Lessons in dining
As we entrench ourselves into 2012 and ring in the Year of the Dragon, I'm thinking about the best dishes of 2011, and the takeaway from each one to ensure another 12 months of great food experiences.
Best Food #1 - The rooster we butchered from the chef's conference at Heritage Prairie Farm. Owner Bron Weaver asked me to take it home to enjoy. The meat was a very dark, deep color - darker than turkey thighs. I made a classic coq au vin. It took forever to cook, but was fantastic. Never had anything like it before.
Takeaway: If you have a chance to try something dramatically different or outside your comfort zone, go for it. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
Best Food #2 - The little butternut squash from Henry's Organic at the Evanston Farmers Market. Butternut squash are almost always picked too green and taste like green banana. These deep, dark orange beauties were sweet and honey-like.
Takeaway: Scout farmer's markets for variations of traditional varieties. You'll have fun, the chance to go beyond the familiar and experience another dimension of a favorite food.
Best Food #3 - Spot prawns from the fish tank at Mandarin Kitchen in Minneapolis, classically steamed and served with a soy dip sauce. The best part was the shrimp roe on some of them. Unbelievable. I love going here just to see what's in the tanks - live king crab, eel, giant lobsters, yellow grouper, ling cod. I love the restaurant's custard made from the fat of the king crab and steamed in the crab body.
Takeaway: Vow to try truly fresh food - something pulled out of a tank or garden and cooked within minutes. Nothing like it.
Best Food #4 - Almost anything from the Publican. It's my favorite Chicago restaurant. Best items on the roster include mackerel grilled in grape leaves, pork steak, waffles with goat butter, ham plate with goat butter.
Takeaway: Eat at the Publican as much as you can.
What are some of your favorite foods from the last year?