Friday, July 6, 2012

Chicago Has A New Cookbook

It has been a little while since the blog was updated. But life has been a little hectic.  Well lets see, what have I been up to? I had a very cool job working on a Crate and Barrel Thanksgiving cover shoot with my friend and lead stylist Amy, my son left for camp for two weeks, my oldest dog had knee surgery, I got cast in a cartoon, my husband and I are teaching  teenage daughter to drive a stick, and other miscellaneous life stuff. So the blog has had to take a back seat.

I am out shopping daily and the other day while shopping at our local grocery Sunset foods  I ran into my friend Karen Levin who is an amazing recipe developer. We have known each other for eons and even though we live very close and are in the same business we do not see each other often enough. So we were both shopping for jobs and stopped for a quick chat after our carts nearly collided near the organic egg section. She proceeded to tell me that her daughter Amelia, had just written her first cookbook. I was so excited to hear this. As any proud mom would, Karen filled me in on the details.
She also agreed to give me a copy of the book later that day to look at and I was very thrilled to get a peek. 

The book is simply a must have especially for those who have ever visited or lived in Chicago. It makes you realize what a great food city Chicago has become.  I love the way it is written, Amelia did a fabulous job sharing stories about growing up in and around food and the famous chefs she has met along the way. The book has segments on the food truck scene, local farmers markets, culinary schools and cocktail culture. This book focuses on the Chicago restaurant scene and features recipes from the best of the best. Organized by food categories then by restaurant where the recipe is from.  The book is easy to follow and visually pleasing to the eye with great shots of Chicago as well as food shots all done by Chicago photographer Beth Rooney. 

While leafing through the book I noticed one recipe that stuck out from Mana Food Bar in Wicker Park. It was Sesame Noodles with Peanut Dressing. With the weather in the 100's for many days in a row this sounded like the perfect dish to make. A crisp glass of chardonnay and I could not be happier. Plus my eating style tends to focus less on meat anyway so perfect. After reading about this restaurant I kept thinking "why have I not eaten here yet"? Chef-owner Jill Barron is a Chicago native who spent time in California with Chef Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill. Mana Food Bar is a vegetarian restaurant that offers a global menu with a focus on different ethnic cuisines. No "fake" meat here just great tasting food with elevated flavors. 

While making this dish there are a few things to note. As with some recipes from chefs, the ingredients may be worded differently so I will help you out here. The noodles called for  are Chinese Yellow Noodles. I could not find anything specifically labeled such. I used an udon noodle that you see pictured below. This was found at Whole Foods and came in a fine version as well. It worked just great.

The other thing that I noted is the recipe calls for sesame seed paste. Of course she means tahini but the first time I made it this did not dawn on me so I took sesame seeds and ground some into a paste. It worked very well but did not get the smooth texture like tahini. As with all recipes, if you can't find the exact ingredient  look for the next closest thing. For instance, the recipe called for daikon sprouts. Now many stores sell daikon radishes but not the sprouts. So I used some micro greens and they worked nicely. Giving the salad that little light crunch. This recipe was a winner all around. My husband loved it as well. It was a little too spicy for my daughter but if I cut the heat back she would love it too.

Sesame Noodles with Peanut Dressing


Serves 4

For the Peanut Dressing:
2 Tbsps sesame seed paste (tahini)
1 tsp peanut butter
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp chopped ginger
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 Tbsp Sriracha
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 1/2 Tbsps soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
salt, to taste

For the sesame noodles and garnish:
1 8 oz bag Chinese Yellow Noodles (I used round Udon), cooked and chilled
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
12 pea pods, shredded
1 cup daikon sprouts, (I used micro greens)
1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts

In a food processor or blender, place the tahini, peanut butter, sugar, ginger, garlic and Sriracha, and pulse until coarsely blended. Slowly pour in the sesame oil and continue to pulse until smooth and creamy.

For the noodles I cooked al dente like pasta then ran them under cold water in a colander  laying them flat on a baking tray so they did not clump up and they could cool evenly. 

In a large bowl, place the noodles, carrot and pea pods. Pour the dressing and toss until well combined. Garnish with sprouts and peanuts. 

In the day of  google we do get a ton of our cooking information on line and I have to say when I am looking for a recipe I go to the internet too but there is really nothing like having a cookbook to touch. I still love my cookbooks most.  Recently I culled my collection,  got rid of ones I no longer use and purchased a few I had been wanting.  I am happy to add Amelia's book Chicago Chef's Table to my collection. I am proud of her for doing the work that it took to get where she is. She trained and studied and it shows in this book. So many people are writing cookbooks who are celebrities but they do not have the food training or knowledge. So hats off to those like Amelia who can not only talk the talk but walk the walk!