Beef Shank Pot-au-feu

We were out in search for cupcakes when we stumbled upon what could possibly be our favorite butcher shop. We got our cupcakes first, and then made a U-turn and headed two blocks south to where we first saw the butcher shop when we were on our way to fulfill our cupcake mission. The Butcher & Larder is a winner. They have everything we could ever want from pork belly to roasted beef/lamb/pork bones to duck meat. It doesn't even smell like a butcher shop. Among other things, we walked out with two beautiful pieces of beef shank. And then we had a plan. Preparing for that night's dinner was in order. Armed with these beautiful pieces of meat, we headed to our favorite local grocer (the kind where it has been handed down to the next generation and we can buy a whole box of produce and only get charged $15...what?!)

We learned a new root vegetable that day. Rutabaga (roo-tuh-bay-guh). They were in a box next to the turnips and our grocer told us that rutabagas are like turnips. We added it to our produce box. Later we looked it up on Wikipedia and found out that rutabagas are swedish turnips. When cooked, the color, texture, and taste reminded us of sweet potatoes. The rutabaga is on the left most side of the picture below.

I don't think we could have been happier with how well marbled the beef shanks were as shown in the picture below. The marbling on the beef made the meat so much more tender and soft when biting into it. Beef shanks are probably not the most popular cut of meat for people to buy as the meat is thought to be tough but if stewed and simmered for a few hours it will turn out beautifully.


2 lbs beef shanks
1 medium white onion
1 large carrot
1 medium turnip
1 medium rutabaga
2 medium Russet potatoes
2 large stalks of leek
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorn
Salt to taste

1. Peel and cut into chunks the onion, carrot, turnip, rutabaga, and potatoes. Using only the white and light green parts of the leeks, cut into 2-inch lengths.

2. In a large pot, combine the onion and half the carrot and leeks. Add in the beef shanks and throw in the thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Sprinkle salt over the ingredients (you can always add more salt later). Fill the pot with water until it covers the ingredients. Bring to boil under high heat and then let simmer under low heat for about 2 hours.

3. Add the remaining carrot and leeks along with the turnip and rutabaga into the pot. Continue to simmer under low heat for about 45 minutes. Add in the potatoes and continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. If needed, season with a little bit more salt.

4. Skim the fat or oil off the broth before serving. Dish out into serving bowls.



Sepia is located at what used to be a print shop in the 1980s. Today, Sepia holds the recognition as a one Michelin star restaurant and it stays true to preserving the characteristics of its predecessor at this location by displaying random bits and pieces of memorabilia from the bygone era at the restaurant's dining area. Mixed with contemporary furniture, the resulting ambiance of Sepia is rustic with a modern twist.

We first dined at Sepia about two years ago and then periodically went back last year just for cocktails. Last week was Chicago Chef Week and that gave us another reason to return for dinner (not that we needed a reason to return to Sepia but with so many new amazing chef-driven restaurants popping up lately, it's difficult to resist trying new places). The service at Sepia was nothing short of friendly and professional from the time we were greeted by the hostess to our dining experience at the table. There have been times in the past when we were at restaurants that made it to the Michelin star list and then only to be disappointed that they weren't what we expected them to be, which is to be on par with the restaurants that have this recognition. Sepia is definitely well deserved to have the Michelin star recognition. The really nice thing about Sepia is that it doesn't have a stuffy atmosphere. Sure it could be a perfect place for a date night but the ambiance is far from being stuffy or pompous.

Their drinks selection is notable and extensive that comes in a leather bound book. Looking over the cocktails section and reading the description of each libation offered, one could tell that a lot of thought went into crafting those drinks. I went with the Boston Martha which was a concoction of magnolia and oolong tea, Bushmill Irish whiskey, honey, lemon, egg white, and orange bitters. It was one of those chic drinks and very pleasant. My original choice was Two in the Hand but T said that it was probably too "manly" of a drink for me, and that I probably wouldn't like how strong it would turn out to be. So he ordered that for himself and it turned out that he was right. I tried a sip of his and was glad that I went with the Boston Martha instead. But as an avid Scotch drinker, he was absolutely happy with Two in the Hand which was made with blended scotch and Dubonnet Rouge among other things.

We chose the tasting menu off their Chef Week menu and therefore had the chance to sample items that were not on their regularly menu. The duck boudin croquettes were something to remember by. Perfectly crisp on the outside, the inside was moist and soft. What a great contrast in texture. The croquettes came with a spread of fig jam and some arugula which were very good accompaniments.

T had the Spanish tortilla as a starter and it wasn't just any regular tortilla; it was the chef's own spin of a tortilla. The texture was very eggy but delicate and moist. It was about 1/4 inch thick and almost like an egg pancake, cooked on an iron skillet that gave it a little burnt and crisp texture on the surface.

I couldn't stop raving about my grilled rainbow trout entree. I always order meat as my entree but somehow that night I felt like trying the rainbow trout and wasn't disappointed. The generous piece of rainbow trout fillet sat atop a bed of sauteed spinach. On top of the fish were shaved fennel and black olives. The fish was absolutely tender and very moist, perfect for every bite. One thing that intrigued me was that the color of the fish reminded me of salmon. I've always thought that rainbow trout is white and after looking it up on Wikipedia, it turns out that rainbow trout belongs to the salmonid species. Interesting, indeed.

I think it's quite accurate to say that no matter how much I love food, deep down I'm very much a dessert person at heart. Glancing over the prix fixe menu, I jumped straight to the dessert section and decided what I would have for dessert before deciding on my entree. And I wasn't disappointed with my choice of cornmeal financier. The basil goat cheese ice-cream that came with it was definitely an interesting touch to it and the taste of goat cheese was definitely present. I also really liked that there were bits of caramel popcorn added to the dessert.

We finished off our dessert with some Yamazaki whiskey for the each of us. We ordered it neat and there was a $2 upcharge each for that but didn't realize it until later. It wasn't a big deal but our server explained that it was because an order of whiskey neat has a bigger pour than the usual. From past experience, we noticed that not every restaurant or bar follow the upcharge practice for whiskey neat orders but it could be that those places do not offer a bigger pour of whiskey when ordered neat.

All in all, Sepia didn't disappoint and I'm sure its presence is going to stay for a long time in Chicago.

123 North Jefferson Street
Chicago, IL 60661

2011 1-Michelin Star
2011 Rising Star Chef Award by StarChefs


Stephanie Izard at the Family Farmed Expo

Stephanie Izard is no stranger to Chicago's dining scene. In fact, Stephanie Izard will be no stranger to American TV viewers who watch Top Chef. In that reality show where chefs from all over America battle different cooking challenges to come out the top, Stephanie Izard scored the title and has thus returned to Chicago while adding even more energy into the vibrant local dining scene. Her restaurant, Girl & The Goat, was named after her last name Izard which is the French name of a type of mountain goat. Girl & The Goat opened just in summer 2010 and to date already has 618 reviews and counting on Yelp with a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Don't even think of heading to Girl & The Goat without a reservation. In fact, you better make your reservations way in advance about 3-4 weeks prior unless you don't mind settling with a 5:30pm or 10:00pm seating.

Last weekend we attended the Family Farmed Expo that focused on supporting local farmers. Part of the expo schedule included cooking demos by local celebrity chefs. Stephanie Izard's cooking demo was scheduled at 10:30am and that meant we woke up early last Saturday to ensure we got a seat at her demo. As we know, many chefs these days follow the mantra of supporting local farmers while changing their menus periodically to support what's in season. Since the Family Farmed Expo focused on local farmers, the cooking demos were a collaboration between the celebrity chefs and their own local farmers whom they engage as a supplier for their restaurants. In the picture below, the man on her right is the local farmer whom she engages for Girl & The Goat; the boy on her left is from an after-school program that focuses on, well, food and cooking.

One thing that was very cool about the demo was that although there wasn't any live video feed on what actually went on inside the pot or on the stove top especially for people seated at the back, this mirror gave a clear view to what went on.

What did she cook at the demo? Braised goat, of course. She brought an entire goat leg to show the audience and that's also something that can be ordered at her restaurant. It feeds 6-8 people and has to be ordered in advance and costs $120 or more. One thing we learned was that she only started cooking with goat meat only 1 1/2 years ago which really isn't that long ago. Another pointer she said was that when we braise goat meat at home, be sure to save the goat fat. It is versatile and can be used with so many other dishes. Mmm now I'm thinking vegetable greens sauteed in goat fat. Or if duck fat fries taste so good, I wonder what would goat fat fries taste like.


Tuna Voulevant

The both of us like spending alot of time in the kitchen for entirely separate reasons from each other. There are certain things that he does effortlessly and enthusiastically while I can't imagine those things to ever appear on my list of favorite things to do. He tells me how to peel a garlic effectively. He demonstrates to me the technique of curling the fingers when slicing a cucumber in order to prevent the sharp knife from cutting the fingers. He also shows me the technique of peeling ginger with the back of a knife. And I'll tell him, oh cool. And then it never sticks with me. How to tell if a vegetable with garlic stir fry dish was prepared by him or me? If the garlic is delicately and finely chopped, he made that dish. If you see big slices of garlic (but still good enough, to me), I probably made that dish. His babies are his ceramic knife, Green Pan, and ceramic pan-- some of them I'm not supposed to touch. The latest disaster was me ruining his ceramic pan while cooking. He went out and bought another one.

There are certain things that I don't even have to think twice about doing now because they happen almost automatically to me but to T it's entirely the opposite. While I think that dicing onions are hard work, he thinks that measuring precisely flour, sugar, and butter are hard work. I show him the result of stiff egg whites that have formed a peak after they've been whipped under high speed and he would go wow how did that happen. I tell him that when making chiffon cake, you have to be so careful and delicate when folding in the egg whites into the batter so that air cannot escape from the batter because if it did, the cake will not rise. He'll say oh cool, but anything related to the words batter, dough, and pastry will probably never be something that he would ever be remotely interested in working with.

It just comes down to the fact that he loves cooking and I love baking. He will make us perfectly pan seared salmon and he will make us seasoned chicken breast that is perfectly seared on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. But he stays away from baking or anything that requires working with dough or pastry. His favorite celebrity chef is Ming Tsai who is known for his East meets West cuisine. T's favorite story is how Ming Tsai competed in Iron Chef America against Bobby Flay and Ming Tsai won the battle. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Ming Tsai once said that the first course students learn are the techniques of pastry making. The fundamentals of pastry making require so much attention to detail that if a student can first master these fundamentals, they will be better prepared for the other courses on cooking itself. So there you go, T became inspired and commented that in order for one to be a great chef, he or she has to be able to understand the fundamentals of something other than just cooking itself.

We were at Whole Foods last night and while deciding what to make for today's lunch, T said let's get some frozen puff pastry and I'll stuff them with some tuna. Earlier he had watch Ming Tsai on YouTube preparing puff pastry on one of his shows. T made the entire meal almost by himself working with the puff pastry. I only helped him to brush some softened butter over the pastry before they were put into the oven so they would brown nicely. Sure, it's no brainer working with frozen prepared puff pastry but this is something for T!

While you can easily find Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry in your local grocery stores, I highly recommend the brand Dufour which can be found in specialty grocery stores (Whole Foods carries them). The quality and taste of Dufour's puff pastry is much better as it is made from real butter. I first learnt about Dufour from Dorie Greenspan's book where she said Dufour is so good she stopped making puff pastry from scratch.

This is so simple to prepare there really is no specific measurements to it. Adjust amount according to own preference.

Puff pastry, frozen and thawed
Butter, softened at room temperature
Good quality canned tuna
Olive oil (use only if canned tuna is packed in water)
Italian parsley, finely chopped
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, slice the thawed pastry into squares and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. With a knife, lightly create indentation lines that make up the shape of a smaller square in the middle of the slice. Be careful not to slice the smaller square all the way to the bottom of the pastry. You just want to make the indentation.

2. Lightly brush each slice with softened butter.

3. Bake the pastry in the oven for 15 minutes or until the surface is nicely brown.

4. Meanwhile, put the tuna in a bowl. If the canned tuna is packed with water, drain the water before putting in the bowl. Add some olive oil so that the tuna will not be too dry. Mix together the chopped parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. When the puff pastry is removed from the oven, with a small knife carefully cut out the top part of the small squares following the indentations that were created earlier. Then fill each of the pastry shells with the tuna. Carefully place the small cutout squares over the filled shells.


Brandy and Almond Cake

The best thing about having a husband who is into liquor (he is particularly into Scotch), is the frequent sipping sessions we have together while lazing on the couch and just talking about everything and anything about the world. He has managed to collect quite a number of bottles of Scotch each time we travel internationally and making a stop at the duty free shops has almost become a ritual for us.

The next best thing, of course, about having a husband who is into liquor is that I get the liberty to play around with some of them for baking. No, I don't use our Glenlivet or Johnnie Walker Blue and Gold labels for my cakes. Instead, I opt for the inexpensive everyday options that still exude its fragrance in a baked cake. It's just like how you don't need an expensive bottle of wine for cooking but instead, a few splashes of your everyday table wine does the trick wonderfully.

I picked brandy for this cake but rum will go just as well. I don't think you really can go wrong playing around with the various options of liquor to flavor this cake.

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup slivered almonds

3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons brandy

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a baking sheet lined with foil, toast the almond slivers for 10 minutes. Set aside and let cool. Generously butter a 9"x3" loaf pan. Continue to let oven preheat while preparing the batter.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.

3. Add the sugar and eggs into the mixing bowl and whisk until fully incorporated. Add in the vanilla extract, followed by the heavy cream and then the brandy.

4. Now with a rubber spatula gently stir in the dry ingredients gradually in 3 additions. The batter will be thick. Finally, gently fold in the melted butter gradually in 3 additions. The batter will now be smooth.

5. Bake for 55 minutes or until the cake tester comes out clean.

6. While the cake is in the oven, prepare the syrup. Heat the water in the microwave and stir in the sugar until it melts. Then stir in the brandy. Let the mixture cool.

7. When the cake is done, transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and let sit on the wire rack lined with parchment paper. Using a cake tester, poke holes all over the cake. Brush the cake generously with the syrup. Continue to let the cake cool on the rack.