved.

There were brownies and fudge, raspberry and lemon bars, gingerbread men, chocolate chip cookies, a variety of scones, tea cakes, and croissants, dazzling cupcakes, and piles of something called cake balls, which after inquiry, were found to be made from the scrapes of Bleeding Heart’s famous sculpted cakes. After taking it all in, Our Ladies began to notice that this was no ordinary bakery. The Chocolate Chip cookies had bacon in them, the scones had granola, and the ingredients of the cupcakes were unlike anything they’d ever seen before. It was a tough choice when confronted with such splendor, but eventually Our Ladies decided on a Triple Cheese Quiche and a cupcake for each. Brandy opted for the Sugar Plum Brulee cupcake, while Bunny chose a Gingerbread Lingonberry cupcake. Each also got a hot beverage; a Latte for Bunny and a Chai Latte for Brandy.

Although the quiches were warmed by a lovely attendant, the heat applied didn’t quite penetrate through to the middle, where the filling remained ice cold. However, the crust was delightfully flaky and buttery, and each bite of the filling revealed pockets of the cheesey treasure within.

Bunny’s Gingerbread cupcake was wonderfully moist, but more muffin like in texture. Topped with a nicely spiced piece of gingerbread and cinnamon sugar frosting, she found it a little under sweetened. While the Lingonberries made for an interesting choice on paper, Bunny expressed a wish for something with a tad more tartness, like some dried cranberries, instead.

Brandy’s cupcake had a golden crust of torched sugar on top of the frosting, which when sliced open, cracked just like a real crème brulee should. The cake itself seemed to be a simple vanilla, studded with bits of candied plums. At first, she found the flavors a little overwhelming, but after tucking in properly, all of it seemed to meld together nicely. The best part, Brandy was heard to comment, was the surprise pocket of crème hiding inside the cake, just under the frosting.

Our Ladies learned something this week: there is nothing to be feared in adventurous pastry, because no matter how unusual the ingredients or flavor combinations may seem, at the end of the day, you still get to eat a pastry. Bleeding Heart Bakery is the perfect spot if you’re searching for something exciting without having to commit to a sit down meal. Bunny is currently begging her way into obtaining the Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, while Brandy is considering dying her hair the same color blue she saw on one of Bleeding Heart’s patrons.

The Short and Sweet Review:

Bleeding Heart Bakery on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ann Sather or The Sweetish Swedish

The Slow and Savory Review
After brunching in the clouds last week, Our Ladies needed to get back down to earth, especially after overindulging in the charming American custom that is Thanksgiving. “I don’t even want to look at the word turkey,” Brandy mumbled, “Damn Pilgrims. No wonder the British forced them out.” And so it was decided that they should visit Ann Sather, Chicago’s famous Swedish breakfast bastion, famed for its generous portions and monstrous cinnamon rolls. The Browns once again joined them; Birdie, still half asleep and Biscuit, fresh from her harrowing hangnail surgery.

They had their choice of two Ann Sather’s, both within walking distance of each other in the Lakeview neighborhood; one on Broadway and the other on Belmont. They opted for the more spacious Broadway location, hoping to avoid a wait. Their plan worked perfectly as they were taken to a table straight away to be offered water and coffee by an abundance of roaming servers. The décor inside was bright and cheerful enough, but nothing remarkable. Happily, even though the space was open like so many of the breakfast establishments Our Ladies have visited, Ann Sather had taken care with her table spacing, not forcing patrons to be on top of each other, thus making conversation possible.

The best deal on the menu seemed to be the egg dishes, all of which came with two sides. Choices included fruit salad, hash browns, muffins, toast, cottage cheese, and those oh so delicious cinnamon rolls. Accordingly, Bunny ordered the Crab Cake Benedict and Brandy the Garden Variety Omelet, both of them taking hash browns and cinnamon rolls as their trimming. They also ordered beverages; for Bunny an SOB (Strawberry, Orange, Banana juice) and a hot chocolate for Brandy. Birdie asked for the Swedish Breakfast Sampler, a combo platter or Swedish pancakes, Swedish meatballs, Swedish potato sausage, and an egg (it has yet to be confirmed whether the egg was Swedish or not), as well as a side of choice (of course, he asked for the cinnamon rolls). Biscuit broke away from the pack by ordering some Bacon Cheddar Potato Pancakes, which sadly did not off the choice of sides the other dishes did.

Almost instantly after ordering, three plates of cinnamon rolls were brought to the table. Each plate housed the center cut of two cinnamon rolls, drenched in sugar glaze. Keep in mind dear readers, this is a side dish:

Next came the entrees. When asked about his dish, Birdie’s response was, “Meat. Good.” After stealing a bite of his pancake, Brandy reported that they were nicely doughy, and the Lingonberry preserves that were served with them not unlike the Thanksgiving Cranberry dressing (though Bunny pointed out that they did not come compressed into the shape of an aluminum can.)

Biscuit’s potato pancakes were indeed savory and crispy, though with only a dollop of sour cream to accompany them, Biscuit began to wish she had ordered something that came with one of those many sides. “These little darlings just need a nice fruit cup to break them up a bit,” she sighed.
Bunny’s Crab Cake Benedict fell a bit short of expectation (as we all know, Bunny is a leading expert in Eggs Benedict). The poached eggs atop the crab cakes were over cooked, with no delectable yoke to run out, and the crab in the crab caked may have been “crab,” or at least previously frozen crab, as it was a tad mushy and fishy tasting. The hash browns proved to be a bit more interesting; they were not a typical hash brown, but something more akin to a home-style potato, having not been shredded or fried on a flat top. Instead, they were rather creamy and well seasoned.

Finally, Brandy’s omelet came crammed with fresh veggies like broccoli, tomato, and zucchini. Brandy was heard to comment that all the dish need was a hit of cheese, though she admitted that there’s not many dishes that couldn’t benefit from a hit of cheese.

The portions were indeed generous, so Ann Sather is the place to head if you’re looking for someone else to play mom this holiday season and fill you up with old fashioned home cooking. And at around $15 a person, a good meal is to be found here for a really good price. There’s no flash, no gimmicks, and no progressive, scary flavor combos, just a lovely old Swedish lady who would love to give you a taste of her homeland. (Note: Ann Sather is not actually at the restaurant, having retired in 1981, but that didn’t stop Bunny from insisting that Ann herself had greeted them all at the entrance.)

The Short and Sweet Review:

Ann Sather Cafe on Urbanspoon