Friday, February 26, 2016

5411 Empanadas or The Whole World in Her Hand

The Slow and Savory Review

Brandy's schedule has been getting a little out of hand as of late.  "First, there's the bocci bowling tournament, then my haiku club meeting, Quilter's Anonymous, and finally the quarterly clogging recital, and that's just in the space of twelve hours!" Brandy exclaimed while going over her calendar, "How on earth am I going to do all of this and sneak in some brunch?  What I need is a handheld brunch, something portable and mess free.  Why oh why are there no Cornish pastie shops in Chicago!?"

Luckily, after some research, Brandy located the next best thing, empanadas.  Specifically, 5411 Empanadas in Lakeview, which offers a huge variety of meat, vegetarian, sweet, and even breakfast flavored handheld baked dough pockets.  The shop was cozy and sweet with a relaxed feeling that seemed perfect for a quick respite from running errands or a grabbing a snack before seeing a movie.  The warm woods were complimented by a smattering of the signature powder blue color, and plenty of sunlight made everything feel rather cheerful.

Brandy was so overwhelmed by the amount of choices on the menu that she ordered the majority of them to get a taste of what was on offer.  The empanadas arrived rather quickly, though Brandy had already forgotten what all she had ordered.  Luckily, each empanada was shaped specifically to its filling, and handy guides on the table could be referenced to see which one the diner was about to enjoy.  "This is ingenious!" Brandy exclaimed, "I'm not saying my memory is going, but sometimes the largest cup of coffee isn't enough to keep me paying attention."

Brandy started off with some of the breakfast varieties, which came in Bacon Egg and Cheddar, Chorizo Black Bean and Egg, and Veggie and Egg.  The dough on all of the empanadas was much the same, with a thin and crunchy exterior and a slightly chewy interior that was the perfect thickness.  The veggie variety was unexpectedly hearty, being filled with more beans than greens, meaning it wasn't just some throw away vegetarian alternative.  The chorizo and egg was hearty as well and nicely spiced, but a little on the dry side.  Luckily, that was helped by the addition of the Red Hot and Chimichuri sauces served on the side.  The bacon egg and cheddar was probably Brandy's favorite of the three, being a combination of classic American breakfast flavors, but presented in a new way.

Next, Brandy indulged in some of the vegetable varieties.  The Mushroom Thyme and Blue Cheese was a major burst of flavor with the herb flavor up front, and then the pungent cheese roaring in.  ""My goodness!" Brandy exclaimed, "Yet another example of a vegetarian option that is bursting with just as much flavor as a meaty option.  Vegetable eaters everywhere can rejoice that they're not left out here!"  The Spinach and Cheese was another tasty bite, with plenty of melty goodness and a nice feta flavor that reminded Brandy of a spanakopita.  The Sweet Corn was maybe the only disappointment, as it was more savory than expected with a good dose of pepper to it.  Lastly, there was the Caramelized Onion, which Brandy found had a lovely sweetness to it with lots of cheese, though she thought this one was better as an accompaniment to some of the others, rather than one that could be eaten on its own.

Moving on to some of the more meaty varieties, Brandy sampled the signature Malbec Beef.  The meat was very tender and lean and reminded Brandy of a pot roast.  Brandy especially liked this one with the red hot sauce, which gave it a decent kick.  Perhaps Brandy's favorite of the day was the Bacon Goat Cheese and Date, which was the perfect mix of sweet and savory with the smokey bacon, creamy cheese, and natural sweetness of the finely chopped dried fruit.  "Now this is a brunch empanada if I've ever tasted one!" Brandy gushed.

Rounding out her meal, Brandy ordered the only fully sweet empanada, the Nutella and Banana.  The filling on this one was a little liquidy, making it more messy than the others, and tasted more of banana than Nutella, not that Brandy minded.  "I would say that to fully satisfy a sweet tooth, one might need to consume a few more of these," she posited.

Now that she was full to the brim with empanadas, Brandy felt ready to face her busy day.  At $2.50 a piece, these little pockets of joy had hardly put a dent in her pocket, and the convenience of their presentation had her making mental notes for the next time her schedule got over booked.  "Though I usually do advocate for a brunch that is slow and relaxing, it's good to know one has the option of a delightful and filling brunch on the go.  Now, off to judge the Mrs. American Crochet competition!"

The writers of this blog were invited to dine at the restaurant free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

The Short and Sweet Review
5411 Empanadas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Masterpiece Eat-a-Ter: Afternoon Tea at Home

Next to brunch, Brandy regards Tea Time as the most important meal of the day, or as Brandy puts it, "When I first came to the United States and realized that a proper four o'clock tea was not a recognized tradition, I almost turned tail and ran back home to Old Blighty."  But in recent years, there seems to have been a resurgence in the mid day snack, perhaps due to a few popular British television transplants, perhaps due to the changing landscape of the American work hours, or perhaps people have just finally wised up to how spectacular a good cream tea can be.

Afternoon Tea at Home by Will Torrent
Ryland Peters & Small, $24.95;
Photo credit: Photography by Matt Russell
Luckily, a new cookbook recently came to Brandy's attention; Afternoon Tea at Home by Will Torrent.  Chef Torrent, a world class patissier and chocolatier who has worked with the best of the best in the British culinary world, has set out to make the sometimes finicky and staunch world of high tea service a little less intimidating for the home cook.  The book is sectioned off into classics and essentials at the front, then recipes divided by season in the middle, and handy menu guides for designing tea service for different occasions at the back. Brandy found the photography absolutely gorgeous, showing off all of the detailed decorations and luscious fillings.  Though the pictures sometimes made the delicacies look complicated, the conversational tone of the writing combined with the clear directions made each recipe very easy to follow.

To design her tea service, Brandy had a few criteria.  "We must have a scone, a cookie, a cake, a sandwich, and something special," she sketched out.  She chose the Blueberry Buttermilk Scones with Honeycomb Butter, a nice little twist on the classic English treat.  The scones had the perfect tender texture with bursts of fresh berries and a little tang from the buttermilk, but the accompanying butter, which had been cut with crispy honeycomb candy, made these goodies very unique and extremely decadent.  For her cookies, Brandy couldn't resist making the Earl Grey Teapots.  These simple shortbreads were spiked with bits of actual Earl Grey tea, making them a fresh and sweet accompaniment to a hot brewed cuppa.  The cakes were a very easy Strawberry and Cream cake, made with clotted cream for an extra touch of Englishness, and came out rather buttery and crumbly, much like an American strawberry shortcake.  The sandwiches she chose were the Bloody Mary Shrimp sandwiches, which had a lovely creamy filling that packed plenty of punch to cut through the sweetness of the rest of the treats.  Finally, Brandy went full molecular gastronomist and made a batch of Lime and Mint Prosecco Jellies, topped with an infused foam.  Not only did these beauties make for a lovely presentation, they were actually quite easy to prepare.

"Oh, how I have missed having a good old afternoon tea!" Brandy exclaimed as she beheld the deliciousness before her, "And with these recipes being even easier than I had thought they would be, I now think I'm confident enough to attempt some of the more complicated goodies.  Now, to find a piping bag, some gelatin sheets, a few pieces of gold leaf and... on second thought, I should probably eat what I've already made."

Bloody Mary shrimp sandwich
The addition of some of the ingredients that make up a Bloody Mary cocktail to a classic Marie Rose sauce takes a simple prawn/shrimp sandwich to a whole new level. The crushed avocado butter elevates it even further, which in my opinion, when done right, is simply stunning.

400 g/14 oz. cooked north Atlantic prawns/shrimp
3 tablespoons
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon paprika
a splash of Tabasco
1 tablespoon vodka (optional)
a dash of Worcestershire sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

75 g/5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 ripe avocado
juice of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

8 thin slices brown bread
2 heads little Gem lettuce, shredded
celery salt, to taste

Makes 8

Pat the prawns/shrimp dry with paper towels and tip into a bowl. Add the mayonnaise, ketchup, paprika, Tabasco, vodka (if using) and a shake of Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and black pepper, and mix well to coat the prawns/shrimp. Taste and add a drop more Tabasco if you prefer the Bloody Mary sauce a little spicier. In another bowl, beat the butter until soft. Peel and mash the avocado flesh, and add to the butter with the lemon juice. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Lay the bread slices out on the work surface and spread with the avocado butter. Cover half of the slices with the prawn/shrimp mixture and top with a neat handful of shredded lettuce. Cover with the remaining bread slices and press gently together. Using a serrated bread knife, cut the sandwiches in half or into neat triangles or fingers. Arrange on serving plates and sprinkle with a little celery salt before serving.

Blueberry and buttermilk scones with honeycomb butter
These are a weekend breakfast favourite of mine but are also perfect on an afternoon tea stand. Super simple to make and even quicker to eat… all of them! Serve warm from the oven with a dollop of honeycomb butter melting over the top – the perfect treat for a lazy weekend morning or leisurely tea. You can use frozen blueberries if you can’t find fresh.

350 g/2. cups plain/all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
3 teaspoons baking powder
a pinch of salt
125 g/1 stick butter, chilled and diced
75 g/generous .⁄1 cup caster/granulated sugar
175–200 ml/.⁄1/2 cup buttermilk
150 g/1. cup fresh or frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons demerara/turbinado sugar

100 g/3. oz. honeycomb or 2 chocolate-covered honeycomb bars
175 g/1. sticks butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
a pinch of salt
2 baking sheets lined with baking parchment

Makes 16

Start by making the honeycomb butter. Tip the honeycomb into a freezer bag, twist the end to prevent any escaping and crush the honeycomb using a rolling pin. Cream the butter and vanilla bean paste in a stand mixer until really soft. Add the crushed honeycomb and mix again until combined. Lay a piece of clingfilm/plastic wrap or baking parchment on the work surface and spoon the butter down the middle to form a rough sausage shape, wrap up the butter tightly to make a smooth log, twist the ends to seal and put the butter in the fridge to harden until needed. Alternatively you can make the butter fresh while the scones are baking and use immediately. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Sift the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the chilled, diced butter and rub into the dry ingredients using your hands. When the mixture resembles sand and there are only very small pieces of butter remaining, add the caster/granulated sugar and mix to combine.

Make a well in the middle of the mixture, add the buttermilk and blueberries and stir to combine using a rubber spatula. Once the dough starts to come together, use your hands to form a rough ball. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Very lightly knead for about 30 seconds to bring the dough into an almost smooth ball but do not overwork the dough. Cut in half and flatten each half into a round disc each about 16 cm/6. inches in diameter. Using a long, sharp knife cut each disc into 8 triangular wedge shapes.

Arrange the wedges on the prepared baking sheets and brush the tops with a little milk, scatter with demerara/turbinado sugar and bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 12–14 minutes, or until well-risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack and serve slightly warm with slices of the honeycomb butter ready to spread on top.
The writers of this blog were given a copy of this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Miku Sushi or Crystal Japan

The Slow and Savory Review

"I've been feeling rather adventurous lately," Brandy told her good friend Bailey, "Perhaps it's that Bunny has transferred a bit of her wanderlust on to me, but I've just been wanting to explore some more exciting brunch alternatives."  "Well, you know what my vote is for!" Bailey said excitedly.  Brandy grumbled.  Bailey was referring to sushi, which she had been insisting was an appropriate food item for brunch for quite some time.  "You've said yourself, if a restaurant is open on a Sunday at 11:00, its counts as brunch," Bailey reminded her friend.  "Alright fine.  We'll go to sushi for brunch.  You're lucky I'm feeling adventurous."

Brandy chose Miku Sushi in Lincoln Square, a traditional sushi house with an extensive menu that not only included classic and signature rolls, but also bowls of ramen, shareable skewers and small plates, and very original fusion dishes.  The interior was sleek and clean, but with a modern feel to it, using a simple color scheme of earth tones combined with red, black, and white accents.  "I also like the sea of guitar players walking by outside, headed to the school of folk music next door!" Bailey noted.

They began their meal with a rather unusual sounding appetizer; the Goat Cheese Tempura.  The fried sticks of cheese came three to an order, displayed over a small salad of greens, candied pecans, green apples, and a sweet chili lime vinaigrette.  The cheese had a nicely light and crisp exterior, but a rich and creamy interior that was best enjoyed one slow bite at a time.  The salad was a great accompaniment, the freshness of it balancing the cheese nicely.  Both ladies were rather surprised by the spicy kick of the dressing as well, but loved the way it complimented everything.

Jumping right into the sushi rolls, Brandy let Bailey take the lead with the ordering.  First to the table was the Lava Maki, a beautifully plated tempura roll filled with cream cheese, avocado, and spicy shrimp and topped with a salad of marinated shredded crab meat and herbs, resulting in a bite that was just as unique texturally as it was visually.  The Smokey Bear and the Yuri Maki were next, the former being a creamy, smokey, and sweet combination of eel, salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber with a kick from some wasabi mayo, and the latter being a crunchy and interesting combo of shrimp, green apple, cream cheese, and lots of little salty pops of tobiko.  The show stopper, however, was the Flaming Dragon, a roll so spectacular that it actually arrived to the table on fire.  Once the special effects had disappeared, the ladies were left with a rather delightful roll consisting of salmon, white tuna, tempura shrimp, and red and black tobiko.  The flavor of this roll was rich and earthy with the perfect amount of sweetness and heat to it.  "The last time I saw an entrance that dramatic, it was at a Royal Shakespeare Company performance!" laughed Brandy.

Lastly, the ladies decided to split an order of the Spicy Roasted Garlic Ramen.  The broth of the ramen was so deeply flavorful that Brandy had to stop Bailey drinking the whole bowl before they could even taste the toppings and the noodles.  Speaking of the noodles, they were an absolutely perfect texture, and the abundance of toppings, like some fatty pork belly, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and a soy sauce soft boiled egg meant that each bite was a new adventure.  "Bailey," Brandy scolded as she slurped up some noodles, "If you don't give me that broth spoon back I'll turn you into a flaming sushi roll."  Bailey reluctantly decided to hand back the spoon.

After their filling, exciting, and satisfying sushi brunch, Bailey and Brandy were practically ready to head for Japan.  "Do you think that's what every Japanese brunch is like?" Bailey asked dreamily, "Because I could literally eat sushi like that for every single meal."  The prices were fair enough, on par with most other sushi restaurants in the city at about $15 a roll, and the service was quick, attentive, and friendly.  "I have to admit, I don't mind the idea of having a sushi and ramen brunch every weekend," said Brandy, "But what if I start to miss some good old fashioned eggs and bacon?"  "Well, there is a form of nigiri called tamgo, which is a sort of sushi made from an omelette."  "Problem solved!" declared Brandy, "Let's pack our bags for Tokyo!"

The writers of this blog were invited to dine by the restaurant free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

The Short and Sweet Review

Miku Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, February 12, 2016

Chop or A Cut Above

The Slow and Savory Review

Though Brandy has been doing well with her promise to eat a little healthier in 2016, the influx of vegetables in her diet has left her a little wanting.  "I look down at my lovely plate of salad sometimes and all I can think of is sinking my teeth into a big juicy steak," she has been known to pout as of late.  She consulted several vegetarian friends, asking for advice in the matter, but most of their answers involved the consumption of beans, mushrooms, or tofu, all of which Brandy enjoys, but doesn't consider an alternative to beef.

In an anemic daze of meat craving madness, Brandy found herself in the South Loop, wandering around somewhat aimlessly until she found herself in front of Chop, the casual steak house concept from Parisian-born Jovanis Bouargoub.  The meat focused restaurant featured a menu of grass fed, locally sourced beef and seafood dishes in familiar guises, but with some modern twists.  Intrigued, and carnivorous, Brandy threw caution to the wind and settled in for a meaty brunch.  "I'll order a salad too," she conceded, "Then no one can say I didn't try to keep things healthy."

Chop had a hip, modern feel to it with a black, industrial interior and stylishly rustic bar, fronted by a large light up sign.  The restaurant seemed a little dark for brunch, but the large booths were comfortable and the atmosphere buzzing, but relaxed.

To start off the meal, Brandy ordered one somewhat healthy plate and one not so healthy.  The Charred Calamari Steak, which came served over a bed of white beans, pickled onions, and mint, was quite the surprise.  The calamari was wonderfully tender and light, while the beans provided a nice bit of texture.  Brandy especially liked the kick of flavor from the drizzle of balsamic vinegar mixed with the freshness of the mint.  For her other starter, Brandy nibbled on the Steak Poutine.  The fries in the poutine were just crunchy enough to satisfy, and the cheese curds were perfectly melted by the heat of the gravy alone.  The gravy itself seemed to have been a little excessively applied, but the flavor was still nice and meaty.  The steak was tender and juicy, and a dollop of sour cream on the top of the plate was a nice touch with a bit of tangy creaminess.

Transitioning to a sweet dish, Brandy ordered a plate of Johnny Cakes, a cornmeal based pancake served with pickled cantaloupe and brandy infused whipped cream ("I think I should get a cut of the sales for anything with brandy whipped cream on it!" Brandy giggled to herself).  The cakes had a nice fluffy texture, matched by a crisp underside that maybe bordered on being burnt, but Brandy liked them all the same.  The real pleasure in the dish was the pickled cantaloupe, which lent an unusual sweet and sour flavor that more resembled a peach or an apricot.  "It is hard for me to say I would eat an entire plate of pancakes myself," said Brandy, "But this may be one of the exceptions to the rule."

Moving on to the main attraction, Brandy ordered the Country Breakfast Sandwich, which was a classic combination of eggs, cheese, and steak.  The steak used in the sandwich was on the tough side, as was the bread, making the thing a little difficult to eat, but the flavor was nice.  Ironically, Brandy's eternal complaint about meaty breakfast sandwiches applied here, as a little bit of vegetation or sauce could have helped to soften and freshen things up.  "But I guess I can't complain, considering I came in here looking to satisfy my carnivorous urges!" Brandy reasoned.  After only eating a fourth of the sandwich, Brandy's need for red meat actually seemed satisfied, so she ordered up a Caesar salad so that she didn't completely break her rule about consuming some greenery.

While the quality of the food seemed good considering the price points, the service, while friendly, was a little lacking, with not enough information offered about the menu (Brandy wasn't told about the brunch cocktails available until later in the meal) and an oddly long wait for entrees due to an apparent computer error.  Never the less, the entire meal did help to put Brandy's lust for flesh to bed for the moment.  "I think it's a good thing I gave into my baser urges after all," Brandy posited, "A bit of indulgence has it's place, and now that I've succumb, I can move forward.  Now, what should I have for dinner?  I could really go for a burger."

The writers of this blog were invited to dine by the restaurant free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

The Short and Sweet Review

Chop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, February 5, 2016

Bacino's Lincoln or New York State of Mind 

The Slow and Savory Review

Brandy had been planning a trip.  A trip she hadn't told anyone about.  Mostly, she hadn't told anyone about it because she knew what she'd hear if she anyone in Chicago knew where she was going.  It would start with the sly, condescending grins, then a shake of the head, and inevitably, something along the lines of, "Everything they have, Chicago has too, you know," would be said.  Yes, Brandy was going to New York City.  Sadly, though, just as she was scheduled to be sitting in Times Square, eating pizza and cheesecake before taking in a Broadway show, a certain blizzard swept through the northeast, putting an end to her plans.  "It's been so long since I was last in New York," she lamented to her friend Hawk, "All I really wanted was to visit one of those old neighborhood Italian bistros, you know, the kind with red and white checked table clothes and the candles in the Chianti bottles and the huge shakers of Parmesan cheese on every table."  "You do know they have those in Chicago too, right?" Hawk asked.  "Yes yes, but it's just not the same."  "Well, I bet that if we find a nice little pizzeria to have brunch at, you'll start feeling a lot better."

Pouting the whole way, Brandy let Hawk escort her out to Bacino's on Lincoln, a family owned spot that's been turning out delicious pizza for over 30 years.  This was no modern chic eatery, but a good old fashioned bistro with wood tables, vinyl booths, and tile floors.  "Does this not feel like a place you'd expect to find tucked away in some little Brooklyn side street?" Hawk tried to prod her.  Brandy merely glared at him.

To try and get her into a better mood, Hawk suggested she order a cocktail, to which Brandy was highly agreeable.  She went for the St. Fresco Martini, a light and citrusy concoction with a predominantly grapefruit flavor.  Brandy found the mix a tiny bit astringent, but a fairly fitting flavor for a brunch cocktail.

Hawk took the liberty of ordering a few starters for the table, requesting some Spinach and Artichoke Dip as well was some Mini Burgers.  The burgers were rather nice little appetizers, coming three to a plate with a handful of crispy fries as accompaniment.  The beef was perfectly cooked and had a nice flavor, but Brandy couldn't help feeling they needed a little cheese or onion to really jazz them up.  The spinach dip was very creamy and satisfyingly cheesy with the vegetables giving it a good sort of chunky texture.  Brandy especially liked the little pieces of crustini that accompanied it, which were coated in a garlic butter for a little extra oomph.

Hawk decided to go with one of the signature pies as his entree, choosing the Sausage and Mushroom.  The crust was cracker thin, but sturdy enough to not buckle under the weight of the toppings.  The sausage had a good spice to it, while the tomato sauce had a slight sweetness, which Hawk very much enjoyed.  "Of course, if we are supposed to be pretending to be in New York, I'd better fold this slice before I eat it," Hawk commented, jokingly, but Brandy suddenly got very serious.  "Don't you dare," she hissed, "I will not have our pizza eating habits judged by the other Chicagoians in here."

Brandy decided on the Cavatappi con Pollo for her main dish.  The corkscrew pasta came dressed with slices of white meat chicken and spinach coated in a traditional Alfredo sauce and lashings of cheese, completed by a small loaf of bread for wiping up every last bit.  Brandy found the pasta a little over done for her taste and the chicken, while tender and juicy, a tad under spiced, but the sauce was the perfect kind of creamy indulgence she had be craving.  "Just the perfect sort of bistro dish to make you feel like a Sunday afternoon could last forever," she sighed happily.

Though she didn't quite make it to New York, Brandy was happy enough with her substitute sojourn to Bacino's.  While one wouldn't really think of a pizzeria for brunch, she found it a welcome change of pace from her usual assortment of pancakes and omelettes.  The service was friendly enough and the prices seemed fair, especially when considering the substantial portions of most of the dishes that left Brandy and Hawk battling over who would get to take home the left overs.  "Alright, I admit it, Chicago can indeed match New York, even when it comes to little neighborhood Italian restaurants," Brandy finally conceded, "Now when the Big Apple finally does defrost, all I'll need to find is some good cheesecake."  "Have you heard of Eli's?" Hawk asked, smiling.  Brandy narrowed her eyes at him.

The writers of this blog were invited to dine by the restaurant free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

The Short and Sweet Review
Bacino's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato