Happy New Year

Happy New Year from snowy Chicago.

I haven’t had time the past week and a half to write about my final project/menu from my Contemporary Cuisine class – my apologies.

The Contemporary Final

Much has happened since class ended that it seems almost inconsequential.  I ended up getting decent enough marks for the four courses I prepared but was generally disappointed with the way things turned out. 

I won’t linger too long on the subject, but when I was plating up things felt pretty rushed and I felt like I was running out of time (every minute we were late was a point lost).  Due to this my plates weren’t as pretty as they could have been.  Course by course I was headed in the right direction – ultimately I just needed to refine some of the ideas (such as the deconstructed coq au vin, a difficult one to pull off on the first try).

December 22

The next day Erin, Riley and I drove to Virginia to spend Christmas with our families.  We stopped that Saturday to visit our friends MJ & Brian who live along the Shenandoah River (or near enough to it) and that night they took us to eat at the Village Square Restaurant in Winchester.  The most memorable part of my meal was the starter – sesame crusted tuna served rare with a daikon salad and soy dipping sauce.  This was a good as a course as I’ve had anywhere.

Christmas Eve

For Christmas Eve I prepared a small course meal for my in-laws with some input from my father in law.  The courses were as follows:

  • The curried parsnip, fennel & apple soup I’d prepared just days earlier for my final, garnished with tobiko and creme fraiche
  • Celery remoulade served on Belgian endive
  • Salmon rillettes
  • Black truffle risotto balls/croquettes stuffed with foie gras – my very own invention, or near enough to my own invention
  • The foie gras filled pasta with black truffle sauce & mascarpone cream sauce that I’ve made one two other occasions
  • Pan roasted Moulard duck breast, black truffle mashed potatoes, raspberry and port wine sauce

The two big hits seemed to be the risotto balls (yeah!!) and the duck breast.  The general consensus was that the foie gras could be omitted from the risotto though as it seemed to get lost a little bit (I was inspired by a similar recipe from school in which we stuffed them with fontina cheese).  The duck breast is nearly impossible to screw up, though I got lucky with the sauce that I came up with on the spot with ingredients that were laying around.

All in all it was a good night with the best part being that my mother in law was able to relax and enjoy Christmas Eve for the first time in many years.

Christmas Day

Christmas saw us heading over to my sister’s house to prepare a meal for my family.  The meal here was more formal as we actually sat at a table:

  • Potato/fennel soup
  • Macadamia crusted mahi mahi, wilted spinach and vanilla bean/saffron beurre blanc
  • Spice braised lamb shank with lentils (I can’t take much of the credit for this one as my Dad did all the work for the shanks)
  • Salad of roasted beets with raw marinated beets
  • English trifle – Mom did all of the work on this

This meal went pretty well and it was nice to be able again to do all of the work and let everyone else enjoy the day, though I do have to mention that Erin helped out enormously with both meals.


This deserves its very own post which will follow within a day or two.  I will say that the experience left me asking some questions that I wasn’t expecting.  Hence the need to revise my words so I don’t come across as an ungrateful bastard or simply pretentious.

Lunch and dinner in Manassas – El Taco and City Square Cafe

Friday saw Erin and I both pretty ill, but not so ill that we weren’t up for a trip down memory lane.  The El Taco location that we used to go to in while in high school has long since shut down, but across town from where we grew up still stands the original one, or if not the original one it’s the one that has been there the longest.

El Taco is no more authentic than Taco Bell, but is far superior, if not far simpler.  The menu consists of no more than 10 items and a hot dog is always an option.  Additionally, in an area dominated by immigrants (of both the legal and illegal ilk, though apparently dominated by the illegal sort) from Central and South America, there were none of these “new” immigrants anywhere in sight once we entered the front door.

For the record I had a taco and California burrito washed down with a coke.  As far as my memory and taste buds could tell, everything was identical to what I ate at the age of 16 when I was listening to bands like the Cure and Depeche Mode, wallowing in self-imposed teenage angst with no sense of dress style (not that I have much now).

Dinner that night was with my parents at the City Square Cafe.  I was able, for the first time in our trip, to enjoy Dominion Lager with my meal of crab cakes (real ones at that, not the fake crab tasting patties you get here in the midwest).  Erin and I used to enjoy quite a few Victory lagers (which was really a variation on the Dominion lager) at what was once call Hero’s Bar & Grill, just across a parking lot from where the City Square Cafe now stands.

New Year’s Day

And that pretty much catches us up.  We’re back in Chicago, both of us trying to get over the cold given us by our nephews a week ago.  And with the snow coming to an end, on the stove top sits a stock pot simmering up a batch of brown chicken stock.


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