Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Postcards from Bunny: Chicago Holiday Events Roundup

With the holidays fast approaching, there has been so much going on that Brandy has barely been able to keep track of both her knitting needles, let alone her schedule.  Luckily, Bunny, who is in Chicago for an extended stay to finish up her Christmas shopping (she's been spending an average of 6-7 hours a day just walking up and down the Mag Mile) has been helping out by bouncing from one holiday celebration to the next and keeping copious notes to boot.

Holiday Dinner Demo at the Intercontinental

One of Bunny's first stops was into the Intercontinental Hotel to visit with Chef Randy Reed, who was demonstrating some simple to do, yet impressive dishes that anyone could prepare for their holiday meal at home.

He started off with a cocktail he had entitled Elf That Fell Off the Shelf which consisted of several different citrus juices, orange liqueur, amaretto, spiced rum, a dash of cinnamon, and finished off with a stalk of sugar cane and some caramelized orange oil.  The cocktail had a warm, familiar, yet refreshing flavor, and best of all, could easily be made in large quantities to as to be easily served at parties.

Next up, he prepared a couple of side dishes; a Celeriac Mousseline and a Winter Vegetable Melange.  The mousseline was meant to be a more elevated alternative to mashed potatoes, while the vegetable melange was a gorgeously colorful mix of rainbow carrots, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, rutabaga, and pomegranate seeds, all coated in butter and simply spiced.  "I never thought of winter veggies as being so vibrant!" Bunny exclaimed when she beheld the final dish, "And such a simple idea too.  I absolutely must try this one at home!"

For his main course, Chef Reed prepared a Chateaubriand with Perigourine Sauce, an ode to his French influenced cooking style.  The beef was stuffed with Foie Gras, then tied off, pan seared, and wrapped in crepes (a technique Chef Reed insisted kept the juices and fats where they needed to be) and finally rolled into a puff pastry blanket and cooked in the over until golden brown.  The result was a flavorful, rich, and beautiful dish that would be sure to impress any crowd (except maybe a crowd of vegetarians).

The meal was rounded out with a Peppermint Yule Log, coated in chocolate ganache and garnished with white chocolate and gold flakes.  "I'm always worried my abilities won't be up to the task of recreating things like this," said Bunny, "But if I make enough of these cocktails, maybe no one will notice if my beef is a little burnt or my Yule log is slightly lopsided!"

Feast of the Seven Fishes at Filini

Meanwhile, Brandy had headed over to Filini, where she enjoyed a meal earlier this year, to preview their menu for the epic Italian indulgence that is The Feast of the Seven Fishes.  The traditional Christmas meal, based on the Catholic practice of not eating meat during holy days, was being re-interpreted by Chef Carolina Diaz into a four course menu with seven seafood options.

The meal began with one of the three new hot toddy's at Filini, the Twisted Earl.  As Brandy lives pretty much off of Earl Grey this time of year, she was extremely excited to sample this mix of honey, orange bitters, gin, and of course, tea.

The first two courses were the Cod Fritters in spicy Pomodoro Sauce and the Sicilian Tuna Carpaccio, both of which made for a fresh and easy beginning to the richer dishes to come.

There were five entrees on offer; the Braised Octopus with panchetta and fingerling potatoes that Brandy found earthy and fun to eat, the Linguine with Clams that came in a lovely white wine and lemon sauce, the Risotto with artisanal smoked salmon that had such a perfect consistency and a nice subtle flavor, the Monkfish done Osso Bucco style with a more spicy pomodoro sauce and an herbed gremolata topping, and Brandy's favorite, the Red Snapper with a citrus scented beurre blanc sauce, pistachios, fennel, and a really interesting grain-like pasta called Fregula Sarda.

The meal was finished off with some honey glazed Struffoli, or little gems of fried dough, and a Ciocolatissimo, a sort of chocolate lava cake, filled with a fig mostarda.

After seven fishes, two desserts, several glasses of wine, and a few hours of soaking in the gorgeous decor at Filini and the Radisson Blu, Brandy couldn't do much more than curl into a chair beside the exquisite fire place and sip a few more Earl Grey hot toddy's.  "Part of me feels bad for consuming the entire ocean this evening," she smiled to herself, "And part of me doesn't like to listen to the other part because she's a party pooper."

Holiday Desserts at Lovely Bake Shop

Both ladies met up at one point to share some coffee, sweets, and compare notes on their adventures, and what better place to do so than Lovely Bake Shop in Wicker Park, where the shelves had been filled to the brim with holiday goodies.

There were pies galore, like the traditional pumpkin and chocolate pecan, and Brandy's personal favorite, the pear and cranberry.  The cupcakes featured festive flavors like S'mores, pumpkin, and Bunny's favorite, apple pie, which was frosted in a sweet and sticky cream cheese icing and just a little bit of cooked apples.  There were elegant tarts, like the pear butter linzer and the cranberry almondine, both of which featured impossibly buttery crusts, and delightful cookies like the chocolate ginger chews, the peppermint French macarons, and best of all, some chocolate dipped and gold dusted coconut macaroons.

"Oh my goodness, would you look at that sparkle!" Bunny giggled with glee as Brandy turned the little confection over in her fingers.  The crisp and crunchy outer layer of the macaroon gave way to the soft and chewy interior, and the fact that only half the cookie had been dipped in chocolate meant the coconut flavor wasn't overwhelmed.  "I'm going to need at least a dozen of these to take home," Brandy said through a mouthful of coconut while wiping a smear of chocolate and gold dust away from her mouth, "I might just decorate my tree with them!"

The writers of this blog were invited to all of the mentioned events in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

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