Dining (er, Drinking) In: Egg Nog

December 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s certain foods that are like certain politicians. Horribly polarizing. Marmite’s one of them (love it, understand why people don’t though). Cilantro’s another one. (Love it, have no idea why people don’t like it though). Then there’s egg nog. I’m a huge fan, but lots of people aren’t. One of my Facebook friends even referred to it as “cow mucus.”

My love for the nog goes all the way back to Christmas Eves with my Mom’s side of the family. You know, the Italian side. The loud, boisterous side that squabbles, shouts but loves all its members unconditionally and has a grand old time chowing down on the feast of seven fishes every December 24th. We used to host it every year, but my grandmother did all the heavy lifting. Due to my old man’s disdain for fish, she prepared everything at her apartment and then hauled it over to our house mid-afternoon. One of my most vivid memories is of the year when her watch (which was an heirloom from her mother or grandmother, can’t recall) somehow ended up baked in among the smelts. Luckily she was able to retrieve it before it ended up on someone’s fork. My other vivid memory is the year she decided that clams casino were too much work and started using shrimp cocktail as our appetizer instead. Sigh.

Anyway, there was always egg nog in abundance. All the grownups loved it and ladled many a mug out of my Aunt Linda’s punch bowl. Before every family party, one aunt or uncle was always calling another to find out who had the punchbowl and the giant coffee percolator – quite the family tradition. It was always spiked with rum, but grandma was always nice enough to save a glass or two on the side for her oldest grandson, who if memory serves correct was the only person among my 10 cousins who actually liked the stuff.

And I still do. Much like with my cousins back then, I’m the only person in my house who does. But Christmas isn’t Christmas for me without egg nog. I spike mine with bourbon and enjoy it immensely. Couple years ago I decided to start making my own. I pretty much use Alton Brown’s recipe (with uncooked eggs, Danger is my middle name) as a base.

Ingredients

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1 pint whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 ounces bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 egg whites*

Directions

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Add the milk, cream, bourbon and nutmeg and stir to combine.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

However, there’s something wrong here. Your base is 32 oz of liquid, but you’re only adding 3 oz of bourbon. Unacceptable! Sacrilege! What’s the point behind downing that much artery-clogging goodness if you’re not going to catch a buzz? So I use 8 oz of Maker’s. I also toss a pinch of cinnamon in for good measure.

Pretty simple recipe, but there you have it. I encourage experimentation and may try tweaking it a bit more myself (chocolate shavings, couple shots of Bailey’s, maybe SoCo instead of bourbon as one friend mentioned). Will post results.

Merry Christmas, all of you. Enjoy!

Dining Out: Girl and the Goat (complete with really dark pictures)

December 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’m not a “Top Chef” person. That comes as a big shock to a lot of people because I’m a food person. But no, I really have no interest in watching a bunch of people shriek and freak over their cooking. It’s bad enough I’ve spent the past 16 years watching people shriek and freak over their trading, and that’s enough drama for 5 lifetimes. So come Wednesday at 9 when Mrs Ilk heads to the basement for her weekly viewing I usually grab a cold frosty one out of the fridge and read on the couch.

I don’t live in a total “Top Chef” vacuum though. I know who Stephanie Izard is. What a great last name – visually it looks like it rhymes with both “lizard” and “slizzered” and you really can’t go wrong with a name like that. Sadly, it’s not pronounced like it looks.

SIDE NOTE: I met Stephanie at a Goose Island party this summer. We were both pretty well in our cups. The general gist of our conversation was that people with curly hair have more fun.

Anyway, everyone in Chicago raves about Girl and the Goat. Restaurants with a high degree of buzz and I usually don’t get along though. I hate being smashed into a bar area 5 deep while waiting to eat. I hate the pretense that’s usually abundant at such places. Most of all, I hate not being able to get a table unless it’s on a Tuesday 3 weeks in advance at 9:30 at night. Every time I lay plans they always go awry. But I knew we had to try the place at some point. 4:45 on a December Friday afternoon? Sure, why not!

Got there, place was about 1/3 full. We were offered seats at the bar immediately or the chance to wait for a table. I didn’t even bother with the “why would we have to¬† wait for a table when there’s a whole bunch of open ones” argument. Plopped down at the bar and took a look at the offerings.

G&TG is easily the best smelling restaurant I’ve ever walked into. It smells like wood fueled meaty goodness. It makes you want to eat – kinda like how Muzak makes you want to spend more time in the grocery store, or so I’ve been told. One look at the menu, and your first thought is “one of everything.” It was really hard to narrow it down.

Started off with a rye cocktail. It had a catchy name but I can’t remember it and it isn’t on the online menu. I’ve really gotten into ryes over the past year and this drink with its hints of grape (!) and spice was downright awesome.

Mrs Ilk got their take on a Pimm’s Cup (another catchy name I can’t remember) – made with vodka. According to the bartender, they took all their summer cocktails off the menu a couple months ago but had to leave this one on because the demand is so high even when it’s 30 degrees out.

Couple sips of whiskey and it was time to start the feast. The bar staff was AMAZINGLY helpful with advice.

First course was the chickpea fritters.

Fritter? Crispy. Cream? Creamy. Great combination. The thing that impressed me most about this dish was how it was layered. The fritter is perched perfectly on a bed of eggplant and chickpeas. The big surprise is that underneath that bed of veggies is some of the finest mozzarella you’ll ever try in your life.

Next, it was on to the mushroom ragout.

This dish has a sriracha creme fraiche. That alone is enough to make it awesome. Combine that with thin sweet potato ravoli (can’t remember the term) and some really dank mushroom flavors and you’ve got a surefire winner. This is one of the two dishes that I said out loud that I want to learn to make at home. Wonder if it’s in her cookbook.

Next up? The roasted beets.

Spectacular miss, to be quite honest. Pretty unremarkable dish. I used to hate beets as a kid and only started really enjoying them a few years ago. The anchovy in it dominated the taste in a few bites, which is fine by me but certainly might put a lot of people off. The green beans didn’t pick up any flavor and could have used a little cracked pepper lovin’ for sure.

Undaunted though, it was on to the roasted cauliflower.

This was done right. Roasted vegetable trump all other vegetables in my book. Lots of pine nuts and pickled peppers in there, both of which add great accents. The combination of cauliflower and parmesan cheese might be one of my favorite things on the planet.

Then it was time to get into the meats. First up? Duck tongues.

Mrs Ilk picked these and ordered these without so much as a moment’s hesitation. I was a little skeptical. The smaller tongues were perfectly crisped but the thicker ones were just a touch chewy. And I’ll be honest, when they’re a little chewy you start thinking “holy shit, I am eating a duck’s tongue right now.” The chili oil that they’re fried in added a nice heat. Definitely a dish with great flavor but a little inconsistency.

On to the pig face.

“So how do they make it?”

“Well, they take a whole bunch of cheeks/jowls, roll them together and then fry them.”

Hiding below that egg is easily one of the five best things I have eaten in my life. Spicy, crispy and incredibly flavorful. Break the egg and mash it all together and you’ve got a remarkable experience. Bartender told us it’s her favorite hangover cure. This is one of the can’t-miss dishes everyone talks about.

I finished with the grilled octopus. Thanks to Mrs Ilk’s seafood allergy it was mine all mine.

I’ll be honest. I was really hoping they’d present it whole. But that would make it a lot tougher to mix in with two different kinds of beans. It’s served with a lemon vinaigrette that complimented perfectly.

By this point we were stuffed. But not too stuffed for dessert which is a good thing because the chocolate chili gelato is mind-blowing.

It’s a really upscale take on the old “ice cream and a brownie” standby. The gelato definitely trends more toward chocolate than chili. Bartender told us a woman once took the bowl to the washroom after she finished this dish so she could lick it. Classic – and totally understandable.

Return trip is definitely in order. Didn’t get the chance to try any of the goat entrees, and there’s a lobster-stuffed goat belly with my name on it.

“So THAT’S why Union Station sticks out over Canal Street like that!”

December 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

A few weeks back, my pal John Needham and I were having one of our usual back-and-forths on Twitter. The genesis of the conversation was me making some wisecrack about how the Futures Industry Association had finally issued a statement about the MF Global meltdown, and he and I started cracking jokes about FIA being late to the party and issuing statements on some other historic events in our markets well after the fact. One of the events John joked about was when the CME moved from its former location over Union Station into its digs at 10-30 South Wacker. That former trading floor is now a health club. But one thing you’ll notice about the facility is that it juts out over the sidewalk on all sides, which is pretty unusual. I mentioned this fact to John and told him that there was a tale behind it. He told me that might make a great blog post. Weeks later, I’m finally posting it.

The story behind why it’s so is a classic tale of Chicago-style political sausage making, spearheaded by former CME chairman Leo Melamed. I worked for Leo’s firm in my first “real” job in the business for a few years – the stories from my days on the desk there alone are probably worthy of their own blog, but seeing as that I can barely keep up with this one that’ll just have to wait until I’m retired. Speaking of retired, Leo is 79 years old and shows no signs of slowing down. Here’s the story in his words about how the Canal Street cantilevering came to be, from his book “Escape To The Futures”:

“To move again after only four years in the building was really out of the question–we couldn’t afford it. But could we expand? The Chicago River made expansion to the east impossible. So our architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, who had built the Merc’s current structure came up with the only solution. We could increase the trading area by 40 percent by expanding the building to the west by 90 feet. Easier said than done. Such a solution required a major favor from the City of Chicago. We would need to purchase the air rights from the city in order to cantilever the present structure over the Canal street sidewalk, west of the Exchange. The Chicago Buildings Department rejected the plan out of hand. To build over a public sidewalk had only been allowed once in the history of Chicago, and that was for a hospital. The idea was dead in the water unless his honor, Mayor Richard J. Daley, would be willing to override his own Buildings Department’s veto.

I came prepped and rehearsed to the Mayor’s office on the fifth floor of City Hall in the summer of 1976, bringing the architectural renderings and plans that Skidmore had provided. Although he knew me, I was alone and very nervous. After all, I was in my early forties, hardly known outside of Chicago while the Mayor was a world personality and a US powerhouse.He had just been elected to his sixth consecutive term. Besides, I was there to ask for a personal favor, so to speak.

The mayor listened quietly to my plea without interrupting and when I was finished asked one question, “What will it do for Chicago?”

This was not the question I expected, but I thought I knew the right answer. “Mr Mayor,” I responded without hesitation, “if I am right about financial futures, the IMM will move the center of financial gravity of this country a couple of miles westward from New York.”

The mayor broke into a hearty laugh. “I like that,” he said shaking my hand. “Go ahead and expand your building.”

And that’s why the black box on top of Union Station looks so funny, kids.

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