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Thin Mint ice cream

When my sister and I were little, we were friends with three brothers whose parents owned a Baskin-Robbins. Once in a while they’d invite everyone over to the shop for unlimited free ice cream. As we watched their mom scoop mountains of rainbow sherbet and jamoca almond fudge, the rest of us kids thought about our engineer and accountant parents and wondered where we’d gone wrong.

The other day I stopped by Grange Hall Burger Bar in the West Loop — not for a burger, but because I’d heard their monthly ice cream special was Girl Scout Thin Mint. I don’t need to tell you how good it was because it’s a no-brainer. What truly impressed me was that it perfectly blended our favorite ice cream flavors growing up: mint chocolate chip for me, cookies and cream for my sister. So I re-created this treat in homage to childhood BR binges, when calories didn’t exist, and the Yapp brothers, wherever they are now.

Grange Hall Burger Bar Girl Scout Thin Mint ice cream. Not mine! I wish!

My ice cream recipe is really easy. It doesn’t use a custard base, mostly because I didn’t want to spend the time on one, so it doesn’t have that wonderfully silky texture. Besides, the best thing about homemade ice cream is (nearly) instant gratification. But if you’d like to cook a custard, try this recipe by Martha Stewart (which mine is based on); just omit the vanilla and add peppermint.

Thin Mint ice cream
makes 1½ quarts

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
¾ cup white granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure peppermint extract (I use Nielsen-Massey)
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional; I think it rounds out the flavor)
1 sleeve Thin Mints, roughly crushed

Combine the cream, milk, and sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the extract(s) and mix thoroughly. Freeze ice cream according to your machine’s instructions. The ice cream will have the consistency of soft serve at this point. Mix in the Thin Mints. Transfer to freezer until the ice cream reaches desired consistency. If it’s rock solid, let it defrost for a few minutes to soften up before serving.

Coconut-lime bundt cake

Bundt cakes are the casseroles of the dessert world: quick, easy, large enough to feed a crowd. Adorned with just a dusting of powdered sugar or a translucent veil of icing, they’re the modest counterpart to fussy, heavily frosted layer cakes. And they’re practical, a cinch to transport and help yourself to at the buffet table. But sometimes the familiar prettiness of the girl next door can get boring, so she needs a bit of tarting up. That’s why I decided to make a coconut-lime bundt cake for an Easter potluck.

Our church is full of great cooks. We’re a pretty diverse bunch, and no one seems to have come up in a tuna casserole and green jello tradition. At our potlucks, we’ve had huge trays of creamy, gooey mac and cheese, sweet potato biscuits and cornbread, braised short ribs. A generous non-cook, I think, always brings in boxes of Popeye’s chicken. So it would be cheating if I just baked a pan of brownies and called it a day.

I like citrus in a dessert after a big meal because the acidity gives the impression of cutting through some of the heaviness, never mind that a cake loaded with butter and sugar isn’t really “light”. I’d been eyeing a key lime bundt cake recipe for a while and thought to dress it up with some coconut, inspired by this cake which I’ve never had but induces drooling every time I look at it.

I’m not a fan of coconut bits in the cake itself (it makes me run for the dental floss) so I substituted coconut milk instead of regular and decided that a shower of flaked coconut over the glaze would add the perfect amount of texture and crunch.

The final product: sweet and sassy, the coconut milk’s soft floral notes playing off the zingy lime. I don’t ask what people think of my food, but seeing the young daughter of our potluck hosts devour a slice of cake in about thirty seconds was quite a compliment. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Coconut-lime bundt cake
serves 16

Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 extra large eggs
1 cup coconut milk
finely grated zest of 4 limes
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (to be used in syrup and glaze)

Syrup:
1/2 cup lime juice
3/4 cup sugar

Coconut-lime glaze:
1/4 cup lime juice
1 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut (more or less based on your preference)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time.

On lowest speed, alternately add dry ingredients and coconut milk, scraping bowl as necessary and combining just to mix. Fold in lime zest. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

While cake is baking, prepare the syrup: in a small saucepan, stir together lime juice and sugar over low heat until dissolved. Set aside.

Prepare the glaze: in a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar and lime juice until completely smooth.

After cake is done, cool on wire rack for 10-15 minutes. Invert cake on rack over aluminum foil. Using a pastry brush, brush syrup over warm cake. Let dry for 10-15 minutes. Pour glaze over cake and sprinkle with flaked coconut. Let cake cool completely and transfer to cake platter. Let stand loosely covered for several hours or overnight before serving.

Recipe: Nightwood Restaurant’s Spicy Duck SOPA

In honor of defiance of SOPA, Nightwood Restaurant featured a spicy duck soup (get it?) on its brunch menu last Sunday. The kicker: it came with a copy of the recipe.

There was nothing gimmicky about the soup, though. It was a robust broth with serious complexity, redolent of Asian spices and the mysterious funk of fermented black garlic; the hearty shrimp dumplings and perfectly braised egg were better than any I’ve had in Chinatown.

Below is the recipe for fearless cooks with well-stocked larders, livers of steel, and an inordinate amount of time on their hands:

Nightwood Restaurant, 2119 S. Halsted, Chicago.
 

wasabigelatine’s 2011 holiday gift guide

Bright stars on coasters and boxes of toffee
Soap for your mittens and booze for your coffee
Cookbooks with cuisine so mindboggling
These are a few of my favorite things
this year!

 

Isn’t it more fun to give out handwritten recipe cards rather than clicking the “send to a friend” button? Rifle Paper Co. offers several styles of recipe cards with adorable illustrations. $10-$12 for a pack of 12. Also available at Greer (1657 N. Wells).


Paul McGee of The Whistler has been bartending for more than twenty years, well before the craft cocktail revival, and this guy really knows his stuff. He’ll teach you the basics in The Whistler’s Cocktails 101 class, which covers topics including major spirits, drink categories, and stocking a home bar. Space is limited to eight per class, so you’re guaranteed an in-depth, hands-on experience. And you’ll take home a handy reference booklet as shown here. $95 at The Whistler (2421 N. Milwaukee).


Did you miss out on Next Restaurant‘s Paris 1906 menu? Never fear, intrepid home cook: the Next Restaurant — Paris: 1906 iBook contains recipes, procedures, and detailed photographs for each dish on its menu, including those presented only to the coveted kitchen table. $4.99 at the iTunes store.

 

These red star letterpress coasters by Hammerpress will class up any drink and are especially festive for Christmas celebrations. Also available in turquoise and black. $8 for a set of 12. You can buy them locally at Greer (1657 N. Wells).

The folks at vosgeschocolate.com generously sent me a Toffee Trifecta with Bacon, a beautiful violet hatbox stuffed with three types of toffee: sweet, buttery Bapchi’s, encrusted with roasted walnuts and pecans; savory Red Fire, replete with dark chocolate, chiles, and spices; and drool-inducing bacon, coated in nothing but a layer of milk chocolate, all the better to complement the toffee’s salt and smoke. There’s a half pound of each variety, perfect for a large holiday gathering. $58 at vosgeschocolate.com and Vosges Chocolate boutiques (951 W. Armitage, 520 N. Michigan).

Bonus! For wasabigelatine readers, take 15% off your vosgeschocolate.com orders until December 31, 2011 with code VosgesFriend. Thank you, Vosges!


In my sizable collection of restaurant books, Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine stands out as one of my favorites. The Copenhagen restaurant has been named the world’s best for two years running, lauded for chef René Redzepi’s creativity in using hyperlocal ingredients and innovative technique, and the book transports me to an otherworldly realm where sea buckthorn berries dance with shoots of wild sorrel on a bed of verdant Danish moss. The very unfamiliarity of the gorgeously shot Nordic tableaus is simply mesmerizing. $32.97 at amazon.com.

 

I’m pretty cynical about New York imports — we’re Chicago and our trendy bakery scene is doing just fine, thanks — but Magnolia Bakery totally won me over with their sweet retro decor and matching accessories like vintage cake stands, aprons, and Easter egg-hued sprinkles, a lovely embellishment for cookies, cupcakes, and sundaes. $6 a jar, $24 for a gift boxed set of 4 different colors at Magnolia Bakery (Block 37, 108 N. State).

 

Did I just say something negative about trendy New York something or other? Okay, I take it back. I’m obsessed with painfully hipster, woefully pricey Mast Brothers Chocolate from — where else? — Brooklyn. If you’re not one of those people inclined to purchase a chocolate bar that coasts more than $2, you can stop reading now. But if you’re a connoisseur of artisanal, single-origin chocolate wrapped in exquisite papers, Mast Brothers is worth the splurge. My favorite is their dark chocolate with cocoa nibs, roasted to nutty perfection. $40 for a box of 5 bars at mastbrothers.com, $10 a bar at Fox & Obel (401 E. Illinois).

 

Here’s the story behind eco-friendly Further hand soap and lotion: the owners take depleted vegetable oil from L.A.-area restaurants, turn it into biofuel, and use the purified glycerin by-product as an ingredient for their cleansing and moisturizing products. How cool is that? $12.50 each.


I love Kaufmann Mercantile’s quirky selection of household goods. From handmade beeswax candles to Weck canning jars to Blackwing pencils, everything’s well designed, sturdy, and practical. The Hermetus bottle opener & resealer (front and back shown) is no exception. It’s pocket-sized and handy for preserving the contents of large format beer and cider bottles. $8.


Owl butter dish: ridiculously cute. That’s all. $16 at westelm.com and West Elm (1000 W. North Ave.).

Chowing down at Lollapalooza

Music festivals aren’t exactly known for the food; after all, you’re there to stand under the blistering sun in tropical-level humidity with ten thousand drunk, obnoxious people while you stare at the band you’re listening to on the jumbotron wishing you’d stayed under the covers in your dark, air conditioned bedroom. Or maybe that’s just my experience. Fortunately for us, Lollapalooza is a short walk from home, and this was the second year chef Graham Elliot organized a stellar selection of food vendors that made the fest a legitimate culinary destination.

We hadn’t planned on going to Lolla at all, but Josh’s workplace sponsored a stage this year and because of his involvement with bringing in the Cold War Kids for an office performance, he received a couple of day passes — the fancy ones with unlimited free drinks. There weren’t a lot of bands I was interested in seeing, all the better to spend time sampling the goods at Chow Town. We arrived early on Saturday, mostly because we wanted Victoria to have lots of fun at Kidzapalooza before her afternoon nap, and this was the ideal situation for serious eating — lots of open space, no lines.

There was a fantastic variety of options ranging from Smoke Daddy’s pulled pork sandwiches to Rock ‘N Roll Noodle Company’s vegetarian Asian fare and a handful of Chicago stalwarts like Lou Malnati’s pizza and Original Rainbow Cone. Items were reasonably priced, topping out at $10, but not all were worth it — $7 for garlic fries from the Cubby Bear, really? My main interest, of course, was checking out the more adventurous options from Bonsoirée and Henri, neither of which I’ve visited. It was ironic, in a fun way, that my first taste of these upscale restaurants would be served on paper plates and eaten in a dusty field.

 

We started in familiar territory with some French toast from Jam, one of our favorite breakfast spots in Ukrainian Village. This was actually Victoria’s lunch since French toast is a favorite of hers, and she ate every last bit of the tangy raspberry puree as well.

 

I wolfed down a decadent lobster corndog from the Graham Elliot booth — chunks of succulent lobster dipped in a sweet cornmeal batter, tossed in the deep fryer, and finished with a citrusy aioli (if I recall correctly).

 

Josh and I split a gigantic Scotch egg from The Gage. That’s a whole egg rolled in a layer of sausage, then battered and deep fried. Notice a theme here?

 

My first taste of Henri was a large bag of pork rinds seasoned with vadouvan, a sweet, aromatic French curry blend. The crackly, slightly spicy pork rinds were satisfying, addictive, and a steal at $3. I’m pretty sure they don’t sell this at the restaurant.

 

I also picked up a couple of burgers from Kuma’s Corner: the Probot (a burger with a bit of heat from salsa verde and pepper jack) and the Neurosis (a lovely mess of caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, cheddar, swiss, horseradish). After I placed my order with the cashier, another guy plunked the burgers down in front of me. Immediately. “That’s the shortest wait you’ll ever have for a Kuma Burger.” He was right — I bought two more that night for dinner, and there was  — gasp! — a ten minute wait, which is still something like 1/10th the time you’d have to stand in line at the restaurant. (Burger photos not shown; eaten too enthusiastically.)

 

Later that afternoon, I stopped by the Bonsoirée booth for scallop motoyaki with torched ponzu aioli — sweet, velvety scallops baked and topped with a creamy sauce with a hint of tart to offset the richness. This is one of Bonsoirée’s signature dishes, and it was bold of them to offer an undistilled taste of their dining experience when, realistically speaking, most people at Lollapalooza are perfectly happy with pizza and fries.

As for me, I was perfectly pleased that my latest music festival consisted of terrific eating, a happy toddler, and great music — streamed on YouTube in the cool comfort of my own home.