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Breaking news from Gavel and Spoon (and some thoughts on kitchen safety)

June 19, 2011

We here at Gavel and Spoon try to not only bring you riveting tales of our eating and cooking adventures but also any spicy current events from the foodie world.  Today, as a special Fathers’ Day treat and to prove that we truly have our fingers on the pulse of the culinary universe I bring you an expose on a national news story.

The story is basically this: in a Florida restaurant that specializes in Bananas Fosters prepared tableside, a woman sustained severe burns when the server preparing the flambéed dessert CAUGHT THE WOMAN ON FIRE.  Crazy, right? You want to know what is even crazier? Me, this girl, Ms. Melba Toast worked at this very restaurant.  This was, of course, in my former life as a waitress and ok I admit it wasn’t this very restaurant, it was a sister restaurant to the scene of the crime. But same owners, similar menu, even some of the same employees, and most importantly, the very same blazing bananas bonanza. 

At the ripe age of 19 I began working at this sister restaurant (which I will now refer to as Bellyhaa) and it was around that time that the owners took a trip toNew Orleans.  There, the owners, in their infinite wisdom, decided that like the famous and fabulous Nawlins’ institution, Brennan’s, Bellyhaa also should offer tableside Bananas Fosters as a dessert option.  What these people obviously did not consider was Brennans’ entrusts professional, career servers working in a slow, controlled, upscale restaurant to set a dish on fire a few feet in front of their guests faces.  Whereas, the owners of Bellyhaa intended to put this task in the hands of overworked single mothers, dumbass 20 year olds who struggled with such notions as medium rare and over easy, and of course your restaurant stand-bys… drug addicts.  Moreover, they did not consider that their restaurant, a glorified beach bar, was overrun with demanding tourists, families with screaming children, and locals who just couldn’t resist a late night barroom brawls despite the fact the owners installed a pathetic wine room and put bottles of olive oil on the tables in an effort to increase the classiness of the place.  Oh and did I mention that Bellyhaa was a restaurant housed in a renovated beach house made completely out of wood and decorated with loose, flammable Jimmy Buffet memorabilia hanging off the ceiling and walls? 

It was about a month into the Bananas Fosters Experiment at Bellyhaa when I first discovered my entrepreneurial spirit.  As one of the only servers brave enough to master the BF, I started charging my fellow servers 10 bucks a pop to make their tables dessert while they stood back, at a safe distance, and watched half in awe half in terror because we all knew the literal Molotov cocktail the owners were concocting with this death defying dessert.  On one particular busy Saturday night when my BF side business was booming, I parked the BF cart next to one table around closing time and for what seemed to be about the 20th time lit the burner and started the BF dance. Just as I approached the big finale, poured the 151 rum, pulled the pan away from the burner, lit the pan aflame (which was incidentally the only BF pan we had in the whole place and which had been furiously washed between each BF order),the pan, still wet from its last washing, slipped right out of my hand- and in ridiculous movie style slow motion-fell to the wooden planks on the floor.  After my heart started beating again, the server I was collecting the $10 from stopped screaming, and manager’s life ceased flashing before his eyes- we all noticed that, thankfully, the minute the pan hit the floor, the flame went out. 

Every time I read about a new cooking technique or some time-tested tradition that I haven’t tried before, I am practically jumping out of my skin with excitement to try it.  Except flambéing.  So, the moral of this story is this:  as a lawyer I can tell you that an open flame in a restaurant inches away from grandma on her 90th birthday or a group of drunken divorcees and a pile of cosmopolitans is not a good idea.  As a former Bellyhaa employee who still feels the aftershocks of my BF post traumatic stress disorder, I can confirm that.  As an aspiring foodie… well my inner lawyer and server trumps that fool 10 to 1 on this issue.  So if you know of a great recipe that you think I should try or that Gavel and Spoon should feature and it involves setting the ingredients on fire, don’t bother. I won’t do it.  And really, given what I just told you, could you blame me? 


Meat Lover’s Week : Manny’s Edition

June 16, 2011

Yep. THAT’S how you start a post with a bang.

That delicious pile of meaty heaven (a pastrami reuben, by the way)  is probably my favorite sandwich on the planet. And while I was all set to post a recipe today, after eating this sandwich yesterday, and seeing that ms. melba toast already had me in the meat mood, I decided it was time to share with you something very special… something that lawyers and politicians of Chicago drool over and the good Jewish folk of the North Side travel far just to eat.

There is a place, kids, where dozens of cafeteria pans steam and bubble. Where piles of short ribs fall off the bone as they are spooned onto your plate. Where the heavy scent of potato pancakes wafts through the air. Where very old men bark at you for your order, but will slip you a sample of corned beef with a wink and a smile. There is a place where lines are long, people are hungry, and there isn’t a piece of pork in sight.

That place, my children, is Manny’s Coffee Shop & Deli.

Doesn’t look like much on the outside, but inside this little Jewish deli off Roosevelt Road should be a national treasure (actually, it’s known as one of President Obama’s favorite Chicago spots, so it very well could be soon). I was first taken there as a law clerk, and my first impression was one of a place where Important Things Happen. More often than not, you’ll see a dozen lawyers, half a dozen judges, and several city politicians chowing a corned beef sandwich at one of the tables in the huge dining room. Manny’s is cafeteria style, and thus a great equalizer– there is no special table, or special service; whether you’re the Mayor or a homeless guy with a spare few bucks, you are grabbing a tray and going through the line.  And you better know what you want, despite the fact that the menu is not easy to figure out. But look down at the huge trays of steaming specials– beef stew, meatloaf, soups, and dear god, the shortribs– and just point. I’LL HAVE SOME OF THAT….AND A POTATO PANCAKE. If you go to Manny’s and dont get a potato pancake, you are both an amateur and a fool. Crispy on the outside, steamy and soft on the inside…good lord.

Now personally, I always go for the reuben. And yes, I know this is traditionally made with corned beef. Calm yourselves. The corned beef at Manny’s is the best in the city, no doubt. But the pastrami? That is the stuff dreams are made of.  It’s very similar to corned beef, but with extra steps to add a more pepper flavor and smoke. It’s tender, salty,  and VERY peppery. Slap that on some rye bread with swiss and sauerkraut, with a side of thousand island? Do yourself a favor and scroll back up at that picture. Go ahead. LOOK AT THAT SANDWICH. First, it could feed a family of 4 – and it costs that much too– that sandwich, with potato pancake and pickles, was $15. WORTH EVERY FLIPPIN PENNY.  I dare you to taste it and not love it. Seriously, I dare you.

Any of you guys been to Manny’s? Thoughts? Agree with my worshipful review, or have a friendly criticism? Leave it in the comments. And as always, try not to drool on the keyboard.

Manny’s Coffee Shop & Deli is located at 1141 S. Jefferson St. in Chicago, Illinois. And no, they didn’t pay me to write this post, but if they wanted to, I accept payment in lox.

Meat Lovers Weekend

June 14, 2011

It wasn’t my intention to write my first real post about meat- I was actually planning on dedicating this time and space to the joys of my beloved food processor.  It also wasn’t my intention to eat what I estimate to be about 5 pounds of straight meat this weekend.  But hey, you can’t plan everything. It all started when my good friends Jake Lohman and Rondell Cabanas (again I have used aliases to protect identities and because it’s really fun to make them up), my boyfriend (who I will from here on out refer to as The Great Criticizer- as that is his nature), and I decided to go to Ribfest.  From there the weekend turned carnivorous and didn’t look back. 

My love for ribs runs deep.  I don’t come from a big cooking family but I do remember my grandfather in our back yard cooking up our traditional family ribs.  In fact, we even had ribs for Thanksgiving one year (much to the chagrin of the Great Criticizer who insists that anything besides turkey on Thanksgiving is blasphemy). Suffice it to say I was pretty pumped about Ribfest. 

 My basic thought on what makes a good rib is this:  balance.  The perfect rib is somewhere between tender and chewy, saucy and smoky, smothered and simple. A number of participants played with this notion at this year’s Ribfest and overall I was impressed with the showings.  Some standouts:

Ms. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro: I can only describe these ribs as meat candy.  They were smothered, and I mean smothered, in sauce.  They fell off the bone.  They melted in the mouth.  But, as the 4 of us were enjoying our half slab behind their booth we caught a glimpse of a huge tub of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce.  Could it be?  Were they winning us over with store bought BBQ sauce?  Is this against the rules of Ribfest? My mind wanted to scream out in protest- but my mouth said, shut it, these ribs are freakin’ fantastic.  In the end, these sauce-tastic ribs were good yet my craving for the perfectly balanced rib continued.

Rub BBQ Company: In opposition to the sauciness of the Irish Bistro, these ribs were damn near sauce-less, relying on their namesake, the rub, to carry them through.  This was a nice follow up to saucy Irish Bistro and I give Rub props on going au naturale, but like my feelings for the Bistro ribs, I was still missing that perfect balance I had been searching for.  

Pitchfork: Equal parts smoky and saucy, these Ribfest 2009 winners came out swinging with a solid contender once again.  Incidentally, if you like both ribs and trivia and you live in the greater Chicago area (here comes the shameless plug) head out to trivia at Pitchfork on Wednesday nights at 8pm with Chicago Trivia Guys.

Ok these are not ribs.  They are maple bacon donut holes. WHAT!? Maple? Bacon? Donut? Yes, my friends, the mix of savory bacon and sweet maple in an adorable, bite-sized donut hole really topped off the day.

 Since Jake, Rondell, and the GC and I decided to get a half slab from each place and share we ended up trying 7 different ribs from 7 different places and I think Pitchfork, the Fireplace Inn, and the Piggery all hit the nail on the head.  But then again, I think I slipped into a meat coma around half slab #4 so it was all a blur from there.  Tune in next time to hear the wrap up of my meat lovers’ weekend:  chicken wings Korean style, homemade pork shoulder sandwiches paired with a lovely ass-beating of the Miami Heat, and a recipe for a summer favorite of mine- pulled chicken sandwiches.

What the Crap is Green Garlic? (And a Lovely Spring Risotto)

June 11, 2011
So here at Gavel & Spoon, in addition to being sassy & indignant at every turn, we’re going to occasionally try to de-mystify some of those weird ingredients you may see at the grocery store, the farmers market, or that really advanced cookbook your mother-in-law gave you last Christmas. Today, we’re starting with green garlic. (“What?” you may be saying. “I know exactly what green garlic is!” Well, Mr. Know-it-all, I had no idea what it was before last week, so keep your pants on and smugly scroll ahead down for a recipe.)
What the crap is green garlic?
I was wandering the Logan Square farmers market last weekend and noticed that almost every booth had a sign for “green garlic.” We’re all familiar with traditional garlic– that pungent bulb that has become synonymous with Italian cooking (and pretty much every other kind of cooking too). So, what the crap is green garlic? Turns out, it’s just really young garlic. It looks sort of like tall grass with a small white root; that root, if left to its own devices, would grow and wooden and turn into a typical garlic bulb. With green garlic, you can eat not only the root, but a lot of the stem– similar to a green onion or a leek. When you prepare it, simply trim off the dark green leaves and you are left with this:
trimmed green garlic
Once you’ve trimmed it, chop it cross-wise into small discs, just as you would a green onion.
What the crap do I do with it?
Green garlic adds a garlicky-onion flavor to almost any dish. You can use a little less onion in a recipe, and add 2 chopped green garlic stems for every 1/4 onion. Or, you can use it as a substitute for regular garlic. It takes about 2 stems to replace the garlic-ness of one clove; green garlic has a much milder flavor than it’s full-grown counterpart but has a nice crisp acidity and freshness that regular garlic does not.
Spring Veggie Risotto
I decided to add my green garlic instead of leeks in a Spring Veggie Risotto. I know what you’re thinking. “ACK! Risotto?? Doesn’t it take a long time? Isn’t it hard?! Don’t I have to stir it forever???” Calm down. This risotto is easy. Yes, you have to stir it a lot. I actually like that, because I cant seem to *not* touch the food that i am cooking. But trust me. Give this one a go, and you’ll never be scared of risotto again.
You’ll need:
4 cups (or 1 box) chicken stock
2 cups of water
1/2 cup white wine
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 stems green garlic, chopped
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 3rds
1.5 cups Arboiro rice
3/4 cup pecorino or Parmesan/reggiano cheese
  •  Heat the chicken stock and the water in a medium saucepan on a back burner, until it is a low simmer. You want the stock to be warm when you ladle it into the rice– this is what gives risotto that creamy texture.
  •  Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large pot over a medium flame. Add the green garlic, mushrooms, and asparagus, as well as salt and pepper to taste. Sautee the veggies until the asparagus has softened a bit, but still has a crunch, and almost all of the oil has been absorbed– approximately 6 minutes. Remove the veggies from the pan and set aside.
  • In the same pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add the onion and cook until translucent and softened, approximately 4 minutes. Add a bit of salt and pepper.
  • Stir the rice into the oil and let toast for approx 2 minutes.
  • With a ladle, pour approximately 1/2 cup into the pot and stir. You want enough liquid so that there is a layer of stock, but the rice is not swimming. Continue to stir the rice until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Do not wait until the rice is dry, just until most of the liquid is gone. At that point, add an additional ladle of stock and stir. You should stir the mixture regularly to ensure that the rice does not stick to the pan.
  • Repeat this process until all of the stock is gone, and the rice is firm and creamy. Remove the pot from heat. Stir in the cheese and the veggies, and salt and pepper to taste. For best results, serve immediately and with extra cheese for topping.
Serves approximately 6 as a side dish and 3 as a main dish. Or, in my case, 2 side dishes and lots of leftovers for the week. They say risotto doesn’t keep well, but add a bit of water before reheating and it stays creamy. Hope you enjoy! You can sub almost any veggies into this basic risotto, but i never do it without mushrooms, Oh, would you like a picture?

Why Food & Why Us (Part 2)

June 9, 2011

Yesterday, I was just about to post my answer to the question posed by the lovely Ms. Butter – why food and why us- which was a lengthy explanation of how I threw myself into cooking, eating, and talking food ever since I got out of law school.  I mentioned how the standards for Motions for Summary Judgment just don’t do it for me for everyday ponderings, so usually food is what is on my mind.  In short, it said that cooking, eating, and talking food in my spare time is all I can short of quitting my job and begging the government to let me take out another 100K in loans to finance my culinary school tuition.  BUT, just as I was about to post, my old friend from law school (whose identity I will not reveal but instead I will call him Mikk Haberstein) and I had this conversation: 

Mikk Haberstein:  Hey since when do you have a food blog?

Me:  Since today.

Mikk Haberstein:  Really?

Me: Yes.

Mikk Haberstein:  Do you think you are enough of a foodie to start a food blog? I wouldn’t even consider you to be a foodie.  I mean, I am way more of a foodie than you are. 

Ok so I will cut it off there because that’s where I told him that ever since law school, I didn’t consider him to be much of a lawyer.  ANYWAY, I thought the conversation raised an interesting and related point to the topic at hand- why us? Am I enough of a “foodie” to start my own blog?  And what makes you a foodie anyway?

The answer I have come up with is, of course- I’m not sure.  Here’s what I do know though.  I don’t think it has a damn thing to do with spending ridiculous amounts of money to sit in the chair of the trendiest restaurant in the city (not to say I wouldn’t want to do that if anyone is offering).  And I also don’t think it means knowing how to make a perfect coq au vin off the top of your head without referring to your favorite Julia Childs recipe book. 

I think Ms. Butter had it right.  Why us? Why food? Because we are obsessed.  Because we want more.  Because in 2007 I couldn’t make toast but now I make my own bread (which at first required me to watch a ten minute Youtube video on the art of kneading).  Because when I got my food processor last Christmas I watched the how-to DVD with a glass of wine and all the lights off in my apartment like it was the Best Picture of 2010.  Because I want to know what’s up with all the duck confit too!

No matter your thoughts on what makes one a foodie, I think we can all agree on this:   Obsession has a lot to do with it.  So here we are, two gals wanting more out of life than torts and trials.  Foodies?  Maybe.  Obsessed?  Definitely.

Why Food, & Why Us (Part 1)

June 8, 2011

The thing is, I just love to eat.

Right, I know what you’re thinking. Errrrybody loves to eat, dumbass….we’re the fattest nation in the world. But kids…I really love to eat. I was that little girl, 12 years old, and 85 pounds wet begging to order the biggest prime rib on the menu, or asking for an extra plate for my 6th trip back to the buffet. As I got older, these habits didn’t die. I have told every boyfriend I have ever had that, frankly, I would rather go out to eat than get a gift. Some girls like jewelry, I like prix fixe.

 I always viewed eating as a very pleasant supplement to my “real” life. I went to law school and got my food fix mostly by ordering from someone else—cooking certainly didn’t fit into the chaos of classes, briefs, and late-night library visits. I graduated law school and got a real job.. .and found that constant take-out and girls dinners were no longer budget-compatible. Also, the years of studying and partying and constant chaos settled down into a routine, where I actually had TIME.  As I settled into big-girl life and a big-girl routine, I realized that the best way for me to eat the food I wanted to, as much as I wanted to, was to learn how to cook.

I started inviting friends over for little family dinners, trying out different googled recipes and picking up cookbooks on amazon.  I saved so my friends and I could try out a really great restaurant every once in a while, savoring the experience. Along the way, I discovered a real passion for food—not just eating it, but cooking, reading, learning, and talking about it. And talking about it. And talking about it. I started talking to my friend Ms. MT about cooking, and restaurants, and recipes, and how goddamn duck confit was on every menu these days. We drank and talked and drank and talked and boom—here we are.

So. Here goes nothing—we are  two lawyers who often find food more fascinating than statutes.  We’re here to talk everything food—recipes, restaurant reviews, trends, ingredients, and experiments. Read, enjoy, leave us a little feedback, share some food stuffs of your own.  Hope you’re hungry!

Check back tomorrow for an introduction to Ms. Melba Toast, as well as an adventure in green garlic, and an ode to the food processor.  Yeah, we’re getting all Shakespeare and shit.

Coming soon!

May 11, 2011

Hello there, internetz. Nothing much going on over here, except an AMAZING and INCREDIBLE new venture, soon to tantalize your tastebuds and cause you to drool on your keyboard (here’s to hoping you have more self-control than that).  We’re still underconstruction over here, so check back in a few days for our full debut of reviews, recipes, & rants.  And bitching. We’re really good at that too.