Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fun Playing with Food In Chicago

Well, the bad news is in. My fall on Canal Street (Maxwell Street Market) resulted in a torn labrum. Which may mean surgery. In the meantime, however, I have the use of both arms again, so I thought I'd cheer myself up by playing with my food.

We spent August 7-11 in Chicago, attending the EGullet Heartland Gathering. This was our third such gathering, and each has been more fun than the last. Well, this one was fun, until the accident. Since this was an EGullet event, I posted photos and descriptions there, as there is a lengthly thread with the photos and comments of other participants also. To avoid duplication, please follow the links below to see them.

We arrived on Thursday. Since we were running a little late, we didn't have time to go to our hotel in Skokie, but made our first stop at Blackbird, where we enjoyed a lovely "nasty bits" dinner. I posted the photos here. Dinner was followed by a cocktail session at The Violet Hour, which I did not photograph, but others did. Violet Hour is a similar concept to Cleveland's Velvet Tango Room, complete with a private back room and handcrafted cocktails. My only complaint was that all of the drinks we were offered were gin based (and one had cucumber!) and I'm not a huge gin fan. After sampling four cocktails, we found our way to Skokie and settled into our hotel.

On Friday, our friend Ronnie had a little surprise for us. We had known that he was planning a food tasting tour since we did the "dry run" with him last October (reported on here). We knew he was planning to rent a vehicle. But we did not expect this:

Yup - a Ford Excursion Stretch Limo! We prepared to party like rock stars! Read all about it and see the photos here. While we were doing this, others in our group put on and attended a bread making workshop and a chocolate making workshop.

Ronnie wisely ended the tour a few hours prior to our scheduled dinner, so we'd have time to digest. We were actually almost hungry by the time we assembled at Lao Sze Chuan, in Chicago's Chinatown. Since Cleveland has no Szechuan restaurant, it is always a great treat to enjoy a Szechuan meal in another town. Ronnie's buddy, Gary Wiviott (of Chicago's terrific LTH Forum), took charge of menu planning and did a great job. Photos and more are here. Though we planned to meet with our co-chef Edsel after dinner (he was in the same hotel) to work on plans for our Saturday dinner dish, we were all too tired, and headed straight for bed.

Saturday is traditionally the centerpiece of the Heartland Gathering weekend. Through prior list discussion, various people agreed to prepare a particular course (appetizer, meat, salad, etc) for our Feast Saturday evening. Our team consisted of myself, Bob, Edsel, and our friend Tom and his friend Chris and we had agreed to make the meat course. Edsel, Bob and I had done this the prior two years, and we had a great time (and made some tasty food). The local folks had rented a church hall in the suburb of Evanston, with kitchen, so all we had to do was go to the local fresh market and shop in the morning. We'd then lunch together in or near the market and go the kitchen to get cooking!

This year was a little different. One of the local participants volunteered to lead a tour of various ethnic markets located in nearby Niles. Our team of 5 split up - Bob, Tom and Chris went to the Evanston Farmers' Market and Edsel and I went with the ethnic shoppers. EGulleteer Fresser posted his photos of our tour here - I was too busy shopping to take pictures! I did photograph the Indian Buffet we lunched at; those photos are here.

About a week before the gathering, Ronnie posted about the contents of the church's kitchen, and noted that it contained a waffle-making station. A simultaneous light bulb went off, and we determined to include waffles in our dish. Initially, we planned a "kicked up" "chicken & waffles" using duck instead of chicken and Southeast Asian flavors. Then, on Friday night, we learned, to our chagrin, that fresh duck would not be readily available in the northern Chicago suburbs. So, on Saturday, we shifted to Plan B.

Browsing the case at Schmeisser's Meats, we spied some wonderfully fresh farm chicken, and so we decided to go with it. The expert butchers were kind enough to eviscerate the 25 or so pounds of whole birds we needed. We picked up some additional ingredients at the Asian markets, and Bob and his team secured ripe peaches and awesome curry powder from The Spice House, among other things. We were ready to cook!

Bob rinsed and dried the chicken, and separated the backs from the edibles while Edsel made a SE Asian rub. Tom (who had taught the bread class and is a very accomplished baker) and his buddy Chris were in charge of making the waffles, and I prepped peaches for grilling with an application of melted butter and salt. Bob skinned the backs and made cracklings. Edsel rubbed up the chicken and then made his "gravy" - a coconut cream-based lovely. I turned a pound and a half of butter into pats.

We wanted to cook the chicken on a BBQ grill, but it arrived too late and was too small - so Edsel, with a little help from his friend, remembered a trick he'd seen at Momofuku in NYC, and we crisped the chicken on the flat top, then finished it in the oven. Beautiful. I grilled the peaches, then sliced them up and prepped maple syrup for service at each table. Tom had decided to infuse the waffles with curry, and they turned out perfectly.

Our presentation:

Chicken 'n Waffles

Curry Waffle topped with SE Asian Crispy Chicken, Butter, Grilled Peach and Cracklings.

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SE Asian Coconut Cream "Gravy"

The gravy, and pitchers of maple syrup, were placed on the tables for diners to help themselves.

Here are photos of everything that was served during the sit down dinner part of our Saturday night Feast. If you look through the thread, you'll also find pictures taken by others of the wonderful nibbles we enjoyed in the afternoon while prepping, as well as the wonderful desserts and chocolates.

The plan for Sunday was a tour of the Maxwell Street Market (which is located on Canal Street, not Maxwell Street). For those staying late enough for dinner, Ronnie arranged for Chicago style pizza at Burt's Place. He had yet another surprise in store for us there, though I was really in no shape for it by the time it happened.

We arrived at the Maxwell Street Market hungry, and found a lot to park the car. Our tourguide was the knowledgeable and personable David Hammond. Our first stop was a truck selling caramelized peanuts and churros.

That's David Hammond in the background. This churro, filled with vanilla creme, wound up being the only thing we would eat. Bob was still working on it when I sensed that the group was about to start walking, and I called to Bob to join me. I took a step - and my right shoe went into a large hole in the sidewalk. I fell, breaking the fall with my right arm.

Within a couple of hours, it was determined that I was the proud owner of a dislocated shoulder. Everything you've heard about them is true: (a) they hurt like hell (it took about 20 units of Morphine to ease the pain); and (b) the doctor fixes it by shoving the arm back where it belongs. When the immobilizer didn't fit, they put my arm back in the ambulance sling and wrapped Ace bandages around me to stabilize it. Lovely.

We did not get out of the emergency room until after 5pm. Edsel was kind enough to drive to the hospital (he had returned to the hotel earlier in the day) and pick us up. He drove us to our car. We realized that we'd be getting back to the burbs around the planned dinner hour of 7pm. Even though I was a mess, I knew that Burt's Place was very casual, and that we would be among friends, so we decided to go. After all, we hadda eat!

Well, as it turned out, the pizza was not pre-ordered, and didn't get ordered until well after 7pm. The only food Bob or I had eaten all day was half a churro and a Snickers bar. I started to feel unwell as the clock ticked later. Then, all of a sudden, who should appear in the restaurant but Anthony Bourdain and his "No Reservations" film crew. Oy.

I would have loved to talk with him, maybe take a picture - but no way in the condition I was in. And don't point those cameras this way! I ultimately felt so unwell that when the plain pizza finally came out, I took it "to go" and we headed out to fill my Vicodin prescription.

I must say, when I finally got to eat some pizza - it was pretty amazing. Check out the No Reservations Chicago show to see it - my shutterbugging was shut down due to injury.

Bob and I shared the last piece of cold pizza for breakfast Monday morning before hitting the road for Cleveland (don't say, "hit"). As luck would have it, we had a dining engagement scheduled for that evening also - a Slow Food benefit at Lolita. Again - we hadda eat - and I didn't want to miss this. So we went, and enjoyed some wonderful goodies. I wasn't taking pictures, but Edsel took a few - you can see them here.

As noted, yesterday's MRI added a torn labrum to the picture. So, I'm taking things one day at a time. But this won't stop me from playing with my food!

1 comment:

  1. oh, sounds like fun until... feel better and take care. mr. fun playing with food will take good care of you, i am sure.